Posted January 5, 2015 by Peter in Interviews

Interview – Pawel Wojs and Simon Mann (Total War: Attila)

Total War Attila logo
Total War Attila logo

The Total War series has reached its 15th year, and is still going strong. As well as forthcoming titles branching into newer territories such as MMO Total War: Arena and a sequel to mobile tile Total War Battles, a new title is due in the series proper – Total War: Attila. Games Fiends got to speak to lead artist Pawel Wojs and designer Simon Mann about the game and series in general.

Whereas the previous Total War game, Rome 2, is centred upon the heights of the Roman Empire, Attila begins in the year 395, when the Roman Empire has divided into two and is in terminal decline. This has given space for a lot of smaller factions to begin expanding, giving the player access to a large number of groups as they develop settlements, establish an economy and – most obviously – produce armies to fight the large scale battles the series is known for.

But the nomadic nature of some of these factions also pave the way for a new mechanic – factions without settlements, as Simon Mann explains. “This is a fresh mechanic for us. [...] Events of the period, all these migrating tribes… we can’t not do it really. And we’ve created a whole new gameplay in the end for this system, so you’ve got your faction you can move around, you can have multiple hordes as well – as a horde faction you can have three or four hordes, they can all be in different places, they’re all totally self-sufficient, self-sustaining armies basically.”
Total War Attila screen
Of course, life is not completely mobile, and temporary settlements are needed. Simon elaborates further: “They’re carrying tents, they’ve got wagons, they’ve got everything. Any time they can settle, and go into their ‘encamped stance’ as we call it [...] They’ve got sets of buildings, they have their own building chains, complete construction queue, and that allows them to recruit units, continue building buildings, but they only gain the effects and benefits of those buildings while they’re encamped. So while you’re moving you lose all the bonuses, you use all the food up, you lose all of the gold upkeep, the ability to recruit units, [although] you can still recruit mercenaries [...] So it’s in your best interest to settle, pick up when fertility drops or when the local faction doesn’t really want you there any more because you have a negative effect on the regions that you stay in.”

But as Pawel Wojs explains, this tends to be the starting point rather than the goal for most nomadic groups. “Ultimately, as most of those factions you ultimately want to find a place where you can settle, and actually become a faction that’s settled in a city, and then start growing your regions and expanding like you would.” But there is one key exception. “The Huns on the other hand are very much not like that. They can’t settle, they are permanently nomadic, so their ultimate objective is to subjugate and destroy as much as possible.”

They also have an effect on regions they’re in, the trait named rather succinctly as ‘Death’, and in practice preventing anything regenerating while they are there. Simon gives an example of how this may affect things. “You might not even be at war with them – they might just be in your province while someone else it attacking you, and you’re like “I can’t replenish?!” So what do you do – do you go to war with the Huns as well? Or do you try and fight out of it? It’s lovely the way all of these little mechanics are building together to create emergent situations and scenarios.”
Total War Attila screen
The role of the Huns is more than just that of another faction to control or confront. Historically, Attila became feared as a symbol of the potential apocalypse (he also became known as “the Scourge of God”), and the various Christian factions take morale penalties when facing the Huns (several Christian denominations existed at the time and are recreated in game, along with some non-Christian factions; as Pawel explains “That’s very much the theme of the Dark Ages and [paving the way to] the Classical World. Religion was a very powerful theme and subject matter – it’s why we’d be silly to ignore it.”).

But the doom-laden atmosphere is more than the old Empires collapsing and incursions by the Huns. The era covered by the game (395 to 465) covers the end of a period known as the Roman Warm Period, several hundred years of a warmer climate, resulting in progressive cooling. Pawel elaborates on how this affects the extremes of the weather. “You’ll find that the winters are longer, they’re more severe, the snowline reaches further south and over the course of the game each winter will get progressively more severe.”

And this change will need to be accounted for as you expand, as Simon explains. “[In affected regions] the fertility decreases through climate change, you’re going to get less food production, you’re going to get less money coming out of those provinces, armies are trapped in those provinces because they don’t really want to be travelling through the snow and getting attrition. So although these are effects you may have seen before, their combination is something that is wholly new for the series.”

This also has an effect with diseases spreading, with a new in-game system for how diseases are handled. All of these things combined, the overall narrative is of a feared apocalypse. However, with the benefit of historical hindsight Simon sees it with some positives too. “It’s a time of apocalypse, destruction, death, disease, all these horrible things; it’s also a time of formation, this is where Europe started to form into what we all now know as Europe, all these tribes are being pushed out [and eventually settling down] [...] It’s the formation period of Europe as it were, and it’s a really interesting time.”
Total War Attila screen
I mention the encounter at last year’s Rezzed, where a school teacher was telling a member of the Stronghold Crusader 2 team how the original game was a good teaching tool; Pawel says that Rome: Total War has also been used in schools, as well as reminding us all of the Time Commanders TV series which used an early version of the Rome game engine to re-enact historical battles.

But when I ask if a knowledge of history is likely to add enjoyment to the game, we all seemed to share a desire to subvert rather than follow events. While playing is entirely possible without knowing about the era, being able to play and replay seeing how different factions would take control appeals, regardless of how it happened in reality. Pawel puts this down to design: “That’s the beauty of our sandbox model, right? We establish the start, all the pieces are placed in a historical framework but then you write your own history from then on.”

Simon sums up the sense of power in deliberately playing against the way events occurred. “I know the Huns lost eventually… “oh wait, no they didn’t!””

Total War: Attila is due for release on PC this year.


Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.