Sega and developer Creative Assembly excited strategy fans worldwide last month when they announced that the companies are working on Medieval 2: Total War. The fourth Total War game will revisit the setting of the popular second game in the series, Medieval: Total War. Of course, this new Medieval will offer a huge technological leap over its predecessor, with gorgeous 3D graphics as well as new and enhanced gameplay. And Medieval 2 will remain faithful to the Total War blend of turn-based and real-time gameplay. The Total War games feature an overarching turn-based campaign where you raise and move armies around a map, as well as develop settlements and castles, make treaties with neighbors, and more. Then, when two hostile armies clash, you lead your forces in a real-time battle, maneuvering units around the battlefield as you attempt to crush the enemy.
Medieval 2 is being produced by Creative Assembly's Australia Studio. Eager to learn more, we caught up with Bob Smith, the project director of Medieval 2. In our interview, Bob reveals some tantalizing details as to how Medieval 2 will differ from its predecessors. The game is slated for release this winter.
GameSpot: The big question on everyone's minds is: Why go back and revisit Medieval: Total War so soon? It's obviously a very popular game, but there was a lot of speculation that Creative Assembly might extend the series into the Napoleonic era or some other time period in history that we haven't seen covered before. Why go back to medieval Europe rather than explore a new time period?
Bob Smith: There were several factors behind our decision to revisit Medieval. First and foremost, the medieval period is just so great for a Total War game; it is in many ways the perfect setting. It has a wide range of unit types, technological progress, constant warfare, treachery, intrigue, and the clash of civilizations. Plus, of course, the setting proved very popular with Total War fans.
The other big factor concerned our technology. In the four years since the launch of the original Medieval, our technology has improved hugely, and on the battle side, we can now really capture the color and pageantry of the medieval period and do it justice.
GS: What were some of the lessons that the team learned from Rome: Total War, and how did they go about shaping Medieval 2? Also, there must be no shortage of ideas being submitted by fans, so what did they want to see in the sequel?
BS: I think that the most important thing that we're continually learning about, and striving to improve, is the organization needed to produce huge games like the Total War series. This covers the way we write code, the pipeline for getting assets into the game, the way we document designs, write art specs, organize audio recordings, and tackle localization. Having good systems in place from the beginning saves a lot of stress at the end of the project, and having less mistakes to fix should give us more time for polishing to raise the overall quality.
In terms of generating ideas, it's nearly eight years now since work on Shogun: Total War began, so we have an enormous backlog of ideas for things to put into the game, far more than we could ever cram into one game. Also, with nearly 100 developers between the two studios, most of whom are avid gamers, we live in a bit of a creative furnace and are continually coming up with new ideas. Of course, we're continually scanning the Internet forums for fans' ideas, and they do get incorporated.
GS: There seems to be a split between fans over the kind of strategic map that they prefer. Some liked the Risk-style, board game map of Medieval, while others preferred the "living, breathing" world map of Rome. What can you tell us about the strategic mode in Medieval 2? Will it be more like Medieval, or will it improve on that of Rome?
BS: Medieval 2 will use an enhanced version of the 3D map as first seen in Rome, and there are some significant changes to the map itself and the turn-based campaign game.
Firstly, the map will be populated with new types of agents, which include merchants, princesses, and priests. These will give the player new opportunities to engage with rival factions off the battlefield by aiding with trade, diplomacy, and spreading the influence of your religion, respectively.
The map will also be bigger than the Rome map and include the opportunity for the player to discover the Americas. Initially, these lands will be hidden from the players, and the squares of the Atlantic Ocean will be impassible. Late in the game, however, players will be able to develop the technology that allows them to cross the ocean, discover America, and attempt to capture its riches. However, before a faction can begin to claim the rich resources that lie in wait, they'll have to do battle with the Aztecs who, not surprisingly, will not take kindly to would-be invaders. If a faction can claim the New World, then it will have access to resources that will aid them considerably with their expansion in the old world. So the race to discover and claim these prized lands will introduce some added spice to the campaign.
The campaign game will also play very differently when it comes to expanding your empire through settlements. In Medieval 2, players will have the option to develop each of their settlements as either a castle or city. They both have particular benefits, with castles placing greater emphasis on military expansion, while cities will have a much greater benefit to your faction's economy. This will call for a good deal more strategic thought when it comes to expanding your empire across the map--the number and location of your cities and castles will be vital. Build too many cities, and you may have to rely on mercenaries to bolster your forces. Opt for too many castles, and you may not have the funds in the coffers to maintain your war effort. It becomes a fine balance.
GS: We understand that the historical period covered in Medieval 2 is larger than that of Medieval. What year does the game begin, when does it end, and what's the significance of those start dates? Also, Medieval featured yearly turns, while Rome featured six-month turns to allow for winter and summer seasons. What's the case in Medieval 2, and why did you choose this system?
BS: The grand campaign will span four and a half centuries of history, from the year 1080 to 1530. These years are significant because it was a particularly turbulent period and because of the milestones that took place. It begins with the golden age of chivalry and the crusades, spans the Mongol invasion and the invention of gunpowder, and finally ends with gun-toting professional armies, the renaissance, and the discovery of America.
The campaign will feature summer and winter turns as in Rome, but we're trying to get away from the idea that a turn represents a specific amount of time, since it's impossible to reconcile the scale you need for army maneuvers with the scale you need to cover a decent slice of history. The history of the period will unfold in around 225 turns.
