Total War: Three Kingdoms Interview – Tech| Gaming
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Yesterday I posted about my hands-on impressions of Total War: Three Kingdoms. There’s a lot I covered there and – of course – i recommend giving it a read. Long story short, though, I’m insanely excited for the game.
At the same event at Creative Assembly’s studios in Horsham, I was able to interview Attila Mohacsi, the Lead Game Designer and Al Bickham, Development Communications Manager. What was meant to be fifteen minutes turned into 39 minutes of me asking more than I even knew I could ask about Total War: Three Kingdoms. Here’s what we talked about.
Chris Wray: Let’s start with the most obvious question; why Three Kingdoms?
Attila Mohacsi: When we started on the next historical game and thinking up what we could do. We were very keen about creating something around characters. So the first time you could finally say “that’s me” as a player. A clear identification of who you are in the game, not an omnipotent thing that’s hard to define.
Chris: True, other than Napoleon or Alexander you never really had a defining character
Attila: To some degree, part of the inspiration is coming from those games. Then, though, it was usually just one character. Now it’s how we can have a lot of characters, so every faction can have larger than life characters. We ended up finding the Three Kingdoms period. Fans had already asked for it, saying “you should make a game in China” quite a few times. In a very short time period, there are lots of very important characters
Al Bickham: Four thousand characters
Attila: Yeah, we did the research and the first we found was like four thousand characters so we were like “okay!”. Then it’s like “let’s go through which ones we can put in the game”. At that point we stopped considering anything else, this was perfect. We started looking at other research materials like this epic historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms and also Records of the Three Kingdoms as well.
Chris: Oh I know, I’ve read both!
Attila: It’s quite heavy to read through though. Such a different style. There are also so many characters though and as we were reading through them it was perfect. That’s how we ended up doing Three Kingdoms, a perfect match for what we wanted to do.
Chris: So part of the inspiration was fans requesting it? I know I was one of the fans requesting it ever since Rome: Total War.
Attila: Part of it definitely. It was already requested by fans but it’s also the perfect period for us.
Chris: So what timescale are you looking at with the game? Will you be starting from the fall of the Han and the Yellow Scarves, finishing with the rise of the Jin Dynasty under Sima Yan?
Atilla: Timewise, we start at 190ad. So, we have events that come in based on things that have happened and you can go a very very long way. But it’s still reasonable. It’s more like a Shogun 2 type of timeframe. So you won’t move into the next dynasty. It’s about the Three Kingdoms, but it can pan out in many different ways.
Chris: Based on who you pick?
Chris: Any chance of naming all of the generals? You’ve mentioned that there will be eleven, I can guess maybe who, but I’d love to hear it from you.
Al: Not yet. We want to kind of roll them out over time. We’ve definitely got Sun Jian, Cao Cao and Liu Bei.
Chris: The three major ones of course! Though the timeline would leave an idea of who you’ve got in there. Such as the Yellow Scarves which would give Zhang Jiao.
Al: We’re post Yellow Scarves aren’t we?
Attila: Yeah, all the three major leaders have their empires.
Chris: So you’ve mentioned that you’ve got events. Will this include major events like the Battle of Red Cliff?
Attila: It depends on how you play really. The only thing we can guarantee is that 190ad is as accurate as we can get it.
Al: Everything from there is as historical or ahistorical as you want to make it.
Attila: To put it into a bit more context. We are nudging things towards the Three Kingdoms but we’re not enforcing it. You will have historical events happen in the game, but it’s up to you how it works. For example, Sun Jian is meant to die two years later but it might not happen for you.
Al: So another one is that Xiahou Dun loses his eye and then his character gets the eyepatch.
Attila: So how we did that in the game is that he can lose it at any point. But when he loses his eye, we have a special event in the game that hints towards the myth that he ate his eye.
Chris: Yeah, the idea that I was born with it and I’ll be dying with it! One of my favourite characters from the era to be fair.
Al: My parents gave me this, I will not let it go to waste!
Attila: It’s such an iconic thing. But, like an internal story, we had discussions on how important should Xiahou Dun be. There’d be arguments on boards, on the topic. We had quite a few people from China who’d jump in and say how he’s one of the more important characters. Once we saw that so many people were attached to him, we made the event just for him.
