Why We’re Getting Napoleon: Total War, Not Hitler: Total War

Why We’re Getting Napoleon: Total War, Not Hitler: Total War
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When Creative Assembly started work on the next Total War game, they decided they wanted to tell a story around the exploits of one man. As you know, they decided to go with Napoleon. We asked them why him and not, for example, Hitler.

The Creative Assembly’s Kieran Brigden told me that Napoleon: Total War represents something of a sea change for the veteran series, which launched with Shogun nearly ten years ago and has seen Medieval, Rome and Empire follow, along with various sequels and expansion packs. They want to tell the story of Napoleon, the man, through Total War, rather than the more generic period of time we’ve become used to in the series.

“We knew we wanted to have more of a narrative base and tell a story about one person,” says Brigden. “But the Total War games are always focused on an entire era. So it almost came about by accident when we were getting to the end of Empire and researching different generals, we thought, hang on, Napoleon’s a pretty big character, you know. He wasn’t just a general, he was an emperor of a country that defined an entire region and era. It suddenly made sense. He ticked all our criteria and we knew we had our guy who could tell a story.”

In more prosaic terms, that means they’ve split the game into three full campaigns. First, the Italian campaign which sees Napoleon take his first military command and finds himself fighting against the Austrians in northern Italy in a post-Revolution France. Second, the African campaign which sees Napoleon march his army into Egypt. Third, there’s the grand European campaign that defined Napoleon’s career and where France is at its most mighty and powerful against all the other nations of Europe.

Brigden continues: “He’s the last major figure really – with the exception of Hitler since, and Alexander and Caesar before him – who links himself to the destination of a whole nation and then influences all of Europe as a result. He really does rank up amongst the great generals to leaders to superpowers. The story of France is the story of Napoleon.”

I asked Brigden if it’s likely we would ever see Hitler: Total War. It was a jokey, throwaway question that I hadn’t prepared and, even as I said it, didn’t expect to be given serious consideration. I was wrong.

“I doubt that,” says Brigden, chuckling. “If we were to do a Total War game in the Second World War it would be based around the whole war, not just one character. Mein Kampf: Total War wouldn’t really work!”

But he didn’t stop there. Later in the chat, the prospect of a World War II Total War game was raised again. I found Brigden’s answer to be fascinating.

“Here’s the thing about World War II, you’re talking really quick warfare, you’re talking about rolling across whole countries, so how do we adapt the Total War mechanics to account for that?” he asks.

“In addition, Total War has never really shied away from actual history, even when it’s difficult and embarrassing and tough to face up to. What do you do with something like Nazi Germany? Do you let players build concentration camps? You know, how do you deal with the historical aspects of the ultimate solution? There’s a lot in there which is really quite tricky stuff.

“But to give it the Total War treatment, we aren’t using kid gloves when it comes to history. If we did something like World War II or even Vietnam, we’d want to do it in a realistic way, we’d want to find a way of treating those mechanics. The way Total War works is that you can choose any faction that could have won – and the Germans could have won – so you can play as Germany. Then what do we do, do we reward the player for changing the government from National Socialism to a Democratic Republic or whatever? It’s hard because you don’t want to imply moral judgement. It’s all about historical accuracy and when you start implying that this was bad and that was good, you have to reward players or penalise them for those things.

“We’ve got a load of WWII historical fans at the Creative Assembly, they build model tanks, the play the board games and we’re obviously big fans of games like Company of Heroes. There’s a big contingent within the team that would love to do a WWII game, but if we do it we have to do it right.”

He’s right, though I’m struggling to imagine how you could possibly do it right. There are plenty of WWII games out there, and plenty of WWII strategy games that approach the subject very seriously. But few – if any – have been willing to tackle the difficult questions an authentic WWII game would have to ask. Luke wrote yesterday about the many different stories video games have yet to tell about World War II. But perhaps there are also new angles to take on the stories we thought we’d already told.


  • Mein Kampf: Total War would likely rate as the single fastest banned game in Germany :ever:.

    On the Napoleon front, did they defend why it’s a full game and not an expansion pack? I know a few Total War fans who are (possibly justifiably) pissed about another full title coming out soon, when they still haven’t finished fixing all the bugs in the previous game.

  • Have they even released any ex. packs for Empire? OR have they just totally moved on already from it.

    It’s not like they should be embarrassed for it.

  • you couldn’t do a WWII total war game for the reason that the Nazis and other Axis governments waged wars of conquest alongside wars of racial extermination that cannot be separated from one another when viewing WWII with historical accuracy. Having a game where you can commit genocide would not fly in any country, period.

  • Funny how the fella comments on “the historical aspects of the ultimate solution”. I thought it was generally referred to as the ‘final’ solution. ‘Ultimate’ seems like fan service. Is he a closet nazi?

    Sorry for nitpicking!

    • I’m pretty sure Kieran just misspoke while distracted. From memory, as he was talking, he was also loading up the campaign he was about to demonstrate.

