It was a surprising decision by Creative Assembly to go right back to where they started. Everyone was focused on the inevitable (still) Rome 2. Nobody expected a return to the curious lands of feudal Japan with Shogun 2, but now we've all seen it, it's looking luscious. David Brown spoke to James Russell, Kevin McDowell and Jamie Ferguson recently and asked them a few question that you might not have seen asked anywhere else. Perhaps you have. If so, boo to you, smarty-pants. Just pretend you didn't and carry on reading the words below:
DB – You've got fog of war in the game that completely obscures landscape you haven't discovered yet. Would this be realistic for the time? Would the Japanese clans really not know about lands outside their own territory?
James Russell – Actually, you know, they would have an idea of where certain clans were, they'd know where Kyoto was or other major cities, and there'd be certain major trunk routes that they might know about, but there's a very famous of one particular tribe trying to make war and not actually being able to find a way out of their own kingdom. They got lost in the hills. I mean, it's a medieval setting, so yeah, sure, people had ideas, they had maps, they knew where things were, but you certainly wouldn't be able to have a bang-accurate knowledge of exactly where all the ports were a thousand miles away on the other end of Japan.
Kevin McDowell – A lot of the maps of the period still exist and man, they're quite sketchy. That's probably the best you could reasonably expect.
Jamie Ferguson – You have a knowledge of there being a number of regions and you can represent them accurately, and if you do fly over the parchment map (the way fog of war is being depicted in Shogun 2 – Ed) they'll be delineated.
JR – Yeah, you'll see the regions and the provincial capitals as well, but you don't necessarily have diplomatic contacts with all these clans. It's not like the geopolitics of the Empire period where, you know, you've got agents in pretty much every country in the world and you can immediately talk to anyone.
DB – Is using a parchment map for the fog of war as much a design decision as anything else, because of your previously stated desire to really bring the art style of feudal Japan to the game?
KD – We didn't think too deeply about this particular design. Mike Simpson, the creative director, came up with this specific idea and using his 'fantastic' skills in Photoshop, merging the original Shogun with some current screenshots, presented this to us. We thought this was a bit odd, but we'll give it a try and the amazing thing was that all the developers who've played it felt that it changed the way they approached the campaign map, because suddenly there's a feeling of exploration and discovery, which previously we suddenly realised was missing, you know, from previous Total War games.
JR – It's also nice to represent a shrouded area not in pitch darkness, so you do have a basic idea of the scope of the world and where things are.
DB – One of the new things you've put into Shogun 2 is the addition of RPG-like traits and levelling up for your generals and characters, but can you view the skills of the enemy's units, to give you an idea of what you're up against?
JR – Yeah, if you have spying information, but not by default. If you have a ninja nearby, you can then.
JF – We've kept the list of characters on the map that you can move around down to a very simple list. You've got your ninja, your geisha and then the metsuke (kind of like a policeman - Ed), who's kind of your counter to those first two. Then there are the monks, who are used for bribery and pacification.
JR – Basically, we've got a triangle, a stone-scissors-paper relationship where every agent has a counter, where every agent can be undermined by another, but we also want to make sure that every agent has a specific function against every kind of target. So the ninja always has something he can do against an enemy city or an enemy army, and they also have a purpose in your own cities and within your own armies. You could stick a monk in your own army and he'd do something specific, or in an enemy army and he'd do something else.
DB – How do your characters gain experience? Like for a general, to get XP, does he have to go around fighting a lot, that sort of thing?
JR – The key point is you don't have to do a specific activity to level up in it. That's the key thing here, that you get to choose how to develop your character. You use the character how you want to use them, then you make a choice as to how to specialise them. You might get experience for winning any kind of battle, and if that takes you over the edge, you level up as it were, and you might then decide to make your general a great administrator instead or a great personal warrior on the battlefield. You aren't forced to increase his abilities based on what you've just done. That's what the old system kind of did, you'd get the trait awarded passively. It wasn't random, it was driven by how you used them, but here you have a proper choice.
