A Living World: Mount & Blade II – Bannerlord Interview

Mount & Blade: Warband is one of my favourite games but I haven’t played it for a long time. In part, that’s because I’ve been waiting for the sequel, Bannerlord [official site], since it was announced four years ago. After over half a decade of development, details about the game have started to emerge and I spoke to Armagan Yavuz, CEO and Founder of developers TaleWorlds, to find out how the team are aiming to improve on the dynamic world of the original. We talked combat, historical influence, settlement management, co-operative possibilities, modding and AI.

RPS: One of the key elements of Warband, which very few games attempt, is the creation of a dynamic world, that supports both strategic play and a more RPG style experience. What are the main ways you’re building on that?

Yavuz: With Warband, we felt we had a very original game with some unique elements. A lot of players and critics said that they felt it was like a rough uncut gem. There was a lot of potential but it didn’t quite meet that potential, and I agree with that. So we’ve tried to improve on all of the various elements, as well as trying to make them click with one another more effectively. We want all of the mechanics to work togeether.

At the heart of that, there’s a new scripting system, which is C#-based. It allows for many more sophisticated mechanics, from the way seasons work in the game to the functions of the AI. In Bannerlord, the AI can use any gameplay mechanic in the same way that the player can, whereas in Warband there were things that worked differently for the AI and the player. We’re getting rid of almost all of that, so that the player and the AI are working on an equal footing.

For example, you can talk to your enemies’ vassals and snatch them, poach them for your faction. Now, they can do the same thing to your vassals. That means you always have to be on your toes because whatever plans you might come up with, the AI can be coming up with similar plans to use against you.

RPS: Building an AI capable of working with such complex systems must be a huge challenge. How do you begin to build something like that?

Yavuz: One of the most important things is to make sure the AI can evaluate all of its options. If it doesn’t know what the options are, it won’t use them, just as a player won’t. We use a very modular system, which works such that when we add new features to the game, the AI is automatically able to see them and use them.

We approach the design the same way when we think about the players’ experience, introducing new elements that overlap with things that you’ve already learned. We try to make the game more transparent to players – if you don’t know how to do something, or even know that it’s possible, you might as well not be able to do it.

There are a lot of mechanics that make the economy and politics more fluid, and we want to make sure that managing villages and diplomacy doesn’t become an intellectual load. It’s very easy for a game to become intimidating when there is so much to do and so many options, so we need to make sure there is no information overload.

To do that, we try to give the player very simple interfaces to interact with. They’re very rich in information but not overwhelming. The information that you need when trying to perform any action should always be visible, and positioned under your mouse pointer as soon as you need it. For managing villages, you basically have three sliders – militia resources, taxes and building resources – and you decide how much importance to place on each area.

And as a beginner player you can leave them all in the middle and not worry too much. The game doesn’t force you to optimise constantly, or to care about all of this stuff just to survive. If you are part of a kingdom and you have a single village to manage, you can do that suboptimally without altering the course of the war too much. That way, you can learn the more complex mechanics and how they all tie together while working as part of a bigger system, without too many responsibilities. That’s a natural learning curve and there’s plenty of time to master strategies as you play.

The entire UI is much more streamlined than in Warband as well. You can see characters in the gameworld and interact with them directly, and you’ll be able to access various properties and statistics directly rather than looking through menus.

RPS: Why did you decide to set the game two hundred years earlier than Warband?

Yavuz: We decided early on that we would either be basing the game either a little earlier or later, because we didn’t want to revisit exactly the same time. We opted to go earlier for several reasons, one being that if we go too much later then, realistically, the combat changes a lot and becomes based on heavy armours, full plate, and firearms.

There are lots of interesting things to look at in that setting and there’s a charm to it, so it’s something to explore at another point maybe. But it’s not what we wanted to do just yet because we wanted to retain the medievalish feel of the combat.

