The History of Creative Assembly (Total War / Alien Isolation) - Documentary

The History of Creative Assembly (Total War / Alien Isolation) - Documentary

[MUSIC PLAYING] – Hello, and welcome to Noclip's
second guest documentary and its very first to be delving
into a studio based out of England, which means of course the
weather is dreadful, but we'll press on regardless. So we're here to tell the
story of Creative Assembly, a studio that began its
life in a spare bedroom porting other people's games
but grew into something much, much more significant.
It's perhaps best known for just a couple of words.
As short as those words may be, they hold some real significance
for strategy fans around the world.

And of course those
words are Total War. Now this is a studio
I visited plenty of times over the course of my career,
usually to take a look at the latest Total War project, or more recently with
People Make Games to find out about a bizarre television show that somehow
got made in the early 2000s. But despite a dozen or
more trips, until now, I'd only seen one side of Creative Assembly,
the PC strategy powerhouse. But there is another side. These days,
they're known as the console team and they're the folks behind
games like Alien Isolation and Halo Wars. And they've actually
been around since the very beginning. They even predate
Total War altogether.

– I joined in I think like,
uh, 93-ish? Yeah. Working in one room
above an estate agent's. Three coders working exclusively
in 70 language, you know, the language which has all kind of
one to one mapping with processor instructions and bears no
resemblance to anything that's human readable and is just kind of,
you know, to do the simplest task, you've got some reams of code.
And so that's where the name of Creative
Assembly comes from.

– This was just before we seriously
started thinking about Total War, where we were making sports
games for Electronic Arts. And we were making the kind of
niche sports games, I guess. The guys had done FIFA on PC, and
then I think Electronic Arts had asked us to look at
some other sports. It's kind of a really good apprenticeship
because maybe when you kind of get into video games
development, you kind of think, I've got this burning
desire to make my game. And actually it was
pretty healthy to be on, to kind of get into
something like that where now there's an audience, and they
know what they want. And you need to make a game that
everybody's going to fall in love with. – Mike Simpson joined.
He was our producer at Psygnosis, and so he
was a kind of a guy with kind of industry clout and
an understanding of game design. – So I joined Creative Assembly
in 96, but I'd been working with the founder of Creative
Assembly, Tim Ansell, for probably five or six
years before then.

I was working as a producer
for a publisher, Psygnosis, and he was a sole developer
when I first met him working on ports of various
PC games, very early PC games. There were five people when I joined.
So yeah, the reason I joined CA was not to make the Total War
series of games. I had wanted– I wanted to make an RPG. That was
my, that was the thing I was into at the time. And I joined up with Tim
where we were going to make an RPG based on monkey Journey to the
West, and we were going to do it in Singapore.

CHRIS: All right. – So the idea was I'd join, and we'd
set up a new studio in Singapore because there were these massive
government subsidies there. It became fairly clear
that all of those subsidies had huge
strings attached, and, you know, it turned out that making games in
Horsham was pretty much as good as making
them in Singapore. So we decided to stay. While we were
looking into the Singapore thing, a number of things happened.
I mean, first, we noticed there were a lot of people making
Command & Conquer clones. Like Command & Conquer had
been out for a little while. There were a lot of games like
Kill, Krush 'n' Destroy, which were really quite
easy looking games to make. And they were doing really
well, and we thought, OK, well, maybe we should put the
whole RPG thing on hold for awhile, and make one of these quick and
easy Command & Conquer clones. But also at the same time the
first 3D card, Voodoo, came out, 3D effects, the kind of thing
that in the past you wouldn't have been able to consider doing
suddenly became possible.

So rather than having a
top down view like all of the previous Command & Conquer
games, we thought about, okay, well, what if we start tilting
the camera down and putting you in the General's eyes
and having a rolling landscape. And because of those 3D cards,
rolling landscapes were suddenly a thing that you could do.
'Cause before everything was square angles and corners.
And out of that and a few experiments with flocking,
we ended up with this medieval battlefield with lots
and lots of little guys and a General's viewpoint. And that started to evolve
into and to Shogun: Total War. KEVIN MCDOWELL: So when I came here
for my interview, they took me around and they showed me a pre-release
build of Shogun: Total War, which hadn't been announced.

So in my sketchbook I had this idea
for a game where you control an army, but you don't
control the individual guys. You control these groups of guys, and
you move and fight and you take over territory. And I thought, oh
my god, this place is awesome. Even if they're just hiring me
to work on sports games, I just want to be around,
you know, this kind of awesome creative thing
that they're working on. But it was quite different
back in those times because the games industry, you know,
you can say that it started in the 70s or in the 80s, but for
me as a 3D artist, it really started the mid
to late 90s.

That's when all the tools changed, when the games
went from being, you know, top down or side scrolling
to having full 3D views. I was an experienced
3D game developer. I had three years of experience,
and that was a lot back then. MIKE: With the 3D cards, you know,
one of the programmers who was actually a pretty
good mathematician had this idea of turning spline based
ridge into a landscape. To our great surprise that
actually worked.

I don't think anybody expected that to work
in real time, and it worked. And suddenly there were all these little
guys running across the landscape, and that's the point where
we thought, OK, that we could start making really
quite big battlefields that way. And from there we evolved into
wrapping up those battles with a turn based strategy wrapper. I think the turn based strategy part probably
ends up being slightly more than half of the game in the end.

