Medieval 2: Total War
31st Jan 2006 | 15:30
The Creative Assembly explains what's hot about its return to medieval times and the next Total War title
We have a confession to make. Medieval: Total War was always our favourite title of The Creative Assembly's epic Total War trilogy. Not a jot wrong with either Shogun or Rome mind you - far from it. Both were innovative, splendid-looking games providing a perfect marriage of strategic cunning and explosive tactical action.
But it was always Medieval that really truly captured our hearts and imaginations. It just seemed the perfect fit for indulging our long held mania for conquering the known world and beyond, mixing superb strategy, epic medieval battlefields and high political intrigue as we sought to impose our yoke of tyranny over the peasants of the medieval world.
Imagine then our utter joy and delight when we found out that the next Total War game was a chance to revisit our favourite Total title with all new units, explosive new gameplay and updated graphics which promise to make Rome: Total War look like it's from the Stone Age.
High time then that we tracked down Bob Smith, The Creative Assembly's Project Manager, for an exclusive chat on Medieval 2 - we introduced him to the delights of CVG's very own torture chamber until he confessed all. Shame he wouldn't take our suggestion about Cavemen: Total War though. Perhaps next time we'll have to make sure we warm that poker up until its white hot.
We thought Medieval: Total war was pretty much the best Total War game - so we're not complaining mind, but with all of history to choose from, why did you decide to revisit the Medieval period this time around?
Bob Smith: Two main reasons really. Firstly, the medieval period is in many ways the perfect setting for a Total War game. It has a wide range of unit types, technological progress, constant warfare, treachery, intrigue and the clash of civilizations. Secondly, in the four years since the launch of the original, our technology has improved hugely and on the battle side we can now really capture the colour and pageantry of the period. Now we can really do the medieval period justice.
Are we looking at a radically new game - or is Medieval 2 an evolution rather than a revolution? What would you say are the major advances in Medieval 2?
Bob Smith: The aim with Medieval 2 is to significantly improve upon the gameplay of Rome and bring it to the medieval era, while raising the spectacle of the Total War series to a whole new level. As a result, Medieval 2 will raise the standard for Total War games right across the board, from the campaign game to the historical and the multiplayer battles.
What nations and signature units will be available to play Medieval 2? Will there be substantial differences here from the first MTW?
Bob Smith: There will be 21 playable factions for custom battle and multiplayer: England, France, Scotland, Holy Roman Empire, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Milan, Venice, Papal States, Sicily, Poland, Russia, Hungary, Byzantium, The Turks, Egypt, The Moors, The Mongols, The Tumurids and The Aztecs.
The final line-up of playable factions in the campaign game is still to be decided, however there will be a rich variety of factions to play. You'll notice from the list that we've included several factions that weren't included in the original Medieval, namely Scotland, Portugal and Venice. They'll all add their own unique challenge to the campaign game and, of course, their own unique units to the battlefield.
As an example, Venice will be particularly interesting to play. They begin the campaign with a strung out starting position, and no real 'uber' military unit. They'll have to concentrate on bringing in the cash - making money so that they can use bribery, assassination and mercenaries as their tools for expansion and domination.
What are the major improvements on the strategic level of the game in Medieval 2?
Bob Smith: Well for starters, the campaign map itself will be busier with several new types of agent, including merchants, princesses and priests. These will give players more opportunities to interact with the other factions without spilling blood, unless of course they choose to put their assassins to use. The map will also be bigger and later in the game will give the player the opportunity to discover the Americas.
Opening up this area of the map and discovering the New World offers rich rewards, but the Aztecs won't take to visitors too kindly. The Aztecs might lack the military technology but there are an awful lot of them and they're as brave as lions, so while the Americas are there to be conquered, they'll certainly put up a considerable fight.
Another of the big changes in the way the campaign game plays out concerns the management of settlements. In Medieval 2 the player will have the option to choose whether to develop each settlement as a castle or a city. Castles emphasize the military, and cities the economic. As a result, the player has to think carefully as their empire takes shape and there will be a great deal more strategy involved as they look to expand across the campaign map.
What would you say are the major differences on the tactical front?
Bob Smith: We're still experimenting with the scope of what we can do with new unit abilities and battlefield tactics, so we're not in a position to go into detail as yet. However, there'll definitely be new tricks you can pull. For example, some archer units will be able to deploy pointed stakes to protect themselves from cavalry, while other units will allow you to form a wagon circle to protect vulnerable units.