One thing that opens up in this setting is the use of female characters. In Warband we had female nobles but they didn’t have armies and they weren’t commanders, because that didn’t fit with the time period. But if you go back in time a little bit, you see that a lot of societies did have female leaders. It was much more prevalent and it’s something that we’ve implemented. It’s an fascinating period to explore culturally and gives us a lot more freedom to create some new social dynamics.

RPS: How do you balance historical realism and entertainment? Medieval life wasn’t all fun and games…

Yavuz: First of all, we arevery much interested in history and we’ve learned a lot while making the game. Steve Negus, our writer, is a super history nerd and a great source of knowledge. There are a lot of really interesting, knowledgeable people in our community as well.

We aim to keep the game balanced between fun and realism. What’s important is that whatever mechanics we use are believable within the world we’ve created. We try to use history as a source of inspiration rather than a script to follow. But we’re always surprised by the number of inspiring ideas that come from historical research. As we dig into it, we find so much that we can use.

RPS: What changes have you made to combat?

Yavuz: The idea was to keep the basic mechanics that worked really well but to evolve them and to add mechanics so that everything feels more natural and polished. We’ve redone almost every animation with mo-cap and thrown in some physics-based calculations as well, which actually work to balance the speed of animations.

As you play, you realise that doing certain actions feels faster or slower according to the situation of your body. You don’t need to learn lots of combinations and controls, but you’ll come to understand the tempo and the rhythm of it in a naturalistic way, and you’ll catch certain methods and be able to use then more intuitively.

RPS: Can you talk about how minor factions will work?

Yavuz: We can’t share too much information on minor factions yet. They’re a way to make the game world richer, as well as the lore. The exact mechanics aren’t quite as rich as with the core factions but they open up new possibilities.

RPS: You’ve mentioned elsewhere that modding support is important to you. What are your plans for Bannerlord modding?

Yavuz: The modding scene is something that we are really fortunate to have. We’re blessed with a great community, and the modding tools are one of the things that we want to develop as much as possible and to the highest possible standards. We were able to draw a lot of lessons from the things that we did and didn’t do well with the previous games, so we’re fixing some of the mistakes and coming up with a much better system.

There is a very rich scene editor that people can use and we’ll also have very powerful scripting tool, written in C#. The goal is to make sure that even after the game is released, we’ll be able to patch and change things, with as little effect on the mods as possible. And further to that, we’re trying to come up with a system that makes it possible for different mods to work together.

The community also creates lots of fanfiction – the world is important to them and we’re making it richer this time around. The lore isn’t at the forefront though and part of the reason that it’s not so pronounced is that the game also works a bit different each time you play. Part of the lore becomes your own personal history. In Bannerlord, there’s more dialogue, more small stories and more interesting characters, but each player’s experience of the game will be unique. We build algorithms that enable narrative rather than scripts.

RPS: A cooperative campaign is a holy grail for a lot of Mount & Blade fans. Is it a possibility?

Yavuz: It’s very difficult to do, not just because of the technical difficulty, but also to make things practically playable when we have two people doing wildly different things in real-time. One player might be trying to have a very exciting battle that is the climax of a very important experience, and one player just beforehand decides to go to town and look at the marketplace. These people have to be in the same gameworld and it’s very difficult to make sure that they’re both enjoying themselves and all having a great campaign experience simultaneously. It’s almost impossible without cutting down on what the game offers.

There may be another way to manage all of those things, by limiting the co-op to one kind of campaign. Let people play together as a party and have them always be together. That might be possible and that may be the the only kind of co-op that we can deliver. It’s something we’re experimenting with and that we have worked on. We’ll only officially announce something if we can make it 100% efficient and fun to play though.

RPS: If you could point to one thing that has improved since Warband, what would it be?

Yavuz: It’s the way that you’re involved with the game world. In Warband, the player didn’t have enough ways to interact with it. There was, for example, no way to hold proper diplomacy and conversations due to very limited dialogue choices. I think that’s one of the most important things that we tried to address.