And the battles themselves, you know, they're fun and
they're interesting. But as an experience on their own, they're not
really enough to keep you coming back and back
and back and back. For characters that turn
up on the battlefield, you know, you need some context. And it wasn't really
until we started getting backing from EA that we had enough time
and budget to be able to think about it properly and say,
okay, let's design something which is going to be more than
the sum of the parts after that. We started off with just
using Japanese content for our first demo. I mean it provided a great setting, which
was reasonably simple, right? So there weren't too many different
troop types and, you know, we could have this kind of zen
simplicity thing running through it without making it too deep and
complicated. So CA, since I joined, there always were two teams, and
when I joined there were five people.

And hen I joined, they were all
busy making, I think it was a rugby world cup game
when I first joined. And they stayed doing that, making
sports games for EA for quite a while and then went on
to make action games. And you know, they're still there.
It's the same team. They made Alien Isolation,
and Halo Wars 2, and so on. And alongside them gradually
the Total War team grew. So–
But by the end of Shogun 1, there were probably 15 or 16 of us,
which sounds ridiculously small. CHRIS: Why do you think
Creative Assembly didn't go all in on one of
those two things? Because they both sound like they had–
Like Shogun was obviously a success or that maybe had
a longer tail on it than some of the sports stuff,
and the sports games were doing really well in their own right.
Like, how come Creative Assembly didn't become a studio
that just did one of those two things? – Well, Tim Ansell is a, you know,
true businessman, and you know, during those
early years, you know, studios came and went pretty rapidly,
especially small studios.

And so having speculative
projects and safe projects going simultaneously is obviously
a very good way to run a business. [MUSIC PLAYING] CHRIS: Now, you may have
noticed that there's a fairly significant part of
the Creative Assembly story that we have missing a presence.
Although we'd be very lucky to interview some real
veterans from the studio, people that have been
there 10, 20 years, there is one person that we
haven't spoken to as of yet. The founder of Creative Assembly
himself, Tim Ansell. And, well, that's because he
doesn't work here anymore. Following the acquisition
by Sega in 2005, he left the studio, and not on
particularly good terms either. I feel it's important that we do talk to
him if we're going to tell the history of Creative Assembly. And so that's
where we're off to next. But unfortunately due to
time constraints, I can't take Noclip's wonderful camera operator Jeremy
with me.

And so, sorry Jeremy, The camera footage is going to
take a slight dip in quality over the next few minutes.
Uh, forgive me for that. [MUSIC PLAYING] – Well, originally I kind of left school
with no qualifications at all really and then ended up getting
the first job I got offered, which was working in the print
room with an architect. And did that for a few years, and
they started sending me to– They'd released a college to become
an architectural technician, which I wasn't interested in. And
oh, along along the way they– That's right, they, sorry, they bought a Apple II computer
to work out all sorts of engineering calculations, and
it kind of caught my interest. So I asked the boss if I could,
have a go, and he said fine.

So I used to spend my evenings
teaching myself to use an Apple, an Applesoft BASIC and then went on
to 6502 assembly language. And then when I was
at school, at college, I got a lucky break 'cause one of
the mates there, oh, he said, I've got a mate who runs
his own computer company. They'll give me a number if you'd
like. So I went, yeah, whatever. I've heard people say
that all the time, you know. And anyway, much to my amazement,
next week he came in and said, oh, I saw him down at
the pub, and here's his number.

Give him a call. So I went,
oh, well, wow. OK. So that was a guy
called Graeme Devine who subsequently went
on to write 7th Guest. CHRIS: Right. – And but yeah, I worked for him for
about 18 months or so and– Until that went pop and then
I found myself on my own, and that's how I got started. CHRIS: So the original plan was
just as a one person entity, then. – Didn't really have a grand plan,
to be honest. It was just have a job mostly. But I've just
always been someone that's sort of seen opportunities and take them
when they come along rather than been a great visionary
with a grand plan, so. So I just found that I was
getting offered far more work than I could cope with.

And so it seemed silly to turn that down.
Plus I saw very early on that the day of the
one man band was disappearing. So it was a case of
grow or die, really, Yeah, I hired my first
two employees, 1989, just before my first son
was born. And I remember the first one worked in the
spare bedroom at home. And then my son was born,
and we needed that back. So went and got first little 200 square
foot office above an estate agent. ANNOUNCER: EA Sports,
it's in the game. TIM: Often when you call a
large company, it's so crucial who is you get put through to. You
get put through to the wrong person, it's probably the end of the line. And I got put through to a guy called
Matt Webster who happened to be the associate producer on a
new game they were doing. And when he told me it was a football
game, to be quite honest with you, I thought, that sounds a bit sad,
but I tried to remain enthus– Sort of retain enthusiastic tone
just in case I wanted to do it.

So, yeah, I then I then went up
to meet them fairly soon after, and I was really
blown away by their enthusiasm and passion
for everything really. They seemed like a really
nice bunch of guys, and it seemed very friendly atmosphere. And they were absolutely
desperate for me to start. I can't even begin to tell you, like
before we even signed the contract, literally the next day they sent down
a taxi with a Mac in it with all the source code on so I could get started.

