When Augustus Caesar agreed to speak to me, I knew the interview was going to be tense. I wanted to get to the root of his reputation, the outlandish promises of friendship that so often aren’t kept, and the wanton acts of warfare which frequently follow shortly thereafter. I especially wanted to do this now that he’d attacked me personally, forcing me to abandon my hopes of a science victory and waste my economy on building defensive units instead.
We spoke via the diplomacy panel, Caesar speaking from his palatial Rome office. Sounding stressed, but composed, he asked whether I had questions or should I just let him talk. I told him I had many questions and so we began.
The Hodge Podge: Do you think that you’re a sociopath?
Augustus Caesar: That is severe.
THP: I know it’s a harsh question, but it seems an important question to ask because there do seem to be lots and lots of betrayals piling up.
AC: I’m not aware of a single betrayal, actually. I’m aware of me saying things and because of circumstances often outside of my control those things don’t come to pass, but I don’t think that’s called betrayal, is it? I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly betrayed, at all. If you want to call me on one I’ll talk about it for sure.
THP: During the Classical era you signed a Declaration Of Friendship with me.
AC: Absolutely. And at that time I was very friendly.
THP: But less than twenty years later you ‘renegotiated’ the friendship and declared war on me.
AC: Well, see, we were at that time receiving gold from an alliance with Antwerp. But another civ came along and wooed Antwerp away from us with a spy and so we lost that money, and so we had no choice but to expand in an attempt to raise more resources.
THP: Yes, but you knew that money could dry up at any time. You’ve been a world leader since the Ancient era, you know how diplomatic relations can be volatile.
AC: No, I disagree! I’ll give you an example, I had some repair works done to my palace, they went over budget by 50%. So I had to invade England to get the money. Being a world leader is very, very unpredictable and you try your best. You try your best to predict these things but very often you can be wrong. And I have been wrong. Every single civilization I have ever run – and people know this – every single civ I’ve run, I have been wrong about the friendships. And I’ve been very honest about that. And the only time I have absolutely stuck to my friendships was with the French and I shouldn’t have done that. I should have nuked the tossers.
THP: I understand budgets can go–
AC: I’m running a civilization and God I wish to God that I could predict the time and I can assure you every single person has worked their arse off to try to build this Civilization as quickly and effectively as they possibly can and everybody here is incredibly dedicated and still is. I mean, those Pyramids guys were here till half past eight last night.
THP: Aren’t they slave labourers?
AC: They have to be. The amount of money that we have spent on building up our Civ has far, far exceeded what we got from Antwerp. Far, far exceeded. Because you’ve got to remember, you have to pay unit maintenance and also we had this weird deal where we were giving Washington 25 gold a year in exchange for Citrus. In retrospect that was a bad deal, I wish we hadn’t done it. I wholeheartedly accept the blame for that, I accept the responsibility. We clearly didn’t need that much Citrus, but you never know at the time.
THP: You also pledged to protect Vienna, but then you invaded them and turned them into a puppet state.
AC: No, we have always said, right from the very start, if you go back through all the contact I made with you, I said exactly this. This was my strategy. Firstly we would sign a declaration of friendship with you, and then we’d pledge to protect Vienna. We did that.
But the thing is, to properly protect Vienna we needed combat units, these absolutely amazing, incredible, beautiful combat units. But we hadn’t even researched gunpowder yet, so we invaded Vienna to raise the resources we needed to research the units we’d need to protect them.
THP: So you invaded them to protect them from invasion.
AC: Yes! I took my remit so seriously I was willing to go that far.
THP: But it’s been centuries and there’s nothing to show for it.
AC: We built a Spearman just last week! His name is… I should know his name. (to someone in background) Say hello! (a voice in the background says hello).
THP: You hardly needed to invade Vienna to build a Spearman.
AC: He’s not finished yet. We plan to upgrade him to a Pikeman.
THP: So how long should Vienna wait for you to deliver the protection you pledged centuries years ago?
AC: We’re trying as hard as we possibly can.
THP: I don’t think you are. You’ve said yourself–
AC: Hodge, Hodge, Hodge-
THP: You said yourself, that you should not have gone and traded your gold for Citrus. This is all very disingenuous in light of you saying that.
AC: No, I actually said, “I wish I hadn’t” I didn’t say I shouldn’t have done.
AC: Why do you– Why don’t you come here for a couple of days, and see what goes on here?
THP: I can’t. We don’t have open borders because we’re still at war.
AC: Oh shit, that’s right. But you must realise that running a civ in today’s world is a nightmare.
THP: I know it is. I’ve traded with many civilizations and I know how difficult the job is. But let’s get back to Vienna. What about the time they were attacked by barbarians and you refused to help them.
