Creative Assembly issues refreshingly frank update on Total War Warhammer development troubles

Creative Assembly has issued a refreshingly frank update on the progress – or lack of – of Total War Warhammer’s development.

The blog post revolves around Mortal Empires, the ambitious mode that combines the maps of Total War Warhammer and Total War Warhammer 2 into one mega campaign (for more on how it works, check out the video below from our own Chris Bratt).

While this mode was long-awaited by Total War fans, its release has not been smooth sailing, with a raft of bugs and delays dampening enthusiasm.

“Mortal Empires has not been as smooth for all players as it should have been, and we feel some explanation is in order,” Creative Assembly said.

Brand director Rob Bartholomew admitted Creative Assembly’s update schedule “is behind where we (and likely you) would like it to be”. The sticking point is the addition of Norsca into Mortal Empires, which “has given us no end of trouble”.

Creative director Mike Simpson went one further, saying: “The truth is we screwed up.

“We got so good at branching and merging builds, we thought we had it mastered,” he explained.

“Merging is easy when the things that have changed in one branch don’t coincide with the things that have changed in the other. It gets more difficult when the changes overlap – you most often have to manually intervene to pick which branch is ‘right’. Typically, merges get exponentially more difficult the longer branches stay apart, as the chance of changes clashing increases.”

Creative Assembly had planned to take the Norsca branch from Warhammer 1 as well as a raft of improvements to that game and merge it with Warhammer 2. This plan, it turned out, “was bollocks”.

Here’s the detail (put the kettle on, this gets into the nitty gritty):

“Although the data itself didn’t clash, improvements to the infrastructure of WH2 meant the containers the data was going into had changed significantly. We also wanted to make Norsca really interesting and unique to play as, so there was also more in the way of bespoke code for Norsca than we originally intended. The first attempt to integrate Norsca in the routine way caused an immediate tsunami of bugs. We smacked our heads against it, realised it was unsolvable in a short span, and had to back out. We started on a second, more careful approach, which has been glacially slow, with deeper and deeper issues with the integration tools and process becoming apparent at each stage.

“Modding Norsca into the final game, just as a modder might, would be much quicker and easier. But adding content to the final game rather than the source, which takes a great deal more careful implementation, would produce the same problems as modding; every new game update may break it. It would be a bodge.

“The changes to the database structure between Warhammer 1 and Warhammer 2 and the ongoing code and database changes for Mortal Empires made it very difficult to un-tangle the Norsca content, once it had been copied across to Warhammer 2. As the weeks passed, we realised that it would probably be easier to re-implement Norsca in Warhammer 2, rather than straighten out the Norsca content copied over from Warhammer 1.

“And so, having lost months, we’ve now decided to pick the next point where all the branches are back together (after the next major content update), and then re-implement Norsca from scratch in Warhammer 2. This won’t be quick, but it is guaranteed to work.

“And so we add one more thing to the long list of dumb mistakes we’re never going to make again…”

The upshot is this issue has had a knock-on effect on all of the upcoming Warhammer 2 DLC. The revised plan includes an update for Mortal Empires this month (December), the first campaign pack which was due out this month, now due out in January, and the addition of Norsca in May.

“Yes, this is a bit of a gap, but this is how long our painstaking re-implementation of Norsca will take to get added to Mortal Empires,” Simpson said.

“This update will include Norsca and its full roster, updates to various aspects of the race (eg techs, New World race interactions) to make them appropriate and relevant as well as the 30th birthday Regiments of Renown. There will also be further updates to other aspects of Mortal Empires.”

The rest of Creative Assembly’s blog post includes a FAQ that addresses potential questions around this revised plan and the revelation about the problems the studio has faced. The whole thing is a refreshingly frank discussion that delves deep into the problems developers come up against when building complex video games. We’re not used to the kind of detail on offer here from big developers owned by even bigger publishers, so it’s great to see Creative Assembly essentially holding its hands up and speaking to fans like human beings rather than robots.