The incredible story of the lost Call of Duty title called Roman Wars.
Eight years ago, you almost got to play a Call Of Duty set in ancient Rome. A game featuring battle elephants trampling soldiers, a playable Julius Caesar and first-person sword combat. Activision liked the idea, the Call of Duty: Roman Wars demo impressed, and it got as far as the desk of CEO Bobby Kotick before a mixture of studio stubbornness and fears of over-saturating the brand consigned this lost game, ironically, to history.
Around 2008, Activision began actively courting pitches for a new COD installment, planning to expand the series based on its increasing success at the time. One of those ideas was a very different take called Roman Wars, that would have followed a soldier in Julius Caesar’s Tenth Legion, technically the spec ops of its day.
A source known only as Polemus (spirit of war and battle, appropriately) says; the prototype came out of Vicarious Visions, a studio Activision had bought in 2005 and which has largely been responsible for Skylanders since 2010. “We were asked to do some Call of Duty prototypes, so we had a whole team working on a new prototype we called the Fireteam,” explains Polemus. “It was basically a new Call of Duty but with an overhead Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 camera”.
As Polemus explains, the success of the series at this point prompted Activision to get experimental, wanting to expand the franchise and add another layer. “Anything that we put out that had Call of Duty [on], whatever we were sticking out, was selling really well, so [Activision] gave some studios an opportunity to test their capabilities on the franchise, and whoever had the winning idea would get to take on the IP”.
“I really thought an ancient warfare game would do well, re-skinned with the Call of Duty engine,” says Polemus. “Basically we were following Julius Caesar’s Tenth Legion – his special forces during those times – and we were doing a one level prototype based on the Battle of Alesia. So we built the one mission based on that. We had everything from riding horses, to riding an elephant, to working with catapults. All done in the Unreal Engine for rapid prototyping”.
While the game was built around a third-person camera, it also had some first-person sections (one, referred to as ‘a Spartacus mission’, shows a gladiatorial coliseum fight). “We were really liking the first-person, but we definitely did a third-person perspective,” says Polemus, “more like a Gears of War with a nice camera shake and movement. So we gave our producers two different camera perspectives to show.”
The third-person mode focused on a “very Gears of War-style: straightforward melee, a little bit of a strafing”, while the first-person followed the parry and attack system of the niche but acclaimed Xbox 360 game Condemned: Criminal Origins from 2005 (one of the few games to do first person melee well). That utilized a shield and sword for the most part, says Polemus. “The real work for the combat system went into just a shield-sword, block and parry which worked really well; it was a fun mechanic”. Other options included bows, spears and axes, and at one point the team were even working with the idea that you could throw handfuls of sand in enemies’ eyes to blind them.
The demo started with a short horse riding section and a speech from Julius Caesar, with the player controlling a character called Titus Pullo. “Basically, your objective in that mission was to take out the archers”, says Polemus, but explains that there were actually three ways to achieve this to show off various mechanics. “You go to the catapults, you release the catapults to take out some of the archers, you could climb up the siege towers or you could drive on the war elephants, which everybody freaking loved the most!”
Polemus describes the elephant as the game’s tank. “You drive it [and] if there is any enemies it can trample them for you. Beside that you get a better perspective and you have some protection because it had its own little booth-seat that protected you and you could duck under”.
While developed on 360, Activision’s multi-platform policy would have seen it on PlayStation and PC too.
The full plan for the game would involve a variety of perspectives and characters, says Polemus. “You were going to play a lead centurion, you were going to play a grunt and you were going to play all the way up to Julius Caesar himself; so you were going to be a commander”. The plot loosely followed ‘Commentarii de Bello Gallico’, otherwise known as Commentaries around the Gallic wars, Julius Caesar’s own account of the battles (Roman War’s main character Titus Pullo is actually named in these accounts as a historical figure).
“You were going to fight against the Germans and the Germanic Tribes and really stay true to the history of Julius’ conquests during the Gallic Wars,” they explain. “You were going to jump around from officers to low grunts to Caesar and get a little variety of all of those little battles, so you’d play an archer here, you’d play a cavalry over in this phase. And it was going to stay true to the Call of Duty franchise in that jumping around, playing those different characters and getting a whole feel of the overall battle during those times”.
Unfortunately, though, the game never progressed past the prototype stage. “They sent it up to Activision, to Bobby Kotick, and they wanted to hear a little bit more about the backstory,” Polemus told me. But while it was received well there was some uncertainty about using Call of Duty’s branding. “I at the time was being sort of… I was being stiff in that area,” they admit. “I was huge on Call of Duty myself so I was like ‘I really want to keep it on the Call of Duty level.’ And they said, ‘that’s not going to fly with Activision – they’re already looking at a different version and they don’t want to oversaturate the market’”.
This, of course came as a huge shock to us but after reading through all the information actually sounds like it could have been a real winner. In comparison to Infinite Warfare I would happily take a Roman take of course, that’s just me so please before I blow the minds of millions of teenagers around the world this of course is the opinion of one man (but im right)
Source: Games Radar
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