Medieval 2: Total War Designer Diary #9 - Making Combat Look Good

Lead programmer Ken Turner returns to finish telling us how the combat system in Medieval 2 tries to capture the visceral sensation of battle.

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Four years after the release of Medieval: Total War, designer Creative Assembly and Sega are close to releasing the sequel to the popular strategy game that's filled with epic battles. Like all Total War games, Medieval 2 has two layers. The strategic layer is a turn-based one, and it lets you manage your medieval kingdom by building improvements in your provinces and giving movement orders to armies. The real-time tactical layer then gives you direct control of those armies in battle, so you can order your infantry to hold their ground, your knights to charge, and your archers and catapults to rain death down on the enemy. Visually, the battles in Medieval 2 are incredibly more advanced than those in Medieval. Gone are the 2D unit sprites, and in come beautifully detailed 3D models of each man in your army. To tell us a bit more on how this combat system works, we have lead programmer Ken Turner.

Combat System, Part 2

By Ken Turner
Lead Programmer, Creative Assembly Australia

In the first part of the diary on Medieval 2's combat system I described how the combat system creates a balance between good-looking visuals and a strong sense of purpose. To support this balance, we needed a cooperative set of rules. Let's take a look at some of the key rules.

The action in Medieval 2 is a lot more cinematic than in any of its predecessors, thanks to some cool new technology.
The action in Medieval 2 is a lot more cinematic than in any of its predecessors, thanks to some cool new technology.

A simple rule: All action has consequence. For every combat blow, there is an equally appropriate reaction. Too often, the presentation of melee combat in strategy games is for combatants to stand toe-to-toe and swing wildly at one another until a dice roll somewhere in the bowels of the game logic deems that someone should fall down dead. For Medieval 2, this would be unsatisfying, considering our burly knight models with their hefty attacks. We wanted some smackdown when we hacked down. Soldiers who have been hit will always play a reaction matched on the direction and strength of the attack.

In combat choreography, timing is everything. Hollywood has taught us that if the timing is right and the reaction direction is correct, then we are tricked into believing that the contact actually occurred. Of course, all of this doesn't happen by chance. Combatants will send strike messages to each other to help to negotiate the time of contact. However, sometimes the defender may incorrectly interpret the time to contact if they are fatigued and get hit since they end up reacting too late. This way, tired units naturally will not defend as well as fresh units.

Strangely, the least important factor in combat is docking distance. The distance between the attacker and his target can be out by up to a meter in either direction and it seems fine. This is a giant relief, since trying to dock thousands of guys to their targets (who are probably also in motion) is not an exact science. For Medieval 2, each of the soldiers moves around to preserve his personal space so that he has room to fight and doesn't crowd his friends. This helps the soldiers to look and behave in a more organized way and removes the old unit-blobbing exploit.

The New World also makes an appearance in Medieval 2, and you can send European armies to battle the Aztecs.
The New World also makes an appearance in Medieval 2, and you can send European armies to battle the Aztecs.

Now, the soldiers will step back when crowded from the front and step left or right to try to get around friends to get to the enemy soldiers. If completely blocked in, the soldier will eagerly scan for new targets and openings in the line so that he can advance. We've also stopped infantry and cavalry from charging through friendly lines.

That concludes this diary and our look at the combat system in Medieval 2. Remember, if you find that your soldiers are unruly during your conquest of the known world, remind them that they know the rules and should know better. If they still don't listen, punish them by charging them at some elephants for their insolence.

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