Saturday, March 10, 2012

Shogun Total War

Back in 2000, the most popular RTS titles came from then gaming giant Westwood or the up and coming Blizzard. RTS or Real Time Strategy games had a common formula that was popularized in the early 90's hit "Dune" by Westwood. You start out with a base, gather resources, build structures and then produce units to engage in combat. The immediate success of Westwood's Dune was followed by the Command and Conquer series which made the RTS a firm genre in the gaming scene. Game Developer Blizzard was quick to come into the scene with a Tolkienesque RTS series entitled Warcraft, (yes Warcraft was an RTS before an MMORPG). In 1998 Blizzard came out with arguably the best RTS of all time, Starcraft which pretty much relied on the Warcraft formula but was set in outer space. All these games more or less followed the pattern of Dune, build a base, gather resources etc. 

And so in 2000 when a small British company called Creative Assembly came out with a title called Shogun Total War, it received scarce attention since all the big developers had titles that were at the top of their game. 
Most mainstream RTS gamers remember Rome Total War (came out around 2004), as their first Total War Game but this wasn't the first. 

I remember playing Shogun for the first time in the States when my uncle (an avid flight simulation gamer)  let me use his PC. What first strikes you about Shogun is the amount of creative effort put into immersing you in the Japanese setting during the 1560's. Everything from the sound to the artwork are all taken from the period and provide an excellent background to the gameplay itself. What was revolutionary about total war was its synthesis of an RTS and a Civilization type game. 

The Civilization series was a turn based (as opposed to Real Time) strategy game where you settled lands, built cities, researched technologies and then engaged in warfare. It was also a very popular title series but formed an entire genre distinct from RTS games. 

Shogun Total War managed to meld the two genres into what has become a trademark of the Total War Series, a turn based game with Real time battles. The Campaign map in Shogun Total War is similar to a Risk board, or a map divided into provinces and locations. Each Province you control grants you resources and you are allowed to build structures and units in that area. The production is turn based and done in an interface similar to the Civilization Series. Your armies move from one province to another, each movement taking up one turn. The fun starts when you invade an enemy province or are invaded yourself. 

When a battle takes place in Shogun, it happens in real time. The screen moves from the campaign map into an actual rendering of the battleground. Hills, rivers, forests and farmlands are rendered as well as the troops you have. Shogun was also the first to translate actual tactical advantages into gameplay values in an RTS setting. To illustrate, in other RTS's the game was mostly a drop down view of the action with the battleground completely flat and fighting was mostly a rock paper scissors affair. In Shogun, if you placed your units on the high ground, combat bonuses were added. If your archers were on a hill, they could fire farther, if your infantry was in a forest, they could hide and engage cavalry better. The permutations were endless. It all provided for one the first and accurate tactical simulations in a video game. 

Shogun went largely unnoticed because the graphics were not as "colorful" as the prevalent RTS game at the time. However, Creative Assembly successfully tested their game model and acquired a loyal fan base. Shogun paved the way for CA to eventually release its much more renown hits like Medieval and Rome Total War.         

Ernesto Mario S. Mascenon Jr. 
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