Shogun 2: Total War E3 2010 Preview

By Chris Faylor, Jun 23, 2010 2:20pm PDT As communications manager Kieran Brigden puts it, Shogun 2: Total War isn't just a much different game than developer Creative Assembly's recent Total War entries, it's also the game that the studio has been wanting to make for the past ten years.

"We made Shogun 1 ten years ago--not quite to the day, but very close," he explained. "Shogun 2 is basically taking ten years of design and game-making experience and rolling all of that back into being the game we wanted to make when we made the first."

The difference comes not just with the change in landscape, but also the way that warfare in Feudal Japan was conducted. Unlike Empire: Total War and Napoleon: Total War, the idea isn't simply to amass a large army and descend on an enemy's base--instead, it's all about picking the right units and anticipating the traps your opponents have set.

"Shogun 2 features just thirty types of units, approximately," Brigden elaborated. "If you compare that to our previous games--like Empire and Napoleon, where we have over three hundred unit types in the game--it seems like a fairly dramatic reduction. First off, it's true of the period--there weren't hundreds of different unit types in Feudal Japan. And second, we've made sure that each of these [are] distinctly different from the next, the idea being that they each have unique pros and cons. It's the combination of these units that make it much more tactical--rock-paper-scissors, basically."

In all, players of the strategy game sequel will have nine clans to choose from, "smaller unit numbers [with] much greater unit variety," about twelve different types of ships, and, believe it or not, will come across approximately eighty different kinds of trees.

A redesigned interface offers players a much clearer view of the battlefield--expandable menus are located in the corners of the screen--and while the game isn't all about numbers, expect to see plenty of large-scale army-on-army battles.

"Fifty-six thousand [units on-screen] is our current theoretical maximum, that's what our engine guys tell us," said Brigden. "We've done a couple of test runs with numbers close to that, and we know it works, but we've not hit our theoretical yet."

Naval combat also differs from previous Total War titles, as the various sea-faring vessels of Feudal Japan used oars, not sails--meaning, as Brigden explains, they'll go where you tell them to and won't be stuck circling an enemy vessel because of the wind.

"I don't want to imply that these two things [naval and ground warfare] are controllable at the same time, because they're not," he cautions. "At the moment, the aspiration is to bring them together so you can control ships and men at the same time, but that's not yet been possible--we're not promising that for release."

As for multiplayer, that's "something we're not talking about quite yet."

However, Brigden did note that "it's fair to assume all of the stuff that was in Napoleon [Total War] as multiplayer--campaigns and whatever else--will likely make an appearance in Shogun 2, and we're looking to do something else that's fairly big on the multiplayer front as well, an additional type of gameplay,"

Brigden also spoke on hardware requirements, downloadable content and AI:

Hardware Requirements

One of the things that we've always done with Total War--to be honest, it's annoying, as programmers it's annoying because we have to say we've got to cater for all the guys who've been playing our games for ten years. We wouldn't have this game if people ten years ago hadn't bought Shogun I. Those same people are still our fans--we can't tell them, 'You need a Crysis 2 PC in order just to run this game,' because they'll be like college professors and guys with families and all the rest of it, there's no emphasis to do that.

We have a ton of different optimizations. We do software optimization, so whatever combination of graphics card and chipset you've got and motherboard, we make sure that there are optimizations in there for you.

The second thing, we give you a lot of control over the sliders and all that kind of stuff, what level of detail you want, [anti-aliasing], all that sort of thing. So if you're not really, you know ...you can balance best visuals, like I want all these units [this] size with that level of texture detail, or I want really small unit size and I'm going to have really good texture detail on all the units.

With Empire, the problem was--we've had two really big jumps, well three, including this, three really big jumps in the Total War series engine. One was Rome, when we went fully 3D with the campaign and the battles. Second one was Empire, when we took a huge leap forward on the game engine. The problem with that was, it brought us in with a lot of different issues, especially performance was one. If you've played a lot of Napoleon, you've hopefully seen that that perfomance stuff is a lot more concise and a lot more polished. All of the advances from Napoleon have been copied into Shogun 2, and that's our starting point.

Downloadable Content

[Post-release downloadable content?] Definitely. We obviously don't know content-wise yet, because we've [got to get the game done], but DLC, it's great. We often get this argument where, you know--we never, ever cut stuff out of the game to sell as DLC. We never do that. We create the game we want to create, and then we say, okay, you like this unit, you like this game, you want more of it, and we can give you that. That's what DLC is for--if you want it, you get it, great, but you don't need it to play the original game. But the answer is yes, we're looking to expand post-release. We don't know how or what we'll do yet.

Artificial Intelligence

We've got a list inside our office, this is stuff that absolutely must be done for the game to get out the door. We do not want the AI to be mentioned negatively, in any way, on release. We're going to make sure that's the case before it gets out the door, and we're going to prove that to everybody before release. I'm not going to be able to say how we do that yet, but the answer [to concerns about the AI] is we're putting a hell of a lot of attention on it and making sure that's the case. No AI's ever going to be perfect, I don't want to set unrealistic expectations and go 'it's never going to lose to you, it's going to do human type behavior.' What we want is an AI that's believable and interesting to play against.

The real question, of course, is whether or not The Creative Assembly can deliver on these promises. For his part, Brigden seems confident that it can.

"The original writers and designers, including Mike Simpson who's been with the company ever since, is overseeing the whole thing and making sure it stays true to roots of the original," he concluded. "For these guys, it's great, like a kid in a candy shop. We've had ten years of new tech, ten years of learning how to make games, and we can go back and make the game we wanted to make right at the beginning."

Developed by Creative Assembly, Shogun 2: Total War is due to hit PC in 2011.

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  • Downloadable Content

    [Post-release downloadable content?] Definitely. We obviously don't know content-wise yet, because we've [got to get the game done], but DLC, it's great. We often get this argument where, you know--we never, ever cut stuff out of the game to sell as DLC. We never do that. We create the game we want to create, and then we say, okay, you like this unit, you like this game, you want more of it, and we can give you that. That's what DLC is for--if you want it, you get it, great, but you don't need it to play the original game. But the answer is yes, we're looking to expand post-release. We don't know how or what we'll do yet.
    I'm getting it because of his views! And, eighty types of trees!