It started with the historical map and initial setup of course. We spent many weeks studying historical sources, maps and chronicles to set up the map as accurately as we could. It was not always easy - some nations didn't leave any source of information about what kind of life they led, what were they trying to achieve or conqueror even where they were located exactly. We can find only fragmentary information from other nations writing about their enemies or "unknown barbarians behind their borders". Sometimes it was a bit of a roll of the dice as the sources were often contradictory and we had to pick one.
After long time tweaking the map, we are pretty happy about the result and we could finally move on to an even more difficult part - historical context. We needed to setup the nations and goals in such a way that would draw the players in and made them identify with the nation they lead.
Historical summaries are full of big dreams, ambitions and grand plans. We let ourselves be inspired by these great visionaries and we decided to create a set of unique short-term and mid-term goals for each nation that reflect the aspirations and hopes of ancient heroes.
This was even more difficult than the map setup because we needed to "guess" the potential goals of each of the nation despite the fact that in history they were wiped out by their enemies before they reached any of those goals! Sometimes we could be led by history itself (like for example in the case of the Roman conquest of Sicily), sometimes by historical sources of what specific countries and conquerors aspired to achieve and sometimes by our own point of view and we had to think about "what if" situations.
We named these goals Objectives and they include territorial expansion, military campaigns, economic, cultural or political development, diplomatic relationships and many more. But nothing comes easy in life and neither do rewards for achieving the Objective’s goal. Players need to put some effort and thinking into these side quests to reap the bonuses waiting at their ends.
We didn‘t want to create these objectives in a way like many other games do - "conquer this and that and you get precisely this amount of resources as a reward". This doesn’t feel very realistic and thus the feeling of fulfilling the actual goal of a specific country is forever lost.
In Aggressors the player doesn’t know what exactly he needs to do to reach the goal, neither does he know the scope of the potential rewards. The ancient nations worked hard to turntheir plans into reality but events out of their control could shatter their life-long work. Even if they crowned their effort with success, the benefits were not predictable or known in advance. Actually, fulfilling grandiose plans could even bring more problems than profits.
Let's demonstrate how the Objectives system works with an example – the goal is to build a strong standing army. As a commander of all armed forces you want to have a reliable and formidable army. You start recruiting men into infantry and cavalry units and perhaps even expand your fleet. But the strength of your army is only measurable in comparison with armies of your opponents and you can be sure that they do not waste time and build their armed forces just as you are trying to do the same. So, it cannot be predicted how many units or what unit types you need to achieve the objective. It simply depends on what kind of opponents you have.
And in the same way you cannot predict the effects such actions will have. It might seem like becoming a military superpower can result in small and weak states offering you political alliances as they hope to gain a strong protector and the happiness of your citizens will increase as they will feel safe in their homes. On the other hand, once you really accumulate such a power, people might slowly realize that they don‘t really need such a power anymore and the potential benefit might be close to nothing. Moreover the majority of young and able men are now serving in your army and there simply isn't enough men to work the fields. All in all, you cannot see the future until it happens and you can only adapt to its ever-changing flow.
But we realize that the player already gets a lot of adrenalin from all the action in the game and so we have hidden a hint in the description of each objective that should guide the player in the right direction. The information is purely textual like the goals in Ancient times and players must follow this hint till they reach the goal. Apart from that, there is a progress bar showing how far the player has gone in achieving the goal and this can also be taken as an indication if he is going the right way.
The setup of these objectives is not fixed from the beginning. Some objectives unlock other objectives depending on the way the alternative history of the game develops so you will always find a number of interesting side quests to fill your days with.
While working on the Objectives we realized that the ancient leaders were quite creative in using their resources and in creating opportunities. Ruling a large nation was never an easy task and to succeed meant that they always had to find a way out of a difficult situation.
All rulers are eventually confronted with situations that require fast and decisive actions, for example acute lack of resources, crisis or dangerously low army morale. History teaches us that in such moments the ruling elite usually tried to find a quick and effective, even if unusual and risky, remedy which in the game is represented by the so called State decisions. They are solutions that can contain dangerous situations and slow the downfall but their success rate and impact is difficult to predict and you will need to take the leap of faith if you decide to use them.
Take the examples of food distribution in times of a looming famine, organizing games when unrest was stirring in the population or calling tribal meetings when joint action was required. Such actions were not frequently used, rather the opposite. But when the crisis reached its peak and the ruling class was gripped by desperation, they were willing to turn to risky and often expensive solutions.
Nothing is for free and also the State decisions come at a price while their outcomes are not fully predictable even with the textual estimation of potential outcome. It is the choice of the player to choose if he is ready to pay perhaps a high price to buy himself some time to restore the situation in his country.
The State decisions are available only when concrete conditions are fulfilled and only whilst those conditions last. It is only logical, you probably wouldn’t enforce complete obedience of your soldiers by ordering army decimation unless it is the last and only hope you have left to keep your military units fighting.
I think it is good time to slowly dive into one of the most important aspects of the game - country management. It includes aspects like population happiness, migration, birthrate control and influence of adjacent countries on your cities. But this is a subject for our next dev diary...