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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Medieval 2 Total War Concentrated Vanilla minimod

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting by 3liz4 from flickr (CC-NC-ND)
I really enjoy Rome Total War and Medieval 2 Total War games. Yet there's something about me that's never content with what I have, and always wanting to make things better. There's been some things about Medieval 2 Total War that really bothered me - like how small differences between factions were compared to Rome Total War, or how often the game turned into a siegefest.

I tried a few mods but were mostly disappointed with them. Lands to Conquer was only a bit better than vanilla - on the one hand I finally had a chance of playing with late units, on the other hand it didn't really fix most of vanilla gameplay issues. Stainless Steel simply made things a lot worse to me, by slowing everything down, and creating this huge boring map on which nothing ever happens. Maybe other people like it this way, I didn't.

So I decided to take things in my hands, and do some modding myself. First I identified things I wanted to see changed about vanilla:

  • Differences between factions are too small. Part of it is because there are too many sieges and units are pretty much the same in a siege. Part of it is because of overpowered generals' bodyguards - you can send them all to the front, and they crush every low-to-mid-tier unit. Even if they die you'll get man of the hour or adoption soon enough.
  • Settlement defenses are very weak, one unit of Peasants or Militia with a ram is enough to break into even medium-tier settlement. This makes artillery, spies, ladders, and siege engine pretty much useless.
  • There's too much micromanagement of agents, and also rebels.
  • Everything moves too slowly. It takes ages to bring reinforcements to the front lines. It also makes field battles meaningless - AI will keep making units as fast as you're defeating them in field battles, so you have to siege if you want to win a war.
  • Building things is constrained by time, not by money. Most of the time almost every settlement builds something.
  • The only way to build good economy is quick expansion. Small economies have no chance of competing, so you have to expand quickly. After you expand AI has no chance of competing so there's not that much fun in finishing the campaign.
  • The game lasts too short before becoming boring. I never even got to Mongols, and I don't think it's even possible to get to New World while still having fun.
  • Units are supposed to be rock-paper-scissors - cavalry beats archers beat infantry beat cavalry. In reality cavalry charge kills everyone, and you have very good cavalry (bodyguards) immediately, and missile infantry runs out of missiles before killing anyone.
Plus I had some complaints about diplomacy and stuff, but they weren't easy to fix, so I let them be for some time (diplomacy is one of the things that mods like LTC actually fix rather well, I need to borrow one of them). So I decided to do some pretty drastic changes. Now I know doubling and halving stuff is an overkill in many cases, but at least I'll know what effects will it have on gameplay. If I adjusted statistics by 20% I would need to spend months in playtesting before I could tell if it's actually any improvement or not. So the changes were:
  • Bodyguards nerfed to half their original size and 1 hitpoint per unit (like normal units) instead of 2 (like elephants).
  • Missile infantry (but not missile cavalry or siege engines) get twice the ammo.
  • Gates twice as strong, ram attack half as powerful, settlement towers fire rate doubled. Rams also have half the hitpoints, but it only matters if you attack them with artillery, not if you attack them with fire arrows.
  • Everyone moves twice as fast in campaign mode.
  • Rebels and pirates twice less common.
  • All buildings build in one turn.
  • All resources twice as valuable, this doubles mines, trade, and merchant trade income. Cost of mines doubled to compensate.
  • Tax rates have 1% per level impact on population growth, not 0.5%.
I only did some moderate playtesting, so I don't know all the consequences of this yet. Fortunately as the changes were rather large major consequences can be seen very easily.

First, more field battles. Because sieges are harder you cannot just siege, build one ram, and assault in the next turn. You will likely spend more time building siege equipment, or even waiting the defenders out, and as AI is twice as fast now, many sieges seem to end in AI reinforcement coming to the rescue and a big field battle - exactly the way I wanted. I think even after all these doublings rams are still a bit overpowered and settlements are still a bit too easy to take, so I'm not going to reduce these numbers.

There's less micromanagement. If you want to move your agents somewhere, it takes half the time. Rebels are less frequent (this seems to make them stronger, but I'm not completely positive about this effect), so one annoyance disappears, and when they come you don't have to spend so many turns just going there and then going back.

Even drastic nerfing bodyguards didn't make them too weak. They cannot do a frontal charge on a strong unit and hope to survive without casualties, but they're good enough at protecting the general, and they can still get tripple digit kill rate when charging Peasant Archers and other low-tier mobs.

Doubling ammo of missile troops worked quite well. First, they can do a lot more damage when defending a settlement, especially since it now takes a lot longer to break the gates, so there's plenty of times to pour arrows on the enemy. Unless you skip the gates and use ladders, or siege towers, or spies, or break gates from afar with artillery. Artillery is a lot more useful now, not only relative to rams, but also because unit speeds are much more reasonable. Second, increased ammo turned mid-to-high-tier archers really good skirmishers, as they won't run out of arrows before killing anyone. It doesn't help them that much in battles with full spectrum of units, as ammo is rarely a limiting factor in such cases. Stronger missile infantry balances missile cavalry, which now pays for increased mobility with less ammo; and it makes light cavalry more important - small detachment of light cavalry can protect your infantry-based force against enemy skirmishers, which would otherwise become a much bigger pain in the ass.

All this tweaking made factions feel a lot more different from each other than they did in vanilla, even though they still have the same roosters of units and buildings and starting positions. I'm happy with every tweak I made to battles, and while the exact number can be changed a bit higher or lower, they feel a lot better than vanilla's numbers.

