British strategy captains The Creative Assembly have used their lead designer James Russell's talk at GDC to reveal that they are creating a multiplayer game based on the Total War series. It's called Total War: Arena [URL dead at the time of writing, but I am told it will appear there], and it will be free-to-play, based on the original Total War multiplayer, and feature 10 vs 10 battles.
I saw the announcement and will serve up some additional details for you just below.
This is a new game made for multiplayer, and as such it's "Total War's online multiplayer battle arena," says Russell. It's not, however, any kind of DOTA clone, it is "an MMO of the Total War multiplayer", with additional layers of design to accomodate that position. The meat of the experience will be 10v10 team based battles, with players controlling just three units, with a maximum of 500 men each. These battles will be similar to or bigger than the existing multiplayer.
Russell explains that the game will be based on co-op gameplay, forcing people to have to work together, with the guy controlling archers supporting assault troops, spear-guy keeping the archers free of harassment from cavalry, and so on. The template reminds me a little of World In Conflict's model for multiplayer, where no one player could have access to all the tools for victory on the field.
Outside this real-time battle game will be a "progression wrapper, where players can upgrade generals, units, and items." This is the layer of persistence for players: a commander and units that will be developed, become veterans, and so on.
Russell also talked a little about the issues around the game being free to play, and said that the monetisation concept is about accelerators, about advancing progression, and he stressed that most content will be free. It's just a case of looking at how quickly you can get it.
Battles, he claimed, will still evoke the same skill-based antics as the classic game, and are to have "no free to play distortions." He also claimed that the game would employ "balanced matchmaking", requiring a large population, so that's the main reason for f2p. Russell said that Arena should end up being more accessible than the usual multiplayer format, precisely because of the greater traffic and reduced focus on individual talent: "Playing in a team of ten is far less intimidating than playing 1v1 on TW MP, especially for new players," he claimed.
There's a major design challenge for Arena, of course, which Russell admits is the reduction to just three units. He explains: "In TW you can control 20 units, where in Arena you can control just 3. 20 is a lot of management, requires expertise, and CA want that for Arena. It has to be as active and skill-based as the classic game."
This means that the original game's template has to be heavily adapted: "With three units there are far fewer degrees of freedom. Things which are passive and automated in TW has to be active n Arena". This means lots of manual actions, such as manual cavalry charges, manual aiming, and so forth. Needs to be same actions per minute as the original games, says Russell. They are still early in development, and intend to continue developing after launch, so a lot of the concrete details of how this will work are far from settled.
Another aspect of this comes via a new take on damage control - in TW units have 1 hit point, they are alive or dead - but in Arena things will change, specific units will take damage, so that their DPS doesn't immediately drop when men are lost. Per-man damage adds a lot of information, and makes 3-unit gameplay more complex and therefore, claims Russell, more rewarding.
Finally we are shown a non-final, entirely experimental prototype where there's drag and drop control over every soldier, allowing you to divide up units into small groups of soldiers (down to a single man) and order when away from the main unit formation. This feature, says Russell, is far from definite, but would add to skill in controlling the three unit armies on the micro-scale.
It's intriguing stuff.
And the setting? Well, Russell says that it's an ideal opportunity for The Creative Assembly to finally make a game where they can pitch commanders and soldier types from different eras of history against each other. Spartans versus Templars is finally going to be a thing.
More on this soon, no doubt. And I want to see that more before I can decide whether I really like this idea. It's got my interest, but will it actually work? Hmm!