While at the Wargaming office in San Francisco, I met with Creative Assembly’s Developer Communications Joshua Williams to get some insight behind Total War’s first free-to-play PvP title: Total War Arena. Total War Arena is being developed by Creative Assembly and being published by Wargaming as part of the Wargaming Alliance, which helps publish free-to-play games. The game is currently in closed beta and will be free-to-play with a similar progression system as World of Tank and the other Wargaming titles. Joshua and the Wargaming Alliance team showed MMORPG an exclusive trailer for Sulla, Total War Arena’s newest Roman commander. Joshua is a veritable cornucopia of historical facts and he exudes passion for the project and all things Total War. He is, however, an awful commander who led us into defeat after defeat in what became a victory-less evening.
MMORPG: What responsibilities do you have as Developer Communications?
JW: I do a lot of community discord on the subreddit and discord but I also help design future factions. I do a lot of the historical research into future commanders and future factions. I’m kind of a gateway so that when new content is coming out, I’ll do a pass on it and make sure that it is historical and all lines up. That normally takes a couple of days. A dev will send me an idea for a faction or a couple of units that they have in that faction and I’ll spend a couple of days researching them all making sure they work. So yea, I have a fluid job. It means that I can come out to events like this and I can talk to people with authority because I actually helped check a lot of that stuff.
MMORPG: The team has already announced new maps and mentioned increasing the number of factions and commanders. There is only one game mode currently. Will there be others?
JW: We’ve worked really hard on the one core mechanic. We did loads of different prototypes with different player numbers, different unit numbers, and this is the one we found to be the most fun so we focused on this. But as I say this, I have also tried out like 2 or 3 different prototypes for different game modes. We are still exploring. Hopefully, we’ll find that one soon that’s just as fun as our other game mode. When we have that, we can really start to expand on it like we have with this one But at the moment, we’re focusing on refining our current one and making the core gameplay as fun as possible. That’s why we’re adding in the new meta stuff as well. We want new game modes, absolutely. It’s finding the ones that match the epic scale and having the really cool battle: the scene of ten versus ten, having huge skirmishes everywhere. When we have something that still has that sense of awe and tactical components to it, that’s when we’ll start looking at that.
MMORPG: Right now archers are the only unit that can benefit from a structure by manning walls. Will there be other structures that might benefit other units, other than the watchtowers?
JW: I’ve never been asked that question. I haven’t seen anything or know of anything about that. I know we have a lot of questions about siege mode, which is something about how that would work. We know siege mode is something that’s highly demanded. And that’s something we’ll try to prototype and try to find something that works with that. In terms of other buildings that benefit units, I don’t know of anything.
MMORPG: What about interactables?
JW: Ah, right. So we know there is a demand for intractable types of terrain and stuff like that. Demolishable buildings. It’s like everything we do, like when we took stuff out of the beta. It’s about if it makes the game better. We don’t want to put stuff in for the sake of putting stuff in. We could have fifty commanders by now. There are so many people from history that we could’ve just thrown loads in, but we want it so that every time we add content to the game that it is adding something unique, something tactical. We don’t want to just react and throw a new game mode out in two weeks and get that out and it turns out that game mode is much worse than our current one. So buildings and destructibles and stuff like that is something we’re looking at. That’s something our map team is interested in. But it’s about whether it would add anything to the game.
We’ve had questions about a weather system as well. We’re totally on board with doing a cosmetic weather system. So say one map has a variant where there is snow and stuff like that. But in terms of whether that affected gameplay, would that be fun? We’ve already got so many tactical elements as well and adding an element of randomness seems to detract from that. If you load up a map suddenly and it’s raining and your archers don’t do as much damage players will figure ‘why would I bring archers.’ We want to eliminate as much randomness as possible. That’s how you get true tactical gameplay. When there is the least randomness but you’re in a situation and you can access the situation and you know exactly what’s going to happen when you right click, when you move onto a certain type of terrain. That’s what we are aiming for.
When we look at a map we try to think of terrain that will benefit every unit. So a good location for artillery to set up but then because that location is usually so obvious players with artillery don’t normally set up there because everyone knows that’s where the artillery is going to set up. It makes really interesting meta when we design terrain that is built up for one type of unit and then they never use it. That’s why we try to make the maps look a lot more balanced and give multi options for players to set up. It’s about making maps balanced for all factions. And we know that’s going to become more complicated as we’re adding more factions and more unit types and that’s why everything we do we don’t rush it out.
MMORPG: Outside of the Total War Avatar title, Total War Arena is really the first multiplayer PvP title from Creative Assembly.
JW: In Avatars, you had a person and you’d move him around the map and then you fight battles and if you win that battle you claim that bit of the map. Something we’re looking at is clan conquest that is inspired by that. That’s something in early stages but we’re looking at because we know people want to play as clans. So clan system we’re working on. It will be an enhancement in the meta. So you join a clan and you can play the kind of clan conquest mode. We’re working at how that will play. But we definitely want players to be able to play the Shogun II and Avatars style conquest.
MMORPG: How is developing a PvP only game different from the single player type of game CA normally creates?
JW: The total war team has grown massively. We developed new departments. Departments that other Total War games just don’t even have like live service departments and server ones. There was never a need before. The first year really was a huge learning curve for us. We’ve hit a point now where we can constantly release patches on time and when we plan for them. We have evolved into a much more well-oiled machine in that now we have processes so there is never a team just sitting around doing nothing. We find that it’s working out really well in terms of how we’ll be rolling out content in the future as well.
MMORPG: What incentives are there for players who max out their favorite commander to continue playing that commander?
JW: Firstly it should be fun, obviously. But that’s also why we’ve added stuff like profile leveling and additional ways for players to get more out of the battles. We’re also looking at maybe a prestige system with profile leveling for people who then max that out. We are looking for way to enhance that because we know that people love to progress. But at tier ten, people tend to stick around with their tier ten commanders and play for more competitive reasons because it’s no longer about getting new abilities and equipment because you’ve got them all. It becomes about playing for the competition of it. At the moment we see the tier tens at a purely competitive place. That’s why you won’t find premium units at tier nine and ten because that is the competitive spot to be. That might change with the implementation of ranked but we’ll have to wait and see.
MMORPG: You said earlier in the office that the armies and commanders are focused in the Ancient Era for now. How far in history do you think the team will explore for new content?
JW: So we have Japan. And the period of Japan we are looking at is past the Ancient Era because if we had Japan at that similar time in history they wouldn’t have been able to compete. It’s going to be very much guided by the players. The feedback to Japan so far has been really positive. People just can’t wait to see samurai fighting romans. That’s always been our goal, to have this really cool thing where you can see different eras in battle. We are looking at different eras. That’s discussions we’ve had, too. If we did different eras how you would compensate for technology? That’s why we want to have the core balance done for these factions so we can see that they work and base other factions off of that. You might know that in other Total Wars that it’s fine having units that are overpowered because it’s all single player. It’s fine if one unit is objectively better than another. But you can’t have that here.
There’s always got to be a trade off where if something is more powerful in attack, it’s weaker in defense of something like that. That’s something we’ve had to learn a lot, too, is balancing. And we’re hitting a point where we’re happier and happier with how balance is turning out. War dogs were released. People thought they were unbalanced at first, but we did the typical CA approach where we waited and we watched. And now we’re seeing people say War Dogs are underpowered. It’s about letting people find the counters to them. We don’t want to hold players hands and let players work it out.