With campaign it's been somewhat more mixed. I really like that buildings can be build very quickly if you have enough cash, and that taxes have serious consequences and are no longer an automatic "as high as possible without a rebellion". Increased movement speed is a great thing, but I think doubling it was too extreme, and it makes map feel really very small. By the way, isn't anybody bothered by how unrealistically slow everyone moves? Columbus crossed the Atlantic in just five weeks, not 20 years as it would take him in vanilla. So maybe I'll make 200% into 175% or something in the next release.

Doubling value of resources wasn't such a great idea. Yes, it changes the balance so resource-rich (like Timbuktu) settlements and those with good access to maritime trade are a lot more valuable now, and trade rights can score you many thousands of florins per turn. Unfortunately everyone is flooded with cash. More money isn't necessarily a bad thing, as bigger armies are fun, but I think it goes too far, and I'll reduce resource values from 200% to 150% of vanilla's.

The game progresses differently now. Instead of fast early expansion, which then slows because everyone attacks you and it takes ages to move reinforcements to the front lines, you have slow early expansion (as sieges are hard), followed by a happy total war with everybody fighting everybody else with big armies, and fast counterattacks. Unfortunately I failed at making it last much longer, so you probably won't see Mongols, much less Timurids or Aztecs.

AI seems to handle these changes quite well. It doesn't seem to lose too many generals. It sucks at economy, and spends all its money on Peasant armies, but that's more or less what it did in vanilla, so I'm not complaining much. AI has a big advantage, because autoresolve completely ignores settlement defenses as long as you have at least a single ram or ladder. This isn't as bad as it sounds, as AI really sucked at sieges back in vanilla, failing to take rebel settlements even with big numerical advantage, so now it's more even. But - autoresolving a siege is considered nasty cheating now! It really goes against everything the mod stands for. Try toggle_fow instead - unlike gamebreaking autoresolve toggle_fow makes the game more fun and saves you from a lot of boring micromanagement.

Here's a link to download Concentrated Vanilla mod at original settings (200% speed, 200% resources). Here's a link to Concentrated Vanilla mod with tweaks that haven't been playtested yet (175% speed, 150% resources and mines cost). Just unzip all files in your Medieval 2 Total War directory and double click on the bat file. The files are pretty big as it seems some files need to be copied even if I don't change them, like campaign start menu.

I'd love to hear your feedback about this minimod. I'd also like to include some good bugfix and diplomacy minimods, so your help with that would be appreciated too.


Krieg said...

Try to end your mini mod quickly, im interested in the sieges part. ;)

Good work and gook luck!

taw said...

Download link is above. There's not that much more that can be done about sieges, too many things like build points, ladder speed, etc. are hardcoded.

Jason said...

Hi taw, I just stumbled across your blog and found it interesting. You have some legitimate complaints. I think making the sieges harder is a great idea and much more realistic. I don't know about constructing buildings in one turn. That seems closer to just hitting the tilde key and entering the process_cq command. I've been using Stainless Steel 6.1 for the Kingdoms expansion for a month or so and enjoy it, but I do agree that it gets a little bogged down (you have to wait 30 seconds or more for the AI to cycle through all of the available nations). Good luck with your mod! Wish I had the skills to do this stuff!

taw said...

Jason: Modding M2TW is easy - the only thing I've done was changing numbers in some text files, and putting it all in a zip file. I wrote a small Ruby script to do all changes for me, but I could as well have done it manually. If you want to learn how to do it, email me or ask at forum.

Sturm said...

Taw, I'm gonna test your mod, u took the thoughts of my mind. But the most thing I would like to see is better AI armies (Others like field battles, slow expansion and defeating not by taking settlements sounds pretty done in ur mod).

No matter what u do There's only Spear Militia/Peasant Archers based battle.

taw said...

Sturm: There's only so much I can do, AI in M2TW is just unbelievably dumb. One thing I'm trying to do right now is enabling all technologies, and moving Mongol invasion much much earlier - it has a side effect of making Mongols much stronger than in vanilla, as nobody's prepared at all, but at least I get to fight them ;-)

Sturm said...

Did u changed the respawn values in export_descr_buildings? I've notice that peasants-like units are 0,2 so it would take 5 turns to them be available again.

They say this works but no matter how campaing is all about peasant-hunt =|

Well, good luck, I'm playing ur mod right now, too early to give a opnion, but your complains are the same as mine, so your mod is the most hopefull for me. Sad I can't help, but good luck for ya.

taw said...

I didn't touch any respawn values. Which version are you using? I've released 6 of them.

Wyatt said...

After I read your review about the mod it was really helpful to me just want to say thanks XD but i have slightly different opinion and can read about it here hope you get some good tips and own even better

Anonymous said...

How did you make the modifications to the game? I've messed with changing the starting configuration of armies and and settlements, make some stronger some weaker by putting in different buildings population etc. I would like to experiment with changing other aspects. Your ideas seem interesting and I'd like to try some. My main interest was increasing the land movement cost especially with out roads, drastically increase the time and cost of roads and trails, increase the time to build them, increase the movement rate of light cavalry, and decrease the cost of scrimmager units.
If you could help I would greatly appreciate it.

taw said...

mikew1584: Things like road movement cost, and ratios of movement speeds are hardcoded.

In Kingdoms you can actually change campaign movement speed of various units.

Changing cost and time of roads, and cost of different units is easy. Check export_descr_unit.txt and export_descr_buildings.txt files.