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Expansion packs can be hit and miss propositions.  Rise of Nations has been well-received by gamers and critics, so its expansion, Throne and Patriots, is under pressure to live-up to expectations.  Tim Train, Executive Producer on Throne and Patriots, tells us what the team is doing to make sure the expansion meets those lofty expectations.  We also touch on copy protection, weaknesses of Rise of Nations, FMV in games, and fan feedback.  Thanks for your time, Tim!

 

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Rise of Nations: Throne and Patriots Q&A

Conducted by Omni and Mr. Nash

 

Quick!  Name, role on Throne and Patriots, why you became involved with the project, and what qualifications you have that make you worthy of your position on the project.

(Snaps to attention). Tim Train! Executive Producer on Thrones & Patriots ! I would never claim to be worthy of such an honor, but I have been fortunate to work on strategy games of all types for the past thirteen years. 

 

For fans of Rise of Nations, describe Throne and Patriots in a nutshell.

Weve crammed all our cool ideas into this expansion and think this represents everything the Rise of Nations game system can be!

 

What aspects of Rise of Nations were identified as weaknesses and how will Throne and Patriots address those weaknesses?

When you try to cover all of human history, you have to leave some stuff out. One system that got cut from the original game was governments. When we had some time to play with them for the Xpack, we finally found a good balance between playability and fun. We also got a lot of great response to our Conquer The World single-player campaign game in Rise, but some players wanted more extensive historical campaigns, which they will have in abundance in Thrones and Patriots!

 

Is there much pressure to make the expansion pack live up to Rise of Nations to make it something that can stand on its own?

With any game we do, we're always aiming to make it the best we can imagine it being. With Thrones and Patriots, we had so many good ideas -- so much room to run -- that there wasnt a lot of pressure. Everything just flowed naturally.

 

How many hours of playtime can we expect from Throne and Patriots?

Given the infinite replayability in the Conquer the World single-player campaign, it's hard to give an exact number. Our testers have had to work through an estimated 100 hours of content in the five new campaigns.

 

Describe the design process of Throne and Patriots.  Is a design document being put to use?  Is everyone on the team throwing ideas into the design?  Or is Throne and Patriots just a mish-mash of leftover ideas from Rise of Nations?

Much to the distress of our publisher, we're pretty dead set against design docs. In all our games, the focus is to get a playable prototype up and running as quick as possible. Once it's running, we play multiple times a day, meet, and discuss what was cool and what was lame. We get rid of what was lame and pump up what was cool. With Thrones and Patriots, we could start experimenting the day that Rise of Nations shipped and wed recovered from our hangovers.

 

On what basis were the new nations chosen for Throne and Patriots?

When we looked at the original list of nations, there were a few conspicuous absences. First among them were the South Asians, who become today's country of India. They were a major influence on world history, but didn't make it into the original. The native tribes of North America were another group MIA from the original. We also wanted another European nation. It came down to the Dutch and the Portuguese, who both had respectable empires at one point. Among other considerations, our marketing product manager hails from The Netherlands, so we went with the Dutch J.

 

How much has fan feedback shaped this expansion pack?

We are very conscious of fan feedback. Our Community Relations Manager, Graham Somers, spends hours each day talking to the different communities online, and summarizes the feedback for everyone on a regular basis. One of the most vocal desires from fans was to add an American nation, which we did in Thrones and Patriots. We also did a lot of tweaking to the original nations to balance gamebreakers like the Incas and the Spanish.

 

Was Rise to Nations even on the retail shelves before work was started on Throne and Patriots?  Or was there a brief waiting period to see how Rise to Nations did at retail?

From the tremendous interest in Rise of Nations and the strength of pre-orders, we knew we'd be doing an Xpack to the game before it shipped. We had a preliminary proposal complete, but the company basically took a month off to rest after mastering the original before beginning work on Thrones and Patriots. The mastering cycle for the original game was pretty darn exhausting.

 

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With the level of positive critical response that Rise of Nations received, how was an expansion pack approached?  Was there any sense of nervousness that additions and changes made could harm what made Rise of Nations so appealing?

We were really happy with how Rise of Nations turned out, and so we only wanted to add to the coolness. At the same time, we're pretty careful in the way we approach sequels and addons and have a reasonable amount of experience in this area, so we weren't too nervous.

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Proportionally, how much of the Rise of Nations team worked on Throne and Patriots?

At some point of another almost everyone got their hands in the mix. On the single-player campaigns, the real creative driving forces were newly-minted designer / programmer Ike Ellis and our CtW design team of John Hawkins and Mark Sobota.

 

How much time is spent with coding the copy protection on Throne and Patriots?

That's a publisher question; I honestly have no idea!

 

Why isnt full-motion video used more in games, either to setup the action or for mission briefings?

Do you mean in our games, or in general? If you mean in our games (I can't speak for the industry as a whole), we believe that what's fun about games is the interactivity. In general, FMV cut-scenes detract from the action and get you out of the "game" space.

 

War games are easy, why hasn't their been a major effort to create a peace-making game?  Or is history just too full of strife for a peace-making game -- advancing without blood-soaked conflict -- to make it plausible?

Good question, and one a lot of people have pondered. To a certain extent it's a question of what computers are good at -- they excel at things like explosions and blood splatters, but not so much at subtle diplomacy and human relations. Also, Im not sure if you asked 100 gamers whether theyd like a game about peacemaking, how many would say they'd buy such a game. Perhaps we just need to expand our market J.

 

(April 8, 2004)

 

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