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8.6.2018 - Dev diary 3 - Diplomacy


Diplomacy makes strategy games feel alive. No matter how many barbarian hordes invade your borders nor how cunning their attacks are, without a leader who you can talk with to negotiate a potential ceasefire the enemy simply does not feel real.
 
We wanted to make Aggressors feel realistic, so we tried to bring some "life" into diplomacy. Interactions with an AI cannot replace the nuances of a communication between two human players, but if you give the AI a number of tools that it can use whilst following its own goals then the interaction suddenly feels much more real.
 
If we look at the diplomatic possibilities in the real world, we see that some countries forge military alliances to protect their interests, other states look for "business partners" to avoid trade barriers, and yet other nations cooperate on intelligence. In short, the forms of these partnerships can be quite unique and they cannot be simply labeled by one or two words like "vassal" or "ally".With this in mind we started to design our own concept of diplomacy.
 
Diplomacy was for us an extremely important feature right from the start and work on it never stopped. The concept has been modified and expanded throughout the whole development of the game and the possibilities and range of diplomatic actions were greatly expanded over time. We also paid a great deal of attention to historical sources and compared them with our design and the behavior of the AI. The game should follow historical reality as much as possible and therefore mutual relations of individual states were carefully reviewed and adjusted. 
 
 
There are now 11 types of bilateral agreements called treaties that work independently of each other. These include simple ones such as tile, city or unit visibility or more complex ones such as map exchange, support in supplying your ally’s units or agreement to let foreign traders through your sovereign territory. Each of these treaties can stand on its own or be combined with others which allows both the AI and the human players to create unique relationships with every opponent.
 
A clever combination of treaties can have numerous benefits. For example, if you want to invade lands that do not directly border your country you can sign a map exchange and shared supply agreement with the country you would need to cross with your armies. This way you will acquire information about the lands and terrains you need to cross and will be able to prepare your units in advance. The shared supply agreement will ensure that you don’t need to spend time and resources on maintaining long and vulnerable supply lines but you can use the hospitality of a friendly state instead.
 
 
Two of these treaties offer a real military and political alliance - Defense pact and a pact called "Brothers in arms". This is far more complicated than a simple agreement that allows foreign units through your country. These two alliances are a pledge that you will stand by each other's sides in defense of your lands as well as in offensive military campaigns. Such alliances can have a profound impact on your foreign policy and the position your empire holds on the global stage.
 
Treaties and alliances allow states to enter into a number of agreements that suit their current needs and to create very unique and pragmatic connections that can further strengthen their mutual bonds. Most importantly, such agreements are forged between AI players as well, as they also follow their own interests and plans.

 
Historical sources also inspired another important diplomatic feature - the possibility to merge two or more states. There are 3 options:
 
Confederation – union created on the diplomatic level where both states follow the same foreign policy but each maintains control over his own army and economy.
 
Federation – union based on sharing the same foreign policy, military and economy where one state is always a “leader” and the other a “member”.
 
The quantity of factors the AI player examines when entering into such a union or when considering remaining in one is quite long. Starting from the happiness of citizens and history of mutual relations, through the power of the army, successful military campaigns and territorial gains to abundance of resources and general development of the state infrastructure. Both of these unions can be revoked by either side after which both states regain their independence within the same limits as they were before merging. Therefore, when you misuse the trust of your partner by exploiting his resources, units or citizens to your own goals, friendly cooperation can soon turn into a sour experience with long-lasting consequences.
 
Absorption – union when one state effectively takes control over another state based on a voluntary mutual decision. This type of union is irrevocable.
 
 
 
All these features would be useless without an AI that knows how to use these tools to its own advantage and which can react logically and promptly to the actions of other players. In Aggressors you must keep in mind that every action can affect your foreign relations. Signing an agreement does not mean that your back is covered for good. Relations keep developing according to events and personal experiences. Even if the consequences are not immediate or substantial, there might be a slow deteriorating attitude of the other players towards you, and you might suddenly face a situation when you look to friends for help and you get only a wall of silence and rejection in response.
 
