Strategy Informer: What types of games will Empire: Total War feature? Will there be any mission-based campaigns, a year from which to start, or just a grand campaign launch from a fixed year?
Creative Assembly: Empire: Total War will feature the traditional Grand Campaign mode, in addition to the skirmishes and online play that fans expect from the series. We’ve also included an Episodic Campaign entitled ‘The Road to Independence’ which is a first for the Total War series.
Strategy Informer: What kind of changes will we see in the campaign part of the game as opposed to what we’ve had in Medieval II: Total War?
Creative Assembly: Oh boy! Where to start? Obviously we aren’t just tied to Europe for Empire: Total War. The player will be able to fight wars from the Americas to the Indies, and in between, on both land and sea. The game map itself is based on NASA satellite data and so the terrain and the coasts will closely reflect the actual geographical features of the world. The world’s seas and oceans are no longer just lifeless moats that need to be crossed or blocked. They are now actually an intrinsic part of the game with real time sea battles playing a major role.
For example; competing nations’ warships will fight over trade routes and access to the seas. We now have “Trade Theatres” (Such as the East Indies, East Africa, the Ivory coast and South America) where the main objective is to monopolise the trade goods produced there and ship them back to your home ports, without the enemy getting their hands on it. Supporting your overseas colonies and invasions of other continents will require shipping of troops and protecting them with your navies. Failure to protect transported troops will result in disaster unless you manage to avoid enemy shipping.
Improvements to your regions are no longer a one settlement per region-based activity. For example, ports are individually interactive and upgradable. Farms, Factories, Mines and a number of other buildings can be burnt to the ground or developed. Farms can grow in to huge landscaped stately homes. Developing Factories will improve your nation’s access to goods or weapons and they help create wealth. Universities can be invested in and technology researched to improve your armies and navies, or just create a more educated populace that drives faster research.
Agents have been reduced in number, made more important and overhauled. Now we have Gentlemen who can turn their hand to increasing the speed of your nation’s research, steal enemy technology or duel with enemy Gentlemen and Rakes. Meanwhile Rakes will assassinate, sabotage and spy on armies.
And there is sooo much more, but I think you can tell that a better question might be “What hasn’t changed?”
Strategy Informer: How many actual units will ETW be able to represent through its battlefield engine?
Creative Assembly: Empire will feature up to 10,000 units at once in Land Battles. These are handled with approximately 20 unit cards. Naval warfare will feature massive battles of up to 20 ships per side.
Strategy Informer: One of the biggest problems in the newer Total War series was its A.I. Such problems were mostly addressed by modders but we would all love to hear what kind of effort went into improving the newest battle A.I.?
Creative Assembly: We're focusing on the development of the Battle AI on Empire a lot more thoroughly than on previous Total War games - both in terms of man-power dealing with the problem and the solutions we're applying. This increase is to address the issues and the identified exploits of the past, but also because the complexity of the game has increased (by the very nature of the amount of things the player can now do!) so too must the AI improve to deal with the myriad of new options. We've become acutely aware that older state-based approaches to the problems will no longer be sufficient, and so we're looking to new, more emergent, AI techniques to bring us to the next level.
So at the highest level, we've approached problem on two fronts.
The first is to try to breathe more "life" into the way the computer plays, and improving the "perception" of humanlike-behaviour. For example - ensuring that fighting the French *actually feels like* fighting the French, as opposed to battling Native Americans, or other factions who might and should behave very differently - in terms of how they form, how they move and use the units and special abilities under their disposal, and how they react to the player's actions. On this side of things, we've done a lot of research into genuine historical tactics, and worked these into the game engine as unique Faction-based and Admiral/General-based battle tactics for the first time.
The link between the Campaign AI and Battle AI is entirely designed to facilitate this. The Battle AI will request recruitment of particular unit types to ensure these tactics engage appropriately. Likewise the Campaign AI will insist the Battle AI fights in a way that will benefit the faction’s long-term goals (fight to the last man, harry the enemy and minimise casualties but still fight to win, fight a rear-guard action, etc. etc.).
The second is to introduce a level of planning and prediction, which is also something completely new to the Total War Battle AI. The main objective of this is to identify exploits or manoeuvres that the player might be employing with a long or short-term view to counter-acting, and to forward-plan for sub-objectives over a period of time. For example - identifying early on that our left flank is weak and potentially susceptible to attack, so ensuring that the main body stays close to suitable defendable buildings or impassable terrain, and managing the path of tasks that are required to achieve this action over the course of the battle - all the while balancing the main priority of the overall victory conditions and battle plan!
Suffice to say, brand new systems for the Empire Battle AI have been in development and R&D for a long, long time, and even now continue to be so, and we're very excited with the potential and scope for replay-ability that they're giving the game.
Strategy Informer: Finishing off a fleeing enemy often took a lot of effort due to imprecise response from mainly cavalry units. Was something done specifically for this issue?
Creative Assembly: Well, although we have improved the cavalry and infantry combat mechanics in Empire, the problem sort of resolved itself due to the ranged combat nature of warfare in this period. There are plenty of opportunities for taking pot shots while the enemy runs especially if you have dragoons, cannons or rifles. Additionally the unit handling has been overhauled to counteract this issue.
Strategy Informer: Sea battles have finally been brought to player control in TW. What was the biggest challenge in its battle engine development?
Creative Assembly: There were 3 major challenges with the sea battles.
Getting the sea to look like the best sea anyone had seen in battle was the first challenge and we had a programmer working on that for a considerable amount of time. The effort was all worth it because it does now look fantastic.
The next challenge was getting ships to move across that water in a way that at least felt and looked realistic. And then on top of that make them sink in a way that looked real. In the end we created a system that gave ships appropriate buoyancy and, when the ship was holed, made it take on water in a way that looked great.
The final challenge was getting the ship-to-ship combat to the very high standard we always set ourselves in all Total War games, but at the same time allowing it to be controllable and fun for the player. Anyone who has seen our gameplay trailer of the naval battles can see we have managed to achieve that. The real proof will be when people play the game themselves.
Strategy Informer: What would happen if two friendly or enemy ships collide?
Creative Assembly: It depends on the form of collision and the difference in size, but as ships were actually relatively (compared to propeller driven ships) slow moving. Damage was likely but not in the same way as if an iron or steel hulled ship collided.
Strategy Informer: How will the modding community be supported by ETW? What tools have you prepared for modders, and how many programs would somebody need to recreate different units for ETW?
Creative Assembly: Announcements will be made in the future but we do have plans to make this an extremely moddable game.
Strategy Informer: A lot of people will be interested to know what computer specs they'll need to run ETW in average and full graphical setting?
Creative Assembly: We will be announcing the minimum specs at a later date, once the engine has been fully optimized. I can confirm that Empire: Total War is DX9 compatible and has been designed to run on a variety of machines.
Strategy Informer: Will we see a demo before the official game release? If yes, when can we expect to see it?
Creative Assembly: It’s too early to speculate at this point.