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Teudogar and the Alliance with Rome Interview
Interview - posted by Vault Dweller on Mon 22 December 2003, 17:08:09Tags: Teudogar and the Alliance with Rome; Wolf Mittag
1. Please introduce yourself for our readers and tell us about your studio.
My name's Wolf Mittag. I'm 28 years old. Teudogar and the Alliance with Rome is the first really large RPG I've written so far, in cooperation with a freelance graphics artist, Arne Niemuth, and two translators, Volker Schlanze and Patrick Mumpower.
2. Teudogar and the Alliance with Rome is a historical RPG reflecting actual events and providing a fair amount of interesting information. Why did you decide to make a historically accurate game? I'm fascinated with the Roman Empire and looking forward to explore the gameworld you created, but have you ever had a concern that some people would think that history=boring?
Though I chose a historical setting for this game, from a player's point of view it is a classical role playing game, and definitely not a history lesson. It re-creates the heathen and barbaric world of the ancient Teutons in a historically accurate way - but the main purpose for doing so is to provide you with an exciting game world, an eventful plot, and an authentically barbarian, savage and superstitious atmosphere.
In my opinion, facts are often more dramatic than fiction. I consider the divine and nerdy, adulterous, parsimonious and visionary Emperor Augustus a more colorful and threatening figure then J.R.R.Tolkien's evil Sauron; and the Roman legionaries, cursing and longingly dreaming of far-away Rome's pleasures while they were making their way through Germania's icy swamps, more interesting opponents than the often-cited Orc hoards.
Besides, the particular historical epoch this game is set in was a time of absolute liberty (at least for part of the population), of complete anarchy, of constant bloodshed, of wild and daring schemes, of strong belief in magic, and of absolute political incorrectness. Consequently, you're much more unrestricted in such a setting than you'd be in a more modern world, or in a fantasy world influenced by modern thinking and modern values.
I'm trying to depict this foreign and strange historical world in all its glory, and all its ugliness and cruelty as well. If a role playing game's purpose is to temporarily get you away from your usual surroundings, values, ways of thinking and acting, to allow you to be a totally different person for a while, to take a brief vacation from your usual self, then I believe "Teudogar"'s historical world is better suited to archieve this than many fantasy worlds.
3. Why have you decided to set your game in this particular period?
I find this period (12 B.C.) spectacular. You've got an emperor who won his throne by ending democracy and waging a decade-long civil war. Now he's ruling over a third of the world's entire population, and has himself idolized as a god. In order to conquer a barbaric country which he considers a threat to national security, he sends out 50,000 excellently trained and equipped soldiers. These men, many of whom may have grown up in the city of Rome, with a million inhabitants, five-storey buildings, aqueducts, public libraries etc, now enter a country totally devoid of civilization, and consisting mainly of dense forests and swamps, where the natives live in tiny villages or single farmsteads, sharing their mud-covered huts with their cattle.
These barbarians were our ancestors, and their language, mentality and customs still continue to form a certain part of our national heritage (whether Anglo-Saxon or German), and thus our own personal identity as well. Yet we are civilized, and though we sense relatedness, they seem foreign and strange to us. How did they live? How do you live without civilization, with total lawlessness and anarchy, with total liberty for many, yet total oppression for others? How do you live when you believe in Gods and Goddesses who were illustrious and cruel, when you fear wizardry, when the idea of "mercy" is still unknown, when every free man always carries a weapon, and when there was no law probihibiting to kill?
So there's a stark contrast between two peoples to both of whom we can feel related; there's a clash of civilizations; there's an imminent threat you need to deal with (Roman legions conquering your land); plenty of conflict (a divided nation; many people siding with Rome, others wanting to fight for independence); and a wild and dangerous, free and lawless world: In my opinion, perfect ingredients for a RPG plot.
4. I played the demo which I recommend to all our readers, and I couldn't help but notice that there are magical weapons and the website mentions wizardry skills. How does that fit into a historically authentic RPG? Why have you decided to include the magic into your game?
I included wizardry into the game exactly in order to make it historically authentic: When you're playing "Teudogar", I want you to feel like a genuine Germanic barbarian - and that includes superstitiousness.
Of course there are no fireballs or instant healing spells in "Teudogar". But it was common among all Germanic tribes to curse enemies, bless your loved ones, call on the Gods for assistance, sacrifice to win the Gods' favor, trust in enchanted weapons and so on: Therefore, these and other historically documented "spells" are included in this game.
People strongly believed in wizardry, and this belief probably made it actually effective. E.g., if you believed in blessings, knowing that you'd been blessed would free you from worrying about a possible defeat. This would enhance your concentration and courage, thereby actually improving your chances of winning a duel. That fact that you attributed your success to a supernatural cause doesn't bother me as long as there is reason to believe such a "spell" genuinely worked.
This is the kind of "magic" included in "Teudogar". It's not about gaining instant victory by pulverizing your enemies, but rather about tilting the odds in your favor by giving you confidence, or by demoralizing your enemies. Today we'd consider it plain autosuggestion, psychology, placebo effects, or manipulation; yet it was equally effective when it was called "magic" and its effects were attributed to higher powers' interference.