CHRIS: Right. We should probably
say which football game that was. – Ah, yeah. Well, at the time it was
known as FIFA International Soccer, which I guess is generally
now known as FIFA 94 even though the numbering
didn't start till the next version. And of course it wasn't
released at the time, so nobody had any idea how big it was going
to be. I think to be fair, nor did they. Yeah, at the time FIFA
really opened doors for us. You know, you just mentioned, I mean
obviously I didn't write FIFA.

We just ported it onto
the PC. But nevertheless, if you went around telling people you
just worked on the PC version of FIFA, then every door you can
imagine just swung open. ANNOUNCER: Santamaria, Nboku.
Nigeria offside. TIM: The commentary actually came
about completely by accident really. I was just in the office on my own one
night. EA were doing the sound effects, and they hadn't given to me yet,
and I wanted to crack on with the, audio code.
So in order to check it out, I just decided to record some placeholder
sound effects just to check them. So I literally said the names of all the
sound effects. There was like pass 1, pass 2, ref whistle 1, ball,
you know, hit post sort of thing. And I'd literally just spoke things in
a monotone voice, and played them back, and played the game, and checked they were all
being triggered in the right places.

But then when this happened that I
realized that it kind of sounded like a weird, rudimentary commentary. So subsequently came up with the
idea of recording the three phrases, everything with to and by and on
their own. So you'd have like Smith, pass to Smith, kick by Smith sort
of thing, and then you could chop them all up and put
it with all other phrases. ANNOUNCER: Strike by Favado! -To me, the voice of commentary at
the time was Tony Gubba. And so I just asked, literally just asked
EA, you know, can we get him? And very quickly they just
came back and said yeah. I think somebody knew
his agent or something. They very quickly came back
and said, yeah, we got him. So I booked a recording
studio near Crawley that I'd used personally making music. And we spent the day recording
him, and yeah, he was he was lege. – Tim was loving it, hobnobbing with
the Gubba, with his comb-over and all that business. TIM: But he didn't complain once.

He was really good and you know, he
was sort of screaming away, of course. So that certainly helped. Gave
us, put it on the map a bit. Gave us a bit more kudos. But then we took several steps
backwards by agreeing to do a rugby game for them, just because I
sort of liked EA at the time. – Continued working for Electronic
Arts, doing kind of every sort of sports game known to man with a kind
of an oval ball and a small ball. And we did them all, kind of.
Rugby league, rugby union, Australian rugby league,
Australian rules football, world cup cricket, world cup rugby,
you know, all of that kind of business. And so that was, that was,
you know, paying the bills.

– EA understandably wanted the same
level of quality across their sports brand obviously, but a game that's going to
sell millions of units like FIFA can obviously command a big budget. And a game that
sells maybe a hundred, 120,000 units, like some of these other ones, doesn't. And so trying to produce a game
to the same production values as, that was hard work for very little money
and very little kudos. So, it became clear quite early on
that the only way we were going to make any money really
was to do something original. So yeah, it had been in
the plan for some time. And I think the final
kicker for me was a very lazy Command and
Conquer clone that came along that EA were releasing that
I seem to remember had a sales forecast of 450,000 units.
I just thought, holy cow, you know, there's us busting our balls
to do this stuff, a hundred, 120,00 units and little kudos, and there's this that of course they liked more because it's
got much bigger sales forecast .

And it hasn't got one
original idea. And so we could do better than that without
even getting out of first gear. So that definitely, that's it.
We're doing it. Normally, original game development is a
Monte Carlo or bust scenario. You know, all the guys who
create a new game and it's successful,
you'll hear about them. They're the latest success story
and off down to the Ferrari garage. But you don't hear about all the ones
who fail, and they probably don't have a house anymore. And I was at the time I had a wife and
two young kids and didn't really much fancy that scenario. Plus I also had a few employees by then
who also pay their mortgages based on what I pay them. So I took their
security seriously as well. So I decided to try and do it
sort of a slower, safer way.

If Shogun hadn't worked,
we would have survived. So we ran the sports teams as a
way of keeping the company running. And so if Shogun had been a complete and
utter disaster, it would have been bad, but we would have still been there. We could have still picked ourselves
up and gone on and tried something else. And so we really were genuinely
aiming for sort of a a B minus title, just to sort of show people, look, we
do do our own original games. The only way we didn't compromise
was I knew it had to be 3D. The more we did of it, the more we
could see the potential. We were saying, you know, this has got, this
is no, this is good. You know, and so we'd go back to the guys that
were funding it and say, look, well, you know, a bit more time,
bit more budget, we really think you might
have something here. And it's– And that's how it kind of started to grow
into a Shogun that eventually ended up selling a million units.

[MUSIC PLAYING] MIKE: When we finished Shogun, we actually started on Rome
and Medieval at the same time. So Rome took a long time to make, it was four years, and it wasn't really
until we finished Medieval 1 and the whole team started focusing
on it that it really started to come together. When we were
trying to pick what to do next, pretty much everything you
can imagine is on that list. And we're just arguing about the order
in which we're going to do things. And rather than trying to figure out what's
going to sell best or anything like that, we'd basically just make the
game that we wanted to play most.

