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Humankind Interview - Discussing Amplitude Studio's Upcoming 4X with Romain de Waubert

The studio behind 'Dungeon of the Endless' and 'Endless Space' is changing up the game

Garrick Durham-Raley Posted:
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Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to try out Humankind during a virtual preview event where I was able to get over four hours of hands-on time with Amplitude studio's newest foray into the 4X genre: Humankind. First announced at Gamescom 2019, Humankind is a new style for the studio behind previous hits Dungeon of the Endless, Endless Space, and Endless Legend. In Humankind, players will start in the Neolithic era of history and build a culture up through to the Modern era.

After the preview event, I was able to discuss my experience with the demo with none other than Romain de Waubert, Founder and Studio Head of Amplitude Studios and Creative Director on Humankind.

First off, I just want to say 'Hello' and thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.

Hello! So did you enjoy the game?

Yes, very much. Although there was one point where I think the AI was set very passively, because there were mercenaries that came and sat outside of my town. They didn't do anything, they just stood there. They said something about giving them an outpost and they would be friendlier towards me, but that feature wasn't available in the game yet.

Interesting. I think it may have been some of the minor people that we have. The way the game is in the demo, the map was a bit small, so the minor people don't have enough room to settle down. And they kind of decay at a point. That couldn't be seen in the demo, so probably they were appearing and not having anywhere to go. Hence the concept that we have where you can give them territory if you want them to settle down. Then that would be an army or a country affiliated to your own. Which is what happened quite a lot in history.

Sometimes you had nomadic people trying to settle down, or not even necessarily nomadic. If you look at the history of France with Normandy, with the Vikings constantly attacking us, we asked them, “Okay, stop attacking us and we'll give you land. You can settle down there, and then you will be the Duke of Normandy under the King of France.” So, that's the spirit that you can have [in Humankind]. That example we know of, maybe in France we know this historical reference a bit better, but it was quite common in many, many places.

I'm personally excited to see more about Humankind, especially how the trade and diplomacy systems work. I want to try to be more diplomatic with countries and build up relations rather than constantly fear going to war with them. I think that's something that turns me off from other 4X games, is that it always seems very battle oriented.

That’s definitely not the case [in Humankind]. I am the type of player who doesn't like much war in these games. Usually, what I tend to do is I try to turtle in and have the best technology in order to have the most advanced armies; not necessarily the most numerous or the biggest army. That's definitely how you can play Humankind if you want. But if war happens, it has to be fun and you have to feel smart about it. Whether in how you prepared for it or how it deployed. it also has to feel logical. The idea of saying, “Oh, I don't like that, why not just declare war and roll over his country?” It's not fun. I don't think it's very immersive – you don't believe in it, really.

I think, and it seems to be the case in all Ages, you first need to commit to the people that it's a good reason for them to die. Usually people don't like to fight if they don't believe in it. You could see that in the Greek wars, Punic wars, or Roman wars. You need to convince people, or the senate or whomever, and at first it will be part of the diplomacies. The more justified your wars are, the bigger morale you will have in the war and the more people will help you and be willing to fight. If the morale is too low, you will be pushed to surrender.

There are a lot of systems in place in Humankind. Can you tell me more about the Religion system and Civics system, where you can invest Civic points and determine how your culture is going to evolve and what values they hold?

Whenever you make a choice – let's imagine that you have to pick between slavery at one point, and another State chose to be against slavery. At first, you're undecided; for all these situations you are undecided. And then at one point you can take a stance for or against slavery. You could imagine that the others, if they had a strong culture, they could actually push you – or at least one of your cities – to adopt to be against slavery as well. And if you don't, you may trigger a crisis with that country and that could lead to a war. So it's very interesting to have this crisis around not believing the same things and pushing your neighbors to become more like you. And being more like you, it will also be harder to ask your people to go to war against them. So it's always very interesting to try to see how you stand against the others. And with this whole ideology system, it's quite cool.

During the demo, there were occasions where I made outposts evolve into their own cities. There were situations that occurred in those cities – in one of them, the leader started castrating their people to make eunuchs as their servants. I had the option to either denounce them and say, “This is horrible!” or say “Yeah, this sounds like a good idea. Let's implement it in our own city.” Will there be occasions, or is it possible, to anger these other sister-cities so much that they will break away from your own country?

This could have happened, but in [the demo] it wasn't implemented. You could have that when you have too much unrest. They will start spawning armies and rebel against the central power. They could first try to take the city back and then try to take the other cities as well. You could either give in to their demands and stop some of the unrest or fight them and decide to kill them all and raze the city, if you want. We had a game happen from one of the designers: he got a lot of fame by fighting a lot. But actually, the fights were happening against his own people. The more he was he was killing his people and razing his cities, the more he was getting famous. So that was an interesting take on it because he was being rewarded for some of his actions, but we forgot that it could be against his own people in the case of a revolution, for example. You could have a revolution happen if you have too many cities rioting against your power.

