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“…Caesar IV is already head and shoulders above any city builder I've played recently.” Gamespy.com - Official Gamespy Review 4/5 Stars

"The graphics are some of the prettiest we've seen in a strategy game..."
- 1up.com

The Caesar™ Legacy and the Enduring Appeal of Ancient Rome.
Chris Beatrice, President of Tilted Mill Entertainment walks you through the history of the Caesar Gaming Franchise.”

Humble Beginnings
My 15-year odyssey as a game developer has been in large part framed and formed by the Caesar series of games. It all started when I first walked through the doors of Impressions Games way back in 1993 to interview for the position of art director. The box of the recent release "Caesar" was placed before me, and Impressions founder David Lester began to question me about the game's visuals. "What do you think about the cover art? What about the screenshots?" I had questions of my own, such as, "do you want to make strategy games that appeal to a wide variety of gamers, or are they destined to be for the hardcore only?

 

I'm still not sure if I gave the "right" answers, but needless to say I got the job, and Caesar helped to put Impressions on the map as a serious contender in the PC strategy game arena. Just one look at a screenshot from this game shows that it was a very different world back then. Games were 2d, and screen resolution could either be 320x200 pixels (with 256 colors), or 640x480 (with 16 or 32 colors). So your choices as a developer were either "blurry with a good amount of colors" or "sharp with only a few colors." The two approaches coexisted for quite a while, as I recall.

It's easy to laugh at the crude looking graphics (by today's standards) of the original Caesar, but the gameplay was addictive and original. It was a strategy game that focused on building not destroying. Fusing challenging strategy gameplay with a reasonably complex building sim, and setting it in ancient Rome (we all know the Romans were the quintessential city planners) was a recipe for success. A unique genre was born, and the Caesar legacy had begun.

Attracting Attention
We soon followed up Caesar with Caesar II (1995). We wanted to make sure we had enough of a reason for a new installment in the series, rather than just crank out a quick sequel. Two years was a lot longer back then, because games like Caesar II took less than a year to make. Caesar II was a big step forward in terms of how the game looked, and the wealth of gameplay it offered. At the time there were very, very few real time strategy games, and nothing at all with the "life sim" qualities of city-building gameplay (before the term "life sim" had really come into existence) and strategy game staples such as combat and resource management of Caesar II. We strove to depict a living city, with dozens of little people moving around the screen, over whom you did not have direct control, and with as much detail and activity as possible. A quick look at a screenshot from Caesar II and you'll see we were much more successful graphically than with the original Caesar. It's hard to believe only two years separate these games. This was essentially due to the fact that we (and everyone else) were just starting to use 3d modeling and rendering software to create the game's (2d) graphics, and finally could use higher screen resolutions and a full 256 color palette! The results, for the time, were amazing.

 

In fact I remember Rick Goodman, who at the time was just establishing Ensemble Studios and creating the groundbreaking Age of Empires, phoned me to ask something like, "how did you guys create such great looking buildings!?" There was simply nothing out there that looked like Caesar II, and in large part this remains the case with the subsequent installments in the series as well. The game model was still very basic, using a simple radius of influence for different types of building, with a crude combat level and some province level development. Nevertheless, as Caesar II started to come together, Sierra On-line recognized the potential of the series, and soon acquired both Impressions and the Caesar name. Sierra went on to market and distribute the game far beyond anything we could have done as an independent developer/publisher, putting the series and Impressions on the map.

Hitting it Big
I soon became creative director and ultimately general manager of Impressions Games, where I oversaw the creation and development of Caesar III in 1998. Again, we made sure to give ample time before even thinking of another installment in the series, and although only three years separate Caesar II from III, since Caesar III took only a year to develop we went two years without even thinking about it! As a result, rather than being a stale sequel, Caesar III heralded yet another new era for the series, with a higher level of sophistication and polish than anything we'd done before, and than anything that had previously been attempted for the genre.

