We speak to The Creative Assembly to find out what the upcoming release of Shogun 2 will mean for the Total War series

Double-barreled Shogun

The Creative Assembly’s Total War series has been giving gamers the opportunity to play at time-travelling megalomaniac for over a decade now. With the latest installment, Total War: Shogun 2, set to revisit the feudal Japan setting of the very first title, Develop went to find out what the new game is all about.

What changes have occurred to the Total War team during the development of Shogun 2?

Emma Cole, Operations Assistant: The development of the Total War team is certainly on-going and there is more of an ebb and flow than a rise and fall.
With Shogun 2 we have been lucky enough to have the addition of experienced designers, animators and programmers. This has given a greater depth of knowledge and experience that I’m confident will show in the game. With new employees always comes a wave of fresh ideas and enthusiasm; creating a ripple effect at the studio. The changes have been and continue to be positive.

Is there a particular team structure used for the development of Total War titles?
EC: Specific jobs for specific people are always necessary, especially so if you are looking for a new 3D character artist or graphics coder and only someone with star quality will do.

There are some really fantastic people working in and outside of the industry with skills that are specific to what we have available. However, there is always that one-off, speculative application that excites us. It is often from someone who has amazing potential but doesn’t quite fit what we have open. We have been flexible enough to be able to utilise applicants like this in the past and it always makes for a brilliant addition.

We feel that we can recognise when we need to be both specific and flexible, that recruitment won’t always fit into a specified formula. We feel we are fortunate enough to be at the coalface with our hiring and as a result have been able to develop a good understanding of what is needed and when.

What are the most significant changes that have occurred under-the-hood of the Total War series?

Guy Davidson, Tools Lead: We’ve gone through two revisions of the code base – we’re onto our third engine now, which debuted with Empire and has grown from strength to strength. The engine is more suited to a larger team with more clearly defined boundaries between the various areas. This has allowed us to concentrate on particular aspects of the game.

Additionally, we have been able to fix bugs and carry through perfected code more effectively.

The team has also grown in strength. We now have world class C++ developers scattered liberally through the programming corps. I have turned down interview candidates that, five years ago, I would have rolled out the red carpet for.

Is it fair to say that the ratio of internally developed tools to outsourced ones is quite high on the Total War series?
GD: We’ve been able to increase the scope and breadth of our vision for streamlining the development of the assets and delivering builds to clients. For example, we have been able to develop a custom database front end which cooperates with Perforce, allowing branching and merging of tables. This is an example of a tool which does not exist in the outside world (to the best of our research at the time of development) but which was too large to develop without a dedicated team.

Before we developed our db solution, we had to rely on a third party solution and deal with branch/merge issues manually, which was quite vile and error prone. We simply had to take the hit. Once the team got so large that the cost of taking the hit outweighed the cost of developing our own solution, the way forward became all too obvious. All tools need to serve the purpose of reducing costs. We could develop the whole game using free tools but the time taken would be greatly increased.

Good tools reduce the development labour costs. The most obvious by-product of that is polish: we’re expecting Total War: Shogun 2 to be our most polished product yet.

Were any specific new tools introduced during the development of Total War: Shogun 2?
GD: DAVE, the Database Visual Editor, is the most prominent newcomer, making schema and table modification and data export a breeze compared to ye olden days. The expansion of BOB, our Build on One Button tool, has been considerable, allowing clients to not only prepare their data and build binaries automatically, but also to simply fetch cached builds from a server, which is ideal for our QA department. TEd,

The Editor, has grown to accommodate editing campaign maps as well as battlefield maps.

There haven’t been many new tools – our first year as a tools team was during the development of Napoleon which allowed us to cover most of the bases. The second year has allowed us to consolidate the tools we developed. Next year we’re looking at assisting individual departments, integrating their workflow into BOB and providing tools which allow them to develop or review those aspects of their work which are tightly coupled to the game more easily.

The sound and animation departments are on our radar at the moment for our next iteration. I would expect the following year to be another year of consolidation and improvement of existing work, and for the cycle to continue like that as individual departments grow.

What kind of new gameplay elements can we expect to see in Shogun 2?

Mike Simpson, Creative Director: Multiplayer is the area which has changed the most. I set the MP designers an objective to do something revolutionary with multiplayer. The players will have to judge whether we’ve achieved that, but it’s looking very promising.

The turn-based campaign has also changed a lot. The kind of mechanics we used to depict 18th Century Europe don’t apply to feudal Japan, so economics, trade, the way buildings and castles work and technology all have changed. We’ve also added much stronger RPG elements such as skill trees for generals and agents, and increased the importance of resources to put more in differentiation between regions.

This is a game that is much more about collecting bonuses from a wide variety of sources and combining them together alongside a strategy that exploits those bonuses. On the battlefield, Japanese style siege battles have exposed a rich mine of new gameplay, naval battles are very different too, and we’ve had a lot of fun with unit powers, unit bonuses and unit customisation. The AI has also taken a massive leap forward across the board.

What was the reason for returning to the feudal Japan for this latest installment of the Total War series?
MS: The short answer is because the team wanted to. Shogun is the perfect scenario for TW – lots of factions any of which could have won, a technology race kicked off by the introduction of gunpowder weapons, and fascinating units, architecture, culture and history. There is so much we couldn’t do the first time round we just had to go back to it for a second run.

What is it about the great battles of history that continues to interest Creative Assembly?
MS: What we do is to put the player into the role of a King or Emperor or general at a particular point in time. It’s not just about battles – the player is running the country, dealing with the economy, technology, internal politics, external diplomacy, developing his military capability, building armies, engaging enemies and only then fighting the battles.

The settings are utterly believable because they were real, but the adage that reality is stranger than fiction often applies, and we pick eras and locations which serve up truly compelling content. From a gameplay point of view historical scenarios are always perfectly balanced – they evolved naturally, and if anything was unbalanced things would have been different.

So every unit has its nemesis, and every strategy has its counter. We may not even know what it is when we’re making the game, but so long as we’re accurate with our simulation then real world tactics will work in the game. Finding out what those tactics are is as much fun for us as it is for the players.

Will the series be expanding in any other ways?
MS: I can’t say anything specific about our future plans, but we do still have a console team and they are working on something big. It’s probably not what anyone is expecting from us.

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