    • A world war one game would be amazing if done right. Millions would buy it after playing any of the other total wars. It could have special canadian or german storm troops. It could be Wilhem Total war or Total War Amistice Day

  • So the vibe I’m getting is that I should stop development of Concentration Camp Tycoon. Damn, it was coming along so nicely…

  • WWII is a good setting for movies and games and book but it had been used a lot. WWI Total War would be a good game I think, good old trench warfare and stalemates and bolt-action rifles.

    • I’m quite surprised at the release of this game considering Empire:total war was only released awhile ago.

      Mind you, any experienced gamer can tell you how much a joke that game was so maybe they are doing the right thing be moving on.

  • Unless I missed it – but the Total War series have completed popped over the 1600s – English Civil War and Thirty Years War (whose nastiness could give WW2 a decent run). Total War Hitler or WW2 maybe something that COULD be leapt over to the cold war conflicts (Korea, Israel/Middle East, Algeria, Malaya, Cyprus, India/Pakistan, “Liberation” Wars in Africa – many relatively low conflicts that could allow space for troop tactics instead of massed armour and air-power.

  • jim
    December 11, 2009 at 12:12 PM

    you couldn’t do a WWII total war game for the reason that the Nazis and other Axis governments waged wars of conquest alongside wars of racial extermination that cannot be separated from one another when viewing WWII with historical accuracy. Having a game where you can commit genocide would not fly in any country, period.

    – So.. when you go on a Crusade, do you decide to persecute the Jews for no other reason than to kill them, or how about in Rome: Total War, do you get to decide to burn down Jewish buildings just because they are Jewish?

    Hitler was NOT the first person to do anything of the kind, he was behind his times, he was the past clashing with the present, and as such Napoleon was the future clashing with the past.

    • Well said, when it comes down to it wars do not have to be fought, they are a natural progression from failed diplomacy and/or shortsighted political/economic gains. Once started wars progress according to many factors the most important of which is getting it finished ASAP by any means, using all existing and any newly developed weapons,tactics or psychological techniques etc. and by the way the British used concentration camps in the Boer Wars before WW1.

  • A few total war ideas:
    – Rome II total war
    – Another Asian total war, such as Khan: Total War, or another one involving medieval China and Japan
    – The American civil war, or an industrial-era total war – Lincoln, Bismarck, East India Mutiny, the Crimean war etc.
    – A Discovery era total war, covering the 16th and 17th centuries, including the English civil war and the colonization of the Americas.
    WW1 *might* work but I don’t know how it’d turn out with long trench warfare stalemates.

    I don’t think a WWII total war will work too well due to political sensitivities still surrounding this conflict. The game would have to conform to a politically acceptable view of history and the axis powers, or rewrite history altogether.

  • This is all quite funny, i read the part about how do we let people build concentration camps, you dont, they auto apear, just as u ignored the aspect of the minorly sized holocaust of the gauls and barbars during the roman era, or the killing of any scientific person in the medieval era. you either make it automatic or u ignore it. though ignoreing it isnt a choise really seeing as it was such a god dam huge part of the second world war…

    • no it wasn’t
      the holocaust was a minor aspect of ww2
      they didn’t even start teaching holocaust history until the 1960s
      it’s because the holocaust wasn’t racial at all
      hitler put jews in his army EVEN the SS
      the thing about holocaust history that noone talks about is the fact that most of the jews in europe were communist sympathizers who were actively working against the entire nazi government and war machine.
      now why wouldn’t you round up all these traitors?
      and the allies accidentally caused the starvation of the prisoners when they bombed the supply lines.

  • There could always be a future total war game. Perhaps do an intergalactic war with rival planets and have deathstars as the first rate ships of the line all the way down to fighters as sloops and brigs.

  • They should do a Empire 2 total war. It would be set in the the ww1 era and would have all the continents of the world. A few ideas would be instead of just owning land in other continents like in the first empire they should really be colonies, as in you would have the ability to declare a territory ether anexed, occupied, or colonized, each having its own advantages and disadvantages, this would lead to great continent wars in africa and asia like what really happened in the turn of the 20 century. also this would be the ideal time to introduce trench warfare and work out schematics for a ww2 game that could follow.

  • I can understand the concerns if they were to make a WWII game – like genocide and such. I could very much, still, understand the elements that would be involved. However, the Total War developers could make tweeks here and there and explain to their gamers: genocide is nothing to even joke about, and so that element is taken out. OR, they could have autoset concentration camps to be established in regions and not allow the gamer to change anything about the camp itself — and restrict the camps to just be labor camps, and no death camps.
    Obviously this would still not go over well for some governments, like Germany, but it would lighten the weight of evil, somewhat, in the game and give the game that Creative Assembly and Total War fans really want. And, yes, to his question: one should be rewarded for toppling the National Socialism government in favor of, say, either another Monarchy, Republic, or a simple Party change in a form of a Dictatorship. No matter how they want to put it: the Nazi Regime was a ruthless and evil regime — no matter how you put it, you should not be rewarded that much for sustaining the Nazi Government of evil.

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