Medieval 2: Total War Designer Diary #1 - Introducing the New Diplomatic System

Designer Dan Toose fills us in on the brand-new diplomacy system in Medieval 2 and how it will help ambitious would-be kings conquer Europe.

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The Total War games are known for their strategic gameplay, not to mention the epic battles that feature thousands and thousands of virtual soldiers fighting and dying for you on the screen. These intriguing games have always combined strategic, turn-based gameplay with tactical, real-time gameplay, based in some of the most contentious periods of world history. However, the series isn't quite as known for its diplomacy. After all, why bother talking with opponents when you can send your armies at them? Still, there's something to be said for diplomacy, as it may help you win a particularly brutal war or buy you enough time to deal with multiple opponents. So for Medieval 2: Total War, the next game in the series, the designers at Creative Assembly have revamped the diplomacy system from scratch. Medieval 2 is due out later this year, but designer Dan Toose was good enough to give us a peek at the new diplomacy system.

Sure, battles are one of the big things in Total War games, but diplomacy may be just as important in Medieval 2.
Sure, battles are one of the big things in Total War games, but diplomacy may be just as important in Medieval 2.

Building a Better Medieval Diplomat

By Dan Toose
Game Designer, Creative Assembly Australia

Hey, my name's Dan Toose, one of the designers focused on the campaign aspect of Medieval 2: Total War, including, among many things, overseeing our redesign of the diplomacy system. Thanks to the tireless efforts of programmer Scott Lowther to help make the designs a reality, we're able to share a bit about the thinking behind how we've revamped the Total War way of dealing with the other powers in the world.

Rome: Total War's diplomacy system handled each diplomatic proposal in such a way as to "wrap up" a collection of offers and/or demands as a whole proposal. When you sent the artificial intelligence a proposal, you would get a response that would give you an indication as to what had happened and why. Despite the admirable work done to create the "packaged proposal" system, we came to the conclusion that there was still too much mystery in Total War diplomacy.

Upon revising the system for Medieval 2, we felt that the key means to improve diplomacy was to do away with that "mystery" factor, or at least make things less mysterious than they were. After all, unless you can read minds, there's always a little mystery in negotiation. That prompted the question, "What is diplomacy?" Our answer was that the negotiation aspect of diplomacy is all about two things: trying to read what the other party wants and creating a proposal that takes that knowledge into account and helps you get what you want.

The first step to reading the other party is to recognize its situation. To give you extra information about what the other party needs or wants, we looked at ways to go about offering that sort of knowledge without making the artificial intelligence an open book. To do this, we chose some key points to relate to you that describe the AI faction's place in the world, and they're sort of vague hints as to what may be a good or bad thing to include in a diplomatic proposal. These points include the AI faction's military and financial power, its reputation, its relationship with your faction, and anything that the AI is known to be actively seeking from you. After all, there is no point in asking a very poor faction for a lot of money, as that's something that it may not be able to comply with. If that same faction, however, had lots of military forces, perhaps it could be asked for assistance in a war.

The new diplomacy system is geared toward making negotiations more realistic.
The new diplomacy system is geared toward making negotiations more realistic.

There is one particular element of diplomacy we wanted to convey to you in a much more precise way, and that's the AI's reaction to what you have proposed. After all, when you're haggling with someone in real life, it is generally easy to tell if the outcome was a close call or not. We don't want you to feel like you were way off the mark if your offer is rejected. Conversely, we don't want you to make an incredibly insulting offer and think that it was a reasonable one. Our solution to this dilemma was to show the AI's "demeanor" after every proposal. It doesn't stop you from insulting the AI, or giving the AI way too generous an offer, but it does let you know when that has happened, which allows you to make a better proposal next time around. We always wanted the first proposal to require some smarts, and then you have to "feel" out the bumps in the counterproposals.

Audible Diplomacy

While common sense allowed most players to form intelligent proposals in Rome: Total War, the diplomacy system itself didn't tell you when you were making a good or bad offer. For example, you might ask for an alliance with another faction, but you may have no idea if that is deemed to be a good or bad offer by the game's terms. To take out some of the mystery, we devised a system that informs you if your proposal is generous, demanding, or balanced before you present it to the AI. This means that you will be aware if the offer you're making is extortionate or generous in the Medieval 2 world. This will prove extremely useful for players who desperately want to strengthen or worsen their relationship with another faction.

Diplomacy might secure a needed alliance with a neighbor, or it may get you the money needed to keep your empire running.
Diplomacy might secure a needed alliance with a neighbor, or it may get you the money needed to keep your empire running.

If you pay attention to the proposal balance and the other faction's current position, not only will you be armed with the information to make a balanced proposal, but you can try to make a proposal that is demanding while still being appealing to the other party. For example, let's say you're dealing with a faction that has lots of money and desperately needs military aid. You could create a proposal that offers military aid against that faction's enemy in exchange for a huge sum of money. The proposal itself may be rather demanding, but if the AI faction needs military aid more than money, it may be an offer that it can't refuse. So long as you take note of the proposal balance, the AI's situation, and its reaction via the demeanor display, you have everything you need to know to make an intelligent proposal and to intelligently make a better offer based on how the AI reacts.

One final aspect of "pushing your luck" can be felt when you make several proposals in one sitting. The factions you deal with can alter their take on you depending on the nature of your proposals. If you keep making outrageous demands, you will annoy someone.

What else matters? Exposing what the other faction is thinking is one thing, but to truly convey the nature of a reaction you really need to sample a human quality. We chose to use speech. That involved coming up with a system that can detect varying degrees of reaction and assigning appropriate voice acting to convey that reaction as desired. Best of all, the feedback is immediate. You'll know when just a few more florins will sweeten a deal enough or when you've been insulting.

Aside from its use to the player, we really wanted this to be an area of the game where you can get a feel for the people you're dealing with. A large amount of dialogue was recorded, and we've significantly upped the number of accents included in the game compared to previous Total War games, so when you deal with the French diplomatically, you will hear a Frenchman delivering the dialogue.

You'll be updated on your relationships with other factions throughout the course of the game.
You'll be updated on your relationships with other factions throughout the course of the game.

What else does diplomacy touch? Armed with the ability to measure how insulting or appreciated something was, AI factions can now have their view toward you altered in degrees. This means that your behavior in diplomacy will actually affect what you have to face in the campaign. We then applied the same philosophy of exposing a shift in stance from the actual act of diplomacy out into the whole faction relations system that tracks what every faction thinks of every other faction. When things break down between two factions or when relations improve, you are notified.

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