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Sparta: Ancient Wars interview

April 12th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

A new interview with Ingo Horn of IMC is over at Computer Games Magazine’s website. Though the interview is still in fractured English, it’s the most we’ve heard about this game so far. And what have we learned about Sparta: Ancient Wars?

Not much.

Horn still won’t divulge who the developer is, though Torsten Hess of Settlers fame is confirmed. Horn constantly assures John Callhan, the interviewer, that the game will have an emphasis on historical reality. In a not so subtle dig at his perceived competition, Horn states that most ancient themed RTS games to date are “not even correct games in terms of game play, historic time line or playability.”

This devotion to realism can be admirable, but I want to see what he means by real. The game will focus on an historical campaign, probably surrounding the Spartans. There are two unannounced factions, but a reasonable guess would be Persians and “other Greeks”. If this means no magic, I’m fine with it. If it means no elephants running like Panzers through the front rows of a phalanx, I’m really down with it.

But I wonder if Horn is putting the cart before the horse. Realism, though a worthy goal in a wargame, works less perfectly in RTS – a genre with established conventions that can only be replaced by reimagining the gameplay. There are next to no hints as to how the game will play, though we are promised well-animated farmers and a connected campaign, whatever that means.

What is the average strategy gamer to make of a statement like this?:

“And for a game with a historical background it is very important to spend much time for correcting the pre programming stage – otherwise every gamer will laugh about the story of a game, that has nothing to do with history he leant in school!”

The grognards wouldn’t be happy if Leonidas himself designed the shields and cloaks, but saying that every gamer would be upset if the game’s story didn’t match history is simple madness. Do people even learn about Sparta in school anymore? If they do, it’s not about the Messenian War, the Helot Revolt or the revolution of Cleomenes. At least not until they get to university.

More worrisome is his apparent surprise at being told that there are a lot of other ancient themed games out there. Since the beginning of 2004:

Battle for Troy
Coliseum (maybe)
Nemesis of the Roman Empire
Rome: Total War
Tin Soldiers: Alex the Great
Alexander: The Heroes Hour
Gates of Troy
Children of the Nile

Not all RTS to be sure. But look on the horizon – Legion Arena, Rise and Fall, Strength and Honour…surely Horn must have played most of the released games if he is so enchanted with the ancient world. Only World War II has been a more constant theme for historical games in the last few years.

Many of these games are probably being lumped into his “not even correct games in terms of game play, historic time line or playability“catch-all, though I have no idea what he means by correct game play or playability. Children of the Nile doesn’t really fit any of his criticisms, but, of course, it’s a city builder and not a war-heavy game.

Of course, my confusion is being filtered through Horn’s poor command of the English language. A lot of what he has said is no more puzzling than the PR double-speak that some American firms put out when a game is at the early stages. But it is puzzling to see a developer give an interview with a major magazine this close to E3 with nothing to show or reveal beyond “We are building an ancient game that will be very realistic.”


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