Medieval II: Total War developer diary

By on July 24, 2006

A developer diary focusing on diplomacy.

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Developer Diary – Diplomacy

Dan Toose,
Game Designer, Creative Assembly Australia.

Hey, my name’s Dan Toose, one of the designers focused on the campaign aspect of Medieval II: Total War, including among many things, overseeing our redesign of the diplomacy system. Thanks to the tireless efforts of programmer Scott Lowther to help make the designs a reality, we’re able to share a bit about the thinking behind how we’ve revamped the Total War way of dealing with the other powers in the world.

In Rome: Total War the diplomacy system handled each diplomatic proposal in such a way as to ‘wrap up’ a collection of offers and/or demands as a whole proposal. When the player sent the AI a proposal, they would get a response which would ideally give them an indication as to what happened and why. Despite the admirable work done to create the ‘packaged proposal’ system, we had come to the conclusion that there was still too much mystery in Total War diplomacy.

Upon revising the system for Medieval II, we felt that the key means to improve diplomacy was to do away that ‘mystery’ factor, or at least make things less mysterious than they were – after all, unless you can read minds, there’s always a little mystery in negotiation.

It prompted the question, “What is diplomacy?” – Our answer was that the negotiation aspect of diplomacy is all about two things:
Trying to read what the other party wants
Creating a proposal that takes that knowledge into account, and helps you get what you want

Reading the other party – Their Situation

To start offering the player some extra information about what the other party needs or wants, we looked at ways to go about offering that sort of knowledge without making the AI an open book. To do this, we chose some key points to relate to the player that describe things about the other faction’s place in the world – these things offered some vague hints as to what may be a good or bad thing to include in a diplomatic proposal. These include things such as:
Their military power
Their financial power
Their reputation
Their relations with your faction
Anything they are known to be actively seeking from your faction

After all, there is no point in asking a very poor faction for a lot of money, as it’s something that they may not be able to comply with. If that same faction however had lots of military forces, perhaps it could be asked for assistance in a war.

Reading the other party – Their Reaction

There is one particular element of diplomacy we wanted to convey to the player in a much more precise way, and that’s the AI’s reaction to what the player has proposed. After all, when you’re haggling with someone in real life, it is generally easy to tell if their decision was a close call or not. We didn’t want a player who made a proposal that was only JUST rejected to feel that they were way off the mark. Conversely, we didn’t want a player who’d made an incredibly insulting offer to make the mistake of thinking their offer was reasonable, or simply just a ‘no’.

Our solution to this dilemma was to show the AI’s ‘Demeanour’ after every proposal the player makes. It doesn’t stop the player from insulting the AI, or giving way too generous an offer, but it does let them know when that’s happened, allowing them to make a better proposal next time around. We always wanted the first proposal to require some smarts, then ‘feel’ out the bumps in the counters.

Understanding your own proposal
While common sense allowed most players to form intelligent proposals in Rome: Total War, the diplomacy system itself didn’t tell the player when they were making a good or bad offer. For example – the player may ask for an alliance with another faction, but has no idea if that is deemed to be a good or bad offer by the game’s terms.

To take out some of the mystery, we devised a system that informs the player if their proposal is generous, demanding or balanced BEFORE they present it to the AI. This means that the player will be aware if the offer they are making is extortionate or generous in the Medieval II world. This will prove extremely useful for a player who desperately wants to strengthen or worsen their relationship with another faction.

Learning how to push your luck
If the player pays attention to their proposal balance and the other faction’s current position, they are actually armed with the information to not only make a balanced proposal, but also try and make a proposal that is demanding – while still being appealing to the other party.

For example, let’s say you’re dealing with a faction that has lots of money, and desperately needs military aid. You could create a proposal that offers military aid against their enemy, in exchange for a huge sum of money. The proposal itself may be rather demanding, but for the AI faction that needs military aid more than money, it may be an offer they can’t refuse.

So long as the player takes note of the proposal balance, the AI’s situation, and their reaction via the demeanour display, they have everything they need to know to make an intelligent proposal, and also how to intelligently make a better offer based on how the AI reacts.

One final aspect of ‘pushing your luck’ can be felt when you make several proposals in one sitting. The people you deal with can alter their take on you depending on the nature of your proposals. If you keep making outrageous demands, you WILL annoy someone.

What else matters?
Exposing what the other person was thinking is one thing, but to truly convey the nature of a reaction you really need to sample a human quality – we chose to use speech. That involved coming up with a system that can detect varying degrees of reaction and assigning appropriate voice acting to convey that reaction as desired. Best of all, the feedback is immediate – You’ll know when just a few more florins will sweeten a deal enough… or when you’ve been insulting.

Aside from its use to the player, we really wanted this to be an area of the game where you can get a feel for the people you’re dealing with. A large amount of dialogue was recorded and we’ve significant upped the number of accents included in the game compared to previous Total War titles, so when you deal with the French in diplomacy, you hear a Frenchman delivering the dialogue.

What else does diplomacy touch?
Armed with the ability to measure how insulting or appreciated something was, AI factions can now have their view towards you altered in degrees. This means the player’s behaviour in diplomacy will actually effect what they have to face in their campaign.

We then applied the same philosophy of exposing a shift in stance from the actual act of diplomacy, out into the whole faction relations system that tracks what every faction thinks of every other faction. When things either break down between two factions, or relations improve – the player is notified.

What’s next here?
For us, adding in more speech than we’d originally planned, and then… tuning and testing – Something that the mod community may well also be able to dabble in without too much issue.


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