[Continuing our set of Todd Ciolek-written interviews, profiling offbeat or neglected developers and subjects for the benefit of GameSetWatch readers, here's a chat to Tilted Mill, who seem to be hunkering down and adapting to post-digital life as a PC strateg game developer in a most intriguing way.]

Tilted Mill made a name by making cities, or at least by letting players make them. The developer was born from the ashes of Caesar developer Impressions, and its first major PC strategy game projects were all unified by the theme of urban creation -- from the Egyptian simulations of Children of the Nile to the modern SimCity Societies and its Destinations expansion.

Recently, Tilted Mill announced several new games that diverge from city construction; Mosby’s Confederacy is a wartime strategy title based on the exploits of Civil War cavalry commander John Singleton Mosby, and the fantasy RPG Hinterland requires player to develop a village by exploring the land around it and wiping out supernatural threats.

Nile Online, another new Titled Mill title, takes the Egyptian city-building of the developer’s Children of the Nile into a Web-based online simulation. To find out just how the company branched out with these new games, we interviewed Tilted Mill President Chris Beatrice.

Tilted Mill is known largely for city-building games like Children of the Nile and SimCity Societies, but you've recently developed two games, Mosby's Confederacy and Hinterland, that involve strategic combat. How would you compare the development process for a largely combat-free game like Children of the Nile to a title like Hinterland or Mosby's?

Before starting Tilted Mill most of us worked on a wider variety of strategy games, including war games and more RTS-like games (mostly at Impressions). These were similar in scope to Mosby’s and Hinterland. So it’s not at all something we are unfamiliar with.

Like a lot of PC developers, over the past eight or ten years we trended toward fewer, bigger titles and of course that means less variety in a given amount of time. Tilted Mill did three big titles in our first six years, but we’ve already done three smaller titles since June of this year.

In terms of scale, how did your approach to making a city-building game like Children of the Nile differ from your approach to making Hinterland, which could be described as a village-building game that's a bit smaller in scale?

It was a pretty big adjustment going from SimCity Societies to Hinterland. Even though we’d all cut our teeth back in the day on games that were about the scope of Hinterland, it was still a big transition for us to go through. That’s just on the production side.

As far as the actual approach to the game, well, because Hinterland is so unique, we were always walking a very fine line, and running the risk of being a “not good enough” city-building game combined with a “not good enough” RPG, or whatever. Games are tough that way – if you have some strong RPG elements, you’re compared to the very best RPGs. If you have some city-building elements, people expect a full blown city builder.

On top of that, with the game being only $20 (our plan from the get go), then of course there are limits in terms of how robust each part of the game can be. So, on the one hand, it was tough making sure we were always getting the best bang for our development buck, but, on the other hand, working with a smaller team that was more senior overall was a huge advantage as well.

Both Mosby's Confederacy and Hinterland are more focused than their genre standards; Mosby's has the player lead small groups of soldiers instead of an entire army, while Hinterland involves building and protecting a fantasyland village instead of a city or nation. Does this closer focus broaden the games' appeal, or make them more niche-oriented?

Who knows? We’ve always tended to be interested in a more intimate scale of game versus. abstracting huge hordes of people or soldiers. In some genres you need to do that to some degree, and of course we’ve done that ourselves.

But in general we tend to prefer things more up close and personal, at least relative to typical strategy games. There are soooo many games out there now, of all “sizes” so to speak, it’s hard to say what is niche and what is not.

Was Mosby's Confederacy inspired more by the Civil War leader's legacy, or were you already looking to create a wartime strategy game based around a smaller, more detailed theater of operations?

We were looking to make a Civil War game, and Jeff Fiske remarked that he’d always thought Mosby would be a good subject for a game, in part for the reasons I just noted above (you could approach more of a squad-level type of feel, and focus on individual soldiers versus. dealing with massive battles, as well as the generally interesting nature of this particular character).

How did you adapt Children of the Nile into Nile Online? What were your main goals with Nile Online?

A lot of different goals came together with Nile Online. First we wanted to see if we could make a much simpler, much more accessible and less demanding game that still provided a lot of the city building experience, and also looked really great.

This seemed like a huge hole out there just waiting to be filled. As an independent studio, we also wanted to explore a variety of different business models, and felt that the monthly subscription approach was worth checking out.

Lastly, we want to continue to develop and build upon the Children of the Nile brand, because it’s always been our “baby.”

When do you expect Nile Online to finish its beta testing stage?

Oh…pretty soon...I’m not sure how much of a hard line that will be. At some point we’ll feel it’s time to remove the beta flag, but the game will continue to evolve and grow just as it has been doing all along.

You previously mentioned that Tilted Mill titles often do better in Europe than in the U.S. Do you expect that to be the case with Hinterland? Is there a European market for distinctly American wartime strategy games like Mosby's Confederacy?

So far since we’ve been download only we’ve been selling more in the U.S. than abroad. We never expect a Civil War game to have as much appeal outside the U.S. as inside, yet we have seen a fair amount of interest in it from gamers and publishers as well, so I’m not sure...

Do you plan on releasing any of your games on Xbox Live [Arcade] or another console download service?

We do have some Xbox Live Arcade plans in the works, actually…