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Talking Total War Saga: Troy – Interview With Lead Designer Todor Nikolov

Oct 17, 2019
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So, it's been quite a while since I was at Gamescom, where I got to check out a number of titles, including Total War Saga: Troy. I wrote a preview about the game at the time, though I never got around to transcribing the interview due to one thing or another. That's now been resolved!

So, I'm actually pretty happy about that because I love to talk about Total War. It's even better if I'm getting to chat to somebody behind the development of Total War and I get to pry whatever bits of information I can get out of the person. This is exactly what I tried to do with Todor Nikolov, the lead designer for Total War: Troy, talking about all the important topics, like Brad Pitt, the inclusion of mythological units and... Brad Pitt.

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Chris Wray: So first, could you just introduce yourself for the tape?

Todor Nikolov: My name is Todor Nikolov and I am the lead designer for Total War Saga: Troy,

CW: Excellent. So, Total War Saga: Troy. What was the inspiration behind the choice of Troy?

TN: Well, first of all, is the story. You know, we don't actually know whether this war was real or not. What we believe happened is that it was the late Bronze Age. After the Bronze Age passed, civilizations collapsed all across the Aegean Sea. For roughly two centuries, we know nothing about what happened during those 200 years. After that civilization reappeared. Out of the darkness from those dark ages, there came people who carried the story of the Trojan War. About the whole conflict, about Paris and Helen and Agamemnon, Achilles and Hector.

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Afterwards, these people who told the story associated themselves with the Aegeans. Those were the Greeks and the Romans believed that they were descendants of refugees who fled the burning Troy. So this is a very important storey in relation to the civilizations at whole. It's also perfect for the setting of a Total War: Saga title.

CW: Yeah, you're not wrong there. Just with the characters you've got. As you mentioned, you've got Achilles, likely Patroclus and the whole love story between Paris & Helen. So with Thrones of Britannia, there was a lot of folks on different choices, dilemmas, will Troy have the same sort of system within?

TN: Well, you could say that. We have certain aspects of the game, sometimes faction mechanics that are related to picking choices in dilemmas. We're trying to keep it as sandbox as possible, in that sense, you might never experience decisions in the game. You might actually be playing as Hector and you might be a capable Hector, who manages to drive all the invaders, even before they reach Troy. Perhaps even a Hector who takes the battle on the Greek mainland.

CW: With your characters, with Hector and others... So, the video I saw showed one on one fights, will there be singular battles, like duels between the characters, such as in Three Kingdoms?

TN: It might look like that at first glance but Total War Saga: Troy has its own thing. We have tried to make the duels between heroes as visually appealing as possible, we have created tonnes of new animations just for the combat between two heroes. When two heroes fight, they can use certain abilities that they might have available. One of those abilities is a challenge ability, which locks the two heroes for a certain amount of time, they cannot flee the battle is to the death or until the timer expires. But apart from that, is just two heroes meeting on the battlefield, fighting and using their abilities according to their skill and ability availability. So, it's different, it's different from Three Kingdoms.

CW: So, I've got to say, regarding you mentioning the increase of animation development for the heroes. So, there's an older film which I absolutely love - that would be Troy - and I would argue that the fight is arguably the best in cinematic history. Has that been an inspiration at all?

TN: Yeah, it's famous for not being historically accurate at all [laughs] but it is spectacular and it's great to watch. So it's something that we've kind of use as a sort of inspiration for our own animations. There's great variety in the number of combat animations. They depend on what the element of the hero is, so when you see a hero who is armoured with a spear and a shield against another hero armoured with a spear and a shield, they will use one set of animations. If they're facing a swordsman, it will be different for an axeman, it will be still different. There are various combinations.

CW: So one aspect that is quite interesting is how it's mentioned you're going towards the reality of things, but you're bringing in your realistic versions of mythical creatures. For example, the Minotaur. Are you thinking of bringing in more mythical beings, just making them more realistic of sorts?

TN: Yes, yes, there are more to come and more in the game already. For example, Minotaur is one of them. You saw him. He's this single entity unit, he's very powerful. He's got a certain set of abilities that are available to him only. He's actually in strength comparable to a relatively well-levelled hero, making him a mid to late game unit. Some of those mythological units that you will see in the game are actually whole units. For example, we've got the centaurs. The centaurs, we know where they've lived according to myth. If you conquer those regions on the campaign map and build certain buildings, you can recruit units of horsemen which are our grounded version of the centaurs.

Back in the Bronze Age, they hadn't adopted that style riding a horse into battle, they used them for the chariots. So if a civilised person saw another person on a horse, they would perceive them like a beast. In this way, we show the origin of the Centaur myth and it allows us to incorporate cavalry units in a game about the period where there was no cavalry.

CW: Excellent. So, that's one thing that was mentioned with the unit choice. You've put a lot of focus, due to era, particularly on infantry units. You've got your variety in light, medium and heavy infantry, limiting other styles. What I'm curious about is if you have any sort of special units that you can talk about, other than the ones based on the mythological ones, such as siege units?

TN: Well, we're going to have a certain amount of siege equipment to help you overcome some walled cities

CW: The walls of Troy maybe? [laughs]

TN: [laughs] Yeah, for example! Apart from that, we have introduced many tweaks, and many updates on how infantry units interact with one another. Some of them are much quicker than others. Not only are they quicker, but they are also quicker to turn so they can easily perform a flanking manoeuvre. They're much more deadly. We have introduced a weapon switching ability for certain units, which makes them more defensive when you need them to be defensive and more on the charge and more deadly if you're attacking.

There are also certain new terrain types like high grass, which allows certain units to hide and wait for others to approach, and mud which causes heavier infantry units to move much slower across it while lighter units will have an easier time crossing it. So there will be certain places on the battlefield where you will want to lure the enemy units, so a lot of the tactics are expected to be related to that

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