We were able to ask Kieran Brigden, community manager at The Creative Assembly, a few additional questions on the upcoming epic strategy game Empire: Total War... for more general stuff check out our filmed interview from Leipzig. This is the second part of a very detailed and long interview...
(continued from part 1)
Q: Does the game deal at all with slavery or has that been excluded?
A: Slavery is a very difficult subject when it comes to computer games in general and entertainment. We as a developer never shied away from representing the worst parts of history and the most contentious parts of history, such as the crusades a very contentious issue. When it comes to slavery there is a mechanic in game that deals with the slavery, it's not something that the player actively profits from, and you are certainly awarded for abolishing it when that occurs. It's one of those things that it's there in that it's given a reference and it's given some accuracy, but it's not there in that... we don't have slave ships, and slave traders, things like that. Because there are certain issues you can't trivialise through entertainment.
A great example of that would be nazi death camps. How many World War II games let you play as a nazi and establish death camps? None. Why? Because it just doesn't work. It's not entertainment. You can do it on film, because then it's a cinematic experience. But to allow the player that option is taking history too far.
Q: Can you expand a little on how trade and diplomacy has changed?
A: The trade aspect of the game works now based on trade theatres and trade routes. You've got your basic things like taxation that raises your money, but you've also got resources now so in say India and the Indies you've got spices which were very, very lucrative when sold into Europe. In North America you've got tobacco and cotton, again very, very lucrative and very, very expensive when sold back in Europe. You have routes to certain countries which generates money every turn, you capture those routes, you hold those routes, you share them with your allies and your neutral partners, and you make a percentage of the profit of those routes.
The same thing happens in trade theatres. Imagine those sea regions, where you know you've got regions of land and you take the capital and that's it, put your ship in a sea region which is essentially a trade theatre and it will generate income for you. Now again, that trade theatre is shared between you and whoever else is there, and you will get a percentage of the trade, if you want more you've got to muscle the others out, and if they start muscling you, you have to protect your trade ship and protect your trade. So that's how naval battles become an important part of the game, because it's not just a thing you do if you want to move your troops around. It's much more than that.
Trade for example can be intercepted by pirates or your enemy. If an enemy fleet parks on one of your trade routes they will take a cut of your trade every turn, removing money that should be coming into your empire. You will need to see them off, and send a fleet in and get rid off the fleet sitting on your trade route, and blocking it basically, and raiding you, taking money off you. So it's a very important and integral part of the game - if you want to make money in this game you have to know how to trade, you have to be able to secure, protect and develop your trade routes and trade theatres. If you don't bother you are missing out on a huge amount of wealth that others are getting.
Q: Or you could just be a pirate and park on others trade routes?
A: (laughs) Yeah, or you can just go ahead and be a pirate and raid all the others... Yeah, you can try that, but you won't make many friends doing that. Don't forget either that in trade theatres if you start harassing people and stuff, there is more than one nation there a lot of the time. So your idea of just raiding others off, might mean you have four enemies all in one. So, you need to be careful, but yeah, you can do that.
Q: And diplomacy...
A: Diplomacy works now on a system where by you are now able to very quickly and at a glance see how all of the nations in the world feel about your faction, and also more importantly how they feel about each other. And it's no more about diplomats, running around the map trying to find someone and talk to them. Now it's a diplomacy screen in the user interface... and within that obviously you've got a lot more options available to you now in terms of the things you can ask for, the things you can request and demand.
We've also got a new aspect to diplomacy in threatening people, which is a way of doing it without declaring war, but kind of putting your military behind it. So short of going "give us this or else..." and kind of giving it that nudge to an enemy player. In that respect it's very different. Equally has been overhauled in that it's much more realistic this time around, and it's much more subtle. Before there may have been situations where you have friends with someone for decades, and they just randomly attack you. And you go "why did that happen?", whereas now you will get a much more long term view of why they started to dislike you. With them going give us this - no, well, help us out fighting this war over here -no, okay, well in that case, why don't you let us trade with these people - no, well, let out military go through your land - no, and then they start building up armies on your borders - ad those two things together and you've probably got a recipe for war.
As a player you get a much more intuitive response from the game, plus also you can see how your actions will affect all these different enemies. Before you'd declare war, and you'd get a list of those who were now your enemies, whereas now you can see how it affects everyone. People who were neutral may now hate your guts, maybe some will start to like you and you might form an alliance.
Q: You mentioned that there is now a story-driven, or mission-driven campaign in your presentation. Is it something that you can chose to do, or not do?
A: Oh yeah, it's entirely up to you. It's an episodic campaign, the road to independence, set during the period of the foundation of Jamestown all the way through to the American war of independence. It's a type of campaign where if you want to play it you can, if don't you don't have to. You don't have to play it to unlock the grand campaign, you can just go straight into that. But if you want to it's a much more focused and story-driven thing, like - this winter we are finding supplies hard to get, help us out by building a farm, or the x tribe over here to the north is raiding our caravans - we need an army to get rid of their camp up here. Imagine it more like a mission based structure with the player being introduced to things more gradually, and having focused objectives. Rather than just being let loose on the whole world and going where do I go now?
Q: Maybe it's something that will help new players to the franchise to get into it?
A: It's two things. We hope that it's something new players will be attracted to, and find easy to pick up. By the time they come to the end of it, they'll be fighting massive battles, using diplomacy and all the rest of it, and so that when they transfer themselves over they will understand. Not just in the sense of what does a button do, but how does the mechanic work. But then also it's a new experience for our established players. We want the people who have played our grand campaigns to have a go, and say "alright then, I'll see if I go do these missions, how quick I can do them, how well I can do them." We think it will offer something to our new players and our old players.
Q: Will there be any mixture of naval and land battles?
A: It's a common question we get. No, at the moment the answer is no. And the reason for that is sort of manifold, when you control an army of up to ten thousand troops, when you control a fleet you control up to about twenty ships, now you imagine, two different mechanics are involved, the user interface is very similar, but you've got air, breeze and in the other you've got line of sight, direction and everything else. Now imagine telling the player who controls 10,000 troops and twenty ships, and then factor in the fact that there might not just be two armies fighting each other, it might be four. You started adding a layer of complexity to the game that is incredibly difficult to deal with for the player. We are looking into ways of doing it, marrying the two.
Q: ...but isn't hard to find a scenario where that would be natural?
A: There are some limited scenarios, port sieges, where you would have a fleet blockading a port, and maybe a land war going on at the same time. That's possible.
Q:... but another thing is how would that end? If you resolve one part you would still have the other...
A: Yeah, there is more to it than people think. People tend to think of it and say "oh yeah, you should do that" and you're like yeah, but think about it as a player, not a game designer, where is your win condition?
But we are looking at ways to make it work. One thing to say is that the two things depend very much on each other, they're not just entirely separate things. Protecting you troops in transit, your land troops, is a job for your navy. Clearing the coast of your enemy so you can reinforce your colony is a job for your navy. But reinforcing your colonies and conquering those provinces is a job for your army. The two have to work together, if you don't keep your coasts clear, and don't protect your transit routes and your trade, your armies can't grow, your armies can't fight and your armies can't move.
You will find yourself having to with naval battles so you can begin a land campaign. You will find yourself having to win naval battles to unlock a port to bring in reinforcements. So they do work together in that respect, they're just not playable together in the one screen. Again we're looking at ways to making it work possibly, but certainly for Empire things will be separate.
Special thanks to members who contributed questions here at Gamereactor and at the Total War Center forums.