Medieval 2: Total War Designer Diary #8 - Breaking Down the Combat

Lead programmer Ken Turner explains how the medieval combat in this epic real-time strategy game comes to life.


With their epic fights that involve thousands of warriors, the battles in the Total War strategy games have always invoked the cinematic battles of such movies as Ran and Braveheart. Medieval 2: Total War, the next game in the series, should take those cinematic battles to a new level. You'll spend part of Medieval 2 as the leader of a medieval country, such as England or France, overseeing the construction of castles and other structures in your territory. You'll also raise armies and then invade your neighbor's lands (or get invaded, in turn), which is where you'll have the opportunity to lead your forces on the battlefield, using tactics to win the day. To explain some of the combat mechanics in this sequel, we caught up with lead programmer Ken Turner. Medieval 2 is scheduled to ship later this month.

Unleash knights on the battlefield, or kill them with arrows, pikemen, other knights, you get the idea.
Unleash knights on the battlefield, or kill them with arrows, pikemen, other knights, you get the idea.

Get Medieval in Combat

By Ken Turner
Lead Programmer, Creative Assembly Australia

Hi, I'm Ken Turner, lead programmer on Medieval 2: Total War. In the first of this two-part diary, I'm going to be talking you through the details behind the combat system in the game.

The classic imagery of armored knights locked in mortal combat, matching bone-crunching blows with one another, sets what we as players would come to expect in a medieval game. In order to rise to this challenge, we knew that we'd need to put on our thinking caps, furrow our brows, and spend a few hours swinging foam swords at each other.

The two goals for the combat system were that we wanted to make it look spectacular as well as have it feel solid. While we have certainly focused on delivering visually compelling combat, it's far more than just a buff and polish. In fact, we found that the detailed visuals provided more direct feedback by actually showing the player what is really happening.

There are loads of decisions and calculations that happen every second behind the scenes. Some decisions are physical, like choosing to target the best nearby enemy. Others are purely statistical, like the dice roll to determine the hit result when one soldier strikes another. Ultimately, the more we exchange statistical mechanics (which are hidden) for physical mechanics, the more we can let the player directly experience the game.

The most notable example of this is where we extracted the statistical mechanics that have to do with blocks, evades, and parries. In previous Total War games, when the attacker swung and missed (because of a successful statistical defence), the attacker would follow through and the defender did not react at all. In Medieval 2, when the defender has time to block, he turns to face his attacker and times his defense to meet the attacker's contact. If successful, the attacker's strike is deflected, and the defender gets the upper hand.

Be careful, you'll poke someone's eye out with those things.
Be careful, you'll poke someone's eye out with those things.

One of my favorite moments is when a knight carrying a shield is defending against two attackers. Having a shield means that he has very fast defenses, and after successfully blocking the first attacker, he has enough time to turn and defend the second. Immediately after defending, he turns back to the first attacker to finish him off. It's clear that my guys kick butt.

Cool moments like this sparked the team's imagination and, all at once, ideas started flooding in for ways to make the combat look and feel more impressive. We needed a vast array of moves for a cast of thousands. Medieval 2 has combat strikes with multiple combos and variations for each weapon; blocks; parries and evades matched to each of the attack types; matched fatalities for dramatic finishing moves; shield barges; punches; taunts; knock-backs in all directions; and special attacks, like the three-rank bracing for pikes. When these actions are sequenced for a sea of soldiers, the scene is truly impressive.

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