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 first part of a very detailed and long interview...
Q: Will the campaign map be divided in any way or will it be one big map?
A: The answer to that question is both. You can skip between theatres, so you can go fast, I want to go here... straight away change to Europe, America, India. Or you can just scroll around the whole world.
Q: So it works as one big map?
Q: This question relates to the option to automatically send your units to a general (straight from production). Won't the AI intercept an attack them so you will still have all these small skirmishes?
A: Can do. Then you're talking about supply lines, basically. It depends entirely on where you are. If you are deep in enemy territory, where you would find it difficult to recruit units anyway, because you wouldn't have any friendly barracks around you were you could create those units and send them to your army. So there is a limit, so you can go ahead and do that, you're quite right, if you've got barracks back there (in your own territory) that could supply you, that's a long transit. They'll come automatically, and they'll get built automatically, but they could get intercepted on route if that's the AI's plan - they'll do it.
But it's much less likely in that whereas before you had to build armies in the cities. It meant that because of the way the game mechanic worked you always had little armies running around the map, and it always ended up with the AI attacking your small supply troops. Now the case is if you're in a certain situation, you've got your flanks unprotected, and you've gone very deep into enemy territory, and your troops are coming in across unprotected region, basically then you very well stand the chance of attack, where then of course in you're in a better position, maybe you're in your own realm or at the very borders of your own realm you could probably protect your own supply lines much better. So yes it can be done, but its a bit less often, because the game mechanic is fixed if you like or improved to stop it from occurring too much. But it is a smart tactic you know, to try and harass any reinforcements that are coming in and weaken the central army at the same time.
Q: How will the AI react. Will some AI be more or less prone to do this?
A: Yeah, it's entirely situational, and faction, and AI and everything else dependant. It's natural and intuitive. If you make a mad dash for an enemy capital region you're going to find recruitment impossible, and you're going to find a decent supply line in terms of reinforcements impossible - and that is natural, that is exactly what happens in real campaigns. When you try and do a blitz krieg and get right into the enemy you run the real risk of cutting yourself off from any possible help. That's obviously a traditional military tactic on the grand campaign, the pincher move army and get them encircled so they can't be reinforced, it's a tactic true of the era, and it's a tactic true now. It occurs and it's quite natural.
Q: Will the AI also adapt to this? Because sometimes they also used to have small armies running around that you could attack...
A: Yeah, the answer to that is yes, because the AI understands the micro management as well. It's not just for the user. The enemy generals order units too. So the enemy battle AI talks to its campaign AI and says "I want the following units" - and they get them automatically to that general. So the AI does the same thing you do, and they will take advantage of that same recruitment mechanic.
Q: So there could be several different tactics within one faction?
A: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Definitively. The AI will never just behave one way all the time. It's highly situation dependent. It will do what it thinks is best for its long term plan in that situation. So it's impossible to say you know if I own this many provinces, and they own that many and we meet here... will it do this? Well, it might, or you own one unit less of this kind or own this country and not that one and all of a sudden the situation is entirely different. So, the AI is making that judgement based on its own overall strategy, and that is why you got a lot more natural behvaiour coming out of the computer.
Q: Could there be a conflict of interest between a general and the faction AI?
A: The faction AI will always have the ultimate call. Because the general is not the king or the parliament. He may well want something, but the AI will juggle that decision. There might be a general on the far west of the faction, completely safe, who wants to order 10,000 golds worth of units, whereas there is a bitter war being fought on the other side and those generals desperately need men and money. And if that general says I want units then the AI is going to say "no, I need to put this fire out over here first".
Q: And it could also sacrifice a general?
A: It could cause a general to fight to the death for something... if you're taking something of them that earns them a thousand a year in revenue, then they'll probably say to that general "fight to the death as this is a key or important province for us", and if that general is a good general or a very good general he probably will - if he's a coward then he might not. But then that depends on the general.
Q: How much detail has gone into depicting the specific factions, is there specific music, and language on the battlefield?
A: Yes, we've localised the playable factions. French troops speak to each other in French, regardless of whatever language you're playing the game in. And you get orders shouted out in that language. Music and battlefield music will also be thematically linked to where you are and who you're playing - and the same with the campaign map. So if you're moving around the campaign map, the area you are focusing on and the faction you're playing influence the kind of music you hear. So it's all very responsive, it's very unique depending on where you are, who you are and what you're doing. It's certainly in terms of audio and music another big jump for us. The localisation of the units sounds like a little thing, but its one of those things that you ad to all those other little things, and then suddenly it becomes really cool. Things like the different breeds of horses, the drummers drumming out the orders, the uniforms are unique for that... it might be a unit that's unique to that army and they all look different, drumming out these orders, shouting at each other in their own language - you feel much more like you're playing that nation rather than just a nation of several that have different flags.
Q: You mentioned the 12 playable factions - will the rest be unlockable?
A: I'd imagine that within about 15 minutes our fan base will unlock the rest. (laughs) What tends to happen with Total War games is we say "here's your playable factions" it goes out in a box, and then they open it up, stick it in their disc drives, change a few files and go "now they're all playable". We understand that the game will be unlocked. But the experience we design for the player, and the localisation we do is based around the 12 playable factions.
Q: Has the same amount of detail gone in to the non-playable factions then?
A: In terms of their units, and in terms of their conscripts certainly. We have 325 different units in the game across the 50 different factions. That includes Native Americans wielding tomahawks, a whole different animation set, a whole different unit set, loads of different types of them and they do different things - and the same thing with all the European powers. They don't just have standard man, you know who has been re-skinned. They've got different units depending on who they are. But certainly in terms of localisation and audio, stuff like that, we've done as much as we can to make the individual playable nations different from each other.
Q: Speaking of the Native Americans... will they have the same motives as the other factions. Will they perform raids? How will it work?
A: They tend to work differently. What's cool about the new AI system is that it understands the abilities of its troops. So it will act depending on the ability of its troops. The native American tribes didn't so well in stand-up fights against established European powers with muskets and artillery. So raiding and stuff like that was very important, and with guerilla tactics basically. With the AI understanding the capabilities of its troops, if its troops are tomahawk guys and bowmen and stuff, it will seek up close combat, it will seek quick wins... They will still do stand-up fights, if the need comes for it, but it will base its decision on the capabilities of its troops. So in that respect you naturally get the right behaviour.
Q: Will they still strive to expand their territory?
A: It's one of those things... When you've got all the statistics and rules in place, the game makes itself in some respects. So for example when you colonise the new world, there are already Native Americans there, because they are Native Americans... So when we're talking about expanding their empire, what we're actually talking about is defending their homeland. Because they need to fight you off, because you're in their country. And that is not necessarily expansionism as we would understand it with European powers, but it is in terms of the Native American powers.
You might wipe out one tribe, and so another tribe might try and move into their space or move into yours. It will be an evolving action like that. And although they'll have access to some... well obviously all the powerful navies and so on and so forth were owned by the European powers and a couple of others. You won't find bizarre historical inaccuracies like in the beginning of the game Native Americans building massive galleons and things like this, because it just didn't happen. But as the game progresses what happens to them is what your enemies and you do. That's the same with Native Americans as it is with any major European power. We're talking about wiping out tribes, but you can wipe out France if you can do it. (laughs) Yeah, we advocate it...
(continued in part two)
Special thanks to members who contributed questions here at Gamereactor and at the Total War Center forums.