Whenever you feel that you’d like to do something in the game, you have a much better chance of being able to do that thing in Bannerlord. Say you’re cornered in a castle and you have your enemy’s son as a prisoner. You might want to give him his son back so that he’ll leave you alone – those things will be much more possible in Bannerlord. You’ll be able to interact much more with the game characters and the game world than was possible in Warband.

RPS: And finally, how close are you to release, will you consider Early Access, and have you been building foundations for the future as well as for this one game?

Yavuz: We’re still not too close to release unfortunately. We are considering Early Access, or perhaps an open beta of some sort. We definitely want to involve players at some point so they can dig in and help with final touches and game balance.

And, yes, the big challenge was to make a platform for the future with this game. That’s one reason that it took so long. At the beginning, some of the choices that we made – technological and design – were suboptimal. They became limiting factors when we wanted to add more things, which led to having to do things two or three times. We’ve improved in that regard. But the most important thing is to make this a great game, which can hopefully then be a great foundation not only for mods and expansions, but for future games and projects.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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46 Comments

  1. khaoselement says:

    I’ll preface this by saying that I am one of the biggest M&B fanboys on the planet, but I would pay SO MUCH MONEY for even the most basic co-op campaign in this. Lock us to the same party, make it so I’m just a stooge in my friend’s party waiting until we’re in town/battle to do anything. I’m totally cool with it.

    So excited for this game…

    • Tuidjy says:

      It is somewhat clunky, and nowhere as good as having it natively would be, but the Battletime mod already allows you to join a friend in his campaign battles. You may want to check it out.

      I hope that Bannerlord has at least this much coop functionality.

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      Qazinsky says:

      You and me both. Me and my brother have been playing this game over the years and the thing we keep coming back to discuss is “How awesome would coop be?” (Answer: Totes!).

      It’s also very hard to understand how they could do that ‘perfect’, so to speak, allowing two (or more) players to join the same game as their own character and then be allowed to do whatever, fight each other, team up, travel independently of each other, seeing as the game is based so much on pause on the world map. If for example I decide to fight an enemy, what would happen to the other player, that’s not involved in the fight? Will he be paused on the map? Will he be allowed to move about? Could he take the opportunity to roll up to my undefended town and autoresolve capture it?

      The one player is the regular character, the other makes his own companion that joins said characters army seems like the easiest compromise, allow them to take part of looting and gearing up, maybe even get a salary they can use when the army is in town.

      Seeing as my brother prefers the role of the merchant that hides behind a shield, behind a huge army and I prefer the front line general playstyle, this could probably work reasonanly well. Maybe even let the leader assign troops to the companion player to order around.

      • WIbigdog says:

        So, with this I was thinking they could take the Total War approach to battles. When a battle starts, everyone gets asked how they want to do the battle. They could either
        A. Spectate
        B. Join as a hero/soldier in the player’s army
        C. Join as a hero/soldier on the enemy’s army.

        This would allow for the overworld map to be paused for everyone while the battle is going on. And then as far as playing on the map goes, for pausing you could borrow from something like HoI3 where anyone can pause at any time, but after so many seconds anyone can unpause.

        Going into a town would no longer pause time, but it would also rest your troops and yourself while you’re doing your business there.

        Doesn’t seem that complicated to get a proper implementation in that would support 2+ players.

    • BenSeawalker says:

      My suggestion for how an online campaign would work would be similar to how you see the AI engaging in battles. In multiplayer there would be no pausing, your party will always be doing something on the map, and when another player enters battle you just see their graphical representation on the map, and can join or ignore it just like you can with the AI.