A minor border incident and a painstakingly built peace is shattered, and trust is ruined for decades. On the other hand, friendly gestures and actions can instigate mutual loyalties and trust that can forge strong and lasting bonds.
 
 
The attitude of one player towards another is determined by a range of factors. Starting from the philosophy of a 'friend of a friend is my friend' (which applies for enemies, too), through mutually beneficial lasting trade deals, to natural ‘meekness’ or ‘die-hardism’ of some nations.
 
Deliberate hostile actions (even small ones) resonate through the web of foreign relations and could leave a bad taste in the mouth of other players for a long time. For example, using piracy to steal from your enemies naturally deteriorates already bad relations. Cowardly declaring war to a friendly state by cancelling all agreements and treaties and marching your armies right away into attack is like a warning finger for other states that maintain friendly relations with you. Their trust will be shaken and they will be wary of any proposals coming from you. Similarly, the use of ‘dirty tactics’ such as city sieges when you deliberately leave the people to starve until death or surrender, are considered dishonourable actions.
 
On the other hand, even gestures that appear friendly on first look, such as negotiating peace after a long war, might not lead to positive results. For example, forcing another state into submission in this way might give you the false certainty that the situation has been contained but in reality, the enslaved nation will nourish their feeling of injustice and when the time is ripe they might hit back with a destructive force.
 
Diplomacy often mirrors the personality of the sovereign ruler and we wanted to reflect this in the game. We tried to give the nations in the campaign map a "personality" based on historical facts. The personality for example includes natural aggressiveness, which makes the AI courageous and willing to go into risky military campaigns (Pyrrhus of Epirus was a great example).
 
Another “trait” might be the willingness to join forces and fate with another country. This behavior has two levels – global, which means that the people in general do not have a strong national feeling and seek a strong protector, and player-to-player level which only affects particular relations (e.g. Massilia was an ally and trading partner of Roman Empire and it was opened to many proposals from the Romans, but not so much with Carthage, Rome’s arch-enemy).
 
The campaign's initial setup also tries to simulate historical relations between states. Whichever nation you choose to lead you will need only couple of turns to realize who your friends are and who are potential threats. The rolling ball of historical events will suck you into action right from the start.
 
Let's talk about some more historical aspects of the campaign map in one of our next dev diaries.



1.6.2018 - Five fact about the game


Aggressors: Ancient Rome is currently into beta (click here to apply) and we recently started to publish dev diaries about it. We want to provide as much as information about the game as possible since it is a deep game and many of its mechanics work subtly underneath the surface.
 
Today we decided to highlight five specific features of the game, facts that all strategy players should find really interesting!

In Aggressors you can decide to rewatch the full history of your empire at any time you want. You can't imagine how satisfying it is to conquer Italy as Carthage and rewatching it, savouring your triumph!

The game displays all sorts of useful stats and info in very handy ledgers and graphs, so you can take educated strategic decisions.

The in-game editor lets you create and customize your own world. You have complete freedom!

You are not restricted to play as Rome, or as a major Empire. You can decide to play as a minor tribe, and get a completely different gameplay experience!

Not only you can rewatch the history of your units at any time, and know what battles they fought, where and how they fared, but their personal history deeply affects their effectiveness in specific circumstances!
 

25.5.2018 - Dev Diary 2 - Military command


I am a huge fan of 4X strategy games. I love the whole idea behind it: you start as a small nation which slowly gains the respect of others, you see your economy grow, you advance in technology, build an army… You watch your empire rise and you develop an attachment to your own people. You care about them. If your country is invaded you literally feel betrayed and in danger because you know your people suffer. 
 
On the other hand, I have always liked tactical games like Panzer General where you don't command small units but have a full control of your army. You are in charge of all the important aspects of a military campaign from a macro level.
 