Similarily, the "magic" with "magical" weapons was usually nothing but chemistry, e.g. when a smith figured out a special way of treating the raw metal that improved his swords' solidness. Of course you might also have your weapon blessed: If you believed in the blessing's effectiveness, handling such a weapon would incease your confidence, which in turn might unnerve your opponents.
This kind of "magic" isn't great for graphical special effects; yet it allows me to offer a broad range of different realistic spells and magical objects that the ancient Teutons actually used or believed in - thereby offering gaming fun and RPG qualities, without crossing the line from historical authenticity to fantasy.
5. What is your RPG background? What games and role-playing concepts shaped your vision of Teudogar, and helped make it the game it is. The endgame screens look familiar, is it a tribute to Nethack?
I loved the Ultima series (as everyone taking a look at "Teudogar" will probably see at first sight). I came accross "Nethack" later, but by then I had far less time for computer games, so I didn't play this as intensively, though its level of depth did impress me.
The statistics on people slain and combats won and so on are partly inspired by "Seven Kingdoms", and partly by the feeling of loss, of being thrown out of the game too rapidly, that I felt whenever I died: A detailed looking back at your accomplishments and vices made that feel more acceptable.
The endgame screens where you end up being extradited and crucified, or remaining farmer, becoming Roman mercenary, and so on, are inspired by Sid Meyer's "Pirates" game, where you could end up being a beggar or governor, duke or merchant captain, happy and content or bitter and resentful - all depending on what decisions and actions you took during the game. Similarily, there are about two dozen different game endings in "Teudogar", as well as dozens of different obituaries.
6. Tell us about the combat and its mechanics. What sets it aside from other RPG?
Combat is plain and turn-based, yet I tried to make it colorful, dramatic and realistic, with javelin throws and close combat with swords or daggers, with enemies encircling you, women blessing the warriors they side with, with curse and frighten-spells, with blood flowing, fleeing enemies losing their shields and weapons, your armor getting damaged, and booty to be used as a sacrifice for the Gods.
Though there's plenty of combat, killing people or animals (there are no monsters in this game) is not the main way of building up experience. You'll gain experience of life from everything you do (indeed from almost every mouse click you make), even when you fail. Fighting will improve your sword, attack, parade and shield skills - but you could archieve this by combat practice as well. More important for your development are victories and successes, whether in combat, or in fulfilling quests, or reaching your political goals. I.e., the character system's emphasis is on general activity and success, not on body counts. (That does of course not prevent you from making the fight against robbers, or duels with every warrior you meet, your main purpose in life.)
Another potential difference may be that getting wounded has a serious impact on your current fighting skills: If you manage to wound an enemy once, you can finish him off rather quickly; or if you get wounded yourself, you have no real chance of winning anymore, and better ought to flee. This tends to make combat in "Teudogar" brief and violent, and it increases the importance of armor - which is rare and hard to acquire.
Wizardry is different in so far as there's no "magical energy" or "mana" in "Teudogar": You can cast as many spells as you care to (at least, until your armed opponents put an end to this), since making some gestures and murmuring a couple of words isn't particularily exhausting. Whether your spells will have any effects will depend on your enemies: A strong and well-armed warrior probably won't be too impressed by your curses, while a weaker man, who feels intimidated by your superior strength and weapons, is more likely to be demoralized by the confidence you project when facing him - and therefore, to fear your wizardry.
7. Your website mentions that players would be able to "negotiate with stubborn chieftains". Can you tell something about the mechanics of negotiations? Are there any skills and abilities that can help you to be more persuasive?
The "negotiations" are nothing but regular dialogues, where your success is determined by your course of argumentation (i.e., the answers you click on).
Unfortunatly, most chieftains in "Teudogar" are quite unwilling to really negotiate: Instead, they insist on their demands being met - regardless of how good your charisma and experience of life are (your main skills for negotiating and bartering).
The background to this is that Germanic chieftains and kings were usually elected, and very quickly overthrown when people were unhappy with their policies. This forced them to insist on the very best conditions for their tribes, or, if you wouldn't agree with these, to ally with more generous partners, like the Romans, instead.
For "Teudogar"'s gameplay, this results in lots of quests to fulfill, in order to enable you to meet your partners' demands - since you usually can't convince them to simply accept your first offer.
8. How does Teudogar handle growth of character's power? Do characters become incredibly powerful in the end or are they merely well experienced adventurers who can still perish at every turn? What is your take on power fantasy?
The game's plot encompasses just a couple of months: In such a brief span of time, you couldn't really grow into a superhero. So while there's some emphasis on improving your combat skills by frequent practicing, equally important are acquiring decent weapons and armor, and learning spells.
E.g., it's very useful if you can convincingly frighten people into just giving up a battle against you. Apart from learning to do this in a way that's credible to both yourself and your intended victim, that would also require a lot of charisma to be effective. (In order to acquire this, you'd need a number of victories and successes.)