And Medieval does seem to be like the
most fun and wanted to do more with castles and sieges and so on. And that seemed
like a good way to push it forward. Those first two years we ended up with
two years of work and we looked at it and thought, hmm, this isn't
actually very good. We actually went back to Activision at
that point and said we're going to need more time. And they gave us another year. We had plans to make it a year quicker. – Everything was new, and there was a very
loose template in Shogun I that we could follow. But we pretty
much changed everything. So we changed the way the
campaign map worked entirely. So it went from the region based
map to the very open world campaign. And with the 3D models there
was a lot more we could do on the battles to make them exciting.

– So yeah, doing everything in
3D for the first time, building a 3D engine that
could display thousands of men. There was nothing else that
could do that at the time, nothing else got close. So it needed
to be really, really, really efficient. And it was things like building cities
where the buildings in the city matched what was on the campaign map, which sounds like a really small thing,
but actually, that actually cost a lot of effort.
So that's actually, I guess that's a surprising thing
about all the Total War games. It may actually be quite
small things in them, which ended up sinking huge amounts of
the effort, and sometimes it's surprising where those ended up being.

Shogun 1
is a good example of that. The throne room in Shogun I
took, it couldn't– It took just more than a quarter of the
total budget of the game just for that one scene of guys coming in and out
of the throne room and speaking a bit. It was, that was hard. – Warriors of Sparta, today our city faces her
greatest enemy! TIM: When we first had Spartan
to pitch, when Activision dropped it and we
got it back to pitch it, literally Sega were the first people
we pitched it to, or I tried to.

I phoned them up and left a message,
heard nothing. tried again, and eventually gave up and
tried all sorts of other people. And that year all in all was
the worst year of my life. And when I tell you that
subsequent year getting divorced, which everyone will appreciate is
bad. Not that year was worse. Yeah. And then irony of it was things
were getting pretty desperate. How all, you know, I was
running out of irons in the fire. And then one day
I'm in the office, and somebody says to me, there's a phone call
for you, it's a guy from Sega. Picks up the phone, he says,
oh, hi, my name's Gary Rowe. And I'm a productor acquisition
manager or something for Sega. I wonder if by chance you might have
any product we might be interested in. And unfortunately I have to say, my
words to him were, are you taking the piss? Because I just couldn't believe
this, you know, like I said, I phoned you six months ago.

He was
like, he never got any of the messages. So once they got that then
things moved real quick, and I really liked Sega. I thought they
were a really good fit for CA. And they liked us, and yeah.
So it worked well because they were
just a good fit from the beginning. CHRIS: Am I right in thinking
from pretty early on they mentioned the word acquisition,
like they might be interested? – Yeah. They said from the
first get go, they said, oh, we've been working together
a few months. We might like to start
talks about acquisitions. and I said, OK, fine,
you know. Sure. Whatever. And then probably after
about three weeks they said, oh, you know, we'd like to
start those talks. I said, I thought you want to work together
for a bit. Ah, we know each other. It was quite great. Yeah. CHRIS: And what was your
feeling at that point? You said that you just had a pretty
rough year and found the job and the responsibility
as quite stressful. Was that– Did you see that as like a
way to take a step back, or did you have conflicting feelings,
or how did you feel about the idea of selling? – Well, that's the thing, 'cause as well as
the company, there's me as a person, and I'd been working
really hard for 18 years with a lot of stress and, as you will probably
appreciate with divorce coming, a few personal issues going
on in the background as well.

And everyone has their breaking point,
and I had 100% reached mine. And I've been through along
the way three full on bouts of suicidal depression, and I was spent. I was completely shot. And me
personally, I needed to get out. You know, I actually
didn't want to leave. I just needed a break, and I really
should have just negotiated or tried to negotiate myself a sabbatical.
And I kind of regret that, but I didn't. And I was just so
desperate to just get out of there. I just did exactly that. And
that's one of my regrets really. Because I'm sure everybody
just thought that I was just after the money and
then just was off.

But the truth of the matter
is when once the sale went through, I hadn't really seen much of my kids
for such a long time, and I was just so spent after that tough year we'd had, and obviously all the personal issues
that were going on. But to be honest, I had a six month contract with Sega, and
I didn't even go into the office that much really, which is, so it was hardly
surprising when September came, they got rid of me really.

I was about
as much use as a chocolate teapot and, which is a shame, but again, probably
made everyone think, he's lost interest, which I hadn't. But like I said, I just personally was done, and I needed
a break. And it took me quite a few months, probably a year to
really get my shit back together. It was one of those things I
wanted to be able to leave, but I didn't want to actually leave. I wanted the pressure of
having to be there to go, but I didn't want to
actually go, you know, the, the money sort of lifted
all that stress from me, so I don't have to worry about that
anymore. But it was weird. I was in such a bad place at
the time that to be honest, I felt really ashamed, and I actually
couldn't go in the office.

And I sort of felt I'd let everybody down. CHRIS: What did you feel ashamed about? – No idea. Yeah, it actually is
a bit much, I'm sorry. CHRIS: Oh, yeah, I see. TIM: Yeah, I'd always espoused
how good it was being an independent developer,
and then I'd gone and sold. And I sort of felt, again,
because I wasn't turning up much, everyone would think I was just
after the money and I didn't care. And none of that was true. And
then what I guess in a way, what made it worse was then when
I left Sega censored my, you know, sort of leaving departing note to
strip it of any emotional content. So I couldn't really say anything
other than bare basic facts. I couldn't even tell anybody how
actually even felt. And I mean, it had been my, I mean it was
my life for 18 years, you know, on September the 4th I was
a husband, a full time dad, a boss whose opinion on
everything mattered and at the center of something good
and creative and whatever. And on September the 5th I was
none of those things.

