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After solo indie developer Lucas Molina released his quirky love-themed dungeon-crawler Roguemance in February, he turned toward his first love: history. Molina received his master’s degree in the subject, taught it for two years, and developed themed games like the Renaissance simulator Painter’s Guild. His newest title is Historia Realis Roma, an ambitious grand strategy game. To find fans, he’s set up a small camp in the kingdom of one of grand strategy’s rulers — Paradox Interactive.

Historia Realis explores Rome from 300 BC to 14 AD, one of Molina’s favorite periods of history. A huge fan of Paradox’s games like Crusader Kings, he noticed that the developer didn’t have a game about Rome — at least they didn’t when he started out.

“I got pretty desperate, because I wanted to make my game about Rome,” said Molina in an interview with GamesBeat at Brazil’s Independent Games Festival last month. “‘Oh, Paradox doesn’t have a Rome game, I can fill that gap!’ But if they made a Roman game, then I’m screwed. I can’t compete with them. So what I did was, I announced my game before they announced theirs, and I did that on the Paradox Plaza subreddit. That was one of the most upvoted topics of all time there, because people were hyped for Paradox’s game.”

Of course, after Historia Realis’s announcement, Paradox dropped the news about Imperator: Rome. But rather than killing Molina’s project, this resulted in support from fans who were interested in his take on character-driven systems. When he posted again asking if he should give up his game now that Paradox was in the mix, he received hundreds of comments in his favor — including one from Paradox studio manager and game designer Johan Andersson.

“[Paradox] moderates that subreddit. It’s theirs. It’s not even a community one. They could have just deleted my topic. But they left it there. After they announced Rome, I made a topic. I said, should I give up on my game?” said Molina. “Then Johan, who is the game director for Imperator, he posted on that topic and said, ‘No.’ That was his whole comment. Just don’t give up.”

Historia Realis is Molina’s 10th game. He’s learned a lot over the years about community-building and he has seen a lot of changes. When he was promoting Painter’s Guild in 2014 and 2015, he did a basic PR campaign that got him attention. But in 2018, he found that he’s had to change his strategy.

“There was still some space for indie games [in 2014]—very few games were indie games,” said Molina. “Now there are too many. You need to have your own community and find your own people. I think there are people who can reach this public of indie games players, but it’s not for me. I can’t compete with bigger companies.”

For Roguemance, he gathered an email list with about 5,000 people on it, and he received plenty of interest in receiving a key to play the alpha. But he found that those didn’t convert into sales.

“I like making games. I’m not the business guy,” said Molina. “I don’t really have partners. It’s just me and some freelancers I work with. That’s something I’m lacking in. I just work on the game. I don’t really want to spend time selling the game. I just want to make the game and then make another game.”

Historia Realis is similar to Painter’s Guild, but whereas the latter is more of a casual resource management game, the former will dive into more hardcore mechanics. It strives for historical accuracy, and not just in the facts.

“There are some questions about how historically accurate you can make something, especially a game, because games are interactive,” said Molina. “If you’re changing stuff, how can that be accurate? That’s a really interesting question, but I think it’s possible to achieve that. You just make historically accurate systems.”

As an example, Molina points to assassination plots as well as social constraints that players will have to contend with. Historia Realis is heavily influenced by Crusader Kings and Crusader Kings II, borrowing their character-centric system. At any given time in the game, thousands of non-playable characters will be making decisions, and the player can participate only if they know those characters. Random happenings, such as someone’s death, will ripple through the empire, and global events like elections will change the political landscape.

“Nobody has used that, I think, outside of Crusader Kings,” said Molina. “This character simulation with depth, creating stories through mechanics, that’s stuff I really liked. It hasn’t been used yet. Crusader Kings 2, the big one, was out in 2012, and we haven’t seen that yet. It could be its own genre. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make a genre out of that character interaction in Crusader Kings.”

Molina doesn’t have all the resources that Paradox does, but he’s found a passionate community that could help his newest game become a success. Along with his in with the Paradox fans, he’s also experimenting with the idea of setting up an account on Patreon, the subscription-based platform that enables fans to support creators directly.

“Basically, I’m stealing from Paradox, just stealing their community,” joked Molina with a laugh.

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