      • doubou says:

        Sorry BenSeawalker, didn’t ‘sea’ your comment which is exactly what I thought they should do :P

    • doubou says:

      Another way they could get this to work is to eliminate the pause option. That means time passes normally whether you’re in a battle or a menu or traversing the world map. The problem that would arise from this is possibly making the game feel too fast so the game-time would have to slow down significantly, maybe even down to like one in-game hour every minute. This would lead to all sorts of other issues that would have to be fixed but I think if it’s polished enough it should still be very fun. Please add on any other little additions you may have to my idea :D (Also please note that this would be a separate campaign from plain old singleplayer, which would still be pause-able.)

  2. Abacus says:

    I wanted it to be GOTY 2016, but it’s looking more and more like it’ll be GOTY 2017. I’ve sunk sooo much time into Warband, its DLC, and its mods. Even ended up falling into a regiment in a Napoleonic Wars mod and I play the game nearly every day of the week. I’d love to see them bringing back DLC made by devs such as Flying Squirrel Entertainment.

  3. Hyena Grin says:

    Warband is one of my all-time favorite games, and every time I decide to delve into it I know I’m going to turn into a hermit for another hundred hours or so worth of gameplay.

    So yeah, wildly looking forward to this, and also dreading it because I get the feeling it’s gonna ruin my social life for a while.

    A cooperative campaign, even a really basic version of one where it’s a single party but cooperative in battles/towns, would go a long way to preserving a friendship or two. Haha.

    • Hyena Grin says:

      Honestly, having two people in a battle who can control different troops would be a lot of fun and open up new strategies that would be too micro-intensive for a single person, like complex flanking maneuvers with cavalry, and ranged ambushes, and things of that nature. I’d be totally down with that, even if it means giving up direct party control.

  4. BlackeyeVuk says:

    Oh yiss. Mothefucking bannerlords. They are smart dudes, trying to create even better product so it may live on with modding for eons to come.

    Prophecy of Pendor for live yo. Btw peeps, 3.7 is out. 3.8 soon.
    Later whitegies and niggas.

  5. Chalky says:

    I loved the original and I’m really looking forward to this coming out, but I have to ask, why on earth are they still using that font? It’s always been a janky part of the UI and it’s really weird to see them putting such effort into better graphics only to have some grainy comic sans scrawled on it.

  6. Sinjun says:

    Damn, sounds like 2017 then. Looks amazing.

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    Sam says:

    I remember this fellow’s name from when I emailed the company a number of years back asking when Steam would get more product keys (there was a run on them during a sale of the original M&B), and he replied back to me lickety-split.

    Happily, I’m in position now where I can full price for Bannerlord.

    • Davie says:

      I must have heard it years ago when I first bought the original M&B. It’s one of those names that just sticks in your head. This interview finally jogged my memory as to who he was.

  8. Uglycat says:

    Please, no more cattle escort missions.

    • Replikant says:

      Like when your factions warleader orders you to get some cattle for the beseiging forces, only to break of the siege for no reason a few hours later? ;) They did capture the mulish nature of cows quite well with the mechanics, though…

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        Qazinsky says:

        I’ve been told to go get some cattle and when I come back, they are almost done with the fight, should I take the hint?

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    X_kot says:

    I still fondly remember paying for the original game before it was finished before that was really a thing. Great devs, great community – really excited for this one!

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    caff says:

    I just hope it retains the ability to run 100+ player servers like the previous games.

    Playing the Napoleonic Wars mod for Warband was one of the greatest multiplayer experiences I’ve had.

  11. Orillion says:

    I’m a bit wary of them giving NPCs the ability to poach your lords. The biggest problem to overcome in game design isn’t how to make a bunch of intricate systems form a simulation where everything works beautifully, it’s making sure that all of the important and relevant information is conveyed to the player in a concise and engaging way. It will never be fun to lose a major resource (like a lord in this case) due to what appears from all angles to be a decision made by the RNG.

    Yet, I feel like in something like M&B, conveying the knowledge to the player properly is also arming them to prevent something like that from happening. It remains to be seen if they can pull it off, but I have my doubts.