Activision

I was single, I was a part time dad. And the biggest decision I'd make all
week was what to eat for dinner. And it took me about a year or two to
actually stop checking my emails every 15 minutes. It's like, no one emails
you, Tim. It's just spam. [MUSIC PLAYING] CHRIS: We start, Tim with your
full name and job title. – Yes. My name is Tim Heaton. I'm the studio
director here at Creative Assembly. CHRIS: Cool. So you joined the team
as studio director in 2009? – Yeah. CHRIS: How big was the, was the studio
at that point? How many people? – We were 90 people at that stage.

CHRIS: 90, OK. Do you know
how many people are here now? TIM HEATON: There are 590 altogether
here in Horsham and in Sophia. We were just finishing Total War Empire. There was a console game just out,
Viking: Battle for Asgard. You know, I thought it was kind of a really
interesting game, really good, but, not finished, but not been allowed
to really kind of bring all its goodness to the fore. So there were two things, really two things to do. And one was
to look at Total War and like look at opportunities with that 'cause it
was a hugely respected franchise. Then it seemed like people were, you know, were kind of really interested
in where Total War would go next. And then there was a console team
here, the team that delivered Viking, You know, they're in different buildings,
but we've only had to do that because we've kind of
run out of space in this building.

But they are in two different buildings,
and they're two different teams. And they have real different vibes. Obviously the Total War one is quite
collegiate. It's quite studied. And console team is a little
bit more rock and roll. What we call the command team
on that team are really passionate about pushing
different, different places to go within gaming.
So yeah, that team is very much the
one that will experiment. NARRATOR: Rome is not the
only power rising along the shores of the Mediterranean. Another people, the Carthaginians
have imperial ambitions.

KEVIN: If you go back and
look at Rome, it's a bit cartoony. It's a bit, you know, the tech is
quite like hand painted textures. So we did have– It did have a bit of a stylized
hand painted look to it, which is something that we have
dropped over the years. So we've become a more
kind of gritty, real looking, but we always want to shovel
some style on top of it as well. – We have to be very methodical in how
we make these things true to history. So there's a massive challenge with that,
and someone would always point out something that's not exactly right. KEVIN: So my number one thing
about looking at the art direction for Total War is
it's not exactly authenticity. So the way I look at it is if you
think of a Greek Spartan warrior, right? This image of a
helmet pops into your head, which is probably going
to be a Corinthian helmet.

And there's a certain perfect looking
Corinthian helmet that is the most quintessential Corinthian helmet. That's the Corinthian helmet that we
want to use in game, is the iconic version of it. So all of these other
Corinthian helmets are authentic, but that, there is one
Corinthian helmet that is the quintessential one. And
that's the one we want to use. – So getting back to the Shogun
content for Shogun 2, it was really nice to go back to
that familiar stuff that we all got so immersed in
the first time round.

And with all of the
changes in tech since then, we had a chance to do it again,
and do it much, much, much better. It let us focus a lot more on the art side
than we'd been able to do before. So it's the first time we've really
tried to make a project that was art led rather than
tech or design led. – We decided then to go on a very
stylized approach for movies. We did these, wood block
painting style movies for events and stuff like that.
And that was great fun to work on. And we had this very talented
artist who could amazingly recreate these really traditional
looking paintings. And no one believed that they
were original. Everyone was like, where did you steal these from?
And it was a smaller scale I think in another term. So yeah, it
probably was more art related. It's– We weren't going into the whole massive
expanses of a giant map or something. It was just, the campaign was smaller, but we could put so much
more detail art-wise. – It was nice to pursue the, again,
the kind of zen simplicity thing.

Now, one of the most
difficult things when we're making any games is to make a game which is deep
but simple, and with Total War in some ways it's even harder.
Because we've always got a rich feature set, and making
that deep but not complicated is really, really hard.
And Shogun gave us a really good platform to have a go at
boiling the game down to its essentials and making
something that was reasonably simple but
still very, very deep. – Yeah, the big changes since I've
been here are we knew that people would happily have take
more Total War content, right? That we had these fans that
were vociferous, and you know, would expect them for
every single release. So we wanted to think about that, but
we wanted to think about not, you know, not tying teams into
really strict deadlines as well. And I think running multiple
teams lets you let be a bit more dynamic so you can
concentrate a bit more on quality. So we set out with a strategy to do more,
to build more than one game team.

And that is incredibly difficult for Total War
because there are all these specialists, right? Everybody on a Total War team
is a specialist, and you can't just clone them. So we have a, you know, battle AI specialist,
campaign AI specialist, et cetera. They've been with the company for years,
and it was a bit how do we find more of those people? So we went out looking, and
it took us five years I think to find, you know, a set of skills where we
could start thinking right, second team. – As much as this documentary is about
the exponential success of Creative Assembly and Total War over the years,
it's not always been smooth sailing. Fans of the series will remember
one game's launch in particular, Total War Rome 2 in 2013, a game that arrived
with its fair share of problems. – There was so much that we wanted to
get into the, into the original game. We were so ambitious with that game. We wanted to take everything that everybody
loved about the first game and make it so much better that we probably
were too ambitious with it.

