Q: You're focusing on Western sword arts in CLANG - It's interesting that these martial arts have been relatively neglected, whilst in the East they're culturally venerated. Why do you think that is?
Neal Stephenson: Well, when we got guns, we forgot how to sword fight. A really odd thing happened in Japan: they got guns and decided not to use them for several hundred years, so they never broke the lineage. So, in the East they just did a better job of curating their old martial arts than we, maybe pragmatic, Westerners. Then they just really nailed it on the image making front. All of these pop culture icons turned up in the '60s and '70s, like Kato in the Green Hornet, Bruce Lee, the Kung Fu television series - innumerable martial arts films from Hong Kong.
The term martial arts became synonymous with the martial arts of Japan and China, which is fine - they deserve all of the attention and glory they can get for themselves. A different point of view seemed to take hold around the way in which people fought in mediaeval Europe, which was predicated on the idea that a person in a suit of armour is so weighed down that he can't stand up, can't mount his horse, can't move freely, that the weapons are heavy and slow and ponderous, that everyone is nasty and brutish and stupid.
So that just became the standard kind of shorthand used by film makers whenever they were depicting people in the West. It's a remarkably difficult habit to break.
Q: From the very little I've learned it seems that full plate wasn't nearly as common as we're lead to believe...
Neal Stephenson: Even when people did wear full armour, it was much more lightweight and flexible than people realise. They could do shoulder rolls, run. There's plenty of YouTubery around this at the moment. Just within the last few weeks there have been a couple of mediaeval fighting tournaments where people have been going at each other in full armour, one's called Lists on the Lake, in Texas. The swords are far lighter and more mobile than is generally appreciated.
But as you say, it wasn't all people in full armour - a lot of these arts were intended to be used by people dressed in ordinary street clothes. They presume a much higher degree of lightness and mobility that we see in movies.
Q: This is clearly a great passion of yours, something very dear to you. Given that so much of the project seems to pivot on accurate simulation, is CLANG also going to appeal to people who just want to smack the hell out of a man in a tin hat?
Neal Stephenson: It has to. It has to have levels and modes that are just about the straightforward smacking around. That's key to making it work at all. We're sort of following the template that's been laid down already by first person shooters where you always have that. You can go into, say Halo, and set it to easy mode, and it's easy.
Many people don't want to go beyond that. Many people beyond a certain point say, 'I know, I'd like to make this a little more interesting, a little more challenging.' By changing difficulty settings or advancing to a more challenging level it becomes possible to increase the level of challenge and thereby get drawn deeper into that world. So, that's a tried and true approach to game design that ought to work perfectly well with what we're doing.