“You have multiple small teams, and you keep that small-team culture,” he explains. As the level of detail has increased, so the boundary between each of these disciplines has shrunk.
“We simulate things,” Russell says. “For example, the projectile system – it’s fully simulated, and that’s a really big deal. From a professional perspective, people might think that we’re crazy to do that. In a typical RTS, you might say that in a given situation there’ll be a specific kill rate.
“But it does mean that you get all of these interesting properties of reality falling out for free. You don’t need to create a gamey rule.”
In order to balance a system like this, Rome II’s designers need to go back to the properties of real life – not the abstractions of wargaming. If men taking cover behind a line of rocks are dying to arrow fire faster than is desirable, then the solution has to come from the whole team – whether that’s a designer tweaking the accuracy of bowmen, an artist redesigning the scenery, or a programmer tweaking the behaviour of the AI.
As much as Creative Assembly have stressed drama and spectacle in the early marketing push for the game, Russell is keen to point out that building a detailed presentation of war is a crucial part of improving the game’s tactical depth.
Creative Assembly’s state-of-the-art motion capture facility is hidden on the edge of a railway yard in west Sussex. It is, they believe, the largest developer-owned mocap suite in Europe – and the culmination of years of work on the part of their animation team.
For any other developer a facility like this would be a tremendous extravagance, but Creative Assembly can be confident in the fact that they will always be working on Total War games, and that they will always have a need for detailed and realistic depictions of men murdering one another on the battlefield.
The early build of Rome II that we’ve seen in action uses a fraction of the capture work that will go into the final game, Creative Assembly tells me.
Then, as the dramatic actions of those individual troops propagate up through the simulation, Creative Assembly hope that the new level of detail they can achieve will pay dividends for the game as a whole.
“We want to have our cake and eat it,” Russell admits. “On the campaign map, we understand that it’s a game of statecraft – but we want to make you feel that you’re running an empire that’s populated by real individuals, and that you’re negotiating with AIs that feel like real people. It’s about making the game feel massively enhanced at both ends of the scale.
“I think those two things actually reinforce each other,” he concludes. “That’s the point. We want to take what we’ve learned and use that to push every aspect of the game forward without compromise. It’s really scary. It’s a really ambitious project. We’ve got a motto: ‘If you’re not shit scared, you’re not trying hard enough.’”