During EGX 2015, Mat sat down with James Given, the Community Co-Ordinator for Creative Assembly, to talk about their new free to play Total War game, titled Arena.
AYMG: Total War games are known for being single player experiences, so where did the idea of a 10 v 10 Total War come from?
James Given: I think that originally the idea started to come out of the success that came from the Shogun 2 avatar system, as it was something that was very well received. A lot of the team, although not all, are the foundations of the team are working on Arena right now. The difficulties of multiplayer for Total War is that you have a single player game and a multiplayer game, so you have to balance one and then the other, and some units in the campaign are just historically very strong and to balance that out for a multiplayer is a continuous task. That’s part of the reason why Arena is what it is, because you need a game that can just continuously evolve, continue itself and continuously be balanced along the way.
AYMG: What sort of limitations has been put on you, as developers, for creating a 10v10 Total War game? For example, in Arena, you have 3 units, where as in other titles, you have 20.
JG: We played around with this a bit, we had 5v5 where you had 5 units each. We found that, in our opinion, 10v10 was the sweet spot. The reason for that is that you can ship the blame onto one player, that and you can feel the flow of the battle better with more players. The 3 units are… In reality you never really control 20 units. You make your infantry clash in the centre, but then you’re focusing on your Calvary in the flanks, so in a way, players micromanaged their units. Despite this, a lot of players are coming over to play Arena, and that’s a victory for us, convincing the hardcore fans to come over to Arena. You do find with human players that having 3 units is the sweet spot, it just works. You’re not too powerful, you couldn’t win the game by yourself. You have to work as a team but at the same time, you can influence your team enough to make all the difference. The best multiplayer games are where you have to work together as a team for victory.
AYMG: In terms of playing as a team, what happens when one of your team drops out?
JG: In early alpha, when someone dropped out, the units would become AI. Since then, if one member of your team drops out, then everyone on your team can control those units. We don’t have a reconnect function just yet but we’re hoping it’s something we can have later down the line.
AYMG: So it’s not like having a limb cut off when you lose a player?
JG: Sometimes it can be a benefit because you have a reserve of units at the end game. Obviously, when a player drops out, the team with less is at a slight disadvantage but it’s not always game losing. Anyone can use the units of the player who has dropped out. You do get people fighting over those units though, but that’s the nature of a multiplayer game and someone will eventually give up and allow the other person control.
AYMG: Following the Alpha and recently released Beta, how has the game been received so far?
JG: The recent Beta was our biggest content update of all time, with new factions, a new commander and a lot of changes to the current commanders available, so on that side of things, amazing. But then, we have a really hardcore following that came over from other Total War games and played multiplayer extensively and all they do is theory craft. They’re figuring out which commanders they think are top tier and those that aren’t, and that’s good. We’re really close to our community, the closest we’ve ever been, because it’s multiplayer and it has to have a constant back and forth between them. We put something out, then we test with them before release and then we change it based off their opinion and if it makes sense.
AYMG: What sort of tactics have been used and have some units been used more than others?
JG: Yeah most definitely. We’ve gone through several stages; one where archers were powerful, then melee units were powerful, then we had a build where light infantry, so you’d have a lot spearman with archers whittle away at enemies and now we have more of a heavy infantry build again, but it keeps changing and evolving. Between January and now [September] we’ve seen several distinct playstyles, so it could be radically different by this time next year. On top on this, we have a new commander system where, when you pick your first unit, there will be a commander alongside and he will have 4 abilities, kind of like a MOBA, although this is as close as Arena gets to a MOBA, and those abilities can be heavy infantry charges etcetera and on top of that, every commander will a special ability that will be unique to them that can swing the tide of any engagement, depending on the way you use it and who you use it on. We’re planning to release a new commander every few months and they’ll change the way the game is played drastically.
AYMG: Will the new commanders be free or will they be a paid dlc?
JG: The aim is to have players buy the commanders with silver, which is the in game currency. As it stands we have no plans to charge people for new commanders.
AYMG: Will there be any form of paid content?
JG: We’re very aware of pay to win and the toxicity of that. If someone thought that someone else had an advantage because they’d paid for better units, that would hurt our game. You can pay to progress quicker, so you can gain experience quicker. It doesn’t mean that you’ll be better, as someone who has played the game longer will have more knowledge of how Arena works. We also have different colour palettes for the units and we also have premium units. The way that they work is that they’ll give you experience quicker or a bit more silver at the outcome of a battle. You still have to do quite well, as you can’t upgrade the premium units and they can be easily defeated by fully unlocked units. The premium units will be unique and specialised but to do one thing only.
AYMG: In terms of commanders and units you can get, will we see any weird clashes, such as the Romans versus the Mongols?
JG: In every other Total War game, there’s a focus on one time period. You can bend the rules a little bit, but in reality you’re focused on one time period and you have to go for it. Right now we’re doing a similar thing but we can choose where we want to take it. There’s nothing stopping us adding something like Samurai into Arena, which is something our community very much want to see, Samurai versus Roman Legions. It’s down to what the community is after and we’ll try and deliver it, and that’s the way we’ve tried to develop it. We don’t have a set plan on exactly what set commanders and factions we’re going to but it’s to say that we’ll probably expand away from the Mediterranean base that everyone seems to be coming from right now.
AYMG: Will the same apply to maps as well, so could we be fighting Samurai versus Romans but in Russia?
JG: We haven’t added a snow map yet, though I’m sure it will happen at some point. We’ve got a lot of new maps, but right now there’s a lot of focus around the Mediterranean but they will change and that will be when commanders from outside the Mediterranean are released.
AYMG: How does Arena cater for newcomers to the series?
JG: It’s something I’ve personally had to deal with quite a lot, having done a lot of events recently. It’s easier to get into Arena in a way, the lower tiers aren’t too hard and we’d recommend 4 to 5 games as your first jump in, as you start to work out what to do and what not to, and learning how to start flanking and not just rushing straight in and dying. We will be adding tutorials to make the learning curve a little less steep.
AYMG: So lower skilled player can be carried by the other 9 players?
JG: More importantly they can share the blame. With multiplayer gaming, the reason why they’re so successful, in my opinion, is that if you do really badly you can just say; “well it’s this guy over here. It’s not my fault, I’m great,” and so I think that definitely plays a big part of it.
AYMG: After launch, will there be any form of in game events?
JG: Yes, definitely. This is where we have fun, as we can always tie them to historical events. We did one recently where Ceaser had his triumph through Rome, where everyone who won a game got extra silver and boosted experience, so we want to have loads of those. As we add more factions, we can have a lot more fun with what we can and can’t do.
AYMG: So there’s a lot of scope with this game then, with the foundations that are in place.
JG: I would say it’s why the free to play model is so good, in a way; yes there’s a lot of inherent risks but you get the ability to move quickly and react quickly, whereas if your releasing as a set ‘box release’ you have to lock everything down and work towards that. We don’t really have that. We’re happy to build in changes and evolve as we consider the communities feedback. It’s already changed a lot since we first started 8 to 9 months ago.
AYMG: We’ve come to the end of time, so thank you very much for speaking to us.
JG: Thank you very much!