 

2d game graphics had reached their apex, with high screen resolutions, and pre-rendered 3d graphics. The gameplay and feedback mechanisms were integrated almost seamlessly as well. For example, rather than depict resource storage and distribution abstractly, or as numbers, actual figures on the screen could be seen carrying olive oil, wheat and other resources, depositing them into warehouses where they sat visibly, in piles. Instead of a simple radius of effect for buildings, actual figures walking the streets determined who had access to what. These were the first steps in the move to an organic, figure-based city operations model, though it must be noted that figures in this generation of the series still lacked intelligence, and were more comparable to ping pong balls bouncing around than to actual thinking people!

In 1999 I formally inherited the keys to the Caesar franchise and created the sequel to Caesar III, Pharaoh. Though it was my first solo endeavor as a game designer, I had already co-designed Lords of Magic with fellow Tilted Miller Jeff Fiske, and of course had lots of help from many other future Tilted Millers as well.

Pharaoh remains, I'm proud to say, the most popular of the city-building games. Together Caesar III and Pharaoh earned popular and critical acclaim many times beyond what the series had done before. Neither game of this generation, however, was without its problems. The randomness of the simplistic figure-based model resulted in such city-planning paradoxes as "avoid creating intersections or walkers might get lost and wander off"! Limited graphics capabilities meant no zooming in for an up close look at your creation, no rotating the view, and forget glorious sunsets and sparkling water. The fact is, the constraints of the day still made achieving all our goals with the series painfully unattainable.

A New Era
So when Vivendi Games approached me last year about the possibility of collaborating again, on Caesar IV, I jumped at the chance. Usually we developers spend a lot of time trying to convince publisher big wigs of to spend millions of dollars on our ideas, so it's certainly nice when both the developer and the publisher (even the marketing folks!) are excited about an idea like this from day one. Of course it still takes time to get all the right decision makers in the right place at the right time, but finally everything came together and we began work on what is truly destined to be the greatest installment in the Caesar series, and the greatest city-building strategy game ever created.

By the time Caesar IV hits store shelves even Caesar III will be eight years old. Many of the ambitious goals for the genre were simply not possible in the earlier generations of the series. For example, though Caesar III and Pharaoh filled the city's streets with dozens of units, none of them were able to act intelligently - sure it looked like a real city to the casual observer, but these mindless "walkers" imposed a hard cap on both the level of immersion and the feeling of control and predictability that players need. In Caesar IV, each citizen is able to evaluate his or her duties and needs, and then act upon them appropriately.

 

But Caesar IV is certainly not an improved Caesar III - it is yet another big leap forward for the city-building genre, pioneered by Impressions Games more than a decade ago. Continuing in this spirit, Caesar IV breaks new ground technologically, visually, and in its organic, AI driven gameplay. Many of the lofty ideals of this unique genre will be fully realized for the first time in Caesar IV. Yet, the game remains firmly rooted in the legacy of its predecessors. Put simply: It's still all about building efficient, attractive, functional cities, but the tools you have to do this (including feedback) are more powerful and informative than ever before.

To veterans of the series, Caesar IV provides a fresh, yet familiar experience; those who have never tasted city-building gaming before will find a breathtakingly beautiful game to play, that is effortless to get into and yet offers a rare level of depth and immersion.

More than two years in development, Caesar IV is the proud offspring of Tilted Mill's team of veteran city-building designers, artists, programmers and musicians (ok, only one musician) including, Mike Gingerich (lead programmer of Pharaoh and now Caesar IV), Tony Leier (tester on Caesar III, lead tester on Pharaoh, co-designer of Zeus, now senior designer on Caesar IV), Greg Sheppard (lead tester on Caesar III, Co-Producer of Pharaoh, now Quality Assurance Manager of Caesar IV), Keith Zizza (musical director and composer for Pharaoh, and now Caesar IV), Adam Carriuolo, Mike Malone and Dennis Rose (senior artists on Caesar III, Pharaoh and now Caesar IV), Jim Solomon (programmer on Pharaoh, now senior programmer on Caesar IV), and myself (lead designer of Pharaoh, Zeus, now Caesar IV), as well as many new members who have joined the team. It is my privilege and honor to lead this effort on behalf of our loyal fans, and new players eager to taste the Caesar experience. Just as its predecessors were phenomenal games for their times, so too is Caesar IV destined to be a phenomenal game for this time.

Chris Beatrice
President
Tilted Mill Entertainment, Inc.

 
 
 
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