Sengoku: Total Conversion
Big project announcements are becoming rarer and rarer these days, so when somebody posts a new topic to announce their new ambitious project its only right that the whole community gets excited. The Works-in-Progress Spotlight is an opportunity for the designers of these projects to share a little bit of additional information on these projects and build up the hype for their upcoming release.
This month I sat down with Achesun, Sebastien and Rodion to learn more about one of the most ambitious Mod Packs that AOK has ever seen – Sengoku: Total Conversion. Sengoku is a total conversion mod of Age of Empires 2 based on the most dramatic part of the Japanese history known as the Sengoku period, a time when the shogun loses his influence over Japan, and local daimyo fights against each other to secure their power. The mod is designed to be used for the CD version and UserPatch 1.5, and is therefore compatible with GameRanger and Voobly for online multiplayer games.
Could you please introduce us to the team behind the creation of this mod?
[ind]Seb: The core team is Achesun, Rodion and myself.
Achesun: Seb’s been doing most of the data editing and environmental graphics, Rodion’s working on most buildings, ships, and siege units, and I’m doing the human and animal units.
Seb: We also have Danielpereira to thank for implementing our core .exe changes and without him a lot of our mod wouldn't be possible. Grenadier has also made some critical exe additions as well as implementing the added terrains. There is also CheeseOnToast who made the initial AI and now Marathon, who's developing a new AI and editing some others to work with Sengoku.[/ind]
What’s the history behind the Mod? How did the concept come about and how did you each get involved?
[ind]Achesun: Well, if I remember correctly, it was a long time ago when I was helping the Age of Sherwood community project, I saw in the forums that someone had listed a few potential themes that could be made into good total conversion mods: the crusaders, north European civs, and Sengoku Japan. I found the last one really interesting, but as I was still a newbie modder back then, it would be many years later when I take the idea seriously and started working on something.
In 2015, I was watching a TV drama about Oda Nobunaga, and was reminded the idea of making a Sengoku mod for AOK. I started a thread called "Achesun's Japanese units pack", aiming to create a small mod pack including several Japanese units that could potentially be expended into a bigger project. In 2016, when the mod pack is released, it turned out to be quite popular, so I decided to make more. The plan is no longer to make just a few more Japanese units, but to include a full unit set (including the villagers!). Originally there were only going to be three civs. Since I didn't know how much help I might get, I limited the scope of the mod to just a graphics pack with minor data changes to make it playable. Very luckily Seb and Rodion joined, and we have further expanded the vison of this project.
Seb: Mines not so interesting really. I released a Japanese themed cinematic scenario for the Cutscene Contest once and that inspired me to create a Japanese scenario. At the time I'd started to mod some different assets and started a thread where a bunch of different people contributed some of their own copy and paste assets. That project didn't happen in the end. When I saw Achesun’s project I couldn't resist getting involved; so maybe one day I'll finally be able to finish my scenario using the mod.
Rodion: For me Sengoku mod was a nice cause to start learning 3D, and after I posted some results of my work, I got the invitation to become a part of the team. Since that time, I have become more and more involved. Trying to get a visual coherency of all design elements was a challenge for us, and I hope players will find the mods art style enjoyable. We remade everything including User Interface buttons trying to make it look different, but still recognizable Age of Empires style. I also hope that we've managed to keep the balance between historical accuracy and playability too.[/ind]
As a total conversion I guess there’s loss of new and unique features to this Mod that you’ll love to surprise us with. Are there any particular highlights from the mod that you would like to tell us about?
[ind]Seb: Sengoku is essentially a new game using the AOK genie engine as a base. 90% of the game has changed graphics wise. Gameplay is very similar to that which AOK people know and love, with some additions and changes specific to the Sengoku period, such as new meta, different siege weapons and new technologies. We've developed the mod to be both balanced and multiplayer friendly - as well as offer a ton of editor objects and new graphics for the scenario designers and single player gamers
One feature I'm very happy to talk about is the inclusion of extra terrains, a first for an AOK mod. We currently have 151 terrains finalised ready for scenario designers to play with and create maps they never could before. We've also included a huge number of eye candy objects, unique forests and tons of props for creating realistic and vivid scenes. This is especially helpful also for RMS scripters. Not only that, but the mod has extra multiplayer and single player items such as player colour terrains, LOS revealers and waypoint markers. So, I guess the biggest highlight is that fact it's probably going to be the most extensive editor you've probably ever played with.
We’re also taking advantage of all the UserPatch 1.5 features as well as our own .exe edits. Now we have features like trainable and upgradable hero's, a 5th resource which is earned by killing enemy units, and another favourite of mine - Ninja Missions. Ninja missions are repeatable technologies you can 'conduct' to sabotage your enemy.
Rodion: There is also a set of editor objects, which allows to recreate some nice interior scenes, like castle rooms and halls or peasant and richer class houses. This includes different types of doors (fully functional), walls, floor types and other indoor eye-candy.[/ind]
You've said that this is going to have the most extensive scenario editor yet. Do you plan to release any custom campaigns to go along with the Mod?