Being an emperor and a general at the same time - that was what I wanted to achieve when I started the development of Aggressors. In my mind, Aggressors should be a simulation of a real military campaign with the need to balance realistic aspects like supply management, loyalty, army morale, soldiers attitude and other threats like starvation or desertion. Overall, there are many different factors you need to take into account when planning your military campaigns in Aggressors. Remember, winning battles is important but, in the end, you need to win the war. 
 
Army morale was one of the concepts that has been there since the very first design document as one of the main factors determining the outcome of battles. 
 
The pride, courage and readiness to fight and die for the nation and its leader was prized above all else and played equally decisive or even more important role in the battle outcomes of the period than quality of arms or sufficient supplies. Minor incidents that were out of the commander's control could have devastating effects on the morale of the armed units such as bad omens or a negative prophecy. 

 
However, the army morale was also very much dependent on what enemy the units faced and the history of mutual conflicts. The Roman Empire conquered Greece relatively easy but Germania became Rome’s nemesis. And it can be argued that part of this desperate war against Germanic tribes and the inability to reach a decisive victory was also affected by very low army morale when standing against the feared barbarians. Romans felt themselves superior to Greeks and the army morale of units on Greek front was high but the same cannot be said about Germanic tribes. 
 
Army morale also changes depending on previous battle results against a specific opponent. Every new tile and territory taken, every mine or city conquered significantly impact armies on both sides. Defeated units will lose courage and willingness to fight which compromises their fighting abilities. The supreme commander has several tools at his disposal to boost the army morale of his units. He can employ an oracle to make a prophecy, hold a motivating speech, use propaganda tools or review enemy tactics and make new battle plans. And, in certain moments, State decisions also might come handy, but this is for one of the next dev diaries. 
 

In history, stable and reliable supply lines played an extremely important role as traveling both over land and over sea was time-consuming and risky. 
 
The success of any military campaign was dependent on how well supplied with food, armaments and other essentials the advancing units were. Incorrect supply planning could have been the proverbial Achilles heel of any successful offensive. 
 
I wanted to translate this important part of military planning into the game and reflect in the design both the distance to which the supply lines have to stretch to reach the advancing units and their safety. 

 
There are so called "suppliers" in the game such as cities, naval units or wagons that can store and carry supplies to units on the battlefront. The efficiency of supply lines depends on the terrain and the possibility to use roads. Based on these factors a so-called supply area map is calculated. 
 
If a unit advances too far and gets outside of the reach of the suppliers or if the supply line has been broken, the army morale and strength of the unit deteriorates with every turn. If the situation does not change fast, the unit eventually starves to death, deserts or is disbanded of its own accord. 
 
Desertion is a threat you always have to be careful about. Fighting men are under an extreme pressure and not enough supplies or fear of the enemy can have a serious effect on their willingness to fight, and then you might face massive desertions. 
 

The idea for the feature called loyalty which was implemented later came from playing the game. It often happened that a player conquered an enemy city, repaired it in few turns and immediately used it as for recruitment of new units. But in reality, civilizations that inhabited the Mediterranean region were very different and it would be wrong to think that they did not feel any pride and loyalty towards their roots, culture and nation. It usually took decades to pacify conquered people and have the option to recruit them to your own army, and even more so to trust them that they will not run away in battle..
 
When Romans conquered Germanic or Celtic settlement, they could hardly hope to immediately start recruiting capable men, as tribal warriors would either refuse to fight under a Roman banner or desert at the first opportunity. Relying on them, even as mercenary forces, was very risky and it could jeopardize entire campaigns.

