On the floor of GDC 2011, Arti Gupta talked to James Russell, lead designer of the Total War series. They chat about Shogun 2, fluid development and the process of refining an engine instead of rewriting it.
Arti Gupta: Tell us about your background and role at The Creative Assembly?
James Russell: I am the lead designer for the Total War series. I oversee all the design for all the Total War projects that we are working on, and that includes Shogun 2. I've been personally most focused on the campaign map part of the game.
A.G.: Your team follows a fluid, outside-the-box creative process. Tell us about that.
J.R.: Design is a really important part of our process and where we might differ from other developers is that we keep pushing the design changes all the way through the project, potentially a little bit too late. We do take quite a lot of risks.
Every day we think of what we can do to make the game better. We are very willing to change the game, tweak this, tweak that. In that way it is quite fluid. That can frustrate the developers, but I think it's important when we're innovating to push the game to be the best it can be.
A.G.: What did you learn from Napoleon that you leveraged for Shogun 2?
J.R.: We've really wanted to make sure that the artificial intelligence was really strong, so we've done an awful lot of work making sure the AI is a challenge and provides some really interesting and immersive opponents for you with different personalities.
We also pushed the game engine, and pushed the graphics engine, quite hard. We are keen to push how the game looks at the top end of machines, so we show off the latest hardware and make the game look the very best it can. But at the same time, we want to make sure that we support low-spec machines as well. We make it scale.
A.G.: The Total War engine has been around for a while and your team's strategy is to refine it rather than rewrite it. How has that helped you?
J.R.: We rewrite certain elements of the engine, but what we're not going to do is rewrite the entire thing. That creates huge problems in getting things off the ground, especially because we've got so many different elements within the game. It's quite hard to develop in a vacuum when other areas of the game aren't operational.
Now that we have a mature, next-generation engine, it means that we can rewrite certain elements much more cleanly, because we don't have to start everything from scratch. From a development perspective, it makes things much easier for us, but it also allows us to innovate where we need to.
A.G.: What do you see coming next for the Total War series?
J.R.: There's so many different things that we would love to do. History throws up so many different, exciting periods -- we've got a ton of options. We're just excited about being able to choose one. There are lots of eras we can pick, and all of them would make a great Total War game.
But there are areas of the games that we know we want to develop further, like multiplayer, which we've really pushed for Shogun 2. We'll see how much we want to push that in the future.
Arti Gupta has worked on software-engineering projects as a developer, architect and project and product manager for more than 10 years. Now she does community management for game development on the Intel Software Network site [disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this website]. Gupta likes reading, traveling and spending time with her family. Follow her on Twitter: @artigupta.
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Video Games: The Way of the Samurai: Chatting With James Russell of The Creative Assembly
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