why “the forgotten city” is better with an ancient roman setting
By Nick Pearce, 21 October 2018
As many of you know, The Forgotten City is a re-imagining of my mod of the same name. While the mod was pretty cool (it now has over 1.8 million downloads, and won a national Writers’ Guild award), I’m determined to make everything about the stand-alone game better. To that end, one of the most radical changes I’ve made was to switch from a fantasy setting to an ancient Roman setting, complete with authentic art, architecture, and costumes, which you can glimpse in the E3 reveal trailer:
Why? I’m glad you asked!
Personally, I think the experience of discovering and exploring a mysterious ancient Roman city, isolated and forgotten by the world, would be one of the most mind-blowing experiences I can imagine. But there’s more to it than that.
Sure, I could have just made up a new fantasy setting, but as Mark Twain wrote, “truth is stranger than fiction”; any setting I dreamed up would pale in comparison with a thousand years of rich architecture, art, costumes, mythology, and philosophy that already exist—thanks to the combined efforts of millions of Romans over the course of their flourishing civilization. Of course, all of this means there’s an enormous amount of source material to draw from. So, I visited Rome and other parts of Italy, read a huge pile of Roman history books, listened to lectures, watched documentaries, and scoured the internet for pictures of Roman streets, arches, temples, aqueducts, forums, mosaics, columns and niches—all in the name of creating an archaeologically authentic experience that’s enjoyable for everyone from history buffs to the completely uninitiated.
Pictured: Me taking notes at some Roman ruins
Despite my extensive research, I’m by no means an expert in ancient Roman history, so when I heard about a young archaeologist who used her degree to translate ancient writings from another popular game, I reached out immediately. Her name is Claire Manning, and I’m very pleased to have her on the team, helping out with targeted research.
But this isn’t just an visual overhaul; it goes to the heart of the story as well. The game takes place in a city where if one person commits a sin, everybody dies. This scenario explores philosophical questions such as whether it’s possible to overcome the timeless problems with human nature by imposing draconian laws and surveillance, or whether the cure is worse than the disease. This story fits remarkably well within the framework of ancient Roman mythology because this is exactly the kind of messed up experiment the ancient Roman gods were said to engage in, like in the story of Baucis and Philemon, in which Jupiter and Mercury destroyed an entire town after it failed their bizarre morality test.
The premise is also a vehicle for exploring the difference between right and wrong. While most people think they know the difference, I’m sure their confidence would falter if the stakes were higher, like if their own life—and the lives of everyone around them—depended on getting it right every time. The historical setting allows us to explore questions of right and wrong from a range of real-world philosophical perspectives originating in that era, from the cold hard logic of Stoicism, to the compassion of Christianity, to those who believe morality is (literally) written in stone.
By weaving the story into an ancient Roman setting, we’ve been able to enrich everything about the game, and I hope it inspires some fans to take an interest in this period of history as well.
I can’t wait to release the game in 2019 and show you what we’ve been working on. If you haven’t already, please sign up to our mailing list at forgottencitygame.com, add the game to your Steam Wishlist, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube!
A final note: As an indie studio we don’t have a big marketing budget, so we’re always grateful to anyone who can help spread our message to interested friends!