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Posted on Mar 13, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Europa Universalis: Philippe Thibaut – Interview

By Brian King

Armchair General was fortunate enough to literally stumble upon Philippe Thibaut’s (Europa Universalis, Pax Romana) new project Birth of America and his new company AGEOD. Lucky for us too because not only is Birth of America worth your time but Philippe was nice enough to go out of his way to make sure he answered our questions — despite being in the midst of releasing a new patch for the game. It is a real pleasure to bring this interview to our readers.

Armchair General: Thanks for taking the time to speak to the Armchair General community about Birth of America and AGEOD.

Philippe Thibaut: It is my pleasure…

ACG: Given your extensive design background, would you mind sharing a quick summary of your previous work before creating AGEOD?

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Philippe Thibaut: I worked both on PC and board games. My first boardgame (and incidentally PC as well) was Europa Universalis. I also designed a monster grand strategic boardgame on WW1 called “La Grande Guerre 14-18." Six years ago I ventured into PC games with an early Roman republic game called Pax Romana, and more recently I have released another RTS PC game on the theme of the Great Invasions (soon to be published in North America).

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Birth of America

ACG: What prompted you to create your own company? Do you have plans to continue working with larger publishers or is this going to be your new full time job?

Philippe Thibaut: I already had my own development studio 4 years ago, but it went bankrupt when my publisher withdrew its financing and we ended up with another company buying me out and releasing an unfinished Pax Romana to the public…a real disaster that I could do nothing to prevent. So this time I have carefully chosen my partners in the company, and the team.. and above all it is not financially dependent on a publisher’s support. We shall work with some famous ones very soon, but on a case by case basis, when our games are already directly sold to the public and without them dictating what our games should have or not.

ACG: Your website states "AGEOD’s main goal is offering to players original cultural and gaming creations developed by small independent studios and producers that have trouble finding an outlet within the traditional organization of the market." I think the interesting word here is "cultural." Can you tell us a bit more about the importance of this cultural aspect?

Philippe Thibaut: I am a deep fan of strategy games, but also a History addict (see below). I always found a game should bring you not only fun but also something else to enrich your “culture générale” (as we say in France). So for us, any game that can give some cultural content in addition to good gameplay is worth a try.  

ACG: AGEOD has been set up to help small studios find an outlet for their games; can you tell us if you have other games from other studios which we might look forward to seeing in the near future?

Philippe Thibaut: We have already received two or three different proposals, and they are under scrutiny now. We also have a rather extensive line of our own to develop and we can only do a few each year. For the moment, priority will go to our own projects, to build on the appeal of Birth of America

ACG: It would seem that Birth of America (French and Indian Wars especially) is a great example of areas which have not been covered in mainstream gaming. What was it which drew you to this particular period of history?

Philippe Thibaut: I have always been very interested in that key era of world History (mid to late 18th century), where the balance was tilting undecidedly one way or another. If fortune had swayed the other way round, we might well be doing this interview in French for instance. In fact, I am looking for unusual themes also to bring the story to the forefront and try to find the fun behind the books. That’s one of the reasons I did Great Invasions, a period of time where a good part of the world we live in today has originated.

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Great Invasions

ACG: All of your titles involve history to some degree. Do you have any formal training in history or was there something else which has driven you to design games set in these diverse periods of time?

Philippe Thibaut: I have an MBA and 20 years professional experience in international trade. But History has been a passion since I was a kid and still is. Reading History always made me dream. Similarly, confronting different books and writings told me there are so many diverse opinions and analysis of the same historical event that it could well has been the result of a game, which could have been different. So I guess the desire to create these games comes from the urge to explore other alternatives, but within realistic patterns. Something you could call “What if….”

ACG: Does Birth of America share anything in common with any of your previous games? Is there any comparison with Europa Universalis for example?

Philippe Thibaut: Both games share in common the time period and a long story of personal historical research, but also the possibility to rewrite History on one side, while staying within the bounds of plausibility on the other. I guess BoA is more accurate as far as North America is concerned, especially in the way warfare was conducted there in the late 18th century.

ACG: I can see you are involved in all aspects of this new game — including forum support, press contacts, and of course working on the code. Are you finding it difficult to be so involved in many different parts of a game company?

Philippe Thibaut: Yes, this is crushing… Seriously, I feel it is important to get the feedback of the players and stay in touch with them, because their input is a must for designing our next (and hopefully successful) design. At some point of course, I’ll be a bit less present on the forum and press, which will be a good hint that another of our games is looming over the horizon…

ACG: We know you are deep in the middle of Birth of America but have you looked ahead to your next title yet?

Philippe Thibaut: I am already working on the next title, and we hope to have it sometimes next fall. In fact, we have a range of 6 or 7 titles in the pipeline. The next one will be set in Europe and should please our current customers too, as it will bring the same challenging gameplay as BoA. I have also been working for over a year on a grand game covering the 1850-1920 era, that should try to give the same level of simplicity and pleasure as our first game, but with a lot of extra features…

ACG: Birth of America seems to have a growing following, judging by your forums and positive word-of-mouth elsewhere. Would you mind sharing your thoughts on what makes Birth of America so special, and why gamers should go check it out?

Philippe Thibaut: I think the story is rather original and has not been told for a long long time, at least on that level of gaming (i.e. strategic / operational). Another point which was critical for us was the game flavor: players had to feel as if they were traveling back in time (we therefore put a lot of effort on the graphics and content, as well as game rules, to recreate it). And finally we wanted to give a real challenge to players with a simple goal, simple rules (but not so easy to “master”) and a reactive AI to contend with. Well, it seems those desires now live in the game and players have found out (and enjoyed) what our goals were.

But we are not resting on our laurels and we are doing our best everyday to incorporate new ideas, improvements and (whenever feasible and justified) player suggestions inside the game.

ACG: Thanks again for speaking with us. Best of luck with AGEOD.

Philippe Thibaut: You’re welcome…

Explore AGEOD and Birth of America here.

Armchair General reviews Birth of America.

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