 
I wanted the historical reality to guide my thinking and so I came up with yet another concept - loyalty. It is an indicator as to how loyal the city or unit is to its new master and it is determined by the cultural similarity of the individual nations. If Romans took an Epirean city in the south of Italy, the loyalty of the city would be initially low (very few cities welcome conquerors) but relatively quickly the city would become fully integrated in the state structures and the people would put their resentment behind as they went on with their daily business. However, the situation would be much different in a Celtic city at the edge of Alps. It would take them decades to accept Roman customs and pledge their loyalties to the Empire. 
 
Loyalty levels grow relatively slowly and it might take many years to reach 100%. Until then, the units recruited in cities with low loyalty are inferior to other units and it needs to be carefully considered if building such units is even worth it. 
 
This concept brought the whole system of recruiting new units in the game much closer to the historical reality. 
 
The features described here are just a part of those which have an impact on the battle itself. I wanted to describe first those which have an impact on the whole battlefront however there is another side of a coin – the tactical aspect of war. Starting from units’ own attitude and a long list of distinct improvements through the ability to defend or attack on particular terrains to special rules for defending military structures. But that would be a long story again so let's talk about it in one of our next dev diaries.
 


18.5.2018 - Dev Interview


We were asked for a short interview where we would answer couple of questions. The questions were pretty interesting and that's why we decided to publish the interview on this website as well.

Journalist: First of all, thanks a lot for your time and congrats for the outstanding job with this game so far. What moved you to adopt the Ancient Mediterranean during the period of the rise of Rome as setting?
 
Pavel Kubat: The Aggressors was initially supposed to be released as a multimod game, but I eventually realized that this was simply not possible. Not just because we had a very small development team, but also because the amount of testing required and likelihood of bugs would not let us finish it. 
 
The Ancient Mediterranean was chosen to be the first mod to finish. Even in this phase I did not want to release just one campaign map. I wanted to give players hundreds of hours of fun straight away. Three different historical periods were attractive for me - the expansion of Rome, the conflicts between Sparta and Athens (and Greek city states in general) and the fall of the Roman Empire. Instead of parallel development of three mods, we started to work on three scenarios in parallel. Eventually we came to a crossroad where a very important question arose. Which is better? Is it three scenarios done well or one scenario polished into finest details? After a long discussion we decided to go for the second option. But not only that. We decided to extend the rules and historical feeling by introducing objectives tailored for each country and other features (which we will reveal soon in one of our upcoming dev diaries). This would simply not be possible to finish for all three scenarios. But don't worry. They were not cancelled, just suspended, waiting for the day when they come back to life.
 
So, we decided to go for one polished scenario but which one? Don't you think that the first release of Aggressors coincides nicely with the rise of Rome as a metaphor? 

Journalist: What is your favourite faction to use in Aggressors: Ancient Rome and why?
 
P.K. I have played all the factions, many times. Despite this fact I still enjoy playing it and keep forgetting that it is actually my job. Which is my favourite... Good question. I would probably say Epirus kingdom. I really love the initial setup. Epirus kingdom starts on three different parts of the Mediterranean. The biggest part is located in the Balkans almost in the same area as today's Albania. The second part of the kingdom is in the southern part of Italy called Calabria for which the Romans have their own plans. The third part is in the Eastern part of Sicily, which you share with the Carthaginians and they would really like to take over the whole of Sicily. It sounds hopeless, doesn’t it? Two powerful empires getting closer to each other and you are between them. I enjoy being caught between a rock and a hard place and I have to admit that saving all these parts is a heroic feat which I have accomplished just once. In all the other cases it was an exhausting set of diplomatic compromises and the art of war and at the end you are happy that you saved at least one of these parts. 
 
On the other hand, I really enjoy all the factions – the Spartans trying to reestablish themselves as a military superpower, post-Alexander empires like Seleucid or Ptolemaic fighting between each other or one of the nomadic tribes struggling to find a fertile land and establish their own kingdom.
 
Journalist: What is the aspect of the game you’re most proud of?
 
