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The Music of Empire: Total War

We recently had the chance to interview Richard Beddow at The Creative Assembly to find out more about the music of Empire: Total War!

Q:  When did the composing for Empire start?

Composing stated in the summer of 2008 and was completed towards the end of November in time for us to meet the deadlines to record our score live with the orchestra.

Q:  What were the main challenges in the music production for Empire?

We approached the music in a somewhat ‘Hollywood’ fashion, that is, we decided early on to feature orchestra, have an epic cinematic score to really get across the sense of size and scale of a game as large as Empire and to support the battles with the necessary level of might within the music.  So, with that in mind the most important thing then lay in getting these qualities in to all the music including those of the other cultures.  While this is fine for western sounding music, it can be more tricky to get the right level of fusion when dealing with other cultures, for instance fusing western orchestral music with eastern instruments and scales and still maintaining the overall drive and sound that we’re after from the music.  It was important to incorporate as much ethnic material as possible to give the right cultural flavour but while still retaining the orchestral and ‘Hollywood’ feel.

The above approach was applied to each music track and once these were complete the next challenge was to prepare all the music from the MIDI mock-ups in to a format for us to record the music with a live orchestra.  Prepared MIDI files were created and then sent to the orchestrator in order to get the printed parts ready for the musicians.

Q:  During the composing process do you write to in-game footage, FMV or storyboards?

A combination.  The in-game footage helps to give you a sense of the games atmosphere and also allows you to try your music against the visuals to perfect the style.  The storyboards were used essentially for the movie sequences in the game, mostly for the Road To Independence missions.  The graphics and final renders for these movies were not complete when we needed to start the composing process, so due to the fact that we had internal deadlines and those with the orchestra and I needed to approve the music as soon as possible, get it to our orchestrator and printed before the recording, so we had to use static storyboard movies with placeholder voice over to write the music to.  Far from ideal but doable.  The shorter movie sequences such as the win and lose movies were almost fully complete visually so these were used to compose to in their case.

Q: What are the main differences between writing music for cutscenes and writing for the in game battles and what are the challenges faced with each?

Well, the cutscenes are miniature movies so we’ll obtain digital videos or storyboards as mentioned above and write to them as if its a film.  We’ll contour the tempo, dynamics and melodic shape to fit perfectly to the onscreen drama.  With in-game music, you obviously have no ‘locked’ visuals to synchronize the music to as it is constantly changing, so effectively what you end up writing is music that gives a mood for the battle but is not restricted by the visuals.  Additionally with in-game music, due to the amount of repetition the music will undergo you have to play it a little safer in terms of how melodic you make it as the more thematic you make the material the more chance it has of grating on the end user over extended play.  With the cutscenes, they will be viewed only once in a while or maybe only once so you can be very thematic but you have to keep in mind fitting it to the dialogue if it is present and not overpowering it.  Much in-game music also has to be designed to loop, for instance battle music.  We have to make sure that the material in the printed score around the looping areas works both musically and in terms of dynamics to get a smooth match when it loops.  Other than that, we will actually want to create as much unity as possible with material used in-game with that in the cutscenes so where possible we will re-use or adapt our themes/styles where appropriate.

Q:  Where do you being the composing process with a project as large as Empire?

Before we can start the composing process we need to know where music will feature in the game, what styles we’ll require and how and when they will be played in the game.  So we simply start by answering those questions.

The basic idea for the campaign music looked back to how music was used in the original Total War game Shogun. In Shogun, campaign music was almost used as a sound effect, providing flourishes of musical color on various oriental instruments, effectively small melodic music phrases or effects.  This approach allowed plenty of breathing space when playing on the campaign map which could literally last days.  In those types of circumstances the last thing you want is a looping background track to irritate the player.  The Shogun approach allowed music to be used in an almost relaxing and calming manner.  So, for Empire we decided to revisit the method used in Shogun and expand upon it a little.  Firstly, as Empire is a game which stretches across continents not just Japan we had to look to record instruments which covered all the core cultures featured in the game – in essences instruments to represent Western, Indian, Arabic and Tribal cultures.  Secondly we would look to record all of the instruments live to maintain a consistently high listening experience.  Thirdly we would develop a playback system in the game that would not only play music from the appropriate culture when you position the camera over the part of the map that the culture originates but would also pick at random phrases of music to play for that culture in order to keep the listening experience interesting.  For instance you could position the camera over an Arabic settlement and you could be listening to the haunting melodies of a Duduk, then shortly followed by phrases performed on a Lauto.

Recording all of this material provided us with approx. 70 minutes of material just for the campaign map alone.

The other large area of game play is the in-game battles, which in the case of Empire are featured on both land and sea.  This area of the game requires a lot of music too, in the order of 60 mins.  Much like in the campaign the music was divided in to the same cultural sets with a slight addition in that naval battles have their own music styles to differentiate them from the other music.

