Staff Editorials

The Next Step - Creative Assembly and the Console
Posted: 16.05.2011 12:46 by Comments: 4
So, as you guys will have been aware of already - Creative Assembly are now working on a new title connected to the Alien franchise. What form that will take, or even the specifics of genre or consoles are being kept tightly under wraps. However, Strategy Informer was allowed to go down to CA's office and squeeze as much information out of them as we could, so here you are. Interviewees are Senior Director Tim Heaton, and SEGA's Vice President of Production, Gary Dunn:

Strategy Informer: So, there's probably not a lot you can tell us about this game, so I'll just cut to the chase - what CAN you tell us?

Tim Heaton: The team that are making it, the bare bones of that team made Viking here about three years ago, and that game was flawed. It was flawed kind of because of its scope and time issues mainly, and it never realised it's potential. So we looked at what it could do next. And we were aware that SEGA were making games with the FOX Alien license, and so we put together a demo, put it together really quickly, and there was a passion within the team to get away from mud and sandals, and do something for contemporary.

(ED: believe props need to go to Mr. Heaton at this point for condensing the entire Total War franchise into the phrase "Mud and sandals".)

We pitched it to SEGA, and they, right across Europe, America and Japan said "wow, we get this. this is really exciting." We went through some other machinations along the way, but we've really been developing bespoke technology, for this game, for the genre of the game. I think we're feeling very confident and are really focused on what we're going to deliver now.

Strategy Informer: Obviously your former Brisbane office has made a console game for you (Stormrise), which as... alright, I suppose...

* Some laughter, although I kind of liked Stormrise, in a way. I definitely liked Viking, so it's surprising to see them be as harsh as they are about it *

Gary Dunn: I suppose I can jump in there. We divested the Brisbane studio from the Creative Assembly stewardship, and we'll be making an announcement within the next few weeks about what they're working on next. Suffice to say since Stormrise's completion, the studio down under has been heavily invested in, entirely new leadership team from the likes of EA, Ubisoft... the people who made Stormrise aren't the people who populate, at least the leadership, that studio. There's a new set of standards in place, they're doing a very different game.

Strategy Informer: As you mentioned briefly, SEGA have been making games with the Alien license - the last one was of course Alien vs. Predator. Have you taken any specific inspiration or lessons from that game?

Tim Heaton: I think we took one particular lesson which was, at the quality AvP was delivered, it sold fantastically well. There was a real kind of passion from the player for that kind of content. I think we learned that.

Strategy Informer: So... do you think first-person-shooters fit the Alien franchise best?

Tim Heaton: I'm not going to answer that, because it's going to give you clues. It's a big franchise, there's a lot of things that could be done.

Strategy Informer: Speaking frankly though, you guys are known for your strategy games. It's who you 'are' more or less. What is the likelihood of this being a strategy game?

Tim Heaton: I'm not going to talk about genre. But there are two very separate personalities within the studio. Total War is the backbone of everything that we do. Fantastic team to work with, very deep... you've got people there who've been around through all of that franchise. Mike made a great analogy earlier in that they are the Radio 4 of the studio, and the Radio 1, the more populist, are the console team. Even though we move people around and learn stuff... they are very different. We don't have to be a strategy-only studio.

Strategy Informer: Now that you have this new studio space, is work on the Alien title beginning in earnest now? Sort of a "Today is the first day of the rest of your life" kind of thing?

Tim Heaton: Absolutely. We are probably 20 people away from the optimum head-count on this team, that's why we want to talk about it a bit so we can find people who want to work on this game, but yeah, it's all systems go. I mean we're still prototyping.

Strategy Informer: The Total War franchise has recently been going more and more into digital distribution, especially with the close ties to steam... is the thinking behind that going to bleed into the console projects?

Tim Heaton: It's a different world. Our primary goal is to deliver a core console game at the highest quality. But the infrastructure around that, and how that is delivered, yeah, we're learning all the time. With Total War - I think Valve would happily agree, I think we are one of the leaders on Steam. So it's about taking that learning, SEGA's learning into how we'll deliver the franchise. Bottom line though is about delivering the quality game on those consoles.

Strategy Informer: Obviously game studios, they lots of separate teams, you've got your new floor space, you want to expand to 200 people etc... what do you think the capacity in terms of projects for Creative Assembly now?

Tim Heaton: Errr... well Gary's my boss, and we have this discussion a fair bit. We're cautious, and really paranoid. I'm a big believer in focus. IF Total War, which is a fantastic franchise and very profitable, if we could set up our console team to do that, and be a resource for SEGA to come to for bleeding edge technology and delivery, then I'm a happy guy and I'm not looking to do anything more than that.

Gary Dunn: From a SEGA perspective, we don't want to over-dilute the creative excellence here. This is a real, determined push for this next game that they're making in the console space, which is right on our strategic path...

Tim Heaton: We'll only do other things so long as it doesn't affect those two strings at the studio. The amount of money we pour into those teams requires all our focus, I don't think we will want to expand much beyond 200 people. I don't think its necessary for a studio that is based on quality and craft. I've seen mega-studios - you know I've been close to EA in the past, and you lose a lot of the craft that makes a difference at the top-level of quality when you do that. Or if you're in a position in Canada, where you get to bring in 100 extra people into a team if you have a problem. I'm not sure that is the best way to go about making great games.


