My name is Jeff Fiske, the Design Director at Tilted Mill, but that doesn’t tell you much, and sounds way cooler than what I actually do. I do some IT work, PR work, lots of design work, and plug in wherever needed.Q : The Tilted Mill team have worked on some of the best-known city-building and strategy games in the world. Can you give us an overview of some of the folks working on CotN and the games-building heritage they’ve brought with them?
Our website lists our employees and the games we have worked on. It’s a long list, but I will do my best to keep it short and answer the question. The core of Tilted Mill Entertainment consists of the managers, designers, composer, and key programmers and artists who brought you Pharaoh, Zeus, Civil War Generals, and Lords of Magic: Special Edition, to name but a few that have come out in the last seven years. As a whole company, we’ve been involved in the release of about thirty games in the past five or six years; more if you go back ten!
It is interesting to note that we all tend to ‘bring something to the table’ based on what PC games mean to each one of us, how we play them, what we like, what we love, etc. Our ideas about what makes a great gaming experience can vary tremendously but once we weave it all together it is much stronger than any individual effort. We can all point to this game and be proud of it, knowing it was such a team effort.
Q : Given your collective know-how in the city-building genre, how was the concept for Children of the Nile born, and how did you go about conceptualising a game different – and better – than those you had worked on in the past?
We knew we wanted a 3d game. We knew it had to be completely different because we wanted to be able to walk the streets with our people, and people in previous City Building games were not real at all. They were randomly created by buildings to indicate some effect the engine was conveying about that building, or they were generated just to give your city ‘some noise’. Rather than impose these artificial rules on IC:CotN, we tried to keep the way the game functions intuitive to human nature.
When you take these real people but maintain the core elements of planning and expanding your city based on your objectives - you find yourself managing a society, instead of a somewhat abstract toy. We also wanted the player to feel much more like a pharaoh with all the power and limits of power that a pharaoh might have.
There is a mode of play in CotN on a world level where you get to dictate where the might of Egypt is focused and from this level, you can expand your rule. Much of this world level interaction brings different types of unique resources into your city, allowing your city to do things it could not do before. For instance, if there’s no limestone nearby, you can’t start building a pyramid until you discover a good location for a quarry in the world. You can then send out an expedition to establish a quarry, and maintain it, so it can send limestone back to you. For those times when you want your city to look more alive and there are no monkeys in your town, trade with a merchant and import them!
Q : Why did you choose Egypt as a setting this time around?
Chris Beatrice, the President of TM and Lead Designer of CotN, has said it best: “We chose ancient Egypt for the setting, because it occupies such a unique place in history, and it belongs to everyone. This was a real place, and yet, somehow it is also the stuff of make believe. This setting would allow us to push the boundaries of scale, and deliver a magical visual and audio presentation.”Q : In preparation of the game, was there any extensive research involved ?
The fact that we get to do lots of historic research is part of the fun of putting together a gaming model based on an historic setting. I might enjoy playing a first person shooter to relieve stress or just blow off some steam, but I would not want to spend three years of my life immersed in the production of one. We get to research history and spend our time learning crazy or amazing facts about cultures and events in time, and then drawing parallels between what we learn and what will make a good game play dynamic.
For example, we knew we didn’t want currency in the game or an artificial tool bar on the screen where your resources were stored. But we were kind of stuck on how to create a balanced game system that worked well without a currency, and still fit the setting. Then one of us came across a comment that the Greeks called the Egyptians ‘The Bread Eaters’ because soldiers in the army were paid six Kg (yes 13lbs) of bread per day!!
There we had it, our currency! It made sense, it worked in the model, we could store it in peoples’ homes and government bakeries - and we have history to thank for it.
I think the Entertainer is the most, well, entertaining! Seeing him walk to work, on his hands and telling people to stand back unless they want to be in the act while juggling is a surprise. I like watching the entire family of farmers come out and help in the fields or the Linen maker up on her roof while her kid collects flax. My daughter likes the bored kids having to dig clay for their folks, and the kid complaining that there should be a law about having to work in an onion patch all day.
Lots of cool characters, from the Pharaoh touring the city in his palanquin, to the Merchants with their donkeys (again with the history, no Camels until later in history than our game covers), or the stone carver chipping away at statues, or the students complaining at school, there is always someone to look at. You might be surprised when you see vagrants start begging for food, or turn to a life of crime - so sad.
Q : Lots of games have an ugly great boss at the end, you beat him and there you go, victory. what makes CotN different? What do players aim for - can you win, or lose?
You are the God-king of Egypt. Or at least that is what you tell yourself you want to be. The grand campaign takes you through five periods of history, with you choosing which city to make your capital from three cities in each period. During your dynasties’ reign you will achieve great deeds, and not so great deeds, but you will brag about them equally!
Building massive monuments, Obelisks, and giving people all the religion and healthcare they expect from you in return for their hard work in the desert, can make for a difficult day at the palace.
You win in each scenario by achieving the goals that loosely represent the historic setting of that city at the time, such as building a great pyramid in the Old Kingdom, or re-uniting the country in a time of civil unrest in an intermediate period.
At any time you can lose the game when your people deem they are better off without you and overthrow your government. Thankfully this usually takes a fair number of people, so it does not happen early in a cities life.
Q : Ok, so what’s the One Big Reason that people should go out and try Children of the Nile?
It has been 4 years since our last city builder and we have moved the genre ahead in a huge leap. All the classic City Building elements are there, but your people seem real this time, making it much more fun and much cooler when you build a large living city. The detailed gameplay in 3d makes it a lot more fun to explore your city and track down potential problems, and the strategic decisions about what to do next with the might of Egypt behind you is a lot of fun as well. There is something in here for everyone, come try it out - I think you will lose yourself in our journey down the Nile.
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