I’ve always been interested in game design and to that end I’ve always wanted to make a game. So I’m writing about what motivated me to start working on my current game and what game design ideas I had.
Really it involves two parts: a franchise/genre that I love that I feel is lacking and could be better; and ideas on how to improve it. Anyway here’s the blog. Hope you enjoy it and it makes you think about what kind of game you wanna make, why you wanna make it and how you’re gonna design it.
Let’s start with: why do I want to make this game?
I’ve always loved the Total War games especially Rome: Total War. It was amazing when it came out and I played it so much. But when it first came out it was a huge mess and it was very disappointing. Performance was terrible and it was very buggy. There were no real improvements or iterations made on the original game. It was actually worse in some ways (specific engine things made the melee combat worse for example).
So after this, I never wanted to buy another game from Creative Assembly. There were some other reasons, such as some shady business practices and some things they did with Empire: Total War (which I also enjoyed immensely until they ruined it).
At this point i’ve been doing game development for about 4 years on and off. I’ve completed a couple of small shitty projects and more notably I spent about 2 years making an RTS game based on the Half Life setting. I abandoned that project because the code base became unmaintainable after focusing on progress over code quality for 2 years.
I learned a lot from this project and after it I wanted another big project. This Total War inspired game was an obvious choice. I’ve been working on and off on this project for a few months now.
I’m not really sure when I got this idea. It involves another game from my childhood: Age of Mythology, which I played way too much as a kid. The reason I liked it so much was because of the setting; I always really liked ancient mythology.
So my idea for the game was to combine Rome: Total War with Age of Mythology. Really the game would be Total War with mythological units and god powers.
The reason I like this idea so much is because the main draw of the Total War games for me has always been the spectacle of the real-time battles. No other game has a battle system like this and no game (other than Supreme Commander) has anything even close to the scale you see in Total War games. I feel that this spectacle could be greatly enhanced by some mythology.
Before I started this project I looked into the Total War: Warhammer games. Because this game has a lot of similarities to my idea even if the setting is different.
Looking at these games I noticed some issues. I personally thought that the Total War franchise had been really stagnant since Total War: Rome II and looking at Total War: Warhammer just confirmed that suspicion.
First thing is the way monstrous units are handled. The issue is that almost all these units function in the same way: very similar to cavalry. That is to say every giant monster is basically just a cavalry squad crammed into 1 unit. And the most effective way to use these units is to just charge them over and over again.
Really the issue is that the core gameplay is basically the same as the other Total War games and hasn’t been changed to accommodate for this new unit type.
Even the flying units work like this. These giant units still die to melee infantry and just don’t do much when left in melee combat. I personally found this to be very disappointing, these giant melee units should be able to easily decimate infantry squads.
The other element is the technical aspect. In 2004 Rome: Total War released and was able to render 6000+ units with pretty good quality and performance. Now 16 years later and the numbers are the same, the performance is worse and the quality isn’t even that much better.
I think this is completely unacceptable. First of all, the scale of these battles is a big part of what makes them so cool and being able to go even bigger should definitely be an achievable goal. Secondly, performance is always more important that graphical fidelity. I refuse that believe that with 16 years of progress it isn’t possible to get better performance and a bigger scale while still having modern graphics.
To me it really looks like Creative Assembly have been slacking on the game design and technical aspect of their franchise. They can easily do this because they have absolutely no competition, as I said before there is nothing similar to Total War, so people that like this style of game have really don’t have any choice.
Before I get into more details of the game design I want to address an obvious concern: How can you possibly compete with a AAA studio that has been developing this style of game and tech for it for decades?
Well the answer is I can’t. There’s no way I can expect to be able to add the same amount of units, features etc. But the truth is I don’t really need to, people can play more than one franchise. And I think the people that play Total War games are more than willing to accept some compromises for a fresh take on a genre that has become very stale.
For comparison I will point to Dauntless, a smaller indie game competing with Monster Hunter. Monster Hunter is just like Total War (though a lot better with improvements over time). Dauntless really cannot compare to the Monster Hunter: World in terms of the amount and polish of the content, the amount of features… Monster Hunter: World blows Dauntless out of the water in pretty much every aspect. But the game was still successful. Why? Because the game is still fun, so people just play both.
Honestly, you couldn’t hope for a better comparison. The similarities are so striking. Long standing franchise with AAA developer with little to no competition, indie game with a fraction of the features and content and still a success.
As a baseline for design I’ll be using Rome: Total War. I’ll mention the variations and addition to this basic formula.
The main design goals are:
- Make battles as “cool/epic” as possible. It sounds kind off dumb but I think you can understand what I mean by this.
- Make battles tactically interesting.