And it did take us a long time after
release to really get to the point where we could look at it and go, yep, that's the game we actually
were intending to make. – You know, we made a mistake. And it was the studio that made the mistake,
or you know, I made that mistake. We decided to go ahead and launch
that game, and it wasn't quite ready.

And we knew we weren't quite ready, but we thought it was going to
be fine and we would manage fine. And it was a real watershed moment
when we realized we'd made a terrible mistake. The game wasn't right, it wasn't stable, and we had
to go back and finish it. MIKE: It's very easy if you're in
a hurry to get a game out, to underestimate exactly what state
it's in when it comes to bugs, right? That's the, I don't think people quite
realize how when you're making that go, no go decision on whether
you'll launch a game, you have to make that decision a long, long time before the game
is actually released.

It's like firing a shotgun really.
Once you pulled the trigger, you can't actually stick the
bullets back down the barrel. It's coming out. And, that's
what we found with Rome 2. – For me, it was watershed within
the studio to see the disappointment within the team because actually
Rome 2 kind of sold OK in its, you know, in its release, and it's very
easy to go, hey everybody, everything's fine because we're still
selling games. But the team were just so unhappy.
The fans' response, that's absolutely what they're looking
for. And Total War fans are not quiet. They don't, they don't keep it to
themselves. They tell us, you know, and we want to hear it. And we
will try and make things right. So Viking came out on the last day
of Sega's financial year, right. That's kind of because it had
to be done. And the team itself didn't know what it
was there for, right. This console team that had
existed in CA for a long time, but it had kind of run out of ideas.

And
they'd gone to Sega entrustingly, and they'd said, what game do you
want us to make next, which was a typical developer
publisher relationship in those days, 10 years ago. We were asked
to do an Olympics game. I don't know whether you've ever
played an Olympics game, right, but you don't want to do 30 different
mini games in a major game. So we decided, right, well, let's go out and find something
that feels appropriate for us. Obviously Sega had this Alien
license that had been used on some games before, and Alien Colonial
Marines was in development then. – They were making three games based
on the Alien license with Fox, one of which wasn't going
particularly well. And they thought there was an opportunity that we could
think about there. And the one that wasn't going well
wasn't Colonial Marines. You know, Jesus. How badly could that one
have been? – We kind of sat back a bit
and went, you know what, nobody's done a survival horror game. And we could use the same technology
as we used on Viking actually for an alien game.

Al Hope kind of set out a five page
kind of vision document of what an alien survival horror game would
be, and Sega went, there is no way we want to do another
Alien game. Right? No chance. So go back, think again. Won't you please,
will you do an Olympics game? Please. And we went, right. The only way
to really do this is skunkworks.

So we did a demo in five weeks, and we
didn't tell Sega we were doing it. And we used the tech from Viking. ALISTAIR: So we had this idea
for a game, a kind of survival horror game based
in the Alien universe. And so we got permission to put together
a small, more of a mood demo, and what'd it be like to just,
just be in that space. – And we went in, and we also did a bit
of a work with Sega in that we showed some of the actual games
players at Sega this demo. And so there was a kind of voice of
opinion already in the room when we eventually showed it to the execs at Sega
And when we showed it to the execs, they were kind of like, oh
wow, this looks pretty good. And then they had everybody around
them go, this is a great game. It's going to be great. – I think. I think we're
kind of born out of a desire for kind of
authenticity.

Alien Isolation is very authentic to the
original Alien movie. It's an extension and an expansion
of the original universe. You know, and, and with Halo Wars
as well, you know, we're considered a safe pair
of hands who understand people, other people's IPs. And, you know, we can be respectful
and reverent of it and dig in and understand the
nature of an IP extremely well. [WOOSH] [EXPLOSION] [WIND BLOWING] – We'd actually got to the point where
we could start running two teams in parallel, and that meant we
could do something else. And we'd finally got to the point where we could, start work on a Warhammer
game without slowing down the pace at which
we were doing our started games. And in a way, there's not that
much difference between making a historical Total War
and making a Warhammer game. Rather than being authentic to history,
we end up being authentic to this IP that already exists.
And that means, you know, what we actually end up doing
is very similar. We go out, we do our research, and we immerse
ourselves totally in the content, which is why I ended up painting a lot
of figures and fighting a lot of tabletop games.

We toyed with the
idea of doing another fantasy IP. I mean,
we thought about doing, doing Lord of the Rings games and
various other things, right? But up to that point, we'd never really been able to do it
without having to make a choice between historical or fantasy. And
we didn't want to do that. We always wanted to do both. So it
was the first point where we could. – It takes a long time to produce
something. And by the end of it, actually we're all hyped about doing
something a little bit different. It's like, OK, this really worked, but let's do
something different. And Warhammer, it being fantasy was obviously a big
opportunity to go a little bit crazy with how the style could be so different from
what we'd done previously on historical titles. Really excited for
all the artists definitely.

