In our initial Q&A for Medieval 2: Total War, project director Bob Smith revealed many details regarding Creative Assembly and Sega's upcoming sequel to 2002's hit strategy game Medieval: Total War. Of course, there were plenty of questions still on our minds afterward, so Smith was kind enough to answer our latest questions about the game. Medieval 2 will once again give you command of a nation during the Middle Ages, and it'll be up to you to guide it to dominance through diplomatic maneuvering and bloody warfare. The game is due out later this year for the PC.
GameSpot: First, let's take a look back at the first Medieval. What did you think the original Medieval did well, and what did it not do well?
Bob Smith: The original Medieval did a fantastic job of abstracting the medieval world into a playable game. Designing this new version has only increased my appreciation of the elegance of the mechanics. Its biggest drawback was that the graphics engine was a bit long in the tooth by the time it was released and wasn't really up to showing the pageantry and color of the period.
GS: Next, let's look at Rome: Total War, since many of the concepts of Rome carry over to Medieval 2. What did Rome do well, and what could have been better?
BS: Obviously Rome took a huge step forward graphically by introducing 3D characters to replace the sprites from previous games in the series, and with Medieval 2 we're taking another huge step beyond that. Of course, Rome also introduced a more realistic and intuitive campaign map that introduced a huge amount of extra gameplay to that side of the game. These were of course both major advances, but on the flip side from the perspective of designers and programmers, they make dealing with the code more difficult compared to the sprite men and campaign map of the original Medieval.
GS: Is the diplomacy system in Medieval 2 going to be improved? Previously, you could only make alliances with other nations, but alliances kept breaking left and right without any consequence. Will nations remember if you betrayed them this time? Will you be able to trust in your allies?
BS: The diplomacy system has been improved. We're going to give the player a lot more information about how the artificial intelligence feels both about them and about the offer on the table. However, at the same time the AI will take offence at insulting offers and will have a better memory of past dealings. You should be able to trust your allies, but only up to a point.
GS: What improvements will there be in the artificial intelligence? Will the computer play by the same rules as the player, or will it get special bonuses or be predisposed to attacking the human player? Will nations gang up on whoever is in the lead, regardless of whether it's the human player or a computer player?
BS: We're definitely committed to improving the AI on both the campaign map and battlefield and plan to make a significant step forward from Rome. Making an AI for a game as deep as this is an enormously difficult job, but we're confident that experienced players will face an even sterner challenge at the highest difficulty settings in Medieval 2.
GS: We learned in our last Q&A that princesses are coming back as separate units on the map (they were missing in Rome). But one of the things about Medieval is that the strategic map got absolutely cluttered with all the armies, emissaries, ambassadors, princesses, and ships moving around. That probably won't be such an issue this time around with the 3D map, but are you afraid of introducing too much micromanagement in the strategic layer?
BS: Clutter on the campaign map is a danger that we've been mindful of. As a result, we've designed the new agents in such a way that they do not require a high degree of micromanagement and high maintenance. Priests and merchants will carry out their preaching or trading without player intervention, and princesses will carry out the role of diplomats until they're married off. We've also placed limits on the number of agents of each type you're allowed, based on the tech tree buildings you've constructed. The limited number of agents in Rome was a bit of a reaction to their abundance in the first Medieval, but we probably cut back a bit too far and ended up with rather an empty map. Now you'll see more representatives of foreign powers walking through your lands.
GS: How much more powerful will the religion system be? Will it also be a bit more flexible this time around? For instance, in Medieval, the computer was a pro in forcing you to decide to allow a crusade to move through your lands or else risk excommunication from the pope. There was no way out of a bad situation. Will you have more options in Medieval 2?
BS: The system will certainly be more powerful. As an example, this time around you'll have a more sophisticated relationship with the pope. Your standing will depend on things like how many churches you build, the number of priests you recruit, whether you carry out the missions the pope asks you to perform, whether you go on crusades, etc., not to mention plain old bribery. If your standing is low, then you run a high risk of being excommunicated for fighting other catholic factions. If it's high, the pope might look the other way for a few turns. Monitoring the pope's attitude toward your faction and other factions will be very important and there will be a new display in the campaign game to keep an eye on this.
GS: Will we see the return of trade routes, like those seen in Rome? The first Medieval abstracted trade quite a bit, but Rome's trade routes gave you a much better sense of who was trading with whom, at least by sea. Will we have a better sense of trade and the economy in Medieval 2?
BS: The actual trade route system is based on that featured in Rome; however, there are several significant improvements surrounding the way trade works. For example, merchants can go off to far-flung lands to make exotic and valuable goods available to trade in your capital. Merchants will make more money if they make trade agreements with the resource owners, and if they can prevent other merchants trading in the same region.
GS: Will certain provinces still provide special modifiers for units that are built there? For instance, Spain has such a rich history in metalworking that in Medieval, Spanish units got all sorts of weapon and armor bonuses if the right buildings were constructed. Or certain units could only be built in certain provinces, such as Welsh longbowmen.
BS: We deal with region-specific units via the same mercenary system as in Rome, rather than restricting the availability of a faction's core troops. Units don't get bonuses for being built in particular regions, but where regions have a specialty, such as sword making in Damascus or Toledo, then they're more likely to attract guilds, which certainly do give bonuses to units.
GS: Speaking of which, will Europe be divided into roughly the same number of provinces as before, or will there be drastic changes in how provinces are drawn? Did the original game perhaps have too many provinces?
BS: Medieval 2 will feature a similar number of provinces to Rome.
GS: Finally, just for fun, can you perhaps rattle off some numbers for us? For example, do you know how many polygons the original Medieval could handle onscreen at once? Then compare that to how many Medieval 2 can handle. Are you amazed at times by this?
BS: I can't give you the numbers right now, but it is amazing, four years on, how much more we can do visually.
GS: Thank you, Bob.