Spartan: Total Warrior Designer Diary #1

Clive Gratton, lead programmer at Creative Assembly, talks about the beginnings of this upcoming action game.

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Currently scheduled for release in North America toward the end of next month, Spartan: Total Warrior is a third-person action game from Creative Assembly--the same UK-based developer responsible for the Total War series of PC real-time strategy games. In his first weekly designer diary, lead programmer Clive Gratton discusses some of the thinking behind the game's design, as well as the origins of the technology used to power it.

In the Beginning There was Nothing

By Clive Gratton
Lead programmer, Creative Assembly

The Total War series of games had demonstrated that approaching technology from a slightly different angle could yield results which allowed us to explore innovative areas of gameplay. The massive number of troops in Shogun had created an experience which gamers had not had before. The battle map was a visual feast and the gameplay of managing the massive numbers was exceptionally involving. On another front, popular culture was once again embracing epic films. Braveheart and Gladiator had just been major hits. Lord of the Rings was in production along with a host of other films which share many of the qualities of the Total War series of games. We thought that console gamers were missing out on this epic action.

Epic battles between entire armies are a key feature of Spartan: Total Warrior.
Epic battles between entire armies are a key feature of Spartan: Total Warrior.

So, could we do it? How could we bring some of the epic flavor of the Total War series onto a console? In order to achieve "epic" we'd need to have hundreds of characters onscreen, with independent animation and AI. We would also need to create a world that was expansive enough to set these characters in--something no other console game had done. It took about six months to write a game engine from the ground up. A small team (consisting of a couple of artists and me) created a technical demo on the PlayStation 2, incorporating 300 characters (using Roman soldier art assets from Rome: Total war) running over the brow of a hill with castles in the background. This was also running at a constant 60 frames per second and draw distance of over 750 meters! Running along with this group of soldiers was sensational. It felt really good and involving to be in the middle of something this big. Peeks over my shoulder by colleagues invariably elicited whispers of "cool", "super cool," "man, that's cool." It was very cool. From this point onward every design decision was made while keeping focus on this unique aspect--hundreds of characters.

The decision for the style of game was simplified once the demo was up and running. We'd always felt that this game should be more action-orientated than the Total War series. We wanted to create a new gaming experience for consoles. For the real-time strategy games you are the General, commanding thousands. For this game we had the opportunity to put the player in the middle of these epic scenes as a hero in the midst of immense battles. We started to think of this game in terms of scenes from epic film scenes. What does the hero do? How does he influence the battles? How does he turn the tide in favor of his own troops? Our favorite heroes tended either to kill lots of enemies, kill a specific important target, or use environment and tools to directly influence mass battles. This was already starting to sound like fun. The fact that it was running at 60 frames per second meant that responsive combat could be achieved. What type of combat to use though? If we primarily used ranged weapons then much of the impact of being in the heart of a battle is lost; you don’t have to be close to an enemy to shoot them. Much better to use a sword, or two.

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