GDC 2012 Day 1: Forge of Empires
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
A lot of people think of Innogames and imagine one of the front runners in the browser strategy industry. However you don't hear about them in the news as often as some of the bigger companies out here in the US. I got to chat with them at GDC and discovered that their founding came about under pretty unique circumstances.
Innogames was actually founded in response to needing the infrastructure to run and expand their first title, Tribal Wars. For the developers this was more about helping their community in Hamburg have a good time enjoying their game rather than making a dollar (or Euro) off of their product. Well they struck at just the right time in the development of the F2P industry and have now pooled together the resources to come out with a monumental browser game called Forge of Empires.
To describe this game in one word I would say Civilization in a browser. It has most of the concepts behind Sid Meier's successful series but simplified for casual enjoyment in a browser setting. Players progress at their own pace from the stone age to the future age (currently only up to the late middle ages is developed) while fighting NPCs and other players and micromanaging their capital city into a glorious hub of commerce. The key factors that make this possible are population, production, and happiness.
City Building and Micromanagement
I could tell the developers put a lot of love into the city building aspect of the game. Players can completely ignore the military aspects of the game and still have a good time if you're into this type of gameplay (it's also a viable tactic!). As the beginning you have very limited space and must carefully plan your city to maximize its efficiency. Anyone who has played games like Civ and The Settlers know how vital the start of your game is so do some research and don't mess this up!
Every town is built around your Castle. Roads must connect your production, military, and housing buildings to your castle in order to utilize their abilities. But without a booming population you can't build an empire so the first order of business is building a residential zone. Once you have a bunch of lazy bums sitting around your town, you can send your tax collectors out to start getting your 'fair share'. With this you can set up butcher shops, metalsmiths, and all kinds of other buildings to utilize your resources and feed your people. If at any time you decide you want to switch up the layout of your town, you can pick up and move any buildings to any open spaces on the map at no extra cost. These shops must actually be managed by your population so you will have to assign the lazy bums to get a job!
The production system is designed to give hardcore players a slight advantage while still making casual play viable. Whenever initiating a build order you will be given multiple time frames for the shop to enter construction of the item. If you choose a short amount of time, you will get the highest resource per minute ratio, but it has the downside of you having to actually physically click the shop at the end of the build to collect your resource. So if you intend to sit at the computer for an hour straight micromanaging your empire, this is for you. If you just intend to drop by twice a day, you can set your shops on long build orders and then return 12 hours or so later to collect your goods and start new build orders. Something to note is that not all resources have long shelf lives so if you want your butchers to prepare a feast, don't return a week later and expect your food to still be tasty.
Speaking of which, managing the happiness of your citizens is vital to maximizing their productivity. Acquiring or trading for rare resources is one way of doing this. You can also 'waste' some of your city space to build parks and monuments that improve national pride. Once you have an established crew of players you trust, you can even petition for their help to build World Wonders in your city that greatly improve your citizen's happiness as well as providing other bonuses. On this note you can also visit other players to help give buffs to their production and happiness as a sign of friendship and proof of the strength of an alliance.
If you aren't satisfied with your current city size or want to obtain some of the more rare resources (currently 24 total) without trading for them, you're going to have to march your armies on your neighbors. This is all about risk reward and the first trade-off you will experience is the size of military buildings. They are bulky and building soldiers is a major drain on your supply of lazy bums. So don't intend to build military just for the sake of parading the troops around your castle. Once you have an army you have the option of assigning each soldier to your offensive and defensive army. The defensive army is what will come running if anyone attacks your city. The offensive army I what you need to capture new territories on the world map.
By capturing NPC controlled territories you will expand the number of tiles you can build on in your capital and bolster your resources useful for getting unique tech tree research (discussed later) and building new units. This is done through a turn-based hexagonal system akin to the Fire Emblem series. Various tiles will give your units defensive and offensive bonuses and each unique has its own attacking range, movement range, and power. Various water tiles and impassable terrain will set up choke points that can change the course of combat if used properly.
If you ever find a battle is going unfavorably for you, it's rarely a good idea to fight it out to the end. Soldiers are incredibly costly to rebuild after all. You can choose to retreat and preserve your remaining army, though they will have to return home and heal for some time before they are viable in battle again. While healing they are automatically added to your defending army.
Remember earlier when I mentioned that it was viable to just focus on your economy and not on military? Well if you don't have a strong enough army to take these NPC controlled territories by force, you can actually purchase them. That way you're never weak and vulnerable to attack after a hard fought invasion and your entire army can stay on defensive duty.
When wanting to attack (or trade) with other players, you will be able to look at your neighborhood. Your neighborhood consists of 80 other players selected based on starting time and current technological era. This is done to ensure that knights don't come raining down on bronze age spearmen in unfair confrontations. Should you choose to challenge another player in combat, they will be given the option to accept if they are online. Players will then battle it out in turn-based combat until one surrenders or one's army is completely destroyed. If you choose not to fight, the AI will defend your city on your behalf. However if the defending nation losses, a number of resources will be pillaged from their resource supply and some buildings may be randomly damaged. Rebuilding a damaged building is much cheaper and much less time intensive than building it from scratch, but it's still enough incentive to have a strong standing army to protect your homeland from invaders.
Although not added to the game yet, Innogames is developing a system called Battlecards. You'll be able to complete quests to earn a deck of cards that can be activated during battle. Up to 3 cards can be used in each fight and they are a mix of both active and passive effects. No word on if using a battlecard causes it to expire or if they are reusable.
The part of this game that had me most excited was the humongous tech tree already in-game. Players start in the stoneage and then have many options as they progress up the tech tree. Researching each techonology unlocks everything you'd expect including new military units, new buildings, new resources, and new ways of making your people happier or expanding your city tiles.
Each technology has its own cost including a variety of resources. You will also need a special technology resource called Forge Points that are acquired once per hour. You're only able to store 10 Forge Points total though so if you want to research at max pace you'll need to log in at least every 10 hours.
Thankfully the tech tree has tons of branches and not all techs lead to further technologies so you should see plenty of differentiation between nations in the same era based on what they prioritized in their research first. In addition, the tech tree unlocks upgrades on preexisting buildings. Innogames thinks it's pretty unrealistic that in most games like this when you enter a new era you're entire nation instantly evolves to take on a new look. They've resolved this problem by giving players the power to upgrade each of their buildings individually at a cost.
This isn't a simple 'do I have enough resources?' decision though. As you upgrade a building into your modern era, you gain a lot of bonuses but sometimes lose out in other areas like happiness. Players will have to look at the overall picture of their civilization and decide if their resources are best spent upgrading their buildings or saved for other endeavors like building up their military.
As I mentioned earlier they have implemented up to the late middle ages in game so far. However shortly after launch you can expect to see updates introducing the Renaissance and Colonial eras.
The game is currently in limited CB testing in Germany. But keep an eye on OnRPG as we'll be partnering to announce global server stability tests in late March. By late April/ May they will also be introducing dedicated US servers and more languages to cater to a larger audience base in Europe.