And the animators, all the
creatures they get to work on. It's very different, and it had to look
different. And it had to be in keeping with obviously all the Warhammer
fans and what they were expecting to see. – Everything we do is kind of, you know, what do the Total War players need,
and then what works within the parameters of the lore.
Then we speak to Games Workshop about those things to
kind of just get a feel for it. I think things that are important IP
wise are players generally speaking, I think, you know, key characters,
the way they look, what their core mechanics are in an army. But like that's all there and
available to us to know beforehand. So I think it's about the trust
that we both have in each other, understanding each other's
requirements and needs. – Recently we had a new member join our
team as a trainee, and the first thing I did was like, okay, here's
the design documents.

Just read through and just immerse
yourself in the lore of Warhammer. And it might not all make
sense at first, but you know, you kind of just have to imagine,
you know, just take a bit of time reading the lore,
and just think about the world that you're going to be working within. And
you really do have to become a part of it. And I will say myself, I'm,
you know, I'm no Warhammer expert. Every time we have a new little pack
I'm like, ah OK, I have to learn what these new characters are and the
history behind them. But design are really good at printing
documents to just explain all of that. Or we have quick meetings to give like
an overview so everyone's on the same page as to who these people are and
about their backstory and everything. CHRIS: How does Total War change when
you introduce magic and dragons? – Surprisingly little in some ways.

I mean it's still
fundamentally the same experience. You're still, you know, when
you're on the battlefield, you still got this handful of units, and
you can see and the opposite you. And you're trying to figure out, okay,
what's the combination of things now? Where do I need to put these guys, and
what order do I need to do things? And so the core gameplay is
not different. You just got more toys, and they're
a bit more wizzy. Now the tabletop game,
it inspires what we do. It doesn't, you know, we're not
bound by it in any particular way. And that's one of the things Games
Workshop says, it says is that none of the computer
versions of any of the stuff is exactly the same as the tabletop. They're
all different, right? So you use– So we created our own
thing, which was Total War: Warhammer. And so long as we're completely
faithful to their IP, then they're completely
happy with what we do.

– I mean, we're quite a long way into
the process of working within the Warhammer world and
obviously the community. Yeah. We've gotten a good piece of
what people expect, and how to respond, and what things
are the most important to respond to. And like I said, the designers are now, so immersed in the whole Warhammer
lore. They're, they blow me away with like, oh, the detail they
come out with. It's just, it's just like the Israel
history, it's just amazing. You could have a degree
in Warhammer, I think. CHRIS: What fantasy or fictional
worlds work for a Total War game? – Yeah, so we have a
long list, you know, that we kind of keep up to date, and we
do talk to other IP holders as well. Other games companies' IP through
to things we're seeing on Netflix and Amazon Prime, et cetera,
day to day.

So nothing's off limits. It's more kind of opportunity
cost in a way of what do we really want to do and what
uses Total War well? think it's– I think Warhammer shows that Total
War can work with an IP really, really well and still be Total War. It
doesn't lose anything in our own games. So yeah, we'll see what we
end up with.

MIKE: I think with Warhammer,
I mean, a lot of our core historical fans came with us
on the Warhammer adventure. So, uh, you know, we can see that a lot of the
players who played the historical games also play Warhammer.
I think we were aware of that, that whenever we're making a historical
game after Warhammer, you know, you can't ignore the fact that that
game exists, and it has dragons and fiery things all over the place.
And if we're not careful, we ended up making the historical games
look a bit dull by comparison.

And with Three Kingdoms, having the romance
mode helped with that a bit. It meant that we could have larger
than life characters. You know, it's not full on magic in any way. It's firmly authentic to the Three
Kingdoms novel and so on, but those characters are larger than
life from a historical point of view. So it's different, right? We end
up with game, which is, you know, it isn't Warhammer. It's different from Warhammer. It has its own charm, its own
beauties, and depth, and interest. And I think there's
plenty of room to do that, to be able to flip between fantasy,
and having all of the weird and wonderful stuff, and then something which is a bit more
grounded but feels more real as well. You know, having those two modes,
it does, well, it was, there right from the start. I mean. I don't think we would
have made the game without that, particularly for an Eastern audience. The romance in the Three Kingdoms novel
is so well known and you couldn't cover that period in history without people
looking at it and thinking you were doing it wrong, right? Because
they wouldn't recognize it.

It's hard for a Western audience to
understand how deeply rooted that particular novel is in that culture. Getting the Three Kingdoms
content right for for an Asian audience was
super important, I think. I think the character features in Three
Kingdoms has changed things slightly. It's interesting 'cause that
was when we started, that was one of the things where
we weren't absolutely sure that that would actually work.
The idea of building networks of relationships between characters, and
using that to drive to drive recruitment and so on. It was very, it
was quite a big departure, and– But now that we've gone there
with it, and it works really well, I can see us as pushing forward and
developing that further for other titles in other periods of
history where that character focus makes sense, and it'll depend on the period.

I mean there were some periods
where it was all about characters and relationships, and there are other periods
where it is more about states and policies, and so on. So it'll
depend on the period. CHRIS: You're not going to have Napoleon
holding like a bridge on his own then or anything? – No, probably not on his own.
So I think it is important to have a balance between doing the popular content that
everybody already knows and that they can revel in and go, yay, I
know, I understand this, and going out and finding something
that is off the beaten track a bit more interesting than actually going here is
all this really interesting stuff that you never knew existed. And I'm
putting that in front of people. So I think a balance between
the two. I think we should be doing both, and we
will keep doing that. – Where we're at now and where we were 20
years ago, it is incredibly different, but it has been a slow kind of step
by step path to get where we're at.

