A school gym in England, mid-'90s, and two local rugby players await orders. One is small and wide and called Adrian, and one is tall and weighs about 20 stone. He's Big Dave. Adrian has been getting flattened by Big Dave all day but he keeps getting back up. It's the rugby training in him: you bloody well get back up if you're knocked down. But this instinct is starting to annoy the people he's in the school gym for, the people making the sports game. They're trying to motion-capture for a rugby game and would rather Adrian lay still. They should be careful what they wish for.
We've known that Creative Assembly has been working on a new historical Total War game for a while now, but many had assumed the studio would be returning to a familiar setting. It's been 10 years since Medieval II: Total War. Just saying.
If you ever see an elephant in the wild, I really think you want to be standing behind it rather than in front of it. Standing behind it when it charges is dazzling, in fact - at least if Total War: Rome 2 is anything to go by.
Rome 2 features a new close-up unit camera, and it allows you to swoop across a vast battlefield and plonk yourself right behind any of your individual squads. Tag yourself to an elephant team in full pelt, and you get a real sense of the seismic horrors at your command. Everything's so big, so detailed! You can see the folds in the elephants' grey skin, while the chinks and dings in the armour of the enemy soldiers you're rushing towards really drives home the fact that these guys are, y'know, paid to stand in front of elephants for a living. War is terrible! the unit camera declares. And war is brilliant!
It's all part of a wider approach. The latest Total War sees you taking charge of the Roman Republic and leading it, hopefully, to some manner of glory, and it wants to make that process personal - wincingly, skull-crunchingly personal - without sacrificing any of its massive scope. Hence micro-management tweaks like getting right down on the ground with your troops (close enough to watch new animations as they freak out in combat, scatter when the line is broken, and sail through the air post-elephant-rush), and its equal and opposite addition, the ability to pull out from the battle to a brand new tactical view, where you can look over a whole arena of shifting icons, SupComm-style, and get the lay of the land before zooming back in wherever you're needed the most.
Al Bickham, the studio communications manager for The Creative Assembly, is showing me the right way to go about razing Carthage. The Roman way. On the screen in front of us, a fleet of Roman ships beaches just outside the city and begins to disgorge thousands of centurions, their commanders calling out orders as the massed ranks surge up the sand. As they run to the walls of the ancient capital, arrows rain down on the soldiers and catapult stones and flaming pots soar overhead. As the men dash between siege defences on their way to the gatehouse, I realise I'm watching a classical version of Saving Private Ryan.
Carthage feels like a city, too, a Mediterranean capital bronzed by the sun. It has a harbour, it has grand boulevards that lead to the narrow, winding roads of its residential districts and it has great and glorious temples that sit atop a hill at its centre. It's from these that we take a moment to look down upon the carnage that is spilling onto those grand boulevards, filling their gutters with blood. As the walls are breached and the defenders try to slow the advancing Romans, buildings are collapsing, fires are spreading and bodies are filling the streets. It's just another day in the Roman republic.
While Scipio Aemilianus' destruction of Carthage was the climax of the third Punic War, in the broader context of Roman history it's just a paragraph or two in a book. In a game of Total War: Rome 2, it could be but one of many great and terrible battles raging across an empire that spans three continents. It's this kind of grandeur, this sheer sense of scale, that's inspiring The Creative Assembly's developers as they make their next Total War game. They want drama, they want dynasties and this time things have to be big - certainly much, much bigger than the one-nation arena of their last game, Shogun 2.