Quo Vadis?

That’s Latin, and means something like “Where are you going…” or something like that. I’m not really that dab at Latin. Where is Imperium going? Good question – but before I answer it, it is perhaps best to start with where we have been.

I started designing Imperium back in 1998. At the time, I was fascinated by the Republic of Rome boardgame from Avalon Hill (a game I’ve played solitaire and 2-player many times – and enjoyed the totally unforgiving game system each time). At the time, I thought it would be a great idea to combine a simple strategy game with the political gameplay of the boardgame. As the RTS revolution took speed, however, I realized that turn-based strategy was about to dissappear from the mainstream. So the design in my head developed, and as I realized that the chance of this kind of game getting developed was … rather small… I eventually started coding a bit, and finally – in 2000, started serious work on the Imperium project.

When I created the first Imperium website back then, the plan for the game was broad. I intended a huge game, with multiple political modules, complex gameplay at several levels, and lots of other – pretty indistinct – goals. It didn’t take me long to realize what a monumental task this was for a single developer, though, and the process since has been one of scaling back. From the beginning, I have placed a high priority on the AI, and this has been a strong guidance on game development.

The latter is one of the reasons why I have occasionally scrapped a lot of the ideas I had originally. Once implemented and on board, it has often become painfully clear that I had constructed some wonderful, complex system that the AI would have no earthly chance to manage effectively. This tendency, however, is also partly responsible for the long development time.

It also hasn’t helped that as time has passed, my taste in games has changed – quite a lot, in some ways. Six years ago, I was a big fan of huge, complex, strategy games filled with thousands of details (hmm – does my battalion have 749 or 752 rifles with it?) Nowadays, I feel that this kind of chrome is fun – yes – but not if it gets in the way of the core experience of the game – the strategizing. And the truth is – all excess detail does this. If the player is supposed to care whether his new unit has 3 rifles more or less, then it is because that information has importance – which leaves the player swamped with minor details and micromanaging. If it doesn’t, it is merely a distraction, and distractions – IMO – take away from the gameplay. Some games have so much gameplay that a little distraction isn’t a problem, but this is frequently not the case.

On Flash of Steel, Troy Goodfellow recently discussed what the core experience of the Europa Universalis series is. I asked myself the same thing, about a year ago, with respect to Imperium. The development since has been an attempt to identify that core experience and to focus on this.

I would like Imperium to be a strategic game of world conquest, with Total War-like battles on land, sea, and in sieges and a detailed population growth and trade model. But… this isn’t what Imperium was supposed to be about.

Imperium was supposed to be leading your familia to glory in the Senate of Rome. Balancing self-interest with the good of the state, until one day you can crown one of your scions with laurel wreaths, and have him acclaimed Imperator, while a slave whispers in his ears: “Memento Mori”. And the point was not too make a complex, difficult to understand game, but rather one in which the player is constantly faced with clear, but difficult choices.

That, then, is where Imperium is supposed to be heading, and will hopefully reach in the not too distant future. From now on, I’ll try to update the blog more often, and also start writing a bit about how I hope the game will work.