After a controversial launch, Empire has gone on to become one of the sleeper hits of the Total War series. A few weeks before the standalone Total War: Shogun 2 expansion, Fall of the Samurai was released, we asked Creative Assembly studio director, Mike Simpson about Empire's strange journey. "It’s weird isn’t it?" he said. "It does keep going – that’s one thing about Empire, it’s still selling now as much as it was a year ago and that just doesn’t stop."
Empire was to be The Creative Assembly's most sprawling, ambitious Total War yet, but its release in 2009 was overshadowed by AI bugs. Passive enemies and weak AI frustrated Total War players. Simpson admits that The Creative Assembly "did take on a little bit more than we were actually capable of delivering by the date."
"We had to have it earlier, so it was buggy on release, and it took us quite a few patches to get that sorted out. But when it was done it gets closer to the product that we originally intended, and it had long, long, long legs."
Empire's vast campaign takes place across three major theatres of war, America, Europe and India. Those are just the land battles, additional coastline zones host naval battles for international trade routes, vital for securing the huge resources needed to fuel a hungry global empire. Simpson described how The Creative Assembly approach each edition of Total War, in stages of "revolution" and "evolution." New titles like Empire are designed to refresh the series and update the engine, acting as a platform for future expansions like The Warpath campaign and, follow-up games like Napoleon.
"Empire was one of those revolutionary steps, but at that point the revolutions were starting to take too long to do, so it started to take more than three years to go around and that cycle was too long," said Simpson. "So at that point we realised you can’t actually throw the whole codebase away and start again, we have to do it in chunks. So we’re going into more of a continuous revolution process, which seems to be working pretty well."
Empire is available on Steam now for £10 / $19.99, and there's a demo available if you fancy trying it out. It's improved immensely in with the patches CA have added over the years, and there are plenty of mods out there keeping it fresh.
More recently, Total War: Shogun 2 could be considered the next "revolution" of the cycle. We've since had Rise of the Samurai and Fall of the Samurai, which means we're probably due another big step into a new theatre soon. Where would you like Total War to go next?
"We've got a huge pile of options we'd love to set the game in," says James Russell, Lead Designer of the Total War series. And we can't wait to see them happen. With three games in Steam's top 20 most played, it seems PC Gamers can't get enough of Creative Assembly's franchise. Probably because it's consistently great. Watch the video above for more from the closest thing Creative Assembly have to their own general.
Standalone Shogun 2 expansion, Fall of the Samurai, is due in March. It's going to be noisy, bloody and brutal. We're talking cannons, gatling guns, repeating rifles and spears: all being used against squishy human/horse flesh. The expansion will be set during a time of modernisation that marked Japan's transition into an industrial state 300 years after Shogun 2's campaign.
For more on Shogun 2's latest expansion, check back tomorrow or pick up a copy of PC Gamer 236, where you can read Tim Stone's in-depth feature.
The Creative Assembly have just announced that they'll be releasing a huge standalone expansion for Total War: Shogun 2 called Fall of the Samurai. It will be set in the period leading up to the Boshin War, in which European and American forces introduce a new wave of military technology that threatens to wipe out the Samurai.
Fall of the Samurai will add six new factions. Some, like the Nagaoka, sill support the might of the Shogun. Others, like the Satsuma clan, want to embrace Imperial power. Externally, British, French and American forces are vying for influence in the Land of the Rising Sun. Over the course of the campaign, you'll get to decide Japan's fate.
New tech trees will reflect the evolving technology of a country adapting to the influx of devastating new weaponry from the west. That technology includes new naval units like "steamers, torpedo boats and mighty Ironclad battleships." For the first time in Total War, these will be able to launch artillery attack on land units from the safety of the sea. Coastal defences will also be able to launch ranged attacks on incoming fleets, and the fight for influence will rage across a new campaign map that will incorporate the Northern Ezo territories and railways. Railways can be used to move troops incredibly fast, and can be sabotaged by the enemy.
On the battlefield, 39 new units will be available, including Gatling guns, US Marines and British Royal Marines. There will be three new agent types, Foreign Veteran, the Ishin Shishi and the Shinshengumi. These campaign map agents will have all new progression trees, and the Geisha and Ninja skills will be updated.
The six new factions are divided into pro-Shogunate and pro-Imperial groups. The Aizu, Nagaoka, and Jozai clans fight for traditional Japan, while the Choshu, Satsuma and Tosa factions fight for the Empire.
A number of improvements will be made to siege battles. New tower defences can be upgraded and specialised to become archery, matchlock or gatling gun towers. A new "port siege" battle will let armadas brave coastal defences to take control of coastal towns by occupying their harbours.
Shogun 2's multiplayer features will also be expanded. You'll be able to create a separate Fall of the Samurai avatar with access to 40 new retainers, 30 new armour pieces and a new tech tree. There will be a new 19th century conquest map and you'll be able to create multiple avatars to try out different tech tree builds.
Fall of the Samurai is shaping up to be a huge update. It's standalone, too, so you won't need Shogun 2 to play it. It's due out in March.
What's this, every Total War title except Shogun and Shogun 2, with all accompanying DLC for just £8.74 / $12.49? What are you doing to us, Steam sale? I was planning to eat, and perhaps sleep this weekend but NO, you have to throw hundreds of hours of world class strategy gaming at me for a price that my buying finger can't not click on.
Wait, there's more? Gravity mangling platformer VVVVVV, for just 99p / $1.24? That's less than I paid for my cup of coffee this morning. The slick shouting-at-people-until-they-crack simulator LA Noire, which has only been out for two minutes, is half price. And Fallout: New Vegas and all its DLC packs are available at prices that make the upcoming Ultimate Edition seem a little redundant.
