Creative Assembly's headquarters nestle in bosom of Mother England's green and pleasant land. It's an unassuming building to have to been the home of the genesis of some of the greatest PC Strategy games of all time. However, Eurogamer's visit here isn't to talk about that. It's about something quite different: Spartan: Total Warrior.
Yes, the name is similar, if you squint. Yes, Thematically, its rooted in the same period as Rome: Total War. And yes. it features quite a lot of people hitting each other. But that's about it. We're here today to talk about Creative Assembly got to what immediately seems a strange destination. And to discover if this strange destination is worth the rest of us joining them at.
Eurogamer: In the eyes of the majority of the Gaming Public, Creative Assembly is connected to large-scale PC strategy games thanks to the Total War games. Spartan: Total Warrior is clearly something unexpected. Or is it? Why an action game? Why now?
Mike Simpson: We've always had two teams. It wasn't always just the Total War. We've been doing sports games for EA for a long time, which people tend to forget. Minority sports, like Australian Rules Football, Cricket, Rugby and so on. So we had a team that had just finished Rugby on PS2 and they had a passionate desire to make something other than sports games, to be perfectly honest. With the Total War stuff we'd been exploring the idea of a large scale battlefield and we wanted to marry that with an action title. Rather than being the general in charge of the troops, put you on the battlefield. And it kind of went from there, really.
Eurogamer: Was there any particular experience from the console side which worked for you with Spartan?
Mike Simpson: We'd become pretty adept at a particular kind of high-impact motion capture, so had very strong animation. The other thing about sports game is that the rules of the games are set so the gameplay is set. There's no innovation there, so the only place you can innovate is technology. So the team had ended up being particularly tech-focused, and worked out ways to squeeze more performance out of the PS2, and had in their minds ways they could get a lot more performance out of it, so that kind of married up well. A combination of being tech-focused and knowing our way around the battlefield. It seemed a logical choice, and not quite as strange as you might think.
Clive Gratton: As a company, we were right up for doing a console game for a while. We knew there was something in the epic adventure thing - the epic scale of all the total war games. We were pushing that technology on the PC, so it seemed a natural extension to bring it to the consoles. It's certainly an area we have experience in, so it's attractive from a publisher point of view. Rather than trying to say - well - "We're going to do Golf 2008", which would have been a lot harder sell.
Eurogamer: So what were the first steps?
Clive Gratton: We spent several months working on the technology side, working out whether it was possible to display hundreds of people on screen at once. So we got together a demo of three-hundred people running over a landscape with a castle on one side. The guys would pour over the hill, and then you'd run with the guys. It was immediately cool to be part of it, and it felt fresh. And then I'd have a button where I'd demolish the castle and a massive Minotaur coming out. Which took about 128Mb of the Dev Kit when we were making it, as we didn't have the technology to do that yet, so it was a straight out of 3D-Max animation of the Minotaur. And that immediately got a lot of interest. The second they saw that it was very much "Hmm... I've never seen that before".
Eurogamer: It's not just the mass of men. It also ties in thematically with previous work, like Rome.
Clive Gratton: It came from when we were also producing Rome and doing a lot of research. It struck us as a shame to waste so much of it. We thought that on one side you had the might of the Roman Empire conquering the whole world, so a fearsome group you could have as an enemy, and they also have that iconic imagery, which I really shouldn't talk about but... well, it's been appropriated by various cultures through the years. The Eagles. The helmets...
Eurogamer: They did invent Fascism, bless ‘em.
Clive Gratton: And then we thought who were going to pitch them against. The Spartans: The Hardest [Mofos] known to man. The story of Thermopylae with 300 men versus...
Eurogamer: 500,000 or so.
Clive Gratton: Well, the other day someone told me it was over a million. [Everybody laughs] Which may not be entirely historical accurate. However, on a conceptual level, that kind of gets the juices flowing. We didn't want a game where you'd act precariously. I wanted to be the person who spread the death. The idea of a story where you had such a small number of men who held off thousands... that's what I wanted. You want to be the man who kills thousands of people. [Cackles].
Eurogamer: I suppose one of the things about Thermopylae is that it's a historical story which has almost crossed over into Myth. Yes, there was an outnumbered battle there which helped save Greece from the Persians, but the details have been lost. It sits on the border between fact and fiction. That strikes me as the sort of pathway you followed from Rome to Spartan.
Clive Gratton: It kinds of goes Historically Accurate, then Thermopylae, and then you all you need is one more step for someone to say "[Sod] it. Let's do Ray Harryhausen". That's where Spartan is born.
Because of the success of the Total War brand, there are legions of fans who adore the historically accurate nature of those games - and we spent an amazing time in order to do that right. But that lead to pressure being exerted on Spartan's design. Some people were always going "That's not strictly historically accurate". It was like that, and then the moment you go "I love Ray Harryhausen". At which point everyone goes "I Give Up!", and then the design can go free. As if it's historically accurate, one man isn't going to kill tens of thousands of people by the time you've finished. That's not really a realistic premise for a game. The moment you make that decision that you can have myth and legend in a game, it frees you up to work out how you can do that in terms of gameplay.
Spartan: Total Warrior is due for release via Sega on October 7th on PS2 and Xbox. Join us next week for more on Kieron's adventures with Creative Assembly.