By Scott Parrino 27 Jun 2003 0


Stormcloud Creations front-man Derek DiBenedetto was designing simple, addictive games back when such fare was entirely within the realm of shareware. Many times, gamers simply don't have hours to play a game, or even the ability to focus intensely for shorter periods of time. What I've always enjoyed about games such as Stormcloud's Interstellar Trader was the ease with which the game fit into multitasking. Watching TV? No problem, play during the commercial break. Reading a book or magazine? Give the eyes a minute break once in awhile. Stuck on a long, boring conference call at the office? Well, sure?

With the success of venues such as Yahoo! Games, developers like Stormcloud are beginning to attract the attention of publishers. In Derek's case, that publisher of late has been Shrapnel Games. Not only can publishers handle some of the time-consuming business aspects of selling a game, but they can also provide some marketing muscle, getting the game out to people who don't normally frequent shareware channels. The more time a developer can spend making games, the better the games ought to be.

What's New? A New Game, That's What!

Stormcloud's latest project is a sports sim of sorts, titled Coliseum. While not really modeled on historical gladiatorial combat, Coliseum pays homage to sports management simulations such as Championship Manager. A league of gladiators plays out a season, with the top qualifiers advancing to the tournament finals. The player will manage a small stable of three fighters, with the best serving in competition as the others spend their time training and developing their skills.

Unlike traditional Roman gladiators, the fighters in Coliseum resemble modern prima donnas rather than slaves seeking their freedom. Warriors are signed contracts to fight for the player, and if it appears the player has neither the money nor the desire to resign a given fighter, an auction can be held offering a sale to the highest bidder. There are free agent pools and a seasonal draft to replace fighters lost to free agency, dismissal, or death.

Gladiator Management

Running a gladiator stable has its similarities to modern sports franchises. Should the player eschew pricey free agents, he can instead spend his revenue in advertising, thereby commanding greater revenue for the matches. The player's reputation is also a factor; poor dealing and treatment of the talent can prove harmful as the game advances.

While the game isn't about micromanagement of the actual combats, there are several elements designed to immerse players in the world of gladiatorial combat. Fights consist of a real-time play-by-play narrative (the remainder of the game is turn-based), with occasional opportunities to make strategic decisions such as "go for the kill" or "be cautious." News from around the league is announced via newspaper headlines.

Each fighter is rated for strength, dexterity, agility, speed, durability, and intangibles (which cover peripheral aspects such as personality). Success in the ring and training can improve these stats, while injury and disease can reduce them. Also included are ?magic potions? which are treated much like steroids or other ?performance-enhancing? medicines ? that is, they can either improve the performance of an athlete or lead to health problems down the road. Finer details like armor or fighter style (such as the historical Thracian or Retarius gladiators) are beyond the scope of this game.

"Each warrior will start with a sword and no armor basically (these fights are rough), akin to two boxers stepping into a ring in Las Vegas with gloves and trunks on and that's it," mentions DiBenedetto. "On occasion, if a warrior loses or drops his sword, well, he always has his fists to rely on."



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