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Total War: Three Kingdoms Interview – Talking Total War with Attila Mohacsi and Al Bickham


Yesterday I posted about my hands-on impressions of Total War: Three Kingdoms. There's a lot I covered there and - of course - i recommend giving it a read. Long story short, though, I'm insanely excited for the game.

At the same event at Creative Assembly's studios in Horsham, I was able to interview Attila Mohacsi, the Lead Game Designer and Al Bickham, Development Communications Manager. What was meant to be fifteen minutes turned into 39 minutes of me asking more than I even knew I could ask about Total War: Three Kingdoms. Here's what we talked about.

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Chris Wray: Let's start with the most obvious question; why Three Kingdoms?

Attila Mohacsi: When we started on the next historical game and thinking up what we could do. We were very keen about creating something around characters. So the first time you could finally say "that's me" as a player. A clear identification of who you are in the game, not an omnipotent thing that's hard to define.

Chris: True, other than Napoleon or Alexander you never really had a defining character

Attila: To some degree, part of the inspiration is coming from those games. Then, though, it was usually just one character. Now it's how we can have a lot of characters, so every faction can have larger than life characters. We ended up finding the Three Kingdoms period. Fans had already asked for it, saying "you should make a game in China" quite a few times. In a very short time period, there are lots of very important characters

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Al Bickham: Four thousand characters

Attila: Yeah, we did the research and the first we found was like four thousand characters so we were like "okay!". Then it's like "let's go through which ones we can put in the game". At that point we stopped considering anything else, this was perfect. We started looking at other research materials like this epic historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms and also Records of the Three Kingdoms as well.

Chris: Oh I know, I've read both!

Attila: It's quite heavy to read through though. Such a different style. There are also so many characters though and as we were reading through them it was perfect. That's how we ended up doing Three Kingdoms, a perfect match for what we wanted to do.

Chris: So part of the inspiration was fans requesting it? I know I was one of the fans requesting it ever since Rome: Total War.

Attila: Part of it definitely. It was already requested by fans but it's also the perfect period for us.

Chris: So what timescale are you looking at with the game? Will you be starting from the fall of the Han and the Yellow Scarves, finishing with the rise of the Jin Dynasty under Sima Yan?

Atilla: Timewise, we start at 190ad. So, we have events that come in based on things that have happened and you can go a very very long way. But it's still reasonable. It's more like a Shogun 2 type of timeframe. So you won't move into the next dynasty. It's about the Three Kingdoms, but it can pan out in many different ways.

Chris: Based on who you pick?

Attila: Yeah

Chris: Any chance of naming all of the generals? You've mentioned that there will be eleven, I can guess maybe who, but I'd love to hear it from you.

Al: Not yet. We want to kind of roll them out over time. We've definitely got Sun Jian, Cao Cao and Liu Bei.

Chris: The three major ones of course! Though the timeline would leave an idea of who you've got in there. Such as the Yellow Scarves which would give Zhang Jiao.

Al: We're post Yellow Scarves aren't we?

Attila: Yeah, all the three major leaders have their empires.

Chris: So you've mentioned that you've got events. Will this include major events like the Battle of Red Cliff?

Attila: It depends on how you play really. The only thing we can guarantee is that 190ad is as accurate as we can get it.

Al: Everything from there is as historical or ahistorical as you want to make it.

Attila: To put it into a bit more context. We are nudging things towards the Three Kingdoms but we're not enforcing it. You will have historical events happen in the game, but it's up to you how it works. For example, Sun Jian is meant to die two years later but it might not happen for you.

Al: So another one is that Xiahou Dun loses his eye and then his character gets the eyepatch.

Attila: So how we did that in the game is that he can lose it at any point. But when he loses his eye, we have a special event in the game that hints towards the myth that he ate his eye.

Chris: Yeah, the idea that I was born with it and I'll be dying with it! One of my favourite characters from the era to be fair.

Al: My parents gave me this, I will not let it go to waste!

Attila: It's such an iconic thing. But, like an internal story, we had discussions on how important should Xiahou Dun be. There'd be arguments on boards, on the topic. We had quite a few people from China who'd jump in and say how he's one of the more important characters. Once we saw that so many people were attached to him, we made the event just for him.

Chris: So these events. Will they impact in a major way on the game, causing character deaths and such as that? A perfect example, Dian Wei protecting Cao Cao in an ambush and sacrificing himself.

Attila: It depends on your decisions. They can, but you can evade them. There were times that characters died. In some cases, we had events about it but you can get away. But you won't necessarily get ambushed. We won't enforce that he will have to die, but it could happen that he dies very early in the game depending on how you play.

Chris: So, do you know roughly how many characters you have in the game?

Al: Jesus! [laughter from all three of us] Not four thousand, but quite a lot. [Looking at Attila] Does anybody actually know that?

Chris: Am I the only one who's asked this?

Attila & Al: Yeah!

Attila: So it's like characters with names and unique personality traits, a couple of hundred. Characters with very very unique art, it's like 35 to 40. The super important ones.