Would you be able to amass a really high fame score by playing more like a Totalitarian or Dictatorial ruler and oppressing your own people, then?

Fame is a moral. So, you could be famous or infamous and either way it adds to Fame. You could be an awful tyrant if you want, but maybe you mark history. There are quite a few tyrants that people will remember until the end of times – or at least for a long time in history – that did awful things, but we still remember them today. Even some of them from antique times until today. Sometimes these tyrants were on the winning side. So history tends to look at them a bit more kindly, but they've not always been very nice people. A tyrant that did awful things, that history does not look kindly upon, is Nero. Nero is definitely one of them. And I think in his own way he did add to the fame of Rome.

What is the measurement of success for a playthrough? Is the ultimate goal to get as high of a Fame score as possible?

The ultimate goal for me is immersion. We want you to disconnect from the outer world to believe what you see, to believe in the story you're creating. Everything should feel very much alive and credible, although it is a form of historical fantasy. For me, that's the main goal and that's why the whole Fame idea is about the journey, not the arrival. Fame is to support that, because this is how we want you to feel the game, to look at the game. That said, if you are more gameplay oriented – and it is what matters more to you – Fame is a great way to look at your success, obviously. But more gameplay-wise, what's important with Fame is that it covers many ways of playing the game.

The idea is whether you're a great merchant or a great scientist, as you are playing [Humankind] you should be able to win by being incredible in that way as well. It’s not just about being a General or a Warrior. It's true that often history tends to look more kindly upon Conquerors than an Emperor who properly handled the finances and accounting of his empire. But some of them did that. And we tend to say, “These years is where most of the richest years of the Roman Empire were,” but it’s two lines [in the History books] – it's maybe like 50 years, it's one reign – but just because it's boring listening to things that say. “no riots, no invasions, no conquests, so let's move on.” But for us it's important to be able to reward these players as well.

How large is the overall map for Humankind? Are there going to be multiple maps that we'll move through, or a single giant map that we will be spreading across and exploring?

Unlike the demo, all the maps are randomly generated. You can pick the type of map you want. It could be an Earth-like map, it could be a huge Pangea – whatever you want. That's one thing, because it's important to always feel like you discover a new world around you. Now it’s only one map generated, and you expand on that one map until the end of the of the game. You have the first phase which is an exploration of the world that, we hope at least, will be like the Garden of Eden, because it is untouched. You just see animals and wildlife.

Then you start meeting other neighbors. Then frontiers appear, then everyone solidifies, then conquest may happen, and then you solidify again. On the classic map what will happen is, as you start sailing further away you will discover a new land. Then you have a second pass of discovery happening after two thirds of the game – or half of the game – and conquest again as well as fighting with all the others who will find that land, up until the Modern Age.

In the Feature Focus video about terrain, we saw a brief snip of the terrain editor developer tool being used to change biomes. Will players be able to create, customize, and share their own world maps or will they always be randomly generated?

No, you can create scenario maps if you want. If you want to create an Earth map, you can do it, or a European map if you want. Or an American map, which is limited and you can't go outside of the borders – you can do that as well. You can have your own scenarios. We'll see how many days it takes for someone to come up with a map of another IP or world. We usually have some very good classics out there, like Game of Thrones often being the first one to appear. It will be up to the players in order to create the maps of their dreams. Sometimes you'll just focus on one part of history – that’s something they can do as well.

Modding will be part of it. Maps will be a part of the modding system, and modding-wise we'll give access to our players to have more or less the same tools as the game designers have at Amplitude. They can basically modify a lot of the game designs, add more stuff to the game, remove some stuff they don't like. Also, one of the coolest thing is they can recode the AI, because we know that, for strategy games, it's always a challenge to get the AI right. Of course the more [people] we have on it, the more we can get to a perfect AI simulating a player being extremely good, or being so good that it’s annoying sometimes – you can do that.

My last question is a fun one (for me). In one of the developer diaries, Senior Game Designer William Dyce mentioned Samurai fighting the Babylonians. Can you confirm that there will be Samurai? And as part of that culture, can we have Ninjas?

As far as I know, I don't think we have ninjas. But we do have Samurai, so that I can confirm, but not Ninjas. Now, modding-wise maybe the modders will decide that they definitely need to have some Ninjas with them. And that could then become a reality if they get to it.

Well, thank you very much for your time. This has been extremely enlightening, and I cannot wait to play Humankind again when it launches next year.

It's a pleasure. Thank you very much for your comments. It feels good. Yeah, we've been working on this for a long, long time. So to see such reactions, it's *phew* it's good.


GarrickDR

Garrick Durham-Raley

Garrick is a doting father of two and devoted husband. When he's not busy playing Final Fantasy XIV, he can usually be found drifting between a dozen different MMOs. His favorite game of all time is Diablo II and he is unironically excited for Diablo Immortal.