Aaaaannd - because we all know where you hearts really lie, we also managed to have a quick catch up with Shogun 2 mastermind Jamie Ferguson, and asked him how things were getting along. Community Manager extraordinaire Craig Laycock also piped up from time to time:

Strategy Informer: So, it's been two months since the release of Shogun 2 - how has it done?

Jamie Ferguson: I think it's done pretty damn well actually. It's all been quite exciting. We've all been busy past two months working on Patch 2, everyone seems quite happy with that - we are. We also managed to slip in a few features on the quiet as well, so it's not just bug fixing. For example, with Fog, it actually has an effect in gameplay - troops can now 'hide' in fog instead of just being hard to see for the player. Also having affect on the accuracy of archers etc...

Strategy Informer: Now that the game is out, you must have some thoughts as to what comes next? Napoleon mainly had unit packs, Empire had Warpath, among other things... do you have any ideas for Shogun 2?

Jamie Ferguson: Yeah, we've got plans - there's plenty coming up over the next year and a bit, maybe even beyond that.

Strategy Informer: Do you know what you're leaning towards? Mini-campaigns and content packs or unit DLC?

Jamie Ferguson: It'll be a mixture. I can't really talk in any great detail about it, we'll obviously make announcements... although we have already announced the Ikko Ikki pack.

Craig Laycock: It adds an extra faction but also some extra gameplay elements as well associated with it. People have really taken Shogun 2 to their hearts so we want to continue to support it.

Jamie Ferguson: It's interesting seeing the among of hours people are putting in.

Strategy Informer:Do you know roughly how many man-hours have gone into Shogun 2 to date?

Jamie Ferguson: Not yet, no.

Craig Laycock: There was a metric I saw the other day, in the first day there was over 1 1/2 million battles.

Jamie Ferguson: There's a lot of interesting things coming out of that, I don't know them all off the top of my head, but I do know the average person has played on average around 200 battles in the campaign so far. I think the favourite clan at the moment is neck and neck between the Oda and the Shimazu.

Strategy Informer: Do you think you will ever return to boxed expansions? Since it wasn't the UK office who did Kingdoms, I guess you guys haven't done a boxed expansion since Barbarian Invasion?

Jamie Ferguson: We might do more stand-alone expansions, something along the lines of Napoleon. I don't think we want to make any announcements just yet though.

Craig Laycock: I think, There's a pretty big market at the moment for digital expansions to get people to download, and to impulse but as well, so it makes sense for us to use digital platforms wherever possible. But the Warpath expansion was available on disc later, I believe, so that's also something we could look at.

Jamie Ferguson: We won't just be doing unit expansions or anything. We will be looking at stuff that will actually enhance people's gameplay. It'll actually be something that they feel they've got their money's worth.

Strategy Informer: In terms of your patching schedule - how long are you going to keep up support for Shogun 2? Even Empire had a cut-off.

Jamie Ferguson: We're going to continue supporting Shogun 2 for as long as possible. As long as the fanbase is there playing the game, there's no reason stop supporting it.

Strategy Informer: How was the multiplayer segment received? I mean it was a first for you guys...

Jamie Ferguson: It's been pretty good, actually. There've been some of the more traditionalist that have gone and asked "why", but if you look at the amount of people playing it, it's been pretty good.

Craig Laycock: It's almost like we've developed a separate fan base.

Jamie Ferguson: A long those line, there's that whole thing with people debating with each other - you haven't really played a TW game until you've played against a person etc... it's amazing the number of Marmite experiences you get.

Strategy Informer: Again, because multiplayer was such a new thing for you, in terms of core design, is there anything that surprised? Anything that you thought probably should be different or worked better than you thought it would?

Jamie Ferguson: I think we're still trying to find out exactly where we stand with a lot of things. On day one release, you get people going straight for the kind of things that are very obvious, and then it's more the deeper gameplay that's starting to emerge now. We don't want to start changing it up and replacing things... people are just starting to get used to the mechanics. And that takes time to bed in , after that we can look at how people feel about stuff. Our multiplayer guys talk regularly to the community and so we're listening to the feedback there

And there you have it. A lot of information for you to take on there... I truly believe this is the dawn of a new era for Creative Assembly. They seem to have learned the lessons from the Empire/Napoleon situation, and we envision great things for Shogun 2. With their new console team as well in full swing, things are going to get very interesting there indeed. More details as we get them.
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By chiefone (SI Veteran Member) on May 20, 2011
It will fail on the console. How to command all of those units with precision with a thumb-stick while battling online?
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on May 24, 2011
I think you may need to read it again, Chief :P You kind of missed the point.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on May 24, 2011
Wow - how did this fall out here in the periphery of nothingness? ;)
I think it could be good for them to make something different and then return to make even better core-business, :)
By Thibby (SI Core Veteran) on May 24, 2011
Alien, man I love that franchise! O_O