Friends, readers, countrymen - Rome 2: Total War has been announced, and Eurogamer has sat down with Creative Assembly studio director Mike Simpson to find out loads more about it the studio's presentation at the Rezzed game show tomorrow.
Where Total War can be better
Following the glorious 9/10 that Total War: Shogun 2 was awarded will be hard work. Despite the praise, however, there are those that argue the series has some fundamental flaws, even that it may have gone wrong in recent instalments.
"It hasn't," Mike Simpson disagreed. "We're building a customer base all the time, so more and more people are playing.
"It hasn't gone wrong; that doesn't mean there aren't things in there we can always do better. And we do look, at the end of each game - in fact, all the way through the games now, we're constantly looking at what we can do better, and adjusting the team to make that happen.
"You can pretty much guarantee that if there's an area of the game in one game that's been criticised more than other areas, we'll put more effort into that for the next one, so we do adjust the team from that point of view. And we'll keep doing that until that particular thing ceases to be a problem. And then there'll be something else on the top on the list which will be where we'll put the effort."
What the community wants
Total War has no more demanding fan than those entrenched in the community, and Simpson's very proud of them for it.
"There's a constant group that push us towards more and more historical accuracy," he said, no doubt alluding to the theatrics of Shogun 2, which weren't to everybody's taste.
"We have a fight between our internal geekiness and the desire to put together a Hollywood spectacle, so those two ends of the spectrum fight against each other and we end up, hopefully, with a happy medium somewhere in between."Mike Simpson, studio director, Creative Assembly
"We have a fight between our internal geekiness and the desire to put together a Hollywood spectacle, so those two ends of the spectrum fight against each other and we end up, hopefully, with a happy medium somewhere in between."
"They ask for better AI all the time," he added, "and again, that's an area where we've worked very hard since Empire and have made a huge amount of progress.
"And we're going to go a lot further with that as well, until we start going well beyond what people are expecting and not just meeting expectations."
Simpson hopes Rome 2 will feel "a lot more like you're playing another human, or another faction, rather than playing a machine where some of its behaviour becomes predictable, where you can find its little quirks and end up playing against the quirks rather than against the intelligence".
Rome 2 factions will have "different generic personalities". And within their style there will be characters with their own personalities.
Total War has enjoyed a vibrant modding community for years. But it wasn't until earlier this year that official map editing tools were released by Creative Assembly. The voracious community wants more.
"There's a whole group of them who want more modding tools and for the game to be more open from that point of view," said Simpson, "and we're certainly working on that, to try and get as close as we want to what they want.
"What they actually want is a toolset and capabilities which are better than what we actually have ourselves. They don't realise quite what a horrendous and manual process putting together some of these systems is!
"As we develop our own tools it becomes easier for us to support modders, so we're intending to do that."
"What they actually want is a toolset and capabilities which are better than what we actually have ourselves. They don't realise quite what a horrendous and manual process putting together some of these systems is!"Mike Simpson
Whether those map editing tools will be included in the Rome 2 box - "we haven't specifically said that yet", Simpson said. "But I'd be surprised if that wasn't the case."
"We haven't really fleshed out what we can and can't do from a modding point of view," Simpson went on. "We're going to spend some more time actually talking to the modder groups and try to come up with a plan that actually delivers them what they need rather than what we think they need, which isn't necessarily the same thing."
To that end, Creative Assembly has organised a modding summit at Total War HQ in Horsham, England. That's next month. Key modders from the community will be invited and both parties will work together for mutual gain.
"And we'll show them a bit more about how we put things together so they understand that a bit better, because a lot of the time they think there are these mythical tools we use, which we can just release and everything will be fine and everybody else will make their own campaigns and it will be happy land for them. And that just isn't quite the way it is - it's not as easy as that, I'm afraid," Simpson stressed.
Rome 2 development, the engine and frozen system requirements
The Creative Assembly team has been "pecking away" at Rome 2 for "more than a year", Simpson said. The majority of the team moved over from Shogun 2 expansion Fall of the Samurai four to six months ago, apparently. The team is now 100 people strong.
That gorgeous new engine underpinning everything isn't new, per say, "but it's a pretty radical upgrade".
"It's an evolutionary step rather than revolutionary. The programmers may disagree with that," Simpson shuddered, "it's probably somewhere between the two.
"It's fairly heavily modified, so the whole of the lighting model has changed, and that makes a huge difference to everything. It's not completely, 100 per cent new - it's not like we threw it away and started again. But it's a pretty radical upgrade."
"We've actually nailed the min-spec down so it's probably never going to change again. That's probably what we're aiming for. So as time goes by, you'll be able to run Total War on pretty much any PC that's out there."Mike Simpson
"One of the things we debate internally," he added, "is where should we try and pitch ourselves from a quality point of view. So, for example, we look at state of the art cut-scenes and so on for console games and say, should we be matching that level? Or should we try and keep it closer to the level of graphics you get on the battlefield? We have those kinds of discussions all the time.
"Generally, though, we're always pushing towards higher and higher quality, but we've got to bounce that against the fact that we have to have lots and lots of guys on screen, which the console games don't do, because they can't, generally."