AC: Wasn’t that before we pledged to protect them?
THP: No, long after.
AC: *shrugs* I was wrong. But it’s not a betrayal.
THP: No, but it’s frustrating.
AC: It’s one of those things where I thought someone else was handling it and they were. They left and I assumed incorrectly that they had handed their handling of Vienna off to someone else and they hadn’t.
THP: It never crossed your mind to talk to Vienna yourself or anything like that? They were being slaughtered by barbarians with axes.
AC: It’s terrible, it’s wrong, it’s bad of me, I shouldn’t have, I should have checked on these things, but there is a million things to check on, Hodge, and that one slipped through. Why would I have ignored them? If you really want to get to the truth, come and visit our capital.
THP: The last time I sent a caravan to your capital they were killed by your archers.
AC: You’re trying to prove that I’m a sociopath, aren’t you?
THP: I’m trying to establish that you backstab your allies.
AC: Let me just ask you one question. Do you think from the line of questioning you’re giving me, that this game would be better without me?
THP: I think the game would be better without you backstabbing a lot.
AC: I don’t think I backstab.
THP: Let me just quote you from the the diplomacy screen.
AC: I must have spoken on fifty thousand diplomacy screens and I’m sure if you go back over all of them you could – fine, I’ll withdraw completely. I’ll never invade anyone again.
(Since this interview was recorded, Caesar has declared war on at least two other civilizations, including Austria which he says will be his last.)
THP: My first question wasn’t, ‘are you a Machiavellian and spiteful arsehole’, it was ‘are you a sociopath?’ It was, ‘are you an arsehole without meaning to be’?
AC: Like anybody that is in the business of ruling a nation I declare friendships that very often don’t turn out to be true friendships.
THP: But you agree though that you do have the reputation. I was at a LAN party just the other week and as soon as we began playing one of the other players said ‘Fuck! I’ve started next to Rome, I’ll never get a cultural victory now.’
AC: Yeah, and my answer to that nowadays is to not do wars any more. I think, you know, I think, a lot of people have turned round and have said ‘we don’t want get caught up in his wars’, even though they’re not wars. They’re coming from someone who truly believes and I truly believe that my Declarations of Friendship will last well into the Modern era. But maybe they won’t last and I’ll just bomb the Iroquois instead. You cannot find anybody in this industry more passionate than me, Hodge.
THP: OK so–
AC: Yeah, and you can rile the City-States up and you can say, ‘Oh, he’ll just backstab you again,’ but I’m still doing it. I’m still working on it. I’m still not going to my son’s play because I had to liberate Portugal.
AC: Alright, annex. But I’m defined by what I do in this world and I love it so much. And, you know, it emotionally hurts me to have someone like yourself be so angry with me. I offer this, for your consideration: All I really want to do is make a great, beautiful, wonderful civilization. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
THP: Except that you keep starting these new wars.
AC: You can’t be serious! I haven’t started any new wars.
THP: You attacked Florence and Kathmandu just this week. You say that you don’t do wars any more, you quite readily do them.
AC: This is not me starting wars with people, this is me reacting to them. I’m not going to formally declare any more wars. You go back and have a look. I used to contact the other world leaders and declare war on them and all that, I don’t do that any more.
THP: You just invade them without any forewarning.
AC: Because people like yourself have said, ‘don’t declare war!’ OK, so I won’t declare it.
THP: Well, we’d better wrap this up. I appreciate that you haven’t enjoyed this at all.
AC: Yeah. Well I love my civilization. I love what we’re doing. I love what we’re doing. I wish I was smarter and I wish everything that came out of my mouth came to pass. There’s no one in this era Hodge who hasn’t been more committed and more passionate about their civilization and I hope you personally see that.
AC: In fact, I’m sure you will personally see it when I BOMB YOUR CAPITAL.
THP: Ah, Christ.
AC: Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
THP: It’s like M. Night Shyamalan is my foreign advisor. Well you’re too late, at any rate.
AC: You see to build the best civilization I possible I need to have more puppet cities — hang on, what did you just say?
THP: You’re too late. Catherine’s going to arrive at Alpha Centauri next turn. The game’s over.
AC: Certainly not! Oh, go on. Make me more depressed.
THP: It’s true. We’re all screwed.
AC: And to think I never got to use that spearman.
THP: It’s the original Roman Tragedy.
AC: Oh well – we may as well enjoy these final moments. I’ll get Duke Ellington to put on a show or something. You want one of these oranges?
AC: *motions encouragement*
THP: Oh, alright.
With apologies to John Walker and Peter Molyneux.