[ind]Seb: Not at first but eventually most definitely yes. I think we all have our own ideas and enthusiasm for some campaigns. The eventual goal is to replace all the original campaigns with Sengoku ones accessible from the main menu, and perhaps have scenarios; too similar to the way age of conquerors had the one-off maps. But this is all further down the line and hopefully will include the best of community creations also.
Achesun: We also have a lot of hero units with unique graphics. If you're a fan of Sengoku themed anime, game, or drama etc., you may be excited to see that we have Sanada Yukimura, Honda Tadakatsu, and many other historical heroes of that you can add into your custom scenarios.[/ind]
So please tell us a little more about the development of the mod?
[ind]Seb: I mean, where do I start? It's been a long road for over three years and since our very first alpha on Feb 11 2017. What started off as a small mod has turned practically into a new game and many things changed or improved along the way. We started off this mod using Turtle Pack and ended up transferring to SLX Studio - which has helped tremendously with our workflow. As the capabilities of UP1.5 and .exe editing came to fruition, more and more ideas got put in. It always seemed like we were almost done but then new things would have to be done, or unknown bugs needed to be fixed. Most recently we had to redo every single unit data ID and tech in game and make sure it fits within unit lines correctly for the AI. A lot of times we've have to rework all the techs completely, or added a whole bunch of new units that need to be added to old techs etc; I think I reworked the blacksmith techs about 10 times each at least. Terrains were a WIP for a long time, and constantly improving. When we found out the ability to add new terrains; that really was a new revelation and required a lot of extra work. Of course, through playtesting a lot has changed, to improve the balance and feel of the game. Some features got dropped, some added. It's been a wild one. Graphics wise most of what you see in the images however has only been done with the last year or so. Just over half way through development we basically scrapped a lot of the old buildings and a lot of the units were redone.
Achesun: We also remade all the horse units 2-3 times because we want to replace the old ones with a more historically accurate Kiso Horse model. The process of remaking all 30+ units takes a long time, but it is our wish to make our mod as polished as we could.
Seb: As we improved our Blender skills the render settings improved so a lot of stuff we also re-rendered or re-did entirely for higher quality. A lot of the siege units and the new ships were done within the last year. We decided to redo all buildings from scratch around September/October 2019 I believe and had them finished around December 2019. The amount of research put into the mod is maybe a negative or positive aspect depending on how you look at it, as a lot of the mod graphics or ideas were changed or removed due to new found references or facts. I think having some scope creep is a thing every project deals with but I think we’re all happy with the way it turned out. From the beginning it was clear our goal and we all have same wavelength and fit into our 'roles' nicely, working well as a team. I feel like the amount of work will be nothing compared to the reward when we finally release it and quite frankly wouldn't have enjoyed the subpar half-done version we could have released 2 years ago. Burnout was a worry at some points and we took some breaks or time off, but never once did I think we felt like quitting or unreleasing. We've been fortunate to have a lot of people giving advice, giving support or helping along the way; especially some great playtesters. Having a lot of fans on AOKH, ModDB and Discord and getting good feedback I believe will help push us to the finish line.[/ind]
Historical accuracy seems important to you, having gone out of your way to recreate most of your graphics to match the historical figures. What references have you used in order to make the mod as accurate as you can?
[ind]Achesun: Well, we have various sources gathered in a reference channel in discord where we discuss them. As the unit maker, I had to admit that even though we wanted to be as accurate as we can, some unit designs might still be less historically correct as they should be. For example, some upgraded units have bigger shoulder plates to look heavier like they've been upgraded, but in reality, they may not be so distinguishable. Still, it's a better presentation of the military structure of Sengoku Japan. Many mods out theRE actually have a Japanese reskin of all generic Age of empires units. But we decided to recreate the unit lines based on what we know about Sengoku armies.
Seb: Sources include many different books about Sengoku period or specific details; such as religion or weaponry. Magazines, many, many websites, articles, movies, tv dramas and documentaries. Also, Ukiyo-e, photos of or paintings from/around or representing the time period. We really sourced information right down to the fine details such as what type of plates they used, or baskets or types of blacksmithing tools they had etc, and a lot of research went into the buildings to decide on how building graphics and props should look. The more information we found the more we integrated into the mod, so of course we don't guarantee complete historical accuracy and there were still some areas we didn't research enough. Some decisions were made solely for fun and some for gameplay/simplicity purposes; but we did our best given the confines of the engine and tying it into the aoe2 style gameplay.[/ind]
So Finally, do you have an estimated release date in mind?
[ind]Seb: We're aiming for an August/September for a first release. We will of course continue to update it after the first release, adding missing features or making changes depending on balancing and community feedback.[/ind]
So, there you have it. How excited are you to play this incredible Mod Pack? I for one can't wait. Keep up to date with all the latest updates over at the official Project Thread. And finally, just to tease you even more, here is an exclusive look as some of those awesome features we've just heard about:
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