Big Huge Games Launches DomiNations on iOS, Android [Interview]

The strategy game challenges players to lead a civilization from the Stone Age to the Space Age through resource collection and combat.


In October 2014, Big Huge Games, in partnership with Nexon M, revealed DomiNations, the developer’s debut mobile title, which allows players to choose one of seven great nations to lead through the Ages, gathering resources, forming an army and taking troops into battle for worldwide supremacy.

Now, the game has officially launched on iOS and Android devices, setting players lose in dawn of civilization. The game starts simply, as users build the Town Center, as well as a few homes, each containing citizens which are then used to complete most other tasks within the game. Gamers advance through the Ages by upgrading this Town Center, with each Age changing the style and look of the buildings within the land, as well as unlocking new buildings for purchase, new upgrades and more. These buildings and upgrades take time to construct, or players can speed their progress along with Crowns, the game’s premium currency.

To begin, players will gather key resources (gold and food) by helping their citizens become hunters and gatherers. They’ll harvest berries from trees, hunt small and large game (including bears, which may drop rare resources), and mine deposits for extra gold. As players advance, they’ll unlock Farms and Caravans for producing food and gold in bulk (respectively), and can turn their attention to increasing their country’s military forces, recruiting soldiers and upgrading their technologies within the Blacksmith’s shop.

Eventually, gamers will construct a Temple and Wonders (like Angkor Wat or the Forbidden City), which each deal with game-changing boosts. The Hanging Gardens, for instance, increases the resources gained from nearby fruit trees and gold mines, and decreases the amount of time those items require to recharge.

Once players advance through a few Ages, they’ll finally choose the nation they’d like to represent, with each having a different effect on the future progression of the game. That is, players can choose to join China, England, France, Germany, Greece, Japan or Rome, each with a different speciality, inspired by the real-world civilizations.

During combat, players can attack other real-world players in asynchronous battles. However, instead of attacking a static, empty base, players’ armies will go to war, with units on both sides engaging in battle. This potentially increases the challenge of each encounter, with players receiving up to five medals per battle, depending on their speed and overall dominance.

We had a chance to chat with Tim Train, DomiNations project lead at Big Huge Games, about the launch of the game, and what has changed since it was first revealed last Fall.

SocialTimes: Last October, you and Brian Reynolds gave us the rundown of what the game was planned to be. What sorts of major changes and updates have taken place since then, or has the game stayed the same as it was planned to be back then?

Tim Train: We’ve done a ton of changes to the game. They’ve mostly been in the balancing area. At the very end of October, the game went live in a few countries, to test out of the gameplay and see how players were liking the game. Our focus since then has shifted to primarily being about “Alright, what’s too easy? What’s too hard? What are players not finding fun about the game? What are all of the technical challenges that we need to fix?”

We’ve done a tone of tweaking. “Oh, these Wonder powers are not cool enough. Let’s add some new ones!” “This tactic type [doesn’t work] – we’re going to take it out and put a fun cool new one in.” That’s a lot of what we’ve been working on – the last tweaks to balance the game.


ST: In my experience, these kinds of games, if we’re generalizing a “base-building combat game” – they sort of have a formula. They start out really fast, and then all of a sudden I have nothing to do.

TT: Part of the goal of the game was to make it so that you could have a lot of different interactions on different levels of the game. That you could just play it in different ways. If you’re in the Bronze Age, you’ve seen the hunting and gathering aspect of the game. That actually feeds into a rare resource economy, that doesn’t ever really slow down.

You can always hunt animals and use your rare resources for blessings and mercenary troops, that always make it useful to login and hunt your animals and clear your gathering opportunities, and see what you get. Did the metal drop this time? Did you get the last fur you needed to purchase the War Elephants?

To us, we hope that’s something that people are always able to play around with, and that it’s always fun, regardless of whatever their timers are set to for their big upgrades.

ST: How difficult is it to balance the in-game economy in a game like this, which relies heavily on a few key resources, so players don’t end up with a million gold and only a little food, and vice versa?

TT: It’s relatively difficult, but it’s actually slightly less difficult than it is balancing head-to-head multiplayer games like the RTS games that we used to work on. In the RTS days, any little, ever-so-slight edge on the part of the Romans, or the British, would mean that everybody always chose the Romans to play in a multiplayer battle. And that was not very fun. But because it was head-to-head, you had to be razor sharp on the balancing, and we would have a whole group of people dedicated to trying to keep those games in balance.

Here, if somebody ends up getting some extra gold, and they can purchase some new upgraded walls, that doesn’t really bother us much. We try to get close to it, but it doesn’t require the laser precision that balancing strategy games did back in the RTS era.

ST: You mentioned in RTS games, people would back one country over another. Have you found that to be the case with the soft launch of DomiNations – that players are gravitating to one nation in particular?

TT: So far, no. I’ve been really happy actually, with how distributed the curve is on the different nations. It looks so far like the only one that’s a little underpowered at the moment are the French. No one seems to want to choose the French for whatever reason.

ST: Maybe I’ll do that. I haven’t made my choice yet.

TT: We might just have to surface their powers better, because we think the French are pretty good.


ST: Gamers have to play the game for a few hours, perhaps equating to a few real-world days before they move into an Age where they can choose the nation they’d like to represent. What was the reason for that choice, and what are you doing to ensure gamers stick around for that long to see the game fully open up?

TT: That’s a great question, and it’s one we talked a lot about internally. This is one of the big things about the game, so why did we wait so long to surface it?

If the choice is going to be meaningful, if it’s going to actually be a choice that’s going to affect your game in a meaningful way, but you haven’t learned enough about the game to understand the choice you’re making, then you end up in this situation where “I don’t know, I’m just making an arbitrary decision, because I have no idea what +5 percent to my loot is, because I’ve done no attacking, because I haven’t gotten deep into the game yet.” That was entirely what drove that decision. We wanted players to actually understand enough about the game to make an informed choice.

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