GP: Many believed in the wake of Empire and Napoleon that the Total War series was on a modernising trajectory. What were the other conflicts you considered in the boardroom before settling on revisiting Feudal Japan?
Craig: [laughs] We've got loads and loads of ideas from different time periods that we might do. It'll quite often come down to one or two members of the team making a particularly compelling case for a specific game. So with Shogun 2, it was a case of going back to our roots. We've made a decades worth of progress, let's go back to our roots and do everything we wished we could have done ten years ago, in terms of all the extra engine technology we've put in there and all the extra gameplay advances we've made. So there's a few different areas we've considered. We considered going back to other games. We also considered some really crazy stuff, like future tech, and all kinds of weird stuff. So we're always considering different time periods. If something works, we'll do it, if someone can make a compelling case for it. If we think we can make it into a fun game, we'll definitely do it.
GP: Shogun 2 has been described as an “art-led game”. Beyond portraits and information panels, how has art direction led design?
Craig: Art permeates throughout the entire game. An example would be the 2D/3D campaign map we've got. It was something we prototyped as an art thing to start with. Someone just drew some concept art in 2D and 3D side by side. We weren't really sure if it was going to work in the game, but we kind of let the art team direct that, in terms of giving it a go. And when we implemented the early code it worked really well, so we kept it. I think it has to be an art-led game when it's set in such an iconic time period. There's certainly artistic influences from Japan, things like the seasons are always portrayed quite artistically, so it's better to think of it from an artistic perspective. I think it's the most stylish Total War we've ever done.
GP: Battle AI has been a thorn in the side of the Total War series since its inception. What improvements can players familiar with the series expect?
Craig: Mike Simpson, our creative director, has basically said 'this game is not going out the door until the AI is perfect'. AI really has been a bit of an issue for us in the past. But even Napoleon was better than Empire. I mean, one of our goals for Napoleon was to fix the issues we had in Empire, and I think to an extent we did that really well. But in terms of Shogun 2 we're not going to release it until it's perfect. There's the line-of-sight stuff we're introducing - basically, if any of our designers are playing the game and see something stupid, it's like everyone stops. Everyone gets around the PC to have a look at it, and see what can we do to fix it. We want to get it so there's nothing stupid happening in the game. We don't want to see stupid AI. It is a big thorn in our side, and it's something we've really had to work on. We're pretty confident about Shogun 2.
GP: Will Shogun 2 reprise strategies from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and how will these AI improvements better reflect his strategies?
Craig: On the art side, design-wise, and also the way the game is played, it's driven by Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu is a big thing for us. Most of the design, in terms of the unit simplification kind of came from Sun Tzu. The idea that a certain kind of unit has a very specific kind of purpose, it'll beat another kind of unit with a specific purpose. We wanted to kind of simplify the number of units, so you don't have - for example - two kinds of musketmen that are very similar. You can't really tell what the difference is. We wanted it to be nice and clear, so if Sun Tzu says that cavalry beats infantry, we want to reflect that in the game as well. So you've got one or two cavalry pieces in the game, and you can kind of see how that will be in the end. It's really driven from the Sun Tzu side of things, and that permeates throughout the game.
GP: The Total War series has increased in scope over its five instalments, now you’re returning to a very small setting. What do you believe are the benefits and drawbacks of decreasing the game’s geographic scale?
Craig: Geographic scale is an interesting one, because although we've homed it in on Japan, we've actually magnified the scale. So it's comparable to Empire and Napoleon. There's a lot of benefits to doing that. For starters, you've got a more focused setting, so you know right from the start your objective is to unite Japan under your banner. So the player knows right from the start what they have to do. They know the limits of where they can go, and they can make their own path as they go. This whole kind of emergent gameplay - giving the player the tools when they start, and only having one or two regions instead of ten allows the player to create their own story as they go. So having a tightly focused setting benefits the title. On the downside, there are some players who like that kind of world-spanning scale, they like being able to flick between different theatres of conflict. But what I would say to those players is give Shogun 2 a chance, see how you feel with the more focused game. We've actually played it internally, and we have a lot of guys who prefer the huge scale, but when they've played Shogun 2 they've actually really enjoyed it. So give it a go!
GP: The original Shogun was the only game in the series to feature interactive diplomacy. Is this something that will make a return in Shogun 2?
Craig: We've kind of overhauled the diplomacy a little bit. All of the cool stuff that was in Empire and Napoleon will be returning, but we've also got the clan management side of things as well. So previously you could negotiate alliances with the factions, which kind of suited the European theatre of Empire and Napoleon, with the global intrigue side of things. With Shogun 2 it's much more about loyalty, honour, and how you interact with other clans, it's a bit more personal. There's things like a prisoner exchange program, or hostage exchange, where you can swap a daughter or a son with a daughter or son from another clan. So you've kind of got a blood bond there which will give you a really strong alliance. It allows you to marry another clans daughter into your bloodline to produce an heir. There's loads of stuff we've done there to make diplomacy a little bit more interesting, and also it ties into the whole story thing as well. Players might have an alliance with a clan, and have a daughter married into that clan who might be accidentally killed, that sort of thing. The players get to write their own story. It makes it more interesting, adds more colour and flavour to the campaign.
GP: Religion will be making a return to the series after an absence. What improvements have you made to the religion system?
Craig: Previously, each of your provinces would have a religion level, and that can be influenced by agents, like monks for example, who can spread a certain kind of religion. With Shogun 2, we wanted to have all that stuff that was in the previous games, but also ramp it up a notch. So you have the introduction of Christianity, for example, from the Europeans, which really kind of mixes it up a bit and throws a spanner in the works, because you can have clans who are trying to convert to Christianity, and when that happens you have a religious conflict as well. So it makes things more interesting - instead of there being heaps of complimentary religions, there's a bit of religious conflict in there as well.
GP: Will technology be researchable as it has been in more recent Total War games, or will it simply unlock as it did in the original?
Craig: Mastery of the arts, is what we're calling it. So instead of pumping lots of resources into a technology, it's going to be a learned art system. It is unlockable, but you have to take a certain number of turns to unlock it. So Tea Ceremony, for example, which would give me an increase in happiness in regions, that would take twelve turns to unlock. You kind of work down the skill tree, or down the arts tree as we're calling it. As you go down you unlock it further and further, and different paths will take you to different options.
GP: What improvements have you made to multiplayer to make it more desirable to players?
Craig: We've done quite a lot with multiplayer. A lot of the cool stuff from Empire and Napoleon will be coming back, but we're also going to be doing some brand new stuff, which I'm not allowed to talk about yet! But it is going to be very cool. We've got a whole new element of multiplayer coming in. With Steam, we've always been able to get a good clan matching system going on, so with Steamworks we can have players match each other, and that works well with what we're planning to do. But I can't really say much about it, but that gives you an idea of the direction we're heading in. If you look at the previous stuff we did, we have a multiplayer campaign for example, we had drop-in battles where instead of playing the AI you could play a human opponent. It's reasonable to speculate that may be returning.
GP: What were the key difficulties in implementing night battles? Why are they being introduced now?
Craig: I think, to answer the second question first, we're introducing them now because it just looks really good on the engine. It looks really nice. You saw the battle there, how atmospheric it looked with the lights - when you can have 300 light sources at any one time, it really makes it more atmospheric. In terms of the difficulties, I suppose the main difficulty is why would we do it? What is the purpose of the night battle? So we want the battles to have a purpose in terms of your progression in the campaign. So the night battles will give you an element of surprise. As well as looking cool, we had to have a gameplay reason for their inclusion.