Rome 2: 'We're aiming for the most awe-inspiring battles you've ever seen in a game'
2nd Jul 2012 | 13:00
Rome 2 will be the biggest Total War game yet. The game's budget is 40% higher, and Creative Assembly has almost double the amount of people working on it. After seeing an incredible demo of the game in action, we sat down with lead designer James Russell to talk about the studio's plans.
Why did you decide to go back to Rome?
It's the one that everybody wants. It's a fantastic setting in terms of the variety, the evocative nature of what Rome is, and what a Roman Legion looks like. The ancient world occupies a place in the public imagination. It's the classic empire-building era in history.
Following on from Shogun 2 we learned a lot about focus and containment. Keeping the feature set polished. But now we're ready to take those lessons and branch out with a broader scope. By the time Rome 2 comes out, it'll have been 9 years since the original. We feel now as if we can do it justice in a way we couldn't back then.
It's an epically huge world, and that's what makes it so exciting. In Shogun we were focused on one culture, but here we have barbarians in the Northern forests, exotic Eastern kingdoms in the deserts. We've got a huge variety of cultures to show off in our next-generation Total War engine.
Naval and land battles used to be separate, but now you can do both in the same battle. What kinds of interesting tactics does this open up?
On the campaign map, we're breaking down the boundaries between armies and navies. It means that navies can now capture territory in a way that'll transform how important the interplay between land and sea is on the map. The Punic Wars were about naval domination of the Mediterranean. In order to build empires on land, you've got to have safety at sea. All the great powers of that era were built around coastal cities.
On the battle map, it really gives you a sense of scale. As well as that, we're doing multiple ships in each naval unit too. Before it's always been one ship, but ancient world battles weren't about 8 ships; they were about many, many ships. So now we've got a few in each unit.
From a level design perspective, you can now have ideas about vulnerable beaches with defensible points. Defenders can now come out, and won't have to sit behind the walls because the attacking armies are vulnerable when they're disembarking. It's got huge implications for the tactics. It means naval fleets are now more mobile, and could move to another beach on the other side of the battle map, and move faster than land infantry. You can bombard cities with artillery from the ships as you're invading them as well.
We're playing it out, we're prototyping it, and seeing what works best. We're still figuring out exactly how we want those battles to play out. Sieges will be different. There are now multiple capture points, which creates a kind of cat and mouse gameplay within cities. Without multiple capture points, once the walls are breached the defender will just fall back to a safe area and defend it. But here we have dynamic gameplay within the cities, which is much more fun to play.
With such an epic increase in scale, how are we going to keep in control of all our units?
We're trying to execute scale in a different way. It's not about more units. It's about land and sea combined. It's about more ships in a unit, and bigger city environments. More impressive battlefields. It's not just about having more units on the screen. We're not trying to make the game harder to manage. We want to evoke that sense of scale without creating a cognitive overload.
The tactical map will help. We've got AI group controls, so you can set aside a group of units and give them to the AI to control. Tell them to defend a point, or go and attack. We won't be giving you more entitites to control than in previous games.
On the campaign map we're really pushing the human level, and the epic scope. The whole spectrum of experience. The map's gonna be bigger than Shogun 2, and bigger than the original Rome. We're going further East. So we have to give the player better tools to think about things at a higher level. Before, you'd control individual units; in Rome 2 we want you to think about armies.
The Roman Emperor's not going to be thinking about a unit of archers; he's gonna be thinking about the 10th Legion, and how the 8th Legion needs their support. So we're gonna have various mechanics to support that. We'll have a Legion Legacy system that will give your Legions traits that they'll get as you use them in battle. They'll develop their own character, almost. This means there'll be fewer, but more significant battles.
We'll also have a province system on the campaign map. So even though there'll be hundreds of regions, they're gonna be grouped into a smaller number of provinces, so you don't have to manage hundreds of tax rates and public order levels. It's gonna be simplified, but the gameplay's gonna be deeper. You're making more interesting decisions, but they won't be repeated over hundreds of different instances.
You can now zoom into individual soldiers and see the battle through their eyes. What do you think this will add to the experience of battle?
What's special about Total War is that there's always so much going on in the battlefield. Any unit you look at, something is going on with them. Whether they're in combat or marching somewhere. So we wanted to have more emotional connection to them. Things like if one soldier gets hit by an arrow, his buddy will look 'round and react. Or if a guy gets injured, his friend might help him up. We want them to behave more humanly.
When you go into the unit camera, we'll have the commanders shouting orders and so on. It's really important to make the game look amazing at that micro level, to get you immersed in the action. But it's not just aesthetic. We want to make sure it lets the player do something. Otherwise it's just eye candy. We want the player to be rewarded for giving up some of their attention to focus on one part of the battle.
We want to make the armies under your control feel real, and give you a darker view of warfare. Our battles are like the Saving Private Ryan of the ancient world. Making them feel human does do that, but then when you zoom out and see tens of thousands of them.
What kind of interesting new terrain will we see in the new, bigger maps?
There'll be huge capital cities, and smaller barbarian villages. Each culture will have their own look and feel. You've got forests, settlements, farmland, mountains. We want to portray terrain much more effectively than we have before.
We want to do more on the campaign map too. We want to do more with ambush battles, defenses, and improve naval battles too. We'll have more interesting battle objectives. There's a LOT we want to do there.
What can you tell us about the new engine?
We've got a whole new lighting system. We've got new particles too, and they'll cast proper shadows and receive scene lighting. It's a real upgrade, and we're not even halfway to alpha. We're working on destruction, new animations, and tighter combat. In Shogun you had these people paring off individually, but in Rome it's a total meat grinder.
We're looking to render the campaign map using the battle engine. This is a huge step forward for the campaign map, because we want to to look really breathtaking. The goal for the battles is for them to be the most awe-inspiring sight you've ever seen in a computer game. It's a big goal, but it's achieveable. We want it to be a spectacle when you zoom out and see the battles.
But at the same time, we want to run on machines that aren't the best machines. We want to take advantage of the best PCs that are out there in a year's time, but at the same time we know people are playing on laptops more, and we want to make it accessible to lower end machines as well. Shogun 2 has a reasonably forgiving min spec, and our intention is not to change it. We can't guarantee that obviously, but that's our intention.