P.K. In general - logic. Everything in the game makes sense and is based on the similar aspects of real life and history. Every rule was added only after we found a similar concept in history with a similar impact. Every decision matters and the number of options between which you need to choose is quite high. 
If you ask about one specific feature, I would probably say simulation of crowd behavior. Starting from recruiting units in cities, which depopulate when men are recruited, through to migration where people tend to leave unhappy or dangerous places, to people's attitude which can lead to revolts or even civil wars.


 
Journalist: Is there any feature or piece of content you definitely want to add in the future to Aggressors?
 
P.K. There are a number of features that we already have in our "wishlist". Some of them were added to this list in the early stages of development but it was simply impossible to implement them all for the first release. I don't really want to reveal stuff which could arrive in possible extensions of the game. You will see!  
 
Apart from features themselves I would like to have the game as open as possible. Starting from sharing custom scenarios created by players through modding support, where players can change the rules of the game, to fully featured scripting. Of course, the last one would be only for advance modders. 
 
Journalist: Is it possible to “play tall”, meaning that you don’t have to expand to a very large empire and that you can still play as a very competitive and strong smaller country, if played well?
 
P.K. We definitely shoot for that. There are a number of winning conditions, starting from the typical conquest and victory points (different for each player) to cultural and technological ones where the size of cities and their level of development, as well as technological dominance and amount of "influence", play the most important role. We tried to create winning conditions which would be in sync with similar historical situation of Constantinople. At the end of ancient history and basically for the whole Middle Ages this city was the centre of the cultural world, despite the fact that the empire itself had been shrinking since the seventh century. We have been trying to implement a similar approach.
 
Journalist: What do you think of the current situation in the 4x genre? Do you think Aggressors could be a breath of fresh air?
 
P.K. I think that the 4X genre is on a difficult path. It is true that 4X strategy games are basically the most difficult ones to implement and that is also the reason why not many companies try to go this way. When you compare the number of FPSs or RPGs, the number of 4X strategies is very small. That is also the reason why we hope we can contribute in this domain.
 
I don't know if I can generally answer the second question in an unbiased way!  I definitely think, and hope, that players will find some new features in Aggressors that they’ve not seen anywhere else and also some renewed ones which make much more sense than in other strategy games. I don't want to hide that I am a big fan of other strategy games like Civilization (especially Civ I, II and IV), Colonization and other classics. That's actually the reason why I always wanted to bring my own 4X strategy game to life. A 4X strategy game which would really make sense and where all what is going on can be explained through historic examples. I hope that we achieved that and Aggressors is a living dream came to life.
 
 

11.5.2018 - Dev Diary 1: Origins of the game


Hi all! My name is Pavel Kubat and I am the lead developer and designer behind Aggressors: Ancient Rome. This will be the first of a series of Dev Diaries introducing the game and its gameplay. In this first episode I will tell you the story of Aggressors, of how it all started, how the original idea developed in time and what the current plans for the game are.
 
The development of the game Aggressors goes way back: it started at the end of 2008 but the origins of the game go all the way back to 1995 when the rules for a board game called Aggressors were set down. It was set in the time of World War II and one game lasted several days. Up to 8 players could play, each leading a different country. Alas, soon it became clear that getting the players together for such a long game will eventually put the game on a shelf in a hope that it will be taken out again one day!
 
However, it was always my intention to bring the game into a digital form as well and so I set down one day 10 years ago and started programming the basics of the game. First, it was purely a hobby that took couple of hours a day but soon it grew into a passion and later even into a full-time job. Originally, there was no time plan set. Basic features were designed first, the rules have undergone a radical transformation since the time of the board game and the whole concept of the game was reviewed and refined several times.
 
My original ambition was to build a framework for strategy games that would fully support mods for different types of games with different rules, units and look (historical, fantasy, sci-fi). All these mods would use the same core – a framework called today Aggressors.
 