The basic idea with the music system for the battles is that when a battle is initiated on the campaign map, depending where you initiate the battle in the world, the music that will play during the battle will be based on the originating culture for that area i.e. if you start a battle in London you will hear Western battle music.  Each actual battle consists of two pieces of music, the deployment (or tension) music and the battle (or attack) music.  As you start to deploy your army the tension music will start, it will continue until the game detects that the battle state has been initiated.  Once this state is reached the music will slowly crossfade from the tension music in to the battle music which will loop for the duration of the battle.

The final area of music usage in the game is with the in-game movies.  Here again as with the rest of the game we have cultural variants of music to match the visual variants of the videos, but in addition Empire features the Road To Independence quest which also required a variety of cinematic sequences and musical accompaniment, this time building an American flavour in the music.

Q:  A new feature is that units have musicians on the battlefield, can you tell us a little more about this?

One of the important roles of musicians on the battlefield was to relay orders to their unit.  It was this aspect specifically that we chose to focus on.  So, I spent some time with one of our designers Jamie Ferguson discussing what types of orders they’d need to relay in the game and once I had the list I quickly notated some ‘musical orders’ together such as Halt, Fire At Will, March for both the snare drummers and the buglers.  I then brought in the talents of some live musicians to record the audio for these orders and the outcome was fantastic as once the orders were integrated in to the game it transformed the level of realism in the battles.  While we did not stick to authentic musical phrases for the orders, the effect is the same in the game nonetheless.  In the game hearing the enemy orders can be an important clue as to what an enemy is doing!

Q:  Empire’s score features music performed with a Symphony Orchestra and also digital samples.  Can you tell us a little bit about this?

We recorded approx. 60 minutes of the score live and we had about 20+ minutes remain completely as digital.  In addition, some tracks were enhanced with additional digital samples, most notably the Indian, Arabic and Tribal battles which featured a lot of sampled ethnic melodic and percussive instruments.

Q: How do you know the tracks will work properly in the game before you record the orchestra?

We simply create electronic MIDI mock-up versions of each track.  This is actually a very important process because these tracks are fully orchestrated so it allows us the ability to hear very accurately the music and make any decision on changes before we record any notes live.  It also allows us the opportunity to try out concepts in the game and refine the style.

Q:  When realizing the score with an orchestra, does this alter the composing process as opposed to just using digital samples for the music?

The composing process itself largely stays the same, what alters is the amount of editing you’ll do to create a realistic MIDI mock-up if using the samples alone in the final mix.  Mock-ups can be very big demanding jobs, and often due to the limits of using samples you’ll sometimes find yourself having to layer many articulations, adding lots of volume shaping, tweaking reverb settings to simulate a hall environment or other such procedures in order to make the music sound more realistic when played back with samples.

Q:  Where/when did you record the live orchestral score?

We recorded the orchestral music with THE SLOVAK NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA . It was recorded by sound engineer Peter Fuchs at the Slovak Radio Concert Hall, in Bratislava during the first week of December 2008.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the recording process.

The Slovak Radio Concert Hall was huge, it a created a lovely lush sound with the orchestra.

To capture this engineer Peter Fuchs used 46 microphones strategically placed around the hall, between and in front of the players.  The close string mics were fed into a Yamaha DM 2000, the remaining microphones were fed into Grace Design 802R, Millennia HV-3D, ASP-008 and Digidesign PRE pre-amps and recorded in to a ProTools HD rig via Apogee converters.

Each piece of music had a click track that would be fed via headphones to each musician and the conductor to ensure accurate timing in the music.  This was important because we needed to add a fair amount of digital samples back to some of the tracks later in the mixing.  Then one by one we’d work our way through each piece of music until we had recorded everything we needed.

The score was recorded over 2 days after which we began preparation for mixing the music.

Peter then flew back to the UK to join me in our in-house studio to mix the music.  We then spent 3 days mixing, again using a ProTools HD rig.

Q: What was the most enjoyable part of the music production?

I always enjoy the collaborative process, working with other musicians, composers and the rest of the orchestral team who helped us put together and record the score.  There are so many cogs in the process and each one helps make the finished recording what it is.

Without doubt though, the single most enjoyable aspect is when you hear the music come alive through the orchestra.  When you have spent months writing, listening and working with the music in MIDI format, to then go and listen to it live with 80 musicians giving it their all is truly a moving experience.

Q:  Are there any plans for a Soundtrack release, a lot of reviews have commented on the strength of the music?

Actually there is, we have been very pleased with the response to the music and I’m sure Total War fans will be happy to hear that we are planning a commercial soundtrack release from the game which should be available in the not too distant future.

Thanks to Mark O’Connell, who originally posted this interview on the Total War blog.


300+ Good reasons to visit this weekend’s Cherry Blossom Festival

If you read my earlier blog post this week, then you know that this Saturday and Sunday SEGA is going to be present at the Cherry Blossom Festival here in Japantown, San Francisco.

