Europa Barbarorum interview with Khelvan

Ace Cataphract gets a chance to speak with a head of the Europa Barbarorum modification, Khelvan.

Ace: So, Khelvan, when did your team decide to start this project, and why did you start such a daunting task? I heard you actually began the modification before Rome Total War was even out!

Khelvan: The EB team originally gathered together about 16 months ago, when early previews of Rome: Total War were shown. The original team members were dismayed at the portrayal of non-Greek and non-Roman factions. The intention was to gather a large body of historical information from which CA could pull details to make their depiction of these factions more realistic. Unfortunately the team quickly realized that the company was not willing to change its direction based on historical accuracy, and so the early EB members prepared to make a mod of their own. This effort evolved over time into remaking the entire campaign.

Ace: So, why did your team pick the name Europa Barbarorum? After all, though you're doing a lot of work on the barbarian factions, many other, incorrectly represented factions are getting huge overhauls. Your recent showcase of the Carthaginians, for example, was the largest so far!

Khelvan: The team originally chose the name because in the beginning, the vast majority of team members were people who had knowledge about "barbarian" factions, and wanted to share that knowledge with Creative Assembly. While the original goal of the team evolved over time, the name has become part of our identity. Europa Barbarorum does not define what we do, but who we are.

Ace: So, making a total conversion of any game takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication, but especially so for a game on the scale of Rome Total War and, therefore, for a conversion on the scale of Europa Barbarorum. How many people did your team start out with, and how much have you grown since then?

Khelvan: Originally the team began with a handful of historically minded people, pooling together their knowledge. It has grown quite a bit since then, though our team members tend to come and go. The majority of our team members are historians, and as such have little to do while we are in an implementation phase, as we are now. We are always looking for active people who would like to dedicate themselves to helping us, and have some relevant skill.

Ace: The scale of this conversion is enormous as I mentioned before. Is there anything that you can be changed that won't be changed, or that was, in your team's opinion, done satisfactorily enough that it doesn't need to be changed? It seems that not a single rock is being left unturned in your team's quest to be as close to perfectly historical and it also seems that there's a lot of rocks to turn on that quest.

Khelvan: Being perfectionists, the EB team will probably never be completely content with anything. There is so little that we can actually change that we intend to remake as much of it as humanly possible. It is obvious that CA spent a lot of time researching Rome, so we are saving much of the Roman unit work for last, concentrating on less accurate factions. However, all things will be changed in time. You know what they say... Rome wasn't built in a day.

Ace: I guess that you and CA are modern proof of that statement. So with complete, or at least near perfect historical realism comes the problem of playability. How do you think making every faction as realistic as possible will affect game play and balance. Will realism make a select group of factions dominant, or will the majority of factions have a decent chance in the campaign, unlike say Iberia or Numidia in Vanilla version's campaign?

Khelvan: Well, I should first say that none of us claim to have perfect knowledge of history, or a monopoly on what is historical. We do our best, but we are only human, and will make mistakes. Our goal is to "set the table" from a historical sense. To give each faction the tools it would have had at its disposal circa 270 BC. In some cases this means that some factions will be in a bad starting position. Much like Medieval Total War, factions will have a more or less difficult time from the beginning. A savvy player should have a chance with every faction, though it will be challenging with some.

Ace: It does indeed sound like Medieval Total War with its varying difficulty. So, besides the obvious changes in the battle map, what kind of changes will you be making to the campaign map? Are you indeed extending it and reworking many factions' building sets and territory boundaries? And will you be adding and editing battles in the Historical Battles section?

Khelvan: The campaign map has been extended north, east to the Indus, and south to include all of Arabia. We have reached the province limit of 199. Provincial borders look nothing like what they originally did. All of the campaign map models are being changed, including the way armies and fleets look, sieges and blockades, and even the way rocks and trees look. We will be reworking factions' building sets, but that is generally a longer-term project. We will eventually be editing and adding to historical battles, but that is another longer-term project. We need to have the faction rosters set before we can make truly historical battles with them.

Ace: It's obvious that Custom Battles and the campaign will have a new face after this is done. Since it seems all Rome Total War games of the same version can play online together, will you be doing anything to propagate this conversion for usage in the multiplayer community?

Khelvan: We have plans to release a "multiplayer balancing pack," which will adjust unit costs so that each faction has a relatively equal chance to win in an online game. Because we're using costs and other stats to induce the AI (and urge the player) to build realistic mixes of units on a per faction basis, the initial release will probably not be balanced in this respect, and the multiplayer patch will be needed for parity.

Ace: So, will you be at all working with factions' AI behaviors to get some factions to behave differently so that they can adapt to their new situations in the revamped map, and perhaps behave more like they did historically?

Khelvan: The unfortunate reality is that we cannot adjust the AI at all, except for the few options that everyone has access to, the AI personality settings. We can't adjust aggressiveness and we don't have access to AI build queues. So behavior is mostly dependent upon environmental factors. We can adjust the environment so that the AI has a better chance of doing what we want it to do, and we have had some success in coaxing historical behavior out of it, but it will never be perfect. But that is just fine; we don't need Punic wars in every game, we don't need cities taken at a specific time, or factions to always expand in one direction. Remember, we're just providing realistic starting positions and a few nudges - it is up to the player, and the other factions, to write a new version of history.

Ace: Sounds good. Just to wrap things up, being kind of a history buff who's taken over by his personal bias, will the role of cavalry in the game change to be less overpowering and more of a support unit, and how will slingers be changed?

Khelvan: We have completely overhauled the battle stat system. At the moment we're facing the opposite problem - cavalry seems to be underpowered compared to what it should be. We have a brand new missile system that we feel will much more accurately reflect how missiles were used in the ancient world, including defining a great many new projectiles so that we can handle regional differences in bows, for instance. The use of the sling will depend on who is using it, and what type of sling it is, and what type of bullet...so I can't give you a definitive answer about their use in general.

Ace: Well, Khelvan, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Your project looks great so far, and I wish you and your team the best of luck.

Khelvan: Thank you, Ace, it has been a pleasure!

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