Hello friends, and welcome to the sixth entry of the “Knights of Honor II: Sovereign” DevDiaries! Today’s topic is all about the cultures in KoH2:S and how we weaved their historical representation into the gameplay and visuals of the game.
When we talk about cultures, there is one really important thing to keep in mind. Diversity. We live in a world with a rich variety of cultures, every one of which has its own specific histories, songs, food and even mannerisms. All this is valid for the Middle ages as well and thus it became the foundation of how cultures work in KoH2:S.
We dived deep into historical sources so that the various regions of our map reflected the cultures that thrived there during the Middle ages. We didn’t just stop with the big cultures like Arabic, or Nordic and the state of “there were Berbers in Northern Africa,” but were aiming to include unique tribes of certain regions too – the Sanhaja, Zenata, Tuareg – the “small” cultures the compose the big, widely known, cultural groups. Same goes for the European cultures – yes, there are the French, but also the Occitans, the Normans, and other cultures that are classified in the Latin group.
Mirroring this rich cultural landscape in KoH2:S naturally adds another layer of gameplay depth in the game. Just as in the original, it’s not enough to conquer territories to “paint the map”. Your army might physically occupy a territory, but the people may not be loyal to you yet. They could riot, they could resist. One occupied province might bleed your kingdom dry in the wrong circumstances – from your armies, to your economy. Here our cultural spread system comes into play. It’s based on how civilization’s culture evolves, diversifies and disappears throughout history. This was mostly a slow and continuous process, but sometimes it could’ve been forceful – with one culture assimilating another with stark change in the population’s lifestyle (like religious conversion). In KoH2:S, this process works like this: the culture of one province or kingdom is constantly affecting its neighbouring provinces. More provinces with the same culture all bordering one province with different culture have a greater conversion influence, meaning this province could be ripe for conquering by providing less problems when assimilating it into your kingdom.
There are some ground rules to that, of course. Cultures from the same group influence each other easier, while those from different ones have a hard time taking over one another. For example, you can play through the historical cultural tensions on the Iberian Peninsula – both before and after the Reconquista, depending on which period you choose at start. If a Catalan king decides to conquer a Castilian province, the closely related cultures will allow for smoother conquest in that aspect. Matters would be even easier if the player made an effort to expand his kingdom’s influence to those particular neighbors by taking advantage of the other tools we prepared for faster cultural conversion (more on that in a future DevDiary), but the Andalusians will have a hard time spreading their influence over the Catalans, and vice versa, even if the territories held by them are bigger, better, stronger.
Cultures play a noticeable role when it comes to visuals as well. Castles, cities, clothes – we’re trying our best to have each rooted in the respective culture of their region. There is a delicate balance when creating these elements though, one between the rich cultural diversity of the Medieval World and the amount of historical visual data available for the different cultures we’re exploring, some of which is quite limited. We often felt pulled between two choices: choice A, to fully capture the visual nuance of all well documented cultures, leaving a number of cultures with less than ideal visualization, bordering on Narnia, and not history, or choice B, to compile known elements from cultures in a major cultural group in order to achieve combined a visual style that would be most appropriate. We choose the latter.
In KoH2:S, you can see the iconic castles of Western Europe and also the traditional wooden Stave Churches of the freshly Christianized Nordic lands. The European queens are admiring their tiaras, while the Arabic malikas are putting on their beautiful hijabs. We aimed for equal representation for each culture as much as possible, keeping in mind what the player actually sees most of the time. There is less emphasis on the so called “ambient life” (villagers, region specific animals, flying fish), although there are some unique aspects there as well, and more on what’s really important, like the armies.
We wanted each cultural group to field distinctive units when possible – both from a visual and a gameplay standpoint - to ensure the lasting feeling of “Yes, I am a Nordic king and this is my fearsome Nordic army”. The Europeans have their heavier armors, while the Steppe armies are relying on equipment that doesn’t hinder their superior swiftness. The real sight to behold, however, are the special units like the Mongol heavy lancers riding against the Novgorodian Boyars, or Camel riders walking the sands of North Africa, side by side with the Mamluk cavalry. Riding at the front of each army is the Marshal, whose model we’re pushing to be the most iconic of them all.
Another crucial piece of visual information we wanted to get just right was accurate names and nobility titles for each cultural group, so the Royal court had a genuine feel to it. For each culture we filled pools with names, sometimes numbering in the thousands, and the majority of which belonged to real medieval people. Naturally, we wanted to emphasize this even further and what better way to do that than to include starting real-life dynasties.
We went over mountains of data in order to put the rightful king, queen and their offspring on their respective thrones as best we could for each of the game periods. We even tried to find how Dobrotitsa’s wife was called, and where historical sources failed us (like in the case of Dobrotitsa), we left it to chance and those huge pools of names. We are pretty sure that the Doge of Venice won’t ever be called Tvrtko, as long as the republic keeps its original culture.
All this work is really oriented towards one goal - to immerse you in the medieval setting of KoH2 through the unique cultures of that time. We hope you enjoy it, and have a great time playing in this unique era the way you want to, in a backdrop that is immersive and engaging.
We will talk more on this topic in our DevStream on Thursday, May 7th, @ 3:00 PM GMT / 11:00 AM EST. The Twitch stream will be hosted on the THQ Nordic channel: http://twitch.tv/thqnordic and we’ll be grabbing responses from this post as well as answering questions live during the stream.
We really want to hear your thoughts, as cultures are a defining element of the KoH2:S’s experience and we want to make them the best they can be. Jump right into the discussion and share your thoughts in this thread, or join our Facebook and Discord channels and talk there too. Would you take your time to strategically influence provinces with your kingdom’s culture before conquering them, or would you crush the resistance with brute force? Would you accept a different culture overtaking your own just to get its unique special units? Would you pick a starting kingdom based on its culture because of the special visuals and cultural perks that come with it, or do these aspects not really factor into your decisions? Your feedback is critically important, as you never know what comments may help us build the best KoH2:S Culture feature set we can!