    • Tuidjy says:

      I am not worried about this at all. You can already lose a lord by failing to maintain a good relation with him. I assume that just as it is impossible for the Warband player to convince an upstanding lord to betray a liked, powerful monarch, it will be impossible for the Bannerlord AI to convince a decent lord to betray a player who has not screwed up. I fully expect that debauched, sadistic, and quarrelsome lords will be easy to lose, but the rest will be loyal to a player that treats them right… or whatever the new personalities are. This is not EA, I doubt they will be cutting features and ‘streamlining’ things like personalities.

    • Arathorn says:

      What really annoyed me about the original was that after a set time, lords would completely forget their allegiances and start switching sides all the time, making it impossible to come to some kind of conclusion. It was also completely random, which made it all the more frustrating.

      I really hope Bannerlords will have some way of a: measuring your lords’ loyalty and b: giving you the opportunity to intervene in time. A way of getting evidence of treason and being able to legally imprison a lord would be great.

      • tigershuffle says:

        hopefully they might factor in hostages (taking family as wards etc) to ensure loyalty. Historically accurate and something even Game of Thrones gets quite well.

        Really excited about a reboot of a classic that ive played since it first appeared and have ran through most of the mods over the years. :)

  12. abHowitzer says:

    I cannot believe it’s been four years since this game was announced. I feel like I’ve been waiting for Bannerlord for a decade. I really, really, _really_ hope it’ll be released sometime soon. Warband.. I’ve played it a thousand hours over, and I’m kind of done with it – or so it seems. I know it inside and out, and I’m really hoping Bannerlord brings home the Warband experience in a new and improved fashion, and from this interview, that seems to be the case.

  13. racccoon says:

    Putting the word Mount & Blade does not help the game or any games with this added to a new releases. I just think of a poorly moving game that just keep going sideways.

  14. satan says:

    I could have sworn I read somewhere a year or two ago that a co-op campaign was going to be in M&B2 from the start.

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    Elusiv3Pastry says:

    “Yavuz: With Warband, we felt we had…” SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

  16. Geetha22 says:

    very informative blog. Helps to gain knowledge about new concepts and techniques. Thanks for posting information in this blog

  17. stormy says:

    Great interview! Thanks for doing it.

  18. Blastaz says:

    In reverse order: fancier graphics. Ability to start as a King. Make countries easier to manage. Bigger battles. Auto resolve that works.

    • carmineap says:

      It’d be awesome to be able to manage castles/towns/etc in chunks. By county, by district, by country, so you don’t have to individually worry about every place. It’d make management massively easier. One county appears to be dissenting? Oh, let’s see where that issue is and resolve it. Otherwise our brains explode.

      • carmineap says:

        *otherwise town management becomes whackamole of rebellions, etc. Risk turns into that, and it’s total hell.

  19. tonicer says:

    I just hope they don’t scrap the first person perspective that always feels so immersive and cool. And of course i hope there will never be a console version of this.

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    phuzz says:

    That last picture; Conan! What is best in life?!

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      Qazinsky says:

      …Spending 15 minutes in the character creation screen to get those pecs juuust right?

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    cpt_freakout says:

    I truly believe this will be the Game to End All Games.

  22. BathroomCitizen says:

    Coop? Yes, please.

  23. Redriotgrrrl says:

    One thing that opens up in this setting is the use of female characters. In Warband we had female nobles but they didn’t have armies and they weren’t commanders, because that didn’t fit with the time period. But if you go back in time a little bit, you see that a lot of societies did have female leaders. It was much more prevalent and it’s something that we’ve implemented. It’s an fascinating period to explore culturally and gives us a lot more freedom to create some new social dynamics.

