An Interview with Chris Beatrice
I recently was very privileged to be asked by Heaven Games to interview Chris Beatrice, the President and Director of Development of Tilted Mill Entertainment, about their new game, Children of the Nile (CotN). This is how the conversation went.
Granite Q: Hi Chris. Most of us are aware of your role in the Impressions City Building series; perhaps you could bring us up to date on what you have been doing since then.
Chris Beatrice: That’s kind of a long story. I can’t believe it’s been almost three years since we left Impressions, and now here we are a few months away from releasing our first project as Tilted Mill. Jeff Fiske and I were reminiscing this weekend about how far we’ve come… we both remember the winter of 2001-2002, sitting in my living room, sketching out the core ideas for CotN on a small white board. It was just the two of us as designers, plus Peter Haffenreffer and my wife, Marsha, working with me to set up the basic framework of the company. Now here we are 3 years and 30 employees later.
GQ: How different is the concept behind CotN compared with the previous city builders?
CB: Sometimes I put it simply like this: what you do in CotN is very similar to what you do in other city-building games, but what the game does is different. So how you decide what to do is of course very different. And that’s by design. We were very committed to the idea that CotN was to be a city-building game. There is something about this genre that is unique, and yet few developers seem to do anything with it. So we set out to make an entirely new game model, but one which still saw you placing buildings and roads, and giving some basic orders. That is essentially what players do in city-building games, and we stuck very closely to that from a UI perspective. But once we took the very obvious first step of giving the people in the game individual needs, and having them try to meet those needs themselves, everything else opened up. In the end we turned over a whole host of “traditional” strategy game mechanisms, and created a game that is unique among strategy games and sims.
GQ: How much will the player be able to influence what the citizens do?
CB: This is like one of those political poll questions, where you get a very different answer depending on exactly how you phrase it. In one sense, not at all. That’s kind of the point, and we believe that by maintaining that wall, that absolute division, your experience playing the game will be much deeper, and your understanding of how the game works will be more intuitive. People in the game make decisions based on what’s best for them. A lot of veteran gamers have a hard time understanding why certain AI routines in CotN work the way they do, because maybe that’s not the most efficient way, for example, for a bricklayer to operate. But if you stop thinking about “AI routines’, you won’t have that problem. This game isn’t about the people facilitating what you want, or guessing at what you want them to do. It’s about you exploiting their natural desires and drives. We hope that clicks for people, because a lot of the behavior in the game makes a lot more sense when you forget you’re playing a game.
GQ: What viewing techniques will there be for players, for example fly-by, zoom function?
CB: There are three different camera modes, the most robust of which is full camera control. This allows you to zoom and rotate the view freely. You can zoom further in and out than in just about any game. When zoomed all the way in, the scrolling behavior is reversed, so you can move through the streets in a manner similar to what’s done in a first-person game. You can also lock the camera onto any individual in the city, and track him/her by three different methods.
GQ: Diplomacy became an ever-increasing influence in city building games, how will diplomacy work in CotN?
CB: We made the very conscious decision early on to bring the focus of city-building games back to city-building. So you spend most of your time on the city level, and you don’t really feel any pressure from the world level. There are all sorts of other sites on the world level, though, such as foreign cities, opportunities for exploration, cultural achievements you can undertake, monuments to build, hostile raiders to subjugate, etc. But these are all opportunities for you as Pharaoh to decide to do or not to do (or what order to do them, etc.).
GQ: What sort of targets/goals will the player have to achieve in each game?
CB: Building games are unique (and interesting, to me) in that there is a very wide range of goals that can drive you forward. All, of course, depend on your ability to build a large and prosperous city, overcoming the specific challenges of the terrain and scenario. Goals often center on the world level, for example, you need to build a fort at Buhen, a colossal statue at Abu Simbel, bring peace to the Nubian border, circumnavigate Africa, conquer an enemy, expand the nation, etc. Then there are city-building goals, such as supporting a certain number of elites in townhouses. There are also RPG style goals, for example, to achieve a certain level of notoriety or “prestige.” One significant, implicit goal that is always present is the need to build your tomb before you pass into the afterlife.
GQ: What period(s) of Egyptian history will you be covering?
CB: The Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, plus the two Intermediate Periods.
GQ: Finally how is CotN progressing? Are you on your target/schedule for a November release?
CB: You betcha.
GQ: Chris, many thanks for taking the time in your busy daily schedule to bring HeavenGames up to date on this exciting new game. We are all looking forward to it tremendously and wish you every success with it.
CB: Thank you guys for all the interest and support you’ve shown for me and the team over the years.