Saying No to Clone WarsGS: Will we see the same factions and kingdoms that we saw in Medieval, or will there be any notable new additions? We also understand that the game will now extend past Europe's borders into the New World and the Holy Lands. How will this be handled in the game? Will everything still be on one map, or will there be separate maps to cover these different areas?
BS: The Americas are to be included on the same map. Sailing across the Atlantic will take a few turns, though, and will only be possible later in the campaign. There'll be a historical event that unlocks technology that will allow factions to travel across the Atlantic, around the time that people started suggesting that the world might be round.
GS: The early screenshots look pretty amazing, and we're seeing details that we didn't see in Rome, such as some variation in appearance so that units don't look like armies of clones. What other graphical improvements can we expect, and will this require any significant increase in computing power to appreciate the game?
BS: Removing the clone armies that we've seen in previous Total War games and other real-time strategy titles was one of our priorities when it came to enhancing the engine. We're very proud of the results. Each troop model is now constructed from a variety of heads, bodies, and limbs. On top of this, there are also multiple variants for shields and weapons, too. The engine combines these elements to make each man far more individual and so that each unit of men looks, as well as behaves, like a realistic group of soldiers. Armor and weapon upgrades are also evident when you look on your units in battle. Overall, this enhanced individuality for the soldiers ramps up the realism and immersion of the huge battles to new levels.
Elsewhere in the engine, we've made some major improvements when it comes to the rendering of settlements in the game. It wouldn't be Medieval without vast, monumental cities and castles, and we set out to do them justice by ensuring that we represent them in-game in a far more realistic manner than ever before. Cities and castles will be built around the environment, incorporating cliffs and slopes in their layout. This not only makes for a far more realistic representation of settlements, but also introduces new layers of strategy when it comes to siege situations. This new system also includes per-pixel lighting effects and localized damage, so what you hit is what you break.
We've also made huge progress when it comes to combat animation. The thousands of motion-captured animations we've captured have allowed us to create some superb new action out on the battlefield. Sequenced attack combos will allow individual troops to string together devastating moves that can swathe through opponents. Attack failures and defensive moves have also been added so that a strike is deflected when blocked successfully by a defender. This makes the combat feel more solid, thanks to the direct cause-and-effect visual feedback. You'll see these moves being executed all over the battlefield, and as soldiers are struck down, you'll see those remaining continually scanning their surroundings for their next kill. These features combine to make the huge scale battles so much more realistic and immersive, whether you're zoomed in on the front line or scanning the battlefield from a distance.
The textures in Medieval 2 are done to a much higher level. In general, the texture resolution and polygon count is at least double those of Rome. As for the impact this has on the minimum spec, the game will ship around two years after Rome, and as technology has progressed, the minimum spec will be higher. However, as with previous games, everything is scalable, so it'll be possible to scale down the most system-hungry effects. You certainly won't need a monster PC to run the game, and there are already games being released with higher min specs than we're targeting.
GS: Naval combat was abstracted very heavily in Medieval and Rome, to the point where the computer automatically generated battle results whenever hostile fleets clashed. Will we see that same level of abstraction in Medieval 2, or will naval combat be fleshed out a bit more?
BS: Creating full-scale 3D naval battles is a massive task; creating them to the standard we'd want to achieve for a Total War game is an even bigger one. Consequently, we decided not to embark on such a task this time around. Naval combat will be handled similarly to the system employed in Rome but polished and tweaked.
GS: Will the multiplayer gameplay in Medieval 2 still be restricted to being able to battle other players? We know that one of the impediments to creating a fully multiplayer campaign game is that, by Creative Assembly's calculations, it would take years to play an epic game from start to finish online.
BS: A full multiplayer campaign is certainly an idea we've discussed, but the time it would take to play out a full game to completion would seriously affect the number of players who could commit themselves to such a game mode. With this in mind, it makes far more sense for us to spend our time developing features that'll be enjoyed by a larger numbers of players. Having said that, we do have some exciting plans for multiplayer battles. We can talk about these in more detail in the months ahead.
GS: Finally, what's going to be new for Total War fans in Medieval 2? We'll have amazing graphics and intense battles, but how will the game evolve the series in terms of gameplay?
BS: Medieval 2 raises the bar for Total War games right across the board--in the campaign, the battles, and the multiplayer. There's no doubt that this will be the greatest Total War experience ever. There are new factions; new units; new unit abilities, including the opportunity for archers to place spikes to impale onrushing cavalry; and new siege weaponry, including cannons that can be put to work on the new, more-spectacular sieges, which will involve stripping away layers of defenses. Plus, of course, there will be improved artificial intelligence on both the battlefield and the campaign map.
Talking of the campaign map, there are new agents, improved diplomacy, and improved trade, as well as a host of new buildings added to the tech tree; new sabotage and espionage options, with full assassination movies so you can witness the cold-blooded killing or bungled attempts firsthand; a new system of religion, which will see players having to manage their relationship with the papal states, embarking on crusades commissioned by the pope, or turning their back on him and plotting to place their own pope in power; and the new settlement system, which will undoubtedly make for a more engaging and deep campaign game.
Then, of course, there is the discovery and invasion of the New World, battles with the Aztecs, the new multiplayer options, new historical battles, and lots more that we just can't reveal right now.
GS: Thank you, Bob.