Features in At the Gates

Evolving Landscape

Random maps are one of the features which have made empire builders so great. They provide a unique and fresh challenge in every playthrough, a quality lacking in more linear experiences. Not only does At the Gates include a historical map of Europe along with fully randomized maps, but we’ve also taken the concept of a dynamic landscape a step further: our maps change dynamically during a game!

This is managed by a powerful system which simulates climate and seasonal variation. Each turn in At the Gates represents one month of real time, and over the course of a year the landscape undergoes a complete cycle of transformation.

Hot areas become scorched in the summer, burning up farms and destroying the food which could have been foraged by soldiers. During rainy months, rivers can burst their banks and flood surrounding lowlands. The coldest regions of the map are always unpleasant, but during the winter they become virtually uninhabitable. Rivers freeze, making it possible for armies to cross them, while northern coastal seas turn into solid sheets of ice.

Weather is the key factor in determining how much supply is available to soldiers stationed in an area. Losing your supply camps or ships to the enemy as winter creeps in can result in your armies starving down to the last man. Always make sure you carefully consider the time of year when planning military campaigns far from home.

 

Seasons Comparison (Small)

 

Running an Empire is a Tough Job

You need to be constantly on the hunt for more food and wealth to keep your army in the field. One tool at your disposal is the ability to move your settlements around the map. Instead of remaining fixed to one part of the map forever, your kingdom and its identity will evolve over time! The best option available will often be to leave your current home behind for greener pastures.

Even if you remain on the move there will be times where you’ll be asked to make difficult choices about how to spend your limited resources. Constructing new improvements is expensive, so the primary means of boosting your economy is stealing from your neighbors. Hard fought success grants you the luxury of watching your rivals wither as your own empire remains happy and well-fed!

Settlements and improvements can either be captured for long-term benefits or pillaged and destroyed for short-term payouts. The latter is usually your best option only when you absolutely need the loot to pay off an approaching Vandal horde. However, improvements burned in this manner can be destroyed forever, so before you actually torch that iron mine make certain that you won’t need it later!

There will be times when juicy, undefended targets belonging to the distracted Romans are almost too much to ignore – but doing so risks awakening a sleeping giant. In this era the Roman Empire is down, but she’s certainly not yet out. A better strategy might be to lie in wait, slowly building up your strength until the time is right. It all depends on the particular situation you find yourself in.

 

Diplomacy

 

Making Friends

At the Gates features a diplomacy system built from the foundation of what you’d normally see in other empire builders – but incorporates one major twist. The key to good relations is completing specific, context-based requests. Giving out free gold is nice and certainly won’t make you any enemies, but if you really want to make friends, then you’ll have to provide a hand in their time of need.

Because of the importance of a balanced economy, in At the Gates you’ll regularly face shortages of one kind or another. As leaders become ever-more desperate, the favor gained by lending them a hand increases. Paying attention to your neighbors’ situation can pay handsome dividends.

And keeping an eye on things isn’t optional if you truly want to play the diplomatic game. Other leaders won’t pop up and “nag” you when they need something. Instead, a list of requests will be displayed on his diplomacy screen, which you can browse at your leisure.

 

Battle_Winter

 

Dismantling Enemies

Warfare in At the Gates is very much about putting yourself in the right place at the right time. The size of your army is less important than in other empire builders because of the emphasis on morale and supply.

A unit’s combat effectiveness is based on three factors: its intrinsic strength, health and morale. You’re in trouble should any one of these be too low. Morale takes a hit after losing a battle, but recovers quickly – assuming your troops are adequately supplied. However, lost troops can only be replaced in settlements, so you’ll often be faced with the decision of whether to press on or return home for reinforcements.

The supply available on a tile is based on its terrain type, plus the effects of nearby settlements or supply camps. In good weather, a small army’s supply needs might be completely satisfied by the land, but in harsh climates and during the winter bringing provisions along is not optional!

Protecting your supply camps while capturing the enemy’s is a crucial element of a successful campaign. When not supplied from home, an army’s morale and strength quickly evaporate, turning a once-mighty army into easy pickings for a much smaller, better prepared opponent.

 

Battle_Roman

 

And More!

The topics described above are just the biggest bullet points for what At the Gates brings to the table. Here’s a sneak peak at some of its other cool features:

Even though you’re taking the reigns of a barbarian tribe, a game about the fall of Rome wouldn’t be the same without Romans! Both the Eastern and Western halves of the empire are major players in At the Gates. Early in the game they’re both still fairly powerful and picking a fight with either emperor is extremely dangerous. However, as the game progresses, the Empire will be weakened by foreign wars, internal strife and a variety of nasty random events. Should your kingdom prosper, you’ll eventually amass enough strength to be able to fearlessly take on the Romans on a level playing field!

However, your relationship with Rome doesn’t have to be completely antagonistic. Becoming Romanized and accumulating the associated bonuses for doing so is an important way of strengthening your kingdom. The “Romanization Traits” system is similar to the tech trees present in other empire builders, although the ways you can acquire traits are very different. Namely, they can be obtained either diplomatically by completing requests for one of the Roman factions, or militarily by capturing Roman cities. The investment required by either route is non-trivial, but the rewards you can earn are significant. Learning how to build catapults will definitely come in handy when trying to besiege the most heavily-fortified Roman strongholds.

You can play as one of eight unique barbarian factions in At the Gates. Included in this roster are famous stalwarts like the Goths, Vandals and Huns, but also lesser-known tribes like the Alemanni. Our goal is to provide a large degree of replayability, and each faction offers a very unique set of strengths to exploit and challenges to overcome.

- Jon

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6 Comments

  1. Definitely interested in these games, and I’m glad you’re planning on doing these blog posts. More discussion of design is ALWAYS a good thing for me.

    I think this dynamic with the decaying older empire is a pretty awesome idea for being the main focus of a game. Have you thought about trying to make a scenario or something that attempts to recreate the actual fall of Rome as accurately as possible? That’d be pretty sweet…

    I think my biggest question now is how different are the different factions of barbarians and how varied interactions with them (and Rome) can be. Another question is how do the two roman empires interact with each other? Will they help each other out or anything like that?

    Reply
    • I won’t be focusing too much on the realism side (I’m a game designer first and foremost!), but with the modding tools I expect we’ll see some more historical offerings shortly after release. :)

      The factions will all be quite different. Moreso than in pretty much any other 4X I can think of. Nothing is set in stone yet, but there will be a couple tribes that get supply bonuses in the winter, others that are focused on naval warfare, etc. The Huns are potentially the most interesting one. Not only will they be heavily focused on mounted units, but I’m also thinking that they won’t actually be able to own any fixed structures, and must instead constantly be moving from place to place and pillaging what they need. Not sure if it’ll be any fun yet, but it sounds interesting at least!

      The two halves of the Roman Empire are basically completely different factions that just happen to share many traits. They can work with one another, fight one another, ignore one another, etc. They’re more inclined to work together than to fight, but they start the game with different religions. I’ll have some more details up here and on the Kickstarter page soon!

      - Jon

      Reply
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