30 in 30: The Creative Assembly

How one of the UK's veteran studios continues to redefine RTS

Creative Assembly is the Sussex-based studio responsible for what is considered the benchmark in real-time strategy - a series that has barely fluctuated in quality in its 12 year history.

It may not be as big a name as Warcraft or Command & Conquer, but for hardcore strategy fans, Total War is a deeper, more sophisticated experience than any other franchise in the RTS genre.

In its 24 years the UK studio has gone from strength to strength, delivering what we consider to be some of the best PC titles ever created.



Founded: 1987
Location: Horsham, England
Killer quote: "Total War can go more in-depth than any of its competitors ever dreamed."



Tim Ansell

Tim Ansell founded The Creative Assembly Limited in 1987. He began programming professionally in 1985, working on Amstrad CPC titles as well as conversions to the Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari 800 and IBM PC/Tandy formats. Then one day, a certain real-time strategy game caught his eye...

"We'd seen the first Command & Conquer clones come out and do quite well, so we thought to ourselves, 'that's got to be easy to do'," Ansell explained in an early issue of PC Zone.

"We'd seen this one C&C clone called KKND (Krush, Kill 'N' Destroy) and it was an absolute pile of crap. Then we heard it'd sold 600,000 units. At this point I went mad - there we were busting our balls porting sports games for EA and only selling around 100,000 units, while this crap was selling 600,000. So we decided we'd do our own upmarket clone." And so the idea for Shogun: Total War was born.

Tim Ansell is no longer at the studio.

Mike Simpson


Ansell employed microchip creator turned video game designer Michael Simpson in 1996 as studio director.

Simpson later became the driving force for the creative design of the Total War series and has been called the 'godfather' of the franchise.

His first game, Swords and Sorcery for the Spectrum, won a Game of the Year Award in 1985. Following that, he worked on titles for PSS, Mirrorsoft and Psygnosis before joining Creative Assembly.

Simpson had a hand in the design of Shogun, Medieval, Rome and beyond.



Shogun: Total War

In 1999, under EA, Creative Assembly made the jump from making low-risk, licensed sports games to higher risk projects in other areas, specifically the RTS genre.

Shogun: Total War was the first release and anyone with experience of the franchise will be able to tell you why it became a strategy fan favourite.

It was its mix of turn-based board game strategy and real-time 3D battles that made Total War stand out from the crowd. The design allowed for an incredible sense of depth and historical accuracy.

"The ultimate strategy gaming experience, which will capture your heart like a rapacious Spanish Inquisitor."CVG

Medieval: Total War

The success of Shogun: Total War meant that a brand new series in strategy gaming was firmly established and, in 2002, Medieval: Total War built on Shogun's foundations.

The main difference, of course, was the setting. Well away from the Japanese Warring States period, the Total War mechanics were taken to the Middle Ages with a focus, once again, on strategic depth and tactical realism.

It wasn't a massive leap forward from Shogun but it was an improved version of its predecessor and topped the RTS table for many.

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