Chris: So these events. Will they impact in a major way on the game, causing character deaths and such as that? A perfect example, Dian Wei protecting Cao Cao in an ambush and sacrificing himself.
Attila: It depends on your decisions. They can, but you can evade them. There were times that characters died. In some cases, we had events about it but you can get away. But you won’t necessarily get ambushed. We won’t enforce that he will have to die, but it could happen that he dies very early in the game depending on how you play.
Chris: So, do you know roughly how many characters you have in the game?
Al: Jesus! [laughter from all three of us] Not four thousand, but quite a lot. [Looking at Attila] Does anybody actually know that?
Chris: Am I the only one who’s asked this?
Attila & Al: Yeah!
Attila: So it’s like characters with names and unique personality traits, a couple of hundred. Characters with very very unique art, it’s like 35 to 40. The super important ones.
Chris: So your major ones like Sun Ce, Xiahou Dun, Guan Yu, Zhuge Liang. On characters like Zhuge Liang, will characters like him have abilities as spies or subterfuge?
Al: Well, it’s a player choice. In previous Total War games, we’ve had agents. This agent is a Spy, this one is an Assassin. Here, we’re building more rounded and more faceted characters. They build friendships with other characters, completely out of your control. You can get two characters that form a strong friendship and if one leaves, his friend may have a closer bond to him than with you and leave with him. Characters also have a satisfaction level, showing how satisfied they are with the world around them.
Attila: What’s great is that all the characters are persistent and how it elegantly works for spies. So, for example, you can place one of your generals out into the recruitment pool for another army. They see him as a recruitable general, only you know he’s a spy. The base level, passive spying, will make the whole of enemy territory visible.
From an active level, we have something call cover points – how much your cover is intact. You’ll burn these by performing actions, which regain over time as a general appears loyal and is under control from the faction he is spying on. The best part is that the general can be promoted, getting even higher and potentially even trigger a civil war. If you general wins, you can effectively take over the entire faction.
Al: Imagine it in multiplayer
Attila: That’s a good point. We changed multiplayer a bit around that. Imagine playing with your friend. Maybe they’ll backstab you, maybe you’ll backstab them? You’re always paranoid, you’ll never know.
Al: I’ve got to say, in that situation, I’d say both parties will at least plant spies at the very base level to keep an eye on the other persons’ territory.
Chris: That just sounds fantastic and no doubt, you’ve got to plant a character in that situation just to keep an eye on them. But carrying on with characters and their personalities. You say it’s out of your control, but do you have a level of indirect control like having some fight battles together?
Attila: Yes. So, for example, you do have indirect control, but it’s more like building a team. When you hire someone, for example, you don’t know all the personality traits they have. As you’re getting to know them better, you’ll figure out how they work. Sometimes, based on their personalities you can end up with problems if people clash, such as a venerable person and a cruel person.
So when you have all this information, you still have control. You can put compatible people in the army so you’re not directly saying you’re going to be friends with them. You can create the scenario and get events where similar characters can just get along really well. So you have indirect control over it. Though when it comes to satisfaction with the leader, you do have control over it. You can promote a character or give them a rare weapon or mount, like Red Hare. But is it enough? Again, if you’re cruel and your actions go against the people, you could easily drive away venerable characters.
Chris: So characters have a massive amount of detail in them. Has city development changed at all?
Attila: We’ve done a different spin on city development but it’s still coming from previous titles. You still have a limited amount of slots but previously you had small and large cities. Now you have other settlements that are more specialised and you can exploit combinations of that… But we can’t talk about it too much though. Sorry!
Chris: Ooh, that’s a tease! I should stop asking good questions. Ask simple ones like “How did you come up with the name?”[laughter]
Attila: I don’t remember. I think I read a book!
Chris: So you’ve got specialised, smaller, cities. Focused areas that can’t build certain things, for example?
Attila: So we’ve got certain things from previous games but we wanted to push it further. The idea we had is that it felt templated the way you were playing. We wanted to push that out, a lot.
Al: Recruitment definitely
works in a different way. Your heroes bring a retinue with them to the army. Each hero based on who they are and their class has access to certain recruitment options.
