Jamie Ferguson On Total War: Rome 2, Part 2 – Mare Nostrum

“Our sea.” Last week, we spoke to Jamie Ferguson about the upcoming Total War: Rome 2, and how the limitations of Rome will become the limitations of the player, for more intense battles. This week we continue that interview, and talk about how technology will ramp up in the game.

Do you ever reach a situation where game balance and fun conflicts with historical accuracy? Which do you prioritise?

I think history tends to provide that balance anyway, so there’s not often that many clashes. But fun always wins out. That is our general principle, if we have a choice between being slavish to history and being fun, it’s fun. For example, battles, a real battle would last 8-9 hours, and in some cases, the battle of Philippi for example, the battle went on for 3 days. We’re not going to force a player to play for 3 days.

In terms of casualties, it’s something that through lots of study, through history, we know an average army would give up the ghost and flee if it lost more than 10% of its force. That doesn’t really make for very exciting battles, you get a handful of guys dying on the battlefield, then everyone runs away. That’s not very satisfying. So we tend to make people a lot braver and more foolhardy than they would be in reality.

That’s the thing, with the inspiration ability and all those things, those are there to give the player some agency. and let them have the experience of being a great commander.

It’s an interesting point about how history balances itself. Because there are certainly some time periods that seem to do that quite well, and we see a lot of those games. But there are some periods that we don’t see much of, and seem like they’d be less naturally balanced, like World War 1 as opposed to World War 2…

I think even there, when you start looking at it, there are checks and balances you can put in there. For example, when the tank was first put on the battlefield, it swept everything before it. But it rapidly became obvious to a lot of people that there were some major weaknesses in the tank. For example, it was very vulnerable to any high velocity bullets and things like that. So they started getting anti-tank crews almost immediately. And they were able to literally shoot straight through the driver’s compartment, and that’d be the tank knocked out. Or just using artillery, because it was so slow, it was easy to aim with artillery to knock the tank out.

So you get those immediate checks and balances. Humans are very ingenious…

Especially in wartime…

Exactly. So when we’re making a game, we’re always looking at that rapid advance of technology, and where the rock paper scissors comes out of that naturally. And then you just turn it into a game mechanic. I think the hardest thing is making it clear to the player, what’s forcing that motivation.

What sort of those technological tit-for-tats occurred in the Roman era?

The Romans went through several changes in the way they structured their armies, and that was a result of the various enemies they fought. For example, at the very beginning of their setup, they started out with almost Greek style methods of combat, using spears and shields, and using breastplates and big Corinthian helmets, and so on. Then they met the Gauls, and the Gauls were fighting with swords, what we now regard as the classic Roman sword and shield. And that open faced helmet. And the barbarians schooled them in how to fight battles with mobility.

The result of that was, the Romans went away, thought about that, came forwards with more adaptations of that. In the game, you might have triaria, that old fashioned type of unit. But as you evolve, you might have astarte and principes who are more barbarian styled in what they do and how they fight. And that slowly evolves – and you can do this with technology in the game – it slowly evolves into the Marian reforms. Which is turning it into what we regard as the classic republican army, with the chainmail, the coolest helmets, the square shields, using a gladius, and throwing your pilum as you enter combat.

So that’s all there in the game, you don’t have to know anything about history to do this. It’s all part of the gameplay progression. Even if you know absolutely nothing of history, it’s just something that will emerge out of gameplay.

What role will your navy play in all of this?

We’ve basically decided the best thing we can do with naval battles in bring them into the main battle engine. so we use a lot of the same kind of interfaces and ways you order things around, as if you were fighting a normal land battle. And the result of that is you can bring both elements together, and fight land and sea at the same time. It creates some really cool gameplay opportunities, so you can do some creative things like moving your units around the back of the enemy, and coming to attack from behind.

At the same time, it also means you can block people who are trying to do that, because you can use your navies backup force as you’re moving along the coastline, and if they bring their navies in to try and attack your land force, then you get that stone paper scissors.

One of the things we did decide with this game – and maybe this’ll change in the future – was the best way to work with ships that land their troops, was that once the ships have landed, basically you can’t get back on board those ships. And those boats remain beached until the next battle. You can push them back off the sand for the next battle, but during that battle, once you’ve landed, that’s it.

In terms of what happens when you’ve won the naval battle but you’re losing the land battle, well, you have to then unload your men off the ships and then onto the land. If you don’t win the land section of a battle, you’ve lost the battle. Because without land, you’ve got no supplies, nowhere to rest. Ancient biremes couldn’t remain out at sea forever, if they did then they would be sunk in a storm, so you have to have control of the land.

Our thanks to Jamie Ferguson for his time!

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