    Yeah, I’m sorry, but this is simply not true. The European Middle Ages have a long history of strong female rulers, many of whom were also competent warleaders. Their historical advisor was not doing his job. Based on the weaponry and armor available, I would put the period for Mount and Blade no later than equivalent to the 15th century (suits of plate were fully developed by 1420), possibly as early as the late 14th. I did a little research and found several female warleaders; one famous example is Jeanne d’Arc, of course, but there was also Maria of Sicily in the 15h century, and Joanna of Flanders in the late 14th. This is not to say, of course, that they were at all common; they clearly were not. But they existed, contrary to the claim made above.

    Furthermore, Calradia is not RL Medieval Europe, it’s a fantasy world. It would have been very possible for TaleWorlds Interactive to make this game more inclusive of female gamers (such as myself). Indeed, my inability to gain fiefs and titles is one of the reasons that I grew bored with the game (quite apart from the fact that I ran out of money and am having to fight in the arena constantly to earn it).

    TaleWorlds was simply being sexist. I definitely look forward to Bannerlords, however, as it will be very fun to obtain fiefs and eventually contest the throne myself.

    • Tannith says:

      @ Redriotgrrrl
      (full disclosure: I signed up with RPS to argue with you! I’ll be really polite, though)

      You confess to having gotten bored with the game, and you also say that you weren’t awarded fiefs. I’m very much female, and always play a female character, and I can tell you that there’s one guaranteed way to gain fiefs, as a female player character, without ever having to ask a king for anything.

      First, you have to play. Warband doesn’t give you anything. You have to take it, even as a male player character. The guys will tell you that they start off with a character as weak as any female character. Sure, they get asked to be vassals, but that actually doesn’t mean much, because the first fief they get is the worst village, right on the border, and it’s usually wartime, and it’s been looted already. And being asked to be a vassal is crap in other ways: if you say no, that king gets mad at you.

      So there’s a better way: pwn bandits and sell all their junk, and while you’re at it, you level up your character. Leveling up is almost a science. Look up the different character builds and decide how you’d like to play, then follow the build guide to the letter. Don’t try to be a horse-archer on your first go-round, because that’s the build that takes the most game-skill to get right. Make your character into a tank, and she’ll laugh when she gets hit instead of getting knocked out.

      When your renown is up to about 300, and when you have at least fifty men, most trained up to top tier, lurk around on the map and wait for a caravan of the faction you like the least, and attack it (but NOT Rhodoks! They’ll murdalize you. Try Khergits or Sarranids to start). After that all the faction’s towns, castles, and villages will regard you as an enemy. That faction is bound to be at war with another faction, and guess what: that other faction is now your de facto ally. If you see them fighting, you can go and join the battle and help them. You’ll get more experience that way. It’s also really important to join in sieges, and again this is about getting experience, and not only XP, but learning how to win a siege. You can join ongoing sieges from either position, attacking or defending, and you need to put in time on both.

      Now let’s say you’ve been doing this a while. You’re that faction’s permanent enemy. They hate you, and you feel that you’ve got enough experience to take on a siege alone. You’ve got tons of money from robbing their caravans. You’ve built up an army of ~200 men. Perfect! Now go find a castle that has a weak garrison, and siege it by yourself.

      As soon as you take that castle, you’ll get the magic screen that asks you to name your kingdom.

      Who needs kings, huh? Not you, cos you just became queen :)

  24. zarfh says:

    I have allready enjoyed M&B Warband the most when playing it with a friend (even when actually not physically playing myself). Therefore the prospect of having a real co-op (if even just for the battles) is just totally amazing.

  25. Insignus says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this for awhile, and it seems like they’ve taken some good lessons from warband. The dialogue options and the AI improvements in sound like they’ll add more depth to the game.

    P.S. Question 4, Paragraph 16, Line 1, you’re missing a space “First of all, we arevery” Not to be that guy.

  26. Trooper Pilot3 says:

    Will they seriously add the ability for you to kill lords? That just does not sound like warband. Some players may end up killing most of the lords and very few warbands would be left. You probably will be adding a lot more lords and areas though. Will you add a search bar if you need to find a certain lord or area?