But don't panic if you have a relatively old - or old - PC. Mike Simpson revealed that the minimum specifications for what sounds like the entire Total War series have been permanently frozen, which sounds like witchcraft to us.
"We've actually nailed the min-spec down so it's probably never going to change again," he revealed. "That's probably what we're aiming for. So as time goes by, you'll be able to run Total War on pretty much any PC that's out there.
"To make that happen, we actually end up splitting both assets and the actual code paths, so there's actually different ways of putting the scenes together for the two ends [of the spectrum]. Top-end really will exploit everything that your card can do. Bottom-end, if you've got a laptop running integrated graphics, we want to run on that. That's doable now. The tech's come on well enough."
Hero units, dogs, pigs and making things up
Shogun 2 took dramatic license with some legendary figures from Japanese lore and made them into Hero units. When I asked whether these super-powered figures will be a feature of Rome 2, Simpson said, "No is the short answer."
"But I'm not sure that's absolutely true for Shogun 2. The Hero units were strong, but I wouldn't say they were super-powered, and there was certainly plenty of examples in Japanese history of extraordinary heroes who did extraordinary things. Now, we will be going through, scouring Roman history, looking for interesting things like that," he added, confusingly.
"One of the things we won't do, we won't make anything up."
In Rome: Total War, the first game, not everything was strictly backed up by a dusty old history book.
"There probably were occasional things in Rome 1 where there wasn't enough information to fill it out fully, so we had things like the Spanish having a unit called Bull Warriors. We kind of made that up," Simpson admitted.
"There would have been a unit pretty much like that, but they probably weren't called Bull Warriors - they probably had horns on their hat.
"There probably were occasional things in Rome 1 where there wasn't enough information to fill it out fully, so we had things like the Spanish having a unit called Bull Warriors. We kind of made that up."Mike Simpson
"We won't do that this time around. We've got more time, we've got all of the research we did last time around, plus plenty of time to do more. We won't need to do that. No, we're not going to make anything up this time around."
That means Burning Pigs may not return, sadly. These were the anti-elephant unit, as bizarre as that sounds.
"There's a few favourite units from the original game where I'm struggling yet to find suitable historical justification for them," said Simpson. "The Burning Pigs is one. We're still fighting over them. We're trying to find a better source [sauce? -Ed] for justifying their existence."
"We found a different use for Burning Pigs, which is historically justifiable, but not as the anti-elephant weapon."
Worryingly, Simpson's "not sure" whether dogs, the infantry eaters, will return either.
"There were some funny bugs we had in that, as well - the 'dogs ate my army bug'. At one point, there was a bug where if dogs lost their handlers, you couldn't kill the dogs because the handlers had gone, and you had to kill the handlers to kill the dogs, and you ended up with dogs eating your army. It was rare," he recalled, "but fun."
Overall, there will be more units in Rome 2 than in Shogun 2, due to the much wider geographical scope. But he didn't compare the unit volume of Rome 2 to that of Rome 1.
Rome 1 had multiplayer, but it was limited to the real-time land battles. Multiplayer's improved exponentially since then, in the Total War series, and campaign map (think Civilization) multiplayer is now a relatively new, but default proposition.
"We're not planning to drop campaign multiplayer," said Simpson. "It's reasonably popular. Actually, more people play that than I thought would. I thought it would be a fairly niche thing, but it's not."
When we previewed Total War: Rome 2, Creative Assembly told us it was "planning something big" for the game's multiplayer.
"What I do hope is that the feel of it, the things that made original Rome something you remember fondly, that kind of thing - I hope we capture that in the new Rome as well. And the content really does give us some fairly rich pickings in that respect."Mike Simpson
"We haven't said yet what the big change is going to be," Simpson commented, "but it's bigger than that [an evolution of the campaign map multiplayer]."
"Seriously," he added, when pressed, "we're not talking about it yet. Apart from anything else, we actually have to pull it off. Until we've actually seen it working and are really sure about it, we won't start talking about it.
"But it's ambitious, I will say that for it."
Rome 1 and Rome 2 side by side
Rome: Total War was released in the autumn of 2004, nearly eight years ago. The Total War series has changed incredibly since then. So how similar will Rome 2 be to its predecessor?
"From the way the game actually plays, it will be very different - you'll be doing different things both on the campaign and on the battlefield.
Will it be more difficult to win?
"No, no," answered Simpson. "I dunno - it might even be easier to win, actually. It depends on how you define win, actually, as well."
Obviously as killing everyone and conquering everything.
"That's one way! And would it be easier to do that?" he mulled. "You'll have more options to turn the difficulty level down to make it easier than the original game.
"What I do hope is that the feel of it, the things that made original Rome something you remember fondly, that kind of thing - I hope we capture that in the new Rome as well. And the content really does give us some fairly rich pickings in that respect.
"This time we're going to really explore in a deeper and interesting way, particularly on a human level, bringing characters out and bringing events out and having the kind of things happen in the game that happened in the Roman Empire and so on.
"That's what we're trying to do which is majorly different."