This idea of modding was embedded in the Aggressors core from the beginning and to prove the stability and flexibility of the framework, 3 mods of different genres and historical periods were being developed in parallel. However, as the complexity of the project grew over time, it became clear that it was not possible to keep working on all 3 mods at a sufficient level. Eventually the mod Ancient Rome was selected as the first to be finished and polished. Therefore, Aggressors is the title of a brand and Ancient Rome is one of its mods: one that fully represents my vision of the ancient world.
 
Over the time the number of people who contributed to the development has increased. It was a game which couldn’t be handled by myself alone: the scope of the project has expanded so much and it had become too much to bite for only one man. Kubat Software grew, as grew our list of partners. Starting from the UI and 3D designer to illustrators and content writers, whatever was beyond our limits was outsourced. We were finally able to bring the original vision to light.
 
About the game
 
If we were to sum it up: it is a historical 4x turn-based strategy game where players take turns in building their empires.
 
Aggressors is inspired by other games, such as Civilization IV, Colonization and older hit games, such as Panzer General and Centurion.
 
With Aggressors we want to simulate historical reality as much as possible. Starting from tile-based maps with elevated terrains modeled according to historical sources, through complex game mechanics to small details such as specific unit types for different nations. The game features many typical 4X factors, like different types of governments that greatly affect the internal political situation, complex diplomatic relations (for instance you can have friendly relations with another player, or deeper ones including alliances with friends or you can even unite with the best allies in federations or confederations) as well as scientific advancements that affect political, military, social and cultural life. But there are also a number of new features and game concepts like army morale, loyalty, supply management, birth rate and many others.
 

4.5.2018 - Aggressors: Ancient Rome is announced!

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Julius Caesar, Shakespeare
 
Slitherine announces Aggressors: Ancient Rome - the new turn-based 4X strategy game that brings you back to the ancient world. A mix of deep gameplay and rich historical flavour, Aggressors lets you relive history as the ruler of one of the mighty civilizations of the Mediterranean world. Choose Rome to conquer the Mare Nostrum, or Carthage and build an immortal trading empire. Choose one of twenty available factions and conquer the world, changing the course of history, from Egypt to Athens and Sparta.
 
Be like Gaius Marius, with his exceptional abilities in reforming Rome and its army. You can manage all aspects of your empire: war, trade, internal politics, diplomacy and cultural development. Rule your empire by managing its internal politics and developing its economy. Establish trade routes to reap wealth, ensure the loyalty of your citizens, manage demographics, technological research, internal reforms, and laws; the tools at your disposal are endless and seamlessly integrate with each other. But beware: citizens react to the current situation and they can move to other places when they are not happy.
 
Be like Caesar, with his unparalleled strategic genius.Experience the incredibly deep combat system, with each unit having its own abilities and traits, with terrain affecting the outcome in a meaningful way. Army morale and the supply system are crucial and need to be considered before any battle. You will need all your guile and strategic mastery to triumph on the battlefield. Vae victis!
 
Be like Hannibal, play your own way and surprise the enemy. Play on your strengths, beware of your weaknesses. The ancient world is brutal, for no mercy shall be given to the defeated. Twenty factions, from migrating barbarian tribes to advanced empires, which interact with each other through an extremely detailed diplomatic system. Make use of more than ten available diplomatic agreements, including the possibility of forming Federations and Confederations as well as affecting nations and provinces in your sphere of influence.
 
Believe us, you never played a 4X like Aggressors. Manage all aspects of your mighty empire with complete freedom: you can decide to start with an advanced nation surrounded by newer civilizations, or you can choose to start as a young tribe, ready to take on an older and decadent empire… or you can decide to completely randomize the map and play in a uniquely generated world. The choice is yours!Dive into Aggressor at your own pace: thanks to the tutorial and tool tips you can gradually explore all the options available to you.


 
Aggressors: Ancient Rome will be available on Steam and PC in Q3. The Beta is open now! Slitherine is looking for experienced players who want to test their abilities in Aggressors. Join up here!