Q&A with Ian McNeil at Slitherine Software for Legion Arena

By Matt Bailey

Black Bean Games' Legion Arena is out on PC on 10th October, and we have an interview with Ian McNeil, Lead Designer at developer Slitherine Software.

Can you explain what Legion Arena is all about?

Legion Arena is a unique blend of RPG and RTS. You take your army through a series of battles that follow Roman history. After each battle you get the chance to allocate promotions to those who gained enough experience, recruit replacements and new squads and purchase equipment. The best way to think of it is that each of your squads is like a character in an RPG. They go with you through the entire game, starting as a bunch of peasants and finishing as an elite fighting force.

What period of history is the game set in, and are you aiming to be historically accurate?

The game has two campaigns. One follows the rise of Rome, from a small town to a mighty Empire. Initially you'll be fighting small skirmishes against the local Italian tribes, but later on you'll be fighting full-scale wars against mighty powers like Carthage, and facing the infamous Hannibal. The other campaign follows the Celts, who start with a large amount of territory but gradually lose it to pressure from German tribes and the Romans, so their story is much darker. It's a fight for survival, not one of conquest. We make our games as historically accurate as possible but we never compromise on gameplay. This is the most important thing to us, and if we have to bend history occasionally, then we will.

Will the game's battles be affected by weather and the shape of the landscape (such as hilly ground)?

Terrain has a huge effect on battles, and making use of it is one of the keys to success in Legion Arena. Every unit is rated in every type of terrain. Skirmishers get disadvantages in the open, while cavalry get penalties in the woods and rocky ground. What would be an easy win for cavalry against skirmishers in the open, transforms to a very close fight in the woods.

What can we expect from the game's AI when in battle?

As the game follows history we have hand crafted each scenario. The AI does not have to do anything too clever, as the battle plans are created by an experienced designer. On a lower level the AI will take command of individual squads and men when they get close enough to the enemy, but the high level plan is hand crafted.

What engine are you using, and will it require a high-spec PC?

We developed the engine in house. Luckily our technical director had a vast amount of experience before he came to Slitherine, having been technical director on Dune Emperor for Westwood and responsible for the 3D engine. We've made the engine very scalable, so even relatively low end machines will be able to play without too many problems, while high powered PC's can whack the resolution up to 1600x1200 in 32 bit colour with high detailed shadows, models, grass and water effects.

Legion Arena shares similarities with Creative Assembly's Total War series, how would you say the two series compare, and what makes yours the better title?

Although the two games do share some things in common, we feel that they offer a very different experience to the player. Legion Arena focuses on the battles and progression of your army. It's fast paced and fun and there is no resource management to worry about, no cities to develop, people to keep happy or technologies to research. Battles only last 5-10 minutes and you can make significant progress in a lunch hour, or half an hour in the evenings. RTW has a campaign layer and an Empire to manage. Although some people want this, we've found a lot can't be bothered with it and we want to offer them something a bit different. We'll return to the campaign games later on, but Legion Arena is purely a battle game.

What sort of multiplayer options are planned?

Multiplayer games are organized into matches. As battles are relatively short, you do not just fight one, but a best of 3, 5 or 7. This gives a chance for revenge if you make a mistake! One of the best parts about multiplayer is designing your army. An army is allocated an amount of money and experience points, and the player chooses how to spend them. There are infinite number of combinations available, and some are definitely better than others! You may choose to go for a specialist anti cavalry army, but if your opponent has no cavalry you could be in trouble. The best armies will have all round capabilities, though we expect players to build up a library of armies they continually tweak, especially when they face opponents who are know for using certain tactics.

What has been your greatest challenge in developing Legion Arena?

Our biggest challenge is the size of our team. We developed Legion Arena with 3 people, one programmer, one artist & one designer. We can't use this as an excuse to produce games that are substandard when compared to the competition, as a gamer doesn't care how many people it took to make, if he's playing out hard earned cash! This means we have to work very efficiently & smartly to ensure our small team can produce a game that can sit on the shelves and not look out of place. We're really pleased with Arena and feel we've achieved an amazing amount with our small team.

Do you have any plans after Legion Arena?

Oh yes! We are already thinking about the next game. We're planning to do something a bit different from Legion Arena next, a game that will appeal to the turn based strategy fans more than the action fans, but we we're still in the early design stages I don't want to say too much about it.

We would like to thank Ian McNeil for taking the time to answer our questions.

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