Feral Talks Empire, Part 2

Empire: Total War is coming to the Mac in September. We’re as excited as a bag of electric gerbils, but for the time being we’ve satisfied ourselves with a chat with Feral Interactive’s Technical Producer, Edwin Smith.

In the first part, we talked about the success of Feral’s Rome: Total War, and the challenges of bringing its cousin Empire: Total War to the Mac. In this part, we discuss Mac gamers, mods, and the elephant in the room, Steam.

What do you think it is about Mac gamers that enjoy these kind of games specifically?

I’d say probably the fact that [Empire: Total War] is a classic game and the entire series is seen as the gold standard of strategy. So that’s got a lot going for it. Even if you’re not massively into that gaming, if you’ve played a little bit of strategy gaming, you’ll have heard of the Total War series. But that aside, we have noticed that certain genres tend to be more popular than others on the Mac. Strategy tends to be a pretty popular one. Our strategy games before we did Rome, like Imperial Glory were also popular, so I think there’s something there, but it’s hard to tell why.

One thing I really admire about your ports is the wealth of graphical options available, and run as smoothly as on Windows, and not just treating the Mac as a console.

One of the things we spend a lot of time on, is that a lot of Apple’s products are designed for extremely long battery life. Things like the MacBook Air don’t have a dedicated graphics card, they have integrated graphics, which is a lot weaker than the standard graphics you would get in a desktop PC for example. So when it comes to games, often the PC game has never really been designed or optimised to run on integrated graphic solutions. So we tend to spend a fair bit of time making sure that the low-end works really well on the Mac, not just the high end. We always know that a 27-inch iMac with all of the trimmings will run beautifully, but what about the person who has last year’s MacBook Air? There’s a lot of people who have that or [an older model], and these machines don’t have the high-end graphics. So it’s kind of key for us that we make sure that even if you don’t have a £1,500 iMac, you can still download Empire and have a lot of fun.

Do you collect any data on the hardware people playing the games have, to ensure that enough people are getting catered for?

We do have data, from people contacting us via support, the hits on our website, and other internet statistics, which are put out there. So we can tell which are the most popular [graphics] cards. We will spend more time on those than the more esoteric cards you can only get for a Mac Pro for example. We try and cover every single card completely, but the biggest focus, especially near the beginning of a project is on the most popular cards (which recently tend to be the integrated cards, such as the Intel Integrated 3000 and 4000 series which have been particularly used in a lot of Apple products like the MacBooks and the Mac Minis).

One of the things we learned with Empire is that where you might have had a really smooth experience in the first couple of hours of playing, because you’ve only had a small area unlocked, as you unlock a bigger area, that needs more power and your game can slow down. So one of our key [priorities] is that it has got to be fun all the way through. We don’t want it so that when you first buy [the game], you’re like “wow this is really great, it’s fast!” What we want to make sure is that when you’re three weeks down the line, you’re like “I’ve finished the game and it was really grate all the way through!” Which is a little bit of a challenge sometimes on getting the optimisation, and that’s some of the stuff which we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks.

There’s a lot of mods available for Empire: Total War, are any of those going to be supported?

We don’t support mods officially, just like Creative Assembly don’t support the PC mods. However, they should work, if you’ve ever played the Mac version of Rome, you’ll probably know there are two or three mods which have Mac installers. Those mods with the Mac installers were installers which I actually wrote. It was because I knew that Rome has a massive group of people who really, really like modding. So to prove the Mac could run PC mods, I got a bit of time and sat down and got three of them working, wrote up some basic instructions and a script to explain how you could get any of them working.

We expect that the same thing should happen with most of the Empire mods. Essentially, if the mod tries to alter the application itself, the mod won’t work on the Mac. If it’s a “data” edit, then it will probably work without a problem. We haven’t gone through and tested every mod, but what we probably will do at some point after release is write up a how-to guide comparing PC mod instructions to Mac ones. So [modders] won’t have to make Mac-specific versions of all the mods. With mods there are no real guarantees, but on the whole we’ve done our utmost to make them work by keeping all of the data exactly the same as the PC, in exactly the same locations, with exactly the same way it accesses the files, so that if you start swapping them in and out, doing modding, it should work. It was one of the things on our todo list, that we should try and make sure that we keep everything the same and to aid people, because we know that modding is one of the big things. And it’s one of the reasons why, as you said, Rome is still so high in the charts, because once people have finished it, there are complete total conversions. That way you can redo it with different skins and everything, and I’m sure Empire will be the same once it’s out.

I suspect I already know the answer to this, but are there any plans to bring this to Steam?

At the moment, no. At the moment it will be all the main Mac digital stores (apart from Steam), and DVD.

Thanks for your time.

Empire Total War will be available on September 13 from the Mac App Store and a number of online retailers. You can find out more at Feral’s mini-site.

Your thoughts on this?