Chris: So each hero has specific units they can have?
Attila: We didn’t want to limit players too much. Most of it is shared, but everyone has access to unique units based on their class. You will have seen some of them in the battle, the pearl dragons, the ones that attack you from the back?
Chris: Yeah! It was a difficult battle but I managed to beat them.
Al: Did you cut the head off the snake, so to speak? Did you kill the enemy generals?
Chris: Yeah! I killed all three of the generals. I used Sun Ren’s abilities in regular battle to whittle their life down before challenging them to a duel because she can’t win a duel with them from the start.
Al: Champions are your core duelists. Other melee characters can duel, but your champions are your major ones.
Chris: Xiahou Dun, Lu Bu for example?
Attila: Lu Bu is interesting. He is more like the vanguard, but he is a bit of a hybrid.
Chris: With these characters, do you have visible and hidden statistics that show the different levels of them? Strength, for example, where Lu Bu will be at the top with only such as Zhang Fei close to him.
Attila: We will have it so we can show the complexity in an easy to approach way. We’re working on how to show stats, basing it on five elements. Lu Bu’s, for example, is strength. The thing we did with Lu Bu at the beginning is because we felt strongly about player customisation, is that he doesn’t start max strength. He’s still way stronger than others.
Chris: Thinking about the campaign map. There are special battles that took place like Hu Lao Gates, Red Cliff. Do you have special areas that aren’t cities like Hu Lao Gates?
Attila: We were tempted to do it, but it always came through like it was only in the romance where it happens so two different campaign maps would be difficult. You will still see places on the campaign map like the Great Wall is there, but the bespoke battles aren’t on the map.
Chris: I was thinking along the lines of the actual fortifications that were there, not so much the fantastical elements.
Attila: So an interesting thing we haven’t talked about, a small thing. We are calling out a couple of very important locations on the campaign. Giving history about them.
Al: Points of Interest, yeah.
Chris: So with the campaign. You’ve got your eleven major factions, the other areas will be controlled by other warlords and will they have characters that you can recruit?
Attila: These places won’t be empty and it’s true that whoever you defeat in battle and don’t kill, you can try to recruit them. So you will be able to try to recruit the smaller generals.
Chris: Looking at battles, will you have naval battles or naval units at all?
Al: It’s really about the conflict on the mainland, so we’re not simulating naval battles.
Chris: Are you thinking of potentially showing battles like Red Cliff as historical batles or is it just the campaign for now?
Al: Yeah, We’re just focusing on campaign. We’re not looking too much at historical battles. That may change over time, but it’s a big old world. On that note, it is a big campaign map. Think Rome 2: Attila size but with no large bodies of water. In terms of land mass, it’s colossal.
Attila: Thinking about it, I don’t think we’ve done one this big before. Maybe it’s only comparable to Empire, which had multiple theatres. As a single theatre, this big, I don’t think so.
Chris: Of course with it spanning mainland china at this time. You’ve mentioned the specialised terrain. How are you working with the differences, from the huge mountain ranges, to the desert in the north, wetlands in the south? Will deserts cause attrition, for example?[Attila looks at Al here]
Al: I think we can talk about different terrain types.
Attila: So different terrain types will have gameplay implications. Not small, in many ways.[laughter]
Attila: It shows you’re well prpared and knowledgeable in the area. It’s like “all these things happened, are you guys covering it?”. Like Cao Cao going to the south and going through sea sickness.
Chris: And when he went to the north after Yuan Shao and lost Guo Jia in the desert. He has the tendency to nearly die, everywhere.
Attila: He was more sorry about losing Dian Wei than his firstborn son!
Chris: So you can’t really go into it, but the terrain will have big implications?
Attila: Yeah, the one thing we can say is that we are emphasising the rivers. These are massive rivers. You’ll have seen the ships there and we have this mechanic where you can travel along rivers much quicker.
Al: I’m sorry we couldn’t go into too much detail. It’s the first time we’ve properly started talking about the campaign and there’s a lot to come, a lot of detail to talk about.
Chris: No issues there. I’ve certainly got some impressions on certain aspects that will be coming. Thank you for your time!
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