Also on sale today:
Red Orchestra series Operation Flashpoint franchise RIFT Sniper: Ghost Warrior The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition Roller Coaster Tycoon 3: Platinum Two Worlds franchise
The deals will change around again in six hours time, so keep an eye on the Steam front page. The Autumn sale will wrap up on Sunday, giving us some time to play everything we've bought before the big Christmas sale kicks off.
The Creative Assembly have released the raw table data for Empire and Napoleon on the Total War forums. The files should help modders looking to change in-game properties find the files they need to tweak within Total War's complex file structure.
As well as this gesture of support for what used to be one of PC gaming's most prolific and passionate modding communities, The Creative Assembly explain why they've been unable to provide the same level of mod support that fans have enjoyed in older games like Rome and Medieval 2.
Creative Assembly's Craig Laycock explains that the complexity of the engine used to create Empire and Napoleon has proved the main barrier to the creation of mod tools. "Back then, the game engine was a hell of a lot simpler than it is now," he writes. "There was a fraction of the database table files we use today, and these were basic, easily-editable text files. Compared to today’s binary files, which we’ve had to implement to fight naturally expanding load-times, they were a doddle to mod.
"Likewise, today’s campaign map is vastly more complex and data-dense than Rome’s, which was basically a simple TGA file that could be edited in photoshop. Today’s maps demand way more complexity in order to allow for better path-finding and AI. In addition, Rome’s campaign map was tile based; today’s campaign map is seamless for better movement, making it that considerably harder to mod."
Rome and Medieval are some of the best loved entries in the Total War series thanks to some of the incredible mods created by the community. Total War modders could move the game to a different part of the world, add astounding levels of historical accuracy, add new units or rebalance existing ones. The Creative Assembly say that they recognise the value of Total War modders, and insist that the lack of mod tools for recent titles isn't part of a ploy to boost DLC sales.
"Back in the Rome days, Vercingetorix created tools that were absolutely key to the explosion of Total War modding; tools such as the CAS exporter and the unpacker. You were happy, we were thrilled and some fantastic mods (such as the breathtaking Europa Barbarorum) were born, and enjoyed by thousands, us included. We’re still in awe of what people achieved with Rome and Medieval II’s engines."
"Please understand that we’re not trying to constrain modding in any way; we simply haven’t been able to support it as well as we really wanted to," explains Laycock. "This isn’t a conspiracy to make you buy DLC over creating your own content… if that were true, there never would have been the possibility of making unit-packs for Empire and Napoleon. The fact remains that modders have made many such excellent units, and enriched the game for thousands of Total War players.
"We still want to help though, and we think the best way to do this is to give you the raw database XML and XSD files."
"Going forward, we’ll be working on a better strategy to support modding, and we’re now planning what we’re going to do for Shogun 2. But we’re going to stop promising specifics that we’re unable to deliver, as we all know how well that’s worked out in the past."
For an overview of some of the greatest fan-made Total War creations, check out our pick of the ten best Total War mods.
Speaking to Eurogamer, Creative Assembly's studio director, Mike Simpson has confirmed that the team are already working on another Total War game, just two month's after the release of Total War: Shogun 2. When asked by the website whether the team were working on another Total War game, Simpson replied "We never stop, so yes."
He also mentioned that "The original Shogun sold more copies in the second three years of its existence than it did in its first three years." However, the studio director was confident in the early success of Shogun 2, saying: "It's doing fab. We're 90 per cent Metacritic which is exactly where we wanted to hit, and it's selling great."
Total War: Shogun 2 was just patched with DX11 support, which made a lot of people with powerful machines very happy. Read our full review here.
VG247 have just spotted a tweet from UK member of parliament Ed Vaizey that suggests the Total War developers, Creative Assembly could be developing a new game based on the Alien films.
His tweet reads: "Great visit to Creative Assembly one of UK's best developers. Now hiring for new blockbuster based on Alien"
"Based on" suggests it might not be an official alien game, but The Creative Assembly is owned by Sega, who published Rebellion's Aliens vs. Predator reboot last year, and are behind Gearbox's upcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines. They have the rights to the Alien franchise. This could be happening. We'll bring you the latest details as soon as they emerge. ZOMG. Get the latest updates below.
Sega have told CVG that the new Alien title will be "a peer to Dead Space 2," and is currently only confirmed for consoles. It would be very surprising to see the Total War developers move away from PC development, however.
Sega boss Mike Hayes has told CVG that Creative Assembly have been "given the direction to win awards."
"This is very much a triple-A project," he says, "We want this to be a peer to the likes of Dead Space 2."
Eurogamer say that The Creative Assembly are planning to grow their studio to work on the new title and confirm that development is already underway, though it won't be ready to show at E3.
According to RPS, development will be handled by the team behind console hack and slash, Viking: Battle for Asgard. The game will be based on the first Alien film, which suggests more tension and scares than the mass bug shoot of Aliens.
*Shogun 2 Pre-purchase offer also includes the eight all-new, Shogun-themed items for your head-wearing and/or neck-cleaving pleasure in Team Fortress 2. Pre-purchase Shogun 2 and start using the items in TF2 right away.
Sega have just announced that Total War: Shogun 2 will be getting a demo through Steam on February 22. The demo will let players test out the campaign map and the game's gorgeous battles. We'e played and reviewed Shogun 2, and given it a score of 92 and an Editor's Choice award. You can read the full review in the latest issue of PC Gamer UK, which hits stores tomorrow, or in the May issue of PC Gamer US, which is out on March 29. Shogun 2 is set for release on March 15.