Chris Beatrice on Zeus

Following the announcement of Zeus: Master of Olympus, the upcoming city-building game from Impressions, Angel Reckless Rodent fired off a few questions to Impressions regarding what we can all expect. The questions sent were answered by none other than Chris Beatrice, Director of Design and Development, himself.

Ok, enough of the introduction. Here’s what you came here for:

ARR: Why Ancient Greece? Has it been planned from the outset?

Chris Beatrice: Caesar 2 was one of our first real successes as developers, and ever since then we’ve thought about other settings that might be compelling for future city-building games. We always considered Rome, Greece and Egypt to be the “big three” of ancient, classical civilizations, and knew that eventually we’d cover each of them. Egypt was our first choice after Rome, and believe it or not we actually came close to doing Pharaoh on the Caesar 2 engine, but we really wanted to evolve the engine and game model a bit before expanding into other settings. So I guess the answer is yes and no… now that we have a game system that is so compelling, fun and versatile, we can really do justice to this popular and important civilization.

ARR: According to the PR, Zeus is “a game of politics and trade, gods and heroes”. How will this affect the gameplay in relation to C3 and Pharaoh?

Chris Beatrice: You’ve touched on two points with that quote, so I’ll cover each of them separately. In Caesar III the world or empire level was pretty much static, though trading partners would come and go, prices could change, and the empire seemed to grow as time passed. The point was that you were a humble cog in a much larger machine. In Pharaoh we developed the world level a bit further, covering a much broader span of time, and making cities more interconnected with each other and with what came before. In both games you, the player, started off as an unassuming servant of “the empire”, and gradually worked your way up.

In Zeus you, the player, are ruler of an independent city-state (it’s important to note the difference between city and city state – I’ll touch on this later), which is more like a little kingdom. You’re basically on your own, and the rest of the world is completely interactive: you can establish colonies, you have ally and rival cities to contend with, each city maintains real-time diplomacy with you, you can attack and conquer other cities (and demand tribute thereafter); you can give gifts to them or make demands of them… you can even order your allies to attack your enemies for you! Of course, all of the other cities can do this to you too… so unlike those in Caesar III and Pharaoh, the other cities in Zeus are truly living, thinking entities.

Trade is not made possible by paying to open routes, but on whether or not you’re in good enough standing with a given city for them to trade with you (if you’re not, you can always threaten them for goods, or attack them and take what you need. Better yet, you can establish your own colony and become even more self-sufficient). So, the nature of the world is not one of a stable, powerful empire of which the player is a modest part, but of a collection of independent, even maverick city-states (mini-kingdoms really) all vying for more prosperity (and some are friendlier than others).

As far as gods and heroes, I could go on and on but I’ll try to just touch on the important points here. First I should say that in many ways Zeus is a less serious game than its city-building predecessors. In Zeus we take a lot of liberties with Greek history and mythology, borrowing and mixing characters and events freely from the so-called “Heroic Age” (i.e. the Iliad & Odyssey), the Dark Age (i.e. Xena, Warrior Princess), and the Classical Age (which is more like ancient Rome), to deliver a light-hearted, comprehensive, and fun experience of ancient Greece and its myths that users will find familiar and entertaining.

In Zeus, the gods crave the player’s worship, and almost trip over themselves trying to be the player’s number one god. Depending on the player’s goals, certain gods will tend to support him/her and certain gods will oppose him. In order to satisfy his goals (one way or another) the player usually has to worship at least one of the gods, and that god then comes to the player’s city to help him. This can take a variety of forms, from the god walking the streets and sanctifying certain structures, to granting the player some mythical beast to help defend the city, or even personally engaging in combat with the city’s enemies.

Heroes are another story…(pardon the pun). Some of the player’s goals consist of “quests”, where s/he must employ certain heroes to achieve some goal, such as retrieving the Golden Fleece, or slaying a mythical monster. Acquiring and maintaining heroes is not a trivial task, though.