DB – If you just leave a general in a city, though, does he get experience from administering that city, or do you have to go out and fight?
JR – Er, you kind of have to go and fight, yes. You could argue that he would from a real-world perspective, but you could also say, you know, he's only going to get that life experience out on campaign. If you look at a game like Rome: Total War, in many respects the administrators, by having to go through times of hardship and administer their armies in times of difficulty. We want to make sure you have to risk the character to make him better, you know.
JF – There are also game reasons too, ignoring the history for a minute. We want people to be acting on their characters, using them and being involved in events. There's no risk to just sitting in a castle, so the rewards don't really come. You won't feel as if you've achieved anything.
DB – The important question is do you have Battlefield Ninja?
JF – Yes, we do.
DB – Battlefield Monks?
JF – Warrior monks, yes, them too. The battlefield ninja aren't as fantastical as you'd imagine. They're kind of like Special Ops, wearing normal samurai armour but blacked up, hiding in long grass waiting for a general to come past and gank him from behind.
JR – We have several units of warrior monks, and they've all got precedent.
JF – We also played with the idea, which might not work, of having warrior nuns as well. You know, history's a richer place than many people think. Sometimes you might think “oh, that never happened,” then you find out that it did, and not only that, but it happened a lot! Same thing with female warriors as well, female samurai. There's a lot of variety.
DB – How do you go about improving your technological level now, as it's not tied down to what buildings you have in your city?
JF – The Japanese view of the world was more about arts and the way of things, even with respect to developing technology. The development of sword manufacture was an art, not a science, something that was passed down from father to son as a craft, rather than a very scientific study of metals and swords.
JR – Thematically, we're calling it mastery of the arts, but fundamentally it is equivalent to the tech tree from Empire. Because we're treating it as a mastery of the arts, you can't trade them, like how you might be able to trade formulae and so on like you could before. But, you know, we do incorporate scientific-like developments, the most obvious one being firearms, which I think we called Powder Mastery, which would give you the ability to manufacture muskets without converting to Christianity, which is something the Japanese did about 10 years after the Europeans arrived. They became very effective at manufacturing their own guns and in many respects became masters, producing some of the best muskets in the world.
JF – Because of the Japanese approach, they weren't just making them as particularly effective guns, they'd also be something you could put on your wall. It goes to that peculiar Japanese thing where form and function are two intertwined concepts, rather than being separate.
DB – You've changed the way the game ends in Shogun 2, going back to something that's a bit like Rome's Senate breakaway ending, right?
JR – It's sort of analogous, it's not quite identical. What we wanted to do is create an endgame, which you can trigger early if you want by marching on Kyoto and declaring yourself Shogun, but we're working on how it's balanced. What we want to do is create a really climactic endgame that gives you a proper challenge at the end, avoiding that kind of mopping up problem you'd get if you were dominating the map in earlier games. We don't necessarily have every single clan immediately declare war on you. Your allies might stick by you for a bit, but there'll be continual pressure and they might eventually turn on you.
JF – It's very closely related to the truth of that period, like how Oda Nobunaga was the first to declare himself Bukafu of Japan. He wasn't able to call himself Shogun as he didn't have noble lineage, but he died just a short while after the declaration. Immediately, loads of others started proclaiming themselves Shogun. One, Hiyoshi, set up himself up as Shogun and everyone turned on him. It's that kind of thing, being too big for your boots.
DB – How important is the European influence later on?
JR – What the Europeans do is give you access to firearms technology early. You could develop it yourself, but it'd take a lot longer. Converting to Christianity can cause all sorts of problems, it might cost you honour or affect your ability to do various other things, cause unrest. We want to offer the choice, but what we absolutely don't want is for all players to just say “Oh, I'm going to be Christian” all the time. We want it to feel like two completely different ways to play the game. If you go with the Christians, you get access to cannons, while if you concentrate of firearms, you won't get the top-level archers in the game, the Bow Heroes. There's no wrong choice, they're just different.