Note that game design is an iterative process so almost everything is subject to change.
The battle system is in my opinion the most important part of the game and it’s what I’ll spend the most time on.
First of all at a very basic level the combat functions as rock paper scissors.
Cavalry > Ranged Infantry > Melee Infantry > Cavalry
Another core concept is that attacks from behind are much more effective.
Just these 2 concepts interrupt each other in a couple ways. For one, cavalry is very strong because they move the fastest and can flank effectively. And cavalry being very strong makes melee infantry very important, add to that that heavy melee infantry can tank ranged infantry quite effectively.
In general melee infantry is the strongest in Rome: Total War (note this makes sense because the game was focused on the Roman Empire which was mostly known for their heavy melee infantry). But let’s add some more detail in unit classes.
- Light melee infantry
- Heavy melee infantry
- Light cavalry
- Heavy cavalry
- Ranged cavalry
- Skirmisher cavalry
- Ranged infantry
- Skirmisher infantry
In Rome: Total War there’s a secondary balancing mechanic, the cost of units. This is why certain unit types such as light units and skirmisher exist. However I want battles even with unlimited money to include all these types of units.
One of the issues is that light units are simply just weaker version of their heavy counterpart that are maybe slightly faster. This requires some redesign:
Light vs heavy melee infantry. Heavy infantry should be more defensive and as such should not be able to charge, light infantry should be significantly faster.
Ranged cavalry. I don’t have any ideas yet and they might not be included at all.
Light vs heavy cavalry. Light cavalry cannot charge and will not engage in melee directly. Instead they will maintain a loose formation and maintain speed, hitting units as they pass them, mainly hitting units on corners.
Skirmisher vs ranged. Skirmishers will do significantly more damage per hit and will have much less range, generally strongest vs single unit/high health targets. Infantry will mostly be protected by defense, reducing the chance the attacks do damage at all compared to infantry and cavalry which rely more on health. Besides that ranged infantry will have significantly less range to make the them less campy.
Same thing with artillery. Artillery will also serve an additional purpose in dealing with high hp single unit targets. And certain myths will have siege applications as well.
Important to note that none of these ideas are set in stone and they need to be tested.
The new unit types will be mythological creatures, many of them will be single unit groups or otherwise small amount of units per group. These new unit types include:
- Heavy melee. Cannot charge, will destroy most things in melee combat, very slow, very high health.
- Light melee. Effectively the cavalry type of myth units, is faster than most infantry can charge, does ok in melee, moderate health.
- Flying. Very fast, cannot engage in direct melee similar to light cavalry, very low health, only vulnerable to other flying or ranged attacks (may get damaged if they melee attack certain ground units)
- Ranged. Low range, AOE attack, medium hp, slow movement.
With that said, the idea is for all myth units to be fairly unique. Some might also fall into the previous categories such as heavy cavalry for centaurs.
One thing of note is that to make the larger myth units as powerful as they should be they need to be able to completely destroy hundreds of units, but that creates a balance issue as it would make these units to strong, the solution is to increase the amount of units per squad. This has the benefit of just generally being cooler.
Stamina won’t be a thing, I think this is a mechanic that just doesn’t add a lot. In relation to that change no running/walking, units will move at the same speed except for special abilities and maybe charging.
Some units will have unique abilities especially myth units.
These will be unlocked based on the strategy map. They are effectively global abilities which can be used at will, think of things like lightning bolt, meteors, tornadoes, resurrecting units, providing some strong buff, summoning something etc. See god powers in age of mythology, the sky is pretty much the limit with this one.
Each power would be linked to a god that matches it, like lighting bolt for Zeus, which is based on how you invest your resources on strategy map. Some abilities might have cooldown and some might have limited uses. And there will probably be a limit to the amount of different abilities you can pick for a battle (choose a set of abilities before a battle starts)
Some ideas that are less likely to be implemented
Expansive upgrade system for human and myth units. Including things like myth weapons/armor for regular units.
Grand strategy system
In general, this system will be simplified compared to Rome: Total War. There will be fewer territories/cities and only 3 (unique) factions. The 3 main resources will be gold, food and divine favor.
- Food representing general growth of a city.
- Gold is used for creating buildings and units.
- Divine Favor for myth units/buildings.
There will be 3 faction types: Greek, Egyptian, and Norse. Each faction will have:
- Phalanx unit (heavy melee infantry)
- Light infantry
- Ranged infantry
- Light cavalry
- Heavy cavalry
- Heavy melee myth
- Light melee myth
- Flying myth
- Ranged myth
Each faction will have around 12 to 15 units, and possibly every unit will have an upgraded version with better armor/weapons.