Medieval 2 Designer Diary #2 - The Return of the Assassination Movies

Creative Assembly's Nick Tresadern tells us what it's like to make movies about assassination attempts gone awry.


Through the course of three games, the Total War series has managed to establish itself as one of the most popular strategy franchises around. The Total War games are best known for their blend of turn-based strategy, which lets you manage the running of a nation, with gargantuan real-time battles, which can feature thousands of warriors fighting and dying for your cause. And with Medieval 2: Total War, the developers at Creative Assembly are remaking the incredibly popular Medieval with new technology.

Medieval 2 will also reintroduce the often-hilarious assassination movies that were featured in Shogun: Total War, the first game in the series. In that game, whenever you ordered an assassin to take out an enemy general, you would then get a movie that showed whether the assassin succeeded or not. Sometimes the assassin got the job done, and sometimes the assassin met an even grislier fate than his intended victim. As Creative Assembly's Nick Tresadern explains in this edition of our designer diaries, making these movies requires a lot of work and effort, but the payoff can be worth it. Medieval 2 is scheduled to ship later this year.

Princesses will get married, kings will be crowned, and assassins will assassinate in Medieval 2.
Princesses will get married, kings will be crowned, and assassins will assassinate in Medieval 2.

Making Movies

By Nick Tresadern
Artist, Creative Assembly UK

Hi, I'm Nick Tresadern, and my role for this game was to design, oversee, and create the mission-event movies that appear on the game's strategy map in the grand campaign. I worked with an art team that comprised mainly myself, Pawel Wojs, and Roland McDonald, with animators Greg Alston and Ben Potts handling the animations and motion capture, and other Creative Assembly artists helping out as required.

I actually had the very same role on the first Total War title, Shogun, where I designed and made the movies that portrayed the assassination attempts. These were a popular feature in that game, and many Total War fans had requested their return. When the opportunity to work on these again came around, I was delighted, especially as Medieval 2 gave me the opportunity to make them even bigger, better, and more numerous than before. And Medieval 2 includes other types of event movies. These include infiltrations and sabotage attempts and some special events, such as a princess's royal wedding to ally two factions to each other, the coronation ceremony of a new pope in a packed cathedral, and the public burning of a heretic at the stake by the merciless Inquisition.

Like Shogun's outcomes, Medieval 2's outcomes of the assassination (and infiltration/sabotage) movies differ, depending on whether the assassin or spy was successful or not. However, we also wanted to implement new outcomes, so in Medieval 2, an assassin can fail in his attempt but still manage to escape from the town guards and live to try again another day. A much larger variety of movies was required for Medieval 2, as the events can take place in a wide range of environments, from lush outdoor locales in Europe to dusty desert settlements in the Middle East and vast cathedral interiors flooded with multicolored light from the huge stained-glass windows. This range of environments clearly required us to render a lot more movies than Shogun ever had.

The assassin is back, and you'll have to watch each movie to see if he succeeds or fails in his mission.
The assassin is back, and you'll have to watch each movie to see if he succeeds or fails in his mission.

There's now also a larger range of targets that can be assassinated. As well as being able to assassinate the poor old priests again, the player can now also dispatch princesses and even the pope himself. Enemy generals can also be assassinated to remove their threat from the game, while enemy spies, merchants, and diplomats are also popular targets.

There is a range of assassination methods used to dispatch the victims, including simple, but brutal, stabbings; spitting poisoned darts from blowpipes; and burning victims while they sleep. We've tried to keep a similar style to Shogun's--that of lightening the violence with a touch of humour and a few surprises thrown in. In some cases, for example, the viewer may wonder how the assassin could have possibly failed, while in others, the player will see the target get killed even before it is revealed where the assassin is hiding.

For the first time in a Total War game, there are now movies showing a spy's attempts at infiltrating settlements and enemy armies. Infiltrating a settlement usually involves the spy dressed in a cunning disguise, trying get past the city gates' sentries undetected, and in some cases, the player won't even spot where the spy is until he reveals himself later in the movie. The spies infiltrate armies by trying to obtain a soldier's uniform in order to mingle with the rest of the army. This can involve the spy luring a lone soldier into an alleyway then overpowering him and robbing him of his uniform.

We now also have saboteur movies, where the agents can attempt to destroy an enemy's building in a settlement. He'll do this by either burning it down or blowing it up with gunpowder casks. There's no escape option for a failed sabotage or infiltration, so the player will be kept on the edge of his seat throughout the movie, guessing which way the mission will go.

Other new movies show how spies infiltrate enemy cities.
Other new movies show how spies infiltrate enemy cities.

The whole movie-creation process began with collecting ideas of cool ways to kill people in the medieval setting, and then I crafted animatic storyboards for each of the scenarios to plan the camera shots and the timing and pace of the movies. This was also essential for carefully planning what moves we wanted to motion capture and for measuring the distances that the actor would travel so that the whole move would fit in the capture volume. The animation was then captured using our mo-cap rig, and after the data was tidied up by our animation team, we inserted it into the animatics to replace the crude placeholder animation, then the lighting and extra details (particle effects, cloth, hair and fur simulation, and so on) were added, and the movies rendered out on our large render farm overnight, every night for several months. The rendered frames were then polished in postproduction and then delivered to the audio team to compose their cool soundtracks.

I loved every minute that I worked on these movies, particularly devising the assassination methods and planning cool camera shots that I hope make the movies feel dramatic in places. I hope these movies add to your Medieval 2 experience and that you'll enjoy watching the events and the exploits of your agents unfold before your eyes.

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