Eight years ago, an idea was pitched to have a Call of Duty game set in ancient Rome. ‘Call of Duty: Roman Wars’ would have involved many new styles of gameplay unlike any previous Call of Duty game, such as “battle elephants trampling soldiers, a playable Julius Caesar and first-person sword combat.”
Sources involved with the development, who choose to be referred to as Polemus (spirit of war and battle) for confidentiality purposes, spoke with GamesRadar about the game that never came to be. Vicarious Visions, an Activision studio acquired in 2005, was working on developing the game. (Vicarious Visions is known for their billion dollar Skylanders franchise.) They were also working on Marvel: Ultimate Alliances 2, but got to work in developing the new Call of Duty game.
“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.”
Back in 2008, Call of Duty was one of the most successful game franchises out there. Activision wanted to expand upon the series and become more experimental, especially during a peak of its success.
“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 their capabilities on the franchise, and whoever had the winning idea would get to take on the IP”.
‘Call of Duty: Roman Wars’ would have given players the chance to play with both first-person and third-person points of view. Combat would have involved shields, swords, spears, bows, and even throwing sand in an enemy’s face. The demo that was first shown to Activision began with riding horses, a speech by Julius Caesar, “tanky” elephants, and a mission to eliminate the enemy’s archers. The prototype also featured a gladiator-style fight in the Roman Coliseum.
“I really thought an ancient warfare game would do well, re-skinned with the Call of Duty engine. 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”.
Vicarious Visions wanted to take players on a journey through the Roman era by using various characters and perspectives. Players would have been able to play as a grunt, lead centurion, and even Julius Caesar.
“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. 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”.
The game’s demo was successful, and Activision, initially, was behind it. However, once the prototype reached Bobby Kotick, Activision CEO, fears of “over-saturating the brand” and pure stubbornness began to circulate. Unfortunately, worries and uncertainty of tying this game to the Call of Duty name ultimately led to its failure.
“I at the time was being sort of… I was being stiff in that area,” they admitted. “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.'”
There would have been a market for this game. ‘Roman Wars’ intended to release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. After key members of Activision left, the game was reworked and pitched to Ubisoft as ‘Roman Wars,’ sans Call of Duty.
I keep envisioning how much potential this game really had. It would have taken the franchise in a totally different direction, offering players a new perspective of gameplay. Modern Warfare had already been released, offering a more futuristic approach to war as opposed to the previous installments set in WWII (not to mention 2008’s release of World at War, which also embodied a WWII setting). I would have bought this game and enjoyed the hell out of it.
You can view more behind the scenes footage and information about the game in the video below.