Though it has splashed out into some console games since it was purchased by Sega, The Creative Assembly is a steadfastly PC-oriented studio that continues to innovate and create large-scale strategy games that cater to its audience.
With the soon-to-be-released colonial-themed Empire: Total War, which has been in development for four years, the developers are pushing their gameplay and technical concepts without regard to whether or not they could potentially transfer to its console games -- though it would be a nice bonus, Kieran Brigden, the studio's communications manager, admits.
Here, Brigden lays out the roadmap of how the studio approaches developing console and PC games, how it fosters a meaningful and mutually-beneficial relationship with its publisher-owner, and what sorts of things are meaningful to maintaining The Creative Assembly's identity in the market.
In the face of Microsoft's recent closure of Ensemble Studios, another studio well-known for creating successful historical strategy titles, this look into a studio survivor is even more eye-opening.
Do you guys ordinarily spend four years on a game? Medieval: Total War II came out fewer than four years ago.
Kieran Brigden: Before we start answering, I'd say, just to give an idea to your audience, of course, we're on a ship, sailing out into the [San Francisco] bay, at full speed, so this is going to be some distracted answering.
We do indeed [spend four years on a game], but this project has had more staff dedicated to it, and more time, than any other game yet. So, that's to give you an idea of what we're trying to achieve and how far we want to go with it. It's certainly the biggest, most ambitious total title we've done, in terms of time taken and team man hours spent on it.
Mark O'Connell, CA's PR and online manager: This is also the first time we've ever attempted naval combat, and it's something Total War fans have requested for a long time, so we wanted to give it the attention it needs.
KB: And we do all the groundwork and the basic exploratory stuff around the same time as the R&D. It takes a long time. For example: we're sailing here on the ocean; right? When you do waveform patterns and you have to try to make a realistic ocean environment, it took our coders a year to do that; and we have some of the most realistic oceans ever seen in a game.
How did you approach that?
KB: To get really geeky about this, the way they move, we actually solved the problem by taking two waveform-pattern algorithms and blended their output; that gives you realistic, random wave events, which look like ocean waves. Then, you add all the other lighting and everything else the graphics guys do. From their perspective, it's a real labor of love -- an incredible achievement.
Regarding being able to spend more time and man hours on this game than any of your previous titles, is that related at all to now being under the umbrella of a larger publisher?
KB: Yeah, one of the great things about Sega is the fact that they understand the value of the Total War franchise and the brand, what we're trying to do with it.
We don't just make another Total War game. Every time we do a game, it has to be right; it's researched; it's thoroughly implemented. And the publisher really values that; it's a very good relationship.
So, yes, they're willing to take the time and invest in us and allow us to achieve what we want to achieve, because they know, in the end, it's a fantastic game. We certainly have opened up some more avenues in that respect.
The Creative Assembly's Empire: Total War
That said, Sega's heritage is very much in the console space, and the Total War franchise -- the strategy parts of it -- are about as hardcore PC as it gets. Does that worry you from the perspective of their strategic goals and yours as a studio?
KB: Well, I see what you mean. In terms of Sega's growth and development, in terms of their corporate plan, in terms of growth and change -- obviously, it's more for them to answer.
Do you get any sense though of where The Creative Assembly fits within their portfolio?
KB: Again, in terms of the way Sega changes and grows, it's more for them to answer the question. But, by taking us on, they recognized they wanted more input in the PC sphere, and they wanted some very, very strong titles, and some very, very known developers. And certainly, by investing in a studio like ours, I think, they've added that. I would think that; I'm a bit biased. But I certainly believe they've added to their portfolio in that respect, definitely.