Empires of Steel

By Scott Parrino 20 Jun 2008 0

Brit Clousing of Atomicboy Software is fresh face on the scene of wargame developers. His first foray is Empires of Steel, to be published by Battlefront in 2009. Let?s find out more about the new generation of developer.

The Wargamer: Brit, tell us a bit about yourself. What is your educational background? How long have you been playing computer wargames and what are your favorite games?

Brit Clousing: I studied computer science and pre-med in college, but I've been playing wargames and writing software since elementary school. The earliest wargames I played were Empire and Sid Meier's Decision in the Desert. I'm also a fan of Masters of Orion 2. More recently, I've been playing the Civilization games.

WG: What inspired you to do Empires of Steel?

BC: It started out with some conversations I had with a coworker. We were talking about ways games like Civilization and Masters of Orion could be improved, and frustrations we had with these games. We were kicking around a lot of ?wouldn't it be cool if...? ideas. So, I started this as a project that I worked on in my free time. The project also gave me a motivation to learn some new software technologies that I could bring-back to my regular job.

WG: From the screenshots, veteran gamers note a similarity between your game and the old classic, Empire. How much were you influenced by the older game?

BC: I was very much influenced by it. Empire was the first strategy game I played. When I first discovered it, my friends and I would play the game after school. At one point, I decided that I needed to make a backup of the game, just in case something bad happened to the disk. Copying disks in those days required swapping the original and the duplicate multiple times in the disk drive. At one point, I accidentally forgot to swap the disks and it destroyed my only copy of Empire. I sometimes wonder if losing the game at the height of its popularity gave it a kind of mythical status in my mind. It was years before I was able to get another copy.

After I moved out to Denver, I met Mark Baldwin, who was one of creators of the original Empire game. I had talked to him about buying the name and calling it ?Empire 3?, but after hearing his offer, I decided it was too expensive.

WG: Empires of Steel adds technology, resources, and foreign relations to an otherwise simple production-conquest model. Why did you do that?

BC: I thought it would make for a more interesting game. A technology race between countries and attempts to capture strategic resources would deepen the strategy. The foreign relations added the possibility of cooperative play - letting two players fight against a bunch of AI opponents, or a team of people fight against another team of people.

WG: What computer language did you use to program the game?

BC: It's written in C++ with a bunch of low-level libraries to do audio, networking, and graphics.

WG: Empires of Steel has a tech tree; some gamers don?t like those. Can research be turned off?

BC: Yes. The game is pretty flexible. All of the rules are stored in a single file, which makes it easy to select different game rules or write your own. The game also comes with a stripped-down version of the rules which resembles the original Empire game. It has 12 units and no technology.

WG: I?m playing with a pre-beta build now so I?m using random maps. Will historical maps be included in the final product?

BC: Those details aren't settled yet. A World map and a map of Europe seem like good ideas, but we'll see. The game also includes a map, scenario, and rules-editor, and an easy download/upload system. It allows players to get new maps, scenarios, and rules from the internet. In addition to downloading these files, they can upload their own files, vote on the best ones, and leave comments. This should give players access to all kinds of different maps and scenarios - far more than I could create myself.

WG: What game features did you consider but rule out? Why?

BC: Originally, I thought about making a more detailed technology system. I had thought about the tension of real-world arms races - for example, the range of US/Soviet nuclear missiles in the Cold War, how America's U2 originally flew higher than any Soviet anti-aircraft missiles, and the race to make the fastest aircraft or quietest submarines - and it seemed like those were good places to build tension in the game. Unfortunately, that level of detail was overwhelming if the whole technology system was done at that level of detail. In general, I wanted to keep the game easily accessible to new players, and not pile-on a lot of detail that required lots of study.

I also had an idea that the price of resources could fluctuate over time based on market demand. This also offered some strategic possibilities, but I eventually decided to keep things simple and avoid the game-dynamic of having players play an stock-market game where they guess at the best time to buy or sell oil or grain.

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