When you're fighting against multiple enemies, armor becomes extremely important. You'll have a huge advantage over your enemies once you've managed to capture one of these light, newly-invented Roman segmented metal cuirasses.
In the end, you'll become pretty powerful, but part of this will be due just to the equipment you've acquired, the self-confidence you've gained, and the convincing techniques (spells) to impress others you've learned.
However, my job as a game designer is to make sure you'll always face challenges that are difficult (yet not impossible) for your character to overcome. In "Teudogar" that means the more powerful you become, the more and stronger enemies you'll face as the game's plot unfolds; also the number of enemies in random encounters with robbers etc will increase, thereby counterbalancing your increased power.
9. Tell us about choices and consequences of character's actions. Can you give us an example of a quest that has different outcomes and consequences depending on how players handle the quest?
Teudogar wants to form an alliance with Rome, and Ortwin, who leads those intending to preserve your tribe's independence, is his mortal enemy. Having found a good reason, Teudogar suggests you challenge Ortwin to a duel: You can do this, thereby bringing your tribe yet another bit closer to the intended alliance with Rome; or you can change your mind and join Ortwin in his efforts to set up a tribal alliance against the Romans.
Like most decisions within the game, I consider both choices equally valid - each has advantages and disadvantages -, and I therefore encourage you to choose whatever course you prefer (in the Full Version at least; the Demo Version doesn't contain all plots).
Likewise, there are dozens of similar turning points within the game. On the whole, my intention was to give you as much freedom of action as possible. That includes your right to inaction, too: If you don't feel like following one of the main game plots, there's no need at all to do so. You might simply decide to go treasure-hunting instead, or to travel around fighting for booty etc.
10. There are three main attributes: strength, dexterity, intelligence. Why three? Were you going for realism or did you have other reasons?
These describe your basic capacities relative to other non-player characters (e.g., women usually have less physical strength, or professional warriors, after years of training, have a better dexterity than you do). Your attribute values are simply typical values for any average male, and they won't change over the course of the game, either.
What will change, and possibly significantly, are your skill values: They will slightly improve with everything you do every time you apply them, thus enabling you to form a character with unique strengths and weaknesses over time - solely determined by your way of life within the game.
These skill values describe your level of practice, and your ability to use your strength, dexterity and intelligence for a particular purpose. Therefore they determine your success in combat (your Attack and Sword skills set against your opponent's Parade, Shield and Dodge skills), with wizardry (Charisma, Belief, Experience of Life skills), bartering (Charisma, Experience of Life) and so on.
Attributes and skill values are subject to temporary changes, e.g. when your armor reduces your dexterity, or your being wounded decreases your strength: This would decrease your Attack and Sword skills, too, just as being tired reduces your intelligence and dexterity, and therefore your charisma as well.
My main intention was to make the character system feel real. That means less awareness of your precise skill values; instead, you'll regularily suddenly notice how you find certain actions easier than in the past. There's no artificial choice over which skills to improve with the experience you gain (e.g. like slaying a monster with a sword and then using the experience gained to improve your magical energy). Instead, there's constant growth in tiny steps, but only where you apply a skill or a related skill.
11. Is there anything that you wish you could have added or changed after the game was completed?
I'd have liked 3d-graphics instead of that bird's-eye perspective with its parallel projection. But that'd been hard to unite with my other goals of downloadability (small total file size) and a high level of details at the same time.
12. Is there anything you'd like to tell us about the game that our readers wouldn't find on your website, in the demo, or this interview?
I think "Teudogar" can be fun to play for people with very different tastes. Due to its flexibility, it can appeal to d&d monster slayer type players as well as those who abhor violence; to people fascinated with historical cultures as well as people totally bored by history. You can use it as an educational infotainment type of program, or play it as a slay- and capture-booty-type game; you can decide to follow one of the main storylines, or simply travel around the country bartering your merchandize or accumulating a fortune in booty. You can end each game at any time over the Actions Menu, and thus live dozens of totally different lives, and get dozens of different endings.
13. Now that Teudogar is out, what next? What kind of game we can expect from you next? Would you be interested to make another historically accurate game or would you like to try some other settings?
Writing a historical RPG is a challenge, and it's definitely much more work than writing a fantasy game, where you can always tweak game world and plot according to your design needs. Since fantasy games are more popular than historically accurate games, it isn't very economical either.
Currently I'm working on a remake of my old fantasy RPG "DARGHUL" (published many years ago, and never translated into English), with lots of dungeons full of monsters and booty, evil wizards and cruel Orcs etc. Depending on the success of "Teudogar and the Alliance with Rome", there may of course follow "Teudogar and the Roman Rule" and "Teudogar and the Uprising against Rome".
But I may also decide to take a break from RPGs, and write a number of easy and fast-to-program puzzle or arcade games (published a "Boulder Dash"-clone once; might remake this), or even application software. What I really enjoy about being independent is your freedom to choose whatever subject currently catches your fancy...
Thanks to Wolf Mittag for taking his time to answer our questions and provide us with a lot interesting information