Rome 2: Total War Interview with The Creative Assembly’s James Russell
I got a chance to talk with Total War series Lead Designer James Russell at this year’s Gamescom after witnessing the studio’s demo of the siege of Carthage, which was both visually impressive and intriguing. There’s a lot new in the next Total War as the franchise heads back to Rome: multiple city capture points, a new provincial system on the campaign map, and more individual character stories. To get to the heart of all the improvements, Russell broke down all the work the team at The Creative Assembly has done since their last game:
You talked about political influences in the game, can you explain that a little bit?
Part of the larger vision for the game is the “human face of total war”. On the campaign map for a game with statecraft we’re really trying to weave in as much human level story lines as we can, and it’s part of making the game more immersive. I mean that’s the fundamental kind of point. And it’s just not the Senate. In terms of the political layer, we’re going to treat Rome 2 differently than Rome 1. In the original Rome, Rome is three separate factions, and they all had their own territories. What we want to do in Rome 2 is have a more authentic treatment. Rome is a single faction that you’ve got all this internal conflict. So we want to have different families in Rome and you’ve got to think about okay, well there’s going to be jostling for position, pros and cons for promoting certain characters and not others. So we want to have a whole cast of characters I think. And obviously the Senate is going to be important, the Sentate is going to have an agenda. And yeah, we want that to kind of create interesting dilemmas for the player. Whether you make a play to save the republic or whether you try and become emperor… what that means is we’re going to have different government systems. So we want to have that kind of civil war kind of conflict. And of course if you don’t make a play to become emperor, someone else might, and you’ll have to deal with that. You might have to fight them and save the republic. We’re still working out all the specifics because we’re quite away from release still, but yeah we’ve really got all that character stuff really sort of bubbling into the game.
So it’s fair to say you guys are trying to introduce intrigue into the Total War experience?
Yeah, absolutely. We want to get our sense of internal conflict and intrigue. Not just in terms of your own faction, but we want to humanize how the AI behaves as well. On the campaign map, the diplomacy system will get a overhaul. We’re trying to make the AI feel more human, more convincing, like a series of different cultures with their own agendas. So we want to get more of that negotiation and tit-for-tat going on in the way you conduct your diplomacy, and make the AI feel like a real person that you’re trying to negotiate with, and we’ve got a whole load of new diplomatic features as well. So that’s the idea of making this game of statecraft a bit less dry and more about human level decisions. That doesn’t mean it’s ALL about characters, but we want to really bring out everything we can at the human level. Statecraft was conducted by individuals, so these decisions about empires are taken at the human level.
Would you say that was that the reason you guys decided to go back to Rome?
Absolutely, Rome is kind of perfect for doing that. You’ve got these legendary figures (Julius Cesar, Cleopatra, etc.), it’s perfect for that. We did Empire set in the 18th Century, and that’s where we wanted to introduce naval battles, that was the perfect era for that. Shogun 2 is the perfect era for really focusing in, after the epic scale of Empire, really focusing in on one culture. So there’s a number of reasons. One is the fans; the player base anticipating Rome so much. Every time we released content for Shogun 2, they were like “yeah that’s great, where’s Rome 2?” It’s definitely the game fans wanted. It’s the game we wanted to make, and it’s great for showing this human [angle]. But it’s also great because taking all those learnings from Shogun 2, where we focused the game into a small area and really polished the gameplay, we learned a lot doing that, and we’re ready to role it out into a grand scope again. So a big part of what we wanted to do with Rome 2, having done one culture in detail, is we wanted to go and have loads of variety, and bash the replayability drum. There’s a huge variety of cultures and fighting styles and different environments, like I mentioned, a huge variety of different kind of content. We want to have much more unit variety than we’ve ever had before. Compared with Shogun 2, where you had a monoculture, you’ve got these huge differences, like barbarian tribes and exotic eastern kingdoms. It’s really cool. It’s what the players want, it’s what we want to do. And also, it’s just epic variety, and it’s the ultimate empire building era. It’s the ultimate swords-and-sandals epic.
There’s a romance to it.
Yeah. I keep talking about this uniquely evocative look and feel of the Roman legions, of Rome itself. Everyone has an idea of Rome. It’s kind of familiar, but also very alien, it’s a very different world, but it’s one we relate to. I think there’s something special about the look and feel and the color of that period, and I think that’s why it’s been so enduringly popular in popular culture.
What are you trying to introduce in this game for veterans of the series?
One big new feature is having combined battles, and this completely transforms the importance of navies, on the campaign map as well. Combined battles, they really deliver that sense of scale you want. As you saw in the Carthage demo, you’ve got ships bombarding the cities, armies disembarking to fight on land. There’s a lot to say really: we want to have loads of different kinds of battle types. So we’re introducing a bunch of systems on the campaign map that will encourage that. We want there to be a better mix of battle types. We’ve got this province system, which is one of the way we’re trying to deal with having this enormous map. So what we want to do is have a province made up of several different regions, but there will only be one kind of city, one management node for the player, even though there’s several regions to capture. What this means if you can capture a territory without a siege battle. So that gives you a wider variety of battle types. In terms of the siege battles themselves, the multiple capture points, that really transforms the gameplay completely. That might sound really simple, but in previous total war titles, you basically just try and break down the walls and then you’re in a mosh in the walls, and then you get through, and once the breach is made, as the defender, you basally just go into the plaza and create a huge mosh pit in that one capture point, because why would you have any assets anywhere else? But with multiple capture points, you have proper cat and mouse. So we’re really trying to design the city streets to really encourage the cat and mouse gameplay. The defender can lay ambushes in the streets. We’re putting in a lot of new hiding and spotting mechanics, so you can make more interesting gameplay around laying an abash in a city, and on the battlefield as well.
The game is coming out late next year; how far are you as far as how you see the game versus experimenting with systems?
We’e got a really good idea with what we want to do. What we’re doing, there’s parallel workflows going on. The graphics guys are really trying to push the graphics engine forward. They’ve done a lot of that on the battlefield, there’s a lot more to do. We’re transforming the campaign map display technology, so we’re trying to use some of the tech that we use to display battlefields to display the campaign map. In parallel to that, the artists are working really hard building all the buildings and the designers are using all those assets to construct cities. From a high level design perspective, we’re working on everything at the same time. So we have split the team up into gameplay areas. We have a campaign team and battle team, and those teams are full of programmers and designers and artists all working together in a small team on that part of the game. So the campaign guys are building the campaign map content, designing all the tech trees, finishing all the building trees, tons of stuff. We know what we’re doing in the game and we’re just executing it. I’ve mentioned experimenting with certain things, so although we know exactly what we’re doing, we’re still experimenting with exactly how that particular element will work. We know it’s going to be in there and we know we’re going to be able to make it work, but exactly how we want to iterate. It’s always difficult because people think we’re being cagey, but what were trying to do is not promise anything that might not work how it’s supposed to. We keep on working right up until the last minute; we’re working on the spotting mechanics, the combat system itself, on the cities, on the diplomacy system, we’re re-engineering how the AI works in terms of combing the AI’s thought generation system into the diplomacy system. It’s a really exciting time in the development of the game because you start to see things coming together, but it’s still open enough to really be experimenting in certain areas.