At first it was referred to as "Project Postman" - a game dreamed up by Paradox Interactive's publishing team headed by CEO Fredrik Wester. After finding a lot of success with TaleWorld's Mount & Blade titles, the publisher wanted a pure medieval online multiplayer title, and with developer Fatshark (Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West, Hamilton's Great Adventure) on board they set out to create War of the Roses.
For those unfamiliar with the historic backdrop to the game, Wars of the Roses, was a series of civil wars fought for the English throne between the houses Lancaster and York between 1455 and 1485 (thanks, Wikipedia). The game, War of the Roses, will see players pick either Lancaster (red) or York (white), and do battle for their king.
Each player customises the look of their character from a wide selection of helmets with dozens of attachments and gear, while the 15 different types of weapons also offers a lot of variation - everything from lances, swords, maces, halberds, to poleaxes and bows.
Armour comes in three variations; light armour for quick movement, medium plate mail with cloth pieces, and heavy full plate armour that will slow your acceleration down considerably. Each player carries three weapons to the battlefield, your main two-handed weapon, a secondary weapon and finally a dagger as last resort.
"But the dagger is just as deadly as any other weapon," lead designer Mårten Stormdal adds as he describes the philosophy behind the weapons in the game. "All weapons should be just as deadly if handled correctly."
The combat system lets players swing left, right, overhead or thrust their weapons forward. Hold the mouse button down for a moment and you'll perform a more powerful swing. Additionally there are four different parries to correspond to the different swings. During the tutorial/campaign you will see indicators to help you parry correctly, but in multiplayer you're going to have to learn the various animations instead. Add in horses and cowardly archers, and you get some kind of idea of how the battles may look.
"Nobody has done it with this amount of depth", says producer Gordon van Dyke.
The system for perks, things that improve your proficiency with a weapon, or allow you better movement with an armour type or things of that nature, sports a total of 60. There are five categories and you can specialise in two of these as you rank up, however you will be able to pick and switch as much as you like, creating millions of possible perk combinations. Learning how to spot what a player is good at is going to be very important in War of the Roses.
Behind the scenes a very complex system for damage calculation comes in to play that takes most everything in to account. If you use something made out of wood to parry a sword it will likely break very quickly, while arrow trajectories and angle on impact are used to measure whether you get hurt or if the arrows simply bounces off your plate armour.
There are similarities with another Paradox published franchise, Mount & Blade, from Turkish outfit TaleWorlds Entertainment. And in fact, at the Paradox Interactive Convention we bumped into a former designer and producer on the series who now works at Fatshark, Mikhail Yazbeck.
He revealed that several of the things Fatshark had designed for War of the Roses were things TaleWorlds were looking at implementing for their next game, so he transitioned quickly into his new position. But where Mount & Blade originally launched as a singleplayer experience with a later addition of multiplayer with Mount & Blade: Warband, War of the Roses has been designed with multiplayer in focus from the start. There will be some kind of story driven single-player campaign that teaches the players the basics before they enter the multiplayer arena.
Paradox Interactive have, to their own admission, a bumpy history of rough releases, but they feel confident in their new quality assurance strategy. Launching War of the Roses when it's done and with network code that is up to scratch is of vital importance, even if it may not be as sensitive to performance issues as say a first person shooter. No release date has been set for the game, and it is reasonable to think that some kind of beta test will occur prior to release. Especially given the fact that customisable dedicated servers will be employed. No exact limit on the numbers of players per map has been set, but the ambition is to get it as high as possible.
Fatshark has created six area types where battle will take place in War of the Roses. These include castles, forests, villages, towns, moors and tournaments. Each of the areas come with their distinct characteristics and these will factor in to the choices you make for your character. A forest level may favour an archer, while it may be tricky to stay mounted amongst the trees. The environments are described as immersive, living worlds or conflict zones and the maps will be designed around them. Weather conditions will also play a major part in the game.
As with any game these days plans for continued support have been laid out long before the main game has been finished:
"We have a long DLC support plan. And we won't do lazy DLC where you just release a map pack and divide the player base", says producer Gordon van Dyke, who previously worked on the Battlefield franchise at DICE. "Maps will be given away for free. Any paid for DLC will be fun and add to the experience."
From the very brief demo of the technology that runs the game at the Paradox Interactive Convention it is clear that there is massive potential here. If Fatshark can nail an addictive, persistent system for perks and upgrades, as well as balance the diverse roles on a medieval battlefield with maps that plays as good as they look - well then reds and white may do battle for many years to come.