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Posted on Mar 22, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Legion Arena: Iain McNeil – Interview

By Brian King

Recently, Armchair General caught up with the Slitherine game Legion Arena for a quick review. After playing it for a while, many questions cropped up which we felt needed answering. So, we sent a communiqué to Iain McNeil –development director at Slitherine– for some answers. The dispatch rider returned with the following scribbled notes;

Armchair General: Thanks Iain for taking the time to speak to the Armchair General community. Would you mind taking a second to explain some of the basics of Legion Arena for those unfamiliar with the game? Since we have an audience with a fair number of military historians, can you flesh out some of the game’s historical component?

Iain McNeil: Legion Arena is a blend of real time tactics and RPG gameplay. In a series of battles you take your novice recruits and train them into an elite fighting force. You allocate new skills, equipment, names, uniforms, replacements, and generally manage the army. The battles take you through Roman history from the early Republic up until the Empire is established. Initially you’ll be expanding the Republic’s influence in Italy, fighting the Samnites, Sabines, and many more, while also fending off incursions by the Gauls. Later on you’ll fight the Carthaginians under the mighty Hannibal and finally march with Caesar himself to oppose Pompey.

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You’ll have varying objectives that reflect the historical situation such as a simple win, don’t take too many casualties, inflict a number of casualties, survive for a period of time, win within a time limit, kill the enemy leader and protect your own. These can also be combined into more complex missions.

ACG: Along those lines, one can’t help but notice the excellent Osprey Publishing material spread throughout the game and website. Would you mind sharing how that partnership came about and what it meant for the game?

Iain McNeil: We’ve been talking to Osprey for some time about how we could work together. Our products are complimentary and there is no competition between us so the synergy was obvious. It just took some time to work out how we could make best use of this. We are working even more closely together now. I can’t say too much about that for now, but there are some interesting projects on the way!

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The essence of Legion Arena – A good solid fight!

ACG: After having made it through the entire game, I have to admit I was surprised I didn’t see any heavy weapons such as chariots, ballistae, or any sort of siege craft [a sharp observer may note British chariots are featured on the game’s CD]. While this game is clearly focused on open engagements where such weapons would have been less important, they do seem conspicuous by their absence. Will we see such weapons down the road?

Iain McNeil: We are planning to allow for larger units in the future, but there are significant technical and gameplay issues that we need to resolve first. We wanted to make sure we released a polished game that worked well without any crash bugs and this is what we did. Now we have the engine up and running we’ll work on adding new features such as larger units.

ACG: Where do you see the boundaries of the Legion Arena engine in historical terms? It seems natural to imagine many ancient battles working well with this system because it draws out the differences between unit type/quality/function but have you looked into more modern times as well? Would it work for medieval battles? Napoloenic battles?

Iain McNeil: The engine could definitely work for a medieval period and with modifications could work in the early gunpowder era. Fundamentally the engine would be adaptable to any period where formations were used. World War I and II are off limits because of the killing power of the weapons changed the fighting style and large formations just became juicy targets.

ACG: I have to bring this up because it gave me a good laugh after seeing the "naked" fanatic units. Did you ever think you would be putting out a title which was rated M (for 17+ mature audiences) by the ESRB because it contains nudity?

Iain McNeil: No….. it was a bit of a surprise. In Europe and the rest of the world it was fine, and it would have been very simple to change had we been aware it was an issue.

ACG: It would be unfair to compare Legion Arena to full-blown empire-building games on the market today. However, it would be reasonable to imagine having the Legion Arena battle engine as part of a larger empire game. Are there any such plans lurking in the Slitherine bunker?

Iain McNeil: It is something we’ve been thinking about for a long time. We’re still analysing the best way to combine empire building games & combat resolution. One school of thought is that people either prefer battles or campaigns but not necessarily both in one game and that a combined game only appeals to people who like both, limiting your market. The other is that a combined battle/empire game appeals to both groups, expanding your market.

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Cult of Mithras – the dreaded Helephants!

ACG: Can you tell us a little about the add-on Cult of Mithras? How does that expand the Legion Arena universe and did you have any concerns about doing a mythical, rather than historical title?

Iain McNeil: We’ve been making historical strategy games for many years now with Legion, Legion Gold, Chariots of War, Spartan, Gates of Troy and Legion Arena. Games have to be fun and if the designers are getting jaded with the settings then you need to mix things up a bit to keep the morale and productivity going. If we started to churn out more historical ancient games you’d probably find the quality dropping, they would become repetitive, and the fun elements would disappear. To avoid this we just needed to take a break! With fantasy, the artists are able to let their imaginations run free and the designers are able to design missions that will be interesting and fun without worrying if they are unhistorical. It’s just something we as a team need to do! Don’t worry – we will be coming back to historical gaming!

ACG: Anything coming up with Slitherine you’d like to share with our community?

Iain McNeil: We have a lot of things going on at the moment. I can’t say too much about them as all are at a relatively early stage of development and will not be announced until we have something to show. As mentioned above we have one project we’re working on in conjunction with Osprey Publishing. We have our next core game already in production, which will progress the Arena engine in some really cool ways. There is also a more hardcore project we’re working with another independent development team that focuses on a different area of history completely. There has been some interest in porting our existing games to consoles and handhelds. Recently we worked with Mad Minute Games, helping with advice and negotiating their contracts for Take Command. Finally we have some experimental web based games in development. As you can imagine – things are very busy!

ACG: Thanks again for your time. Looking forward to see what comes next!

Learn more about Legion Arena and Cult of Mithras at Slitherine.

Armchair General reviews Legion Arena.

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