I mentioned that we had some swag to give away and that we were going to have a Trivia contest… Since then, we’ve finalized our plans and dug deep into hidden rooms here at the SEGA office to find the coolest stuff possible.

Now, it’s time for all of you not attending this weekend to turn hedgehog blue with envy – and for all of you who are making the trip – or anyone on the fence – we’ve got 300+ good reasons to look forward to it.

It’s going to be a very cool weekend.

I want you to focus on breathing normally now. Deep breaths in and out – now pinch yourself once. You aren’t dreaming.

Sunday at 3 PM is our SEGA Trivia Contest at the SEGA Booth, and whichever one of you knows your SEGA stuff the best is going to be rewarded for it – and seriously so. The Grand Prize is a stack of TEN newly released SEGA games, AND the exclusive Sonic T-shirt we found the other week in the Box of Awesome. The winner gets everything you see here:

To the winner go the spoils… and a really cool T-shirt.

The games will be given out at specific times during the day, so feel free to visit our booth and ask when the next giveaway will be. Oh, and if you do something to really show off your SEGA love – like wearing a SEGA/Sonic shirt or cosplaying as a SEGA video game character, we’ll see to it you get rewarded for your efforts with some of the rare merch shown above. (JSRF Soundtracks, NiGHTS Pillowcases, etc) Special bonus points if you cosplay as anyone from Valkyria Chronicles, since our DLC is coming out next Thursday!

We hope all of you attending this weekend are as excited as we are – of course, you can also be the first to play Let’s Tap! and Bleach: Third Phantom before they come out later this year, but we imagine what you guys really want is the free stuff. 😉

We’ll see you there!


Empire: Total War Team Q&A


With Empire: Total War currently flying off shelves around the world, we spoke to several members of the Creative Assembly to get their thoughts on the game and spill the beans on their winning tactics!

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your role on Empire: Total War?

Mike Brunton – My name is Mike Brunton and I think my current job title is Head Writer and Senior Designer, but who can say? According to some the words “paranoid” and “curmudgeon” may appear in there as well, but I say in reply: who are these little bastards, and why are they following me around? :-P I think I’ve written quite a lot of the words on Empire: Total War, or did I? Perhaps some of the historical content, whimsy and the occasional humorous asides in the game would, if dusted for prints CSI-style, lead back to me.

Lee Cowen – I’ve been at CA 10 years in May. So I’m a veteran of the company having been on the 2001 Rugby World Cup game, followed by the PS2 version and then onto Rome: Total War where I was the campaign map guy. Following this was Barbarian Invasion and Alexander and now Empire: Total War.

On Empire: Total War I’m part of the battle team responsible for all the naval combat that is the cannon fire, the crew and the ship locomotion.  My other main job was the battlefield buildings. Getting them from our 3d modeling app onto the terrain and creating the internal structure logic of the building.

Jerome Grasdyke – Hi all, my name is Jerome Grasdyke and I’m the lead programmer on Empire.

Kevin McDowell: Hi all, I’m Kevin McDowell, Lead Artist on Empire TW. I co-ordinate and manage the art team and supply art direction.

Tom Pickard – Hi, I’m Tom Pickard and I’ve been on the total war team since the summer of 2006. I’ve been working on the campaign map primarily since I arrived and have been involved in most stages of its development over the past 2 and a half years. I am a big Total war fan so as you can imagine landing a job on the TW team and having to not mention a thing about it for 2 years till it was announced to the public was pretty hard…

Pawel Wojs – My name is Pawel Wojs and I’m an artist on Empire.

James Buckle – I’m James Buckle, Senior Tester and Internal Support Lead on Empire.  I walk around QA and whip the testers with a cat if they’re bug count gets too low.  Sometimes, between whippings, I like to drink a nice cup of tea and play the game.

Mark O’Connell: I’m the PR and Online Manager for Empire: Total War and have been with the Creative Assembly since September 2006. Some of my responsibilities include press and community events around the world, running our websites, speaking to our lovely community and spreading the word about all things Total War. I also did quite a good job on the company Christmas tree last December!

Which part of the game are you most proud of?

Mike Brunton – I’m quite chuffed I managed to use the words “genuphobe”, “tympanitic”, “air loom”, “jugs” and “pie-shop hussar”. Actually, I’d like to see “Pie-Shop Hussar” on promo T-shirts – maybe I should ask… I’m also quite pleased that the original tech tree, buildings and army lists from my early drafts of years ago survived reasonably intact into the published game. Quite a lot of the development process ends up developing stuff out of existence as needs and targets change, but in this case it looks like the first stabs were going in mostly the right direction. They’ve been extended, tweaked and polished since by many hands (some of them under the conscious control of their owners!), but that’s the nature of development.

Lee Cowen – The gameplay involved with making the naval battles fun to play. It’s not everyone cup of tea but the demo seems to have gone down really well in the community

Jerome Grasdyke – