The people from Ubi Soft were so kind to send me a transcript from an interview they did with Blue Byte’s head of development, Hans Jürgen Brändle.
Here’s what he had to say :
Did you expect such an overwhelming success with the Settlers saga?
Hans-Jürgen Brändle (HJB): As a computer game developer, you obviously always want to produce a product that achieves hit status. But it’s not often possible to actually plan success. In spite of this, we really caught the mood of the time with THE SETTLERS (1993), and managed to create a completely new genre. And because we have always listened very carefully to the feedback from Settlers fans, we’ve continued to improve the game with every new edition, which is no less than our public expected of us.
What’s new in this the 4th part of the saga?
HJB: As you would expect, there are plenty of new elements in the game. The main new challenge for the gamer is the “Dark Tribe”, whose aim is nothing less than to destroy the settlers’ world. Unlike the other races in the game, the Dark Tribe is not content with simply attacking enemy soldiers, it has the sinister aim of transforming the settlers’ lively and colourful world into a barren wilderness. Succeeding against this new enemy is not just a question of military combat, the settler races also have to send off a new character, the Gardener, into the Dark Land’s territory. The Gardener restores the Dark Land to its former fertility, thus enabling the settlers to occupy the land and fight back the menace of the Dark Tribe.
All in all, we have included so many new features in the game and adapted its existing rules that you can now really talk about a completely new feel to playing the game. We’re really proud of our new baby because it’s such great fun to play – I don’t think anybody will regret trying the game out.
A word about graphics: THE SETTLERS series redefined the terms “hustle and bustle factor” and “cuddly graphics”, and there’s no way that we would alter these fundamental characteristics. What we have done, though, is to double the size of all the models compared to THE SETTLERS III. Everything about the game seems more lively – there’s certainly no doubt whatsoever that the new zoom mode allows gamers to see details which simply were not there in THE SETTLERS III.
Combat implementation was criticised in the 3rd part. Any improvements there?
HJB: In THE SETTLERS IV, we’ve achieved a fine balance between settling itself and armed combat. A race’s military strength is no longer dependent on gold and manna reserves alone. Instead, the deciding factor in THE SETTLERS IV is the extent to which the player has expanded his settlement. With almost all rule changes and new features, we have paid attention to maintaining a balance between settling and combat. If possible, the most successful armies should emerge from the finest settlements. We know from our user feedback that many Settlers fans enjoy simply sitting back and watching all those busy little settlers getting on with their work. All these people really want to do is to build up as beautiful a settlement as possible. Taking all of this into consideration, soldiers’ military strength can no longer be driven through the roof by gold bars, which can be produced from a relatively simple production chain. Instead, military strength now depends on the size and attractiveness of a settlement – the bigger and more beautiful it is , the more motivated its soldiers are.
We’ve obviously paid a great deal of attention to building up settlements as much as possible, but we have by no means neglected the game’s strategic elements, which have also been revamped. As well as the obligatory Swordsmen and Bowmen, each race now has its very own special military unit. The Romans have a Medic, who is able to defend himself and also heal his wounded comrades. For the Mayans it’s a Blowgun Warrior, who can paralyse enemy units, whilst the Viking’s Axe Warrior is so strong he can even attack enemy buildings. All races also have a Squad Leader now, who makes sure that groups stay together and can thus be directed more easily. Last but not least, every race in THE SETTLERS IV has its own warships.
A lot of programmers are putting special stress in the AI of the games in order to make them more interesting. How have you dealt with this in the game?
HJB: What we’ve done is to have three programmers who have focused on the military and economic AI in particular. We’re confident of noticeable progress in this area.
To what extent did you take into account user suggestions and ideas in the making of this game?
HJB: We have always valued the feedback we get from the public, whether it’s via e-mail or through the forums on the BLUE BYTE GAME CHANNEL (www.bluebyte.net). We set up the forums with the specific purpose of establishing a closer contact to our users. We’ve even gone so far as to implement suggestions from fans directly, as with the reintroduction of animals into the game,for example.
Which are the capital aspects in a good strategy game? Do you focus on game balance, variety, strategic solidity, accessibility for newcomers to the game…?
HJB: It’s always important for users to be able to get into the game as quickly as possible. The number of strategy options has to remain manageable, whilst ensuring that the game is fun to play and doesn’t scare new users off. In a good strategy game, the user should be able to determine the difficulty level himself, thus ensuring that even newbies get the maximum satisfaction from gameplay. In THE SETTLERS IV, we’ve also focused on ensuring that there is a good balance between the three races.
A curious thing about Settlers 3 is that it left explicit violence aside, something quite uncommon nowadays. What’s your opinion of this tendency to make everything gore and bloodfest-like?
HJB: Blue Byte has always made the conscious decision not to produce games which depict violence in an explicit way. This is particularly true for THE SETTLERS, which is also a family game of interest to all age ranges. We’re convinced that non-violent games are also great fun to play – what matters is the game’s concept and gaming principle. Genuinely good games will always manage to succeed without violence, as the inclusion of violence can never make up for a weak concept.
What do you think about the current strategy games market? Has anything (games, technology) surprised you positively?
HJB: No, nothing’s particularly surprised me.
Where do you think the strategy genre is going? Do you think that we can see persistent worlds for strategy games, of the kind that we find nowadays in RPGs?
HJB: There’s no doubt that there’s a strong move towards online gaming in the strategy genre. With BATTLE ISLE – DARKSPACE we are also launching our first purely online game. The game is set to appear in the New Year.
What are you currently working on?
HJB: As we said, BATTLE ISLE – DARKSPACE is due to appear in 2001. We’re also launching the historical flight simulation IL2-STURMOVIK, not forgetting the classic DRAGON’S LAIR 3D, in which we are working on an up-to-date version of this arcade beauty.