Sieges will certainly demand new tactics and strategies from both the attacker and the defender. Seizing a settlement in Medieval 2 will involve stripping away layers of defenses and it goes without saying that cannon will play a rather important role here.
How have you improved the in-game battle engine this time around? Is it a big advance over even Rome: Total War?
Bob Smith: The engine used for Medieval 2 is completely unrecognizable in comparison to Rome. We stripped it down and totally refurbished it to include major enhancements. There's a complete upgrade of the battlefield rendering system, new methods for building and rendering cities and the combat animation system has also been heavily revised.
One of the key enhancements involves the variation of troops within an army. Medieval 2 removes the clone armies you saw in previous Total War games; instead, units are made up of soldiers that are individuals. Each model is now constructed from a variety of heads, bodies and limbs. The engine combines these together to make each man far more individual. On top of this there is also a great variety of shields and weapons too, so each soldier has character and each unit of men looks and behaves like a realistic group of soldiers. Armour and weapon upgrades are also evident when you look on your units in battle. This introduces a great deal of individuality to the soldiers and ramps up the realism and immersion of Medieval 2's epic battles.
What new technologies and tech will you be able to utilise this time around?
Bob Smith: We knew that we wanted Medieval 2 to look spectacular, so we set about a complete replacement for the battlefield rendering by applying shaders everywhere. There's all-new settlement rendering with per-pixel lighting effects and localised damage (what you hit is what you break). We've also allowed cities and castles to be perched atop cliffs and sprawl down the sides of mountains so that they blend naturally with the terrain around them.
The environment generation has had a major overhaul too. So the player will see over-hanging cliff faces (which are good defensive positions), a mixture of vegetation which is matched to the ground types (tree lined rivers, thickly forested gullies and rugged rock-filled mountain passes) and reflecting water. New self-shadowing tech is on the way too.
Overall, textures are also done to a much higher level. In general, the texture resolution and polygon count is at least double those of Rome.
What time period are you covering in Med 2 and what factors made you choose this period this time?
Bob Smith: The grand campaign will span four and half centuries of history from the years 1080-1530. This specific period offers some incredible rich ingredients for the campaign - it begins with the golden age of chivalry and the Crusades, spans the Mongol invasion and the invention of gunpowder, and ends with gun toting professional armies, the renaissance and the discovery of America.
Are there any plans for more TV hook ups? We were big fans of Time Commanders - do you think Medieval 2 could push programmes like that forward?
Bob Smith: There's no doubt that we'd love to do more TV work with Medieval 2, particularly as the game makes such a significant jump from Rome. However, we can't discuss any plans we may or may not have in this area for the time being.
What's been the biggest challenge with Medieval 2: Total War?
Bob Smith: It's so hard to pick just one. However, the biggest challenge we faced would probably be the new system for cities and castles. This involved designing a system that would allow cities and castles to be both more spectacular than Rome, and allow the artists to be more productive. Implementing this required replacing a huge game subsystem, writing a complete new set of tools, and dealing with some gnarly technical issues.
What part of Medieval 2 has given you most joy? What part makes you most proud?
Bob Smith: Personally, I love the way we've captured the rich colour of the period. However much I look at them I still get a kick out of seeing the knights in their shining armour, the heraldry on their shields, their stripy lances, and the colourful barding on the horses.
Have you got any new plans for the multiplayer component of the game?
Bob Smith: We have some ambitious plans for multiplayer battles. We can't go into further details on this as yet.
We realise you can't commit to anything but are there any other time periods you think would be suitable for a Total War Game? We'd love to see Cavemen: Total War for example!
Bob Smith: There are many, many possible settings for Total War games but, much as we'd love to list some suitable time periods, we're going to stay focused on just one for now and that's Medieval. As for Caveman: Total War, that was the codename for Medieval 2 used by some of our marketing guys before the announcement. It's highly unlikely you'll hear of that particular Total War game again.
If you're a Total War fanatic then you absolutely must plant a broadsword through your calendar for this Thursday 2 February, when the latest issue of PC Zone erupts onto news stands. It features a massive 12 pages of Medieval 2: Total War goodness, plus exclusive screens, in-depth analysis, further commentary and insight from the development team and more hot Medieval info than you could cram into a pair of armoured trousers. Our advice? Don't miss it!