You know, I guess Sega buying CA in 2005 was
probably the most dramatic thing. And the core fundamental difference
is once we were owned by Sega, we felt like there was stability. When you're working for an independent
game developer that's going from publisher to publisher, obviously it can
go wrong badly at any time. So Sega came in. I guess we had
a little bit of trepidation. We didn't know how they were going to
handle it, but they've been brilliant. They've been amazing. Could not ask for
a better publisher than Sega. You know, we feel like whatever games we're
working on, we're going to finish them. They're going to ship. and they're
going to be, you know, now we think they're going to be in
good shape when they go out.

– We used to get physical copies of the
new games that came out then, when Sega released and everyone would just queue up
massively all down the office just waiting for the physical copy of something.
And when I talk about that now, people are like, well, what, box games?
What are you on about? Get Steam keys. But it's just
that whole, you know, that change of technology that's just
happened over those years and how we interact with community
so much more now. Again, we used to have our biggest releases,
in PC Gamer magazine, and it was like, we're on the front cover! This
is amazing. And everybody'd get copies. It's like physical things that
we used to get, and now it's a bit different, but it's
a wider audience.

So it's, exciting in a different way. – There are core values which the genesis of Creative Assembly and the
early years of have brought along with them. You know, it's impossible, you
know, there's enough people from those early years still around that some of
those core values I think are there, you know, like we're a very
collaborative studio. You know, we have a management hierarchy,
but that doesn't mean that anybody on any team can't come up
with a great idea and it be acted upon. MIKE: So it's been really
interesting seeing how some things have changed
going from five to 500, but some things have
stayed exactly the same. The kind of core values
that we've worked to really have stayed the same all the
way through, and we've always had a really
strong focus on quality, and that's one of the things that
Tim Ansell, the founder of the company, he
set that really strongly, to the point where he would, he'd rather the studio close
than made a bad game, and he would say that quite regularly
to publishers.

It meant from the publisher's point of
view to not negotiate with them, and from– But from an indie dev's point of view,
he's brilliant. He's really, really good. CHRIS: What do you think of
Creative Assembly now? Do you follow their work much, or do
you have any sort of feelings about, you know, I visited there a few weeks ago,
and it's one of the biggest employers in the UK games industry, and it
started out of your spare bedroom.

What does it feel like looking at a
company that's now grown to such a size, and it started with you? – Well, it's obviously a fact that
things fills me with immense pride. But it's kind of weird because I say,
well I guess we haven't been in contact, and it almost feels like kind of
two separate lives to me really. It kind of feels like
I died and was reborn. So it's almost quite hard for me to
connect that that was actually me. It's funny, I actually often
find it a bit upsetting playing the Total War games. It just
kind of brings all of that stuff back, and I kind of prefer just to focus on
what I got rather than what I haven't.

CHRIS: Have you managed to speak to some
of those people in the years since? – No, not really. I mean,
I would say partly, I mean I literally never went
back in the office. I, you know, all my stuff was literally left there
and subsequently I believe put in a box. And I never even collected that. So I literally have not set foot
in the office since that day. It just felt too awkward
for me to do so. And strangely they never contact
me for anything. So for instance, even when they had things
like their 25 or 30 year anniversaries, nobody thought that I
might be a part of that having been completely like the number one
person breaking in those 25 years. So I don't know. So they didn't keep in contact with me,
and I didn't really keep in contact with them.

CHRIS: Yeah. Well, um, yeah, a couple people that we interviewed did
want me to mention that you are always welcome back there. – Oh, OK. CHRIS: Tim mentioned it, and– TIM: Look, I love their product. I love
the people. I love the company. There were so many people in that
company, more intelligent than me,
much more creative than me. And that's a wonderful environment to
be in, and it's not average, you know. It's not what you bump into
in your average supermarket. CHRIS: Tim Ansell has yet to take up that
offer to revisit the studio he once founded. Perhaps it's one he'll need
to hear for himself to truly believe, but those early days of Creative Assembly
remain an incredibly important period in his life. From his spare bedroom, he grew a company that is now hundreds
strong, a team that is right this moment supporting two very different
flavors of Total War, both historical and fantasy, as well
as working away on a yet to be seen tactical first person shooter.

Those days of contract work with FIFA
and whatever sports titles he could get a hold of may now be distant memories
that only a few at CA can even claim to remember, but they did help
pave the way for what has now become one of the brightest
names in British game development and an all time great when
it comes to grand strategy. Cool. I think, I think we've,
I think we've got most of it, yeah. Thank you for revisiting those years and
allowing us to come in and look at this ridiculous view as well.

Cool. – Yeah, thank Sega for this. CHRIS: Yeah. [LAUGHING] ANNOUNCER: A strike! The goalie
made a meal of that one. Nigeria caught offside. Free kick to be taken. Nigeria offside. Free kick to be taken
by Kafriosi. Santamaria.
Good control by Santamaria. A shot! Saved by Nboku. – Ready, at ten.
Move out quickly. For China! [CHANTING] – Take heed, warriors. [TYPING SOUNDS].

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