Flash of Steel header image 2

Annals of Rome – The Designer’s Perspective

March 17th, 2008 by Troy Goodfellow · 5 Comments · Ancients, Feature:Anc, Interview, Retro

As I noted in an edit to my Annals of Rome entry, I was delighted to get an email from the designer of the game, George Jaroszkiewicz. The fact that he was not credited in the original packaging (“When I created the game, it was inconvenient to publish my name, so I invented the name “Rome Software” as a convenient cover.”) explains why it was so difficult to find any game genealogical footprint.

In any case, Mr. Jaroszkiewicz gave his consent for me to publish the contents of that email. I hope you find them interesting.

In those days I wanted to see how accurately I could create a historical simulation and personally I thought of it as an intellectual, mathematical exercise in socio-economic modelling. However, at that time, such “games” were not thought of as anything more than entertainment and not something for grown men to dabble in, so I kept my name out of it. I pandered to that element by introducing a scoring system, but as various reviewers have pointed out, the only score worth anything in history is how long we can survive. [The often credited] Andrew Pan and A. D. Boyse & J. G. Langdale-Brown were simply people who were paid by PSS to convert the game from my original Amstrad 464 version onto various more popular platforms. They had nothing at all to do with any of it apart from that. I still hold the original documentation, flow diagrams, and copyright and can prove this.

It should be appreciated how little RAM I had available to me when I wrote AOR. Not much more than 48k. I had the smallest Amstrad, with a monochrome monitor, not colour. I had to guess what the final results would be like on a colour monitor. I only saw that many years later and realized I had been lucky. Add to that the fact that I did not have a team of people working with me, and you will appreciate what I was faced with.

Locomotive Basic, the Amstrad’s resident language, was ideal for rapid development, but as some reviewers commented, made the game pretty slow. Fortunately, that is not a great deficiency as far as the master strategist is concerned. In a game which is designed to cover at least one thousand years of real history, and perhaps stretch to two, live action is quite misplaced. In those days, graphics generally was pretty awful, and so I got away with a pretty crude representation of the Roman World.

I still play the game on occasions. I have found the Amstrad emulator “Caprice” to be very good and it renders the graphics more in line with my original intention than conversions to other formats. It’s really quite playable on Windows XP via Caprice, so I would recommend that way of running it. The Amstrad disk image which Caprice uses can be found on various sites. The only embarrassment for me now is the sound. There simply was no real scope for good tunes. What has been lost is the introductory march. The original tape I sent to PSS (The company I dealt with) had an introductory slow march, which I composed to reflect the sad majestic grandeur of the long sweep of Rome’s history, from rise to inevitable fall. I am pleased that various reviewers have felt this sense of history in the game itself, without any music, so perhaps I did not do a bad job overall.

I tried very hard to avoid silly points: no gimmicks, no cheats, no clumsy real-live action. Make one careless decision and you could lose. The problem was that with 48k, I could not implement many of the details that Roman history merits. I wanted to have two consuls changed every year, but that was a step too far. I wanted a greater number of senators, but could only stretch to twenty one. I wanted to allow bribery and diplomacy when dealing with enemies, but that too was ruled out. In short, I did not have the resources to model the history in the detail it deserved. But enough remained to give a reasonable representation of Roman history.

Looking now at what is available, I very much like Rome: Total War. The battles are graphically superb and have that real sense of danger, that we could lose. I think AOR has such a sense, but on a different level. AOR deals with the broad sweep of history whilst RTW deals with tactics. Graphics is just one aspect, and not necessarily the most important one, of any simulation.

Many thanks to Mr. Jaroszkiewicz for writing in. His contribution has led me to redouble my efforts to contact the developers of the other games on my list.


5 Comments so far ↓

  • Vic Davis

    What a great read. It would be really cool if you could get all the designers/programmers to give a back story like Mr. Jaroszkiewicz did here. Nice job.

  • shanicus

    Most impressive to have the designer email you! His email was quite interesting to read.

    Thanks a lot!

  • Troy

    It would be really cool if you could get all the designers/programmers to give a back story

    I’m going to do my best. I have some emails out to people I know, some PR folks and I’ve had some friends and colleagues do me little favors here and there. It was always my intention to do so, but Mr. Jaroszkiewicz’s email sent me over the line – this is some really cool stuff.

  • A History of the Ancients Game

    […] (1982) Annals of Rome (more here) (1986) Encyclopedia of War: Ancient Battles (1988) Centurion: Defender of Rome (1990) Caesar […]

  • Annals of Rome (1986)

    […] Annals of Rome was a single player game in which you took on the role of Rome, guiding it through the centuries. You would raise taxes, raise armies and conquer the world. Big deal, right? But the innovations introduced by programmer George Jaroszkiewicz are remarkable for their modernity. (EDIT: Originally this article attributed the design to Andrew Pan, whom Mobygames lists as the C programmer. Mr. Jaroszkiewicz wrote in to correct me. Apologies are extended to him, and gratitude for his gracious email.) […]