Andrei Fantana of Impale Ent.
Romanian RTS developers interviewed
Romania is hardly a haven of game design, and that area of Eastern Europe is probably better known as the stomping grounds of Dracula and Vlad The Impaler than for its computer games...
So as part of our on-going series of interviews with European developers, we spoke to Andrei Fantana of Romanian company Impale Ent (named after Vlad's favourite pass-time) about their real time strategy projects, "Zamolxe" and the as-yet untitled "2nd Project".
Staking Their Claim
Impale Ent was founded by Nemira Media, "which is one of the main book publishers in Romania. Nemira wanted to start new directions, and initiated the "Zamolxe Project" in December 1999".
For the next month "we gathered a team and started testing the new game grounds. Some of us had been working on another gaming company, and this helped us to create a strong team". Then in mid January "another project came into our minds, and as it was approved we gathered another team and started working."
"Being one of the first games developers [in Romania], we could gather some of the best people in art, programming and other fields. The game designers came from the first Romanian gaming magazine, and are trained in psychology, art, and cinema, and have two years game design experience."
Impale aren't the only computer games company in Romania though. "There are a few other game developers, and we have good contacts with the most important ones. We realize that we have to prove together that Romania can make great games, and that the developers are serious business partners."
Impale's first project is Zamolxe, a good old fashioned real time strategy game set in the ancient world and featuring classical races like the Romans, Dacians and Celts. Where did the idea (and title) for the game come from though?
"Zamolxe was our people's god before Christ. We were one of the very few monotheistic people, and the main inspiration for the game came from our history", Andrei told us. "Also, one of the most important goals was the making of a more advanced, warm historic RTS."
"There are a lot of sources of inspiration - there are movies and books, but being part of Nemira has brought us the best writers in the country, and they are making a nice story suitable for all the gamers. It is not just a Romanian game for Romanian gamers. I'm sure that each gamer will find something in Zamolxe. It is just exotic, like our history."
At first it sounds a little like Age of Empires in south-eastern Europe, but there's a lot more to it than that... Andrei explained that "the game is built around sieges", which brings back fond memories of the Castles series. "You will have all the siege tools - ladders, hot oil, siege towers are just few of them, there is a full arsenal". Boiling oil? Where do I sign up?
The game's multiplayer promises to be something a little different as well. "The player can control multiple territories, so if a fortress is under siege he could come with reinforcements from other region", adding a whole new dimension to battles.
Andrei told us that "Zamolxe doesn't plan to change the RTS genre - we have "2nd Project" for this! :)", but that doesn't mean the game is going to be just another real time strategy game in an already crowded genre.
"Zamolxe is an RTS with a more historic feeling, a great balance, and lots of fun. At E3 we have already shown a sample of what Zamolxe will be like, an early development demo which already featured our new sound system, our original music (by one of the greatest bands in Romania, called "Phoenix", with a full symphony orchestra), the 180 degree view, our formation system, and other features".
"There is a lot to be added still, but the fun will emerge from all these things mixed together", according to Andrei. And we should see the end result by the end of this year...
Meanwhile Impale's second project, appropriately enough titled "2nd Project", is already under construction. But what is it? "Until now, only massively multiplayer RPGs seem to work online as a universe where people come day after day", Andrei exlained. "It is time for the RPG to give some space to other kinds of games."
Impale's answer is a team-based massively multiplayer real time strategy game, which Andrei says has "the freedom of Magic The Gathering, the team work of Starsiege Tribes, the universe and the look of Final Fantasy, and the support for community of .. 2nd Project".
Rather than the usual one-on-one or free-for-all multiplayer that most real time strategy games feature at the moment, in 2nd Project the focus is firmly on team work. "The player can choose any role in a team. He will choose his own strategy, he will plan how to evolve in the game, how to help his team, or how to strike the enemy by him/herself. There is no limit to this."
Just one example of the kind of freedom that players are given in the game is the modular construction system, which allows them to cobble together their own custom buildings and defences from a range of different interchangeable parts.
"It allows the players who are in charge of construction and defense of the base or of the outposts to practice any strategy they might think of and see if it works. You could encounter a base built like a tower, or .. I don't know, any strategic form the players choose. Also the shape of the base and the placement of certain modules in key points will make the difference. It's strategy."
2nd Project's setting is being described as "J.R.R. Tolkien meets William Gibson", which certainly sounds like an interesting combination, and Impale are promising that "the clans are dynamic part of it", with the players and teams having an influence on the way the game world develops over time.
"The clans will make the difference in this game - so there is a set of rules, to be announced later. We don't intend to make all of the game public - it is too early, and we want to concentrate on making the best game we can before shouting out loud - look, it is going to do that and that."
"However, it has been a pleasure to let the Euro-gamers know that we are working. Hopefully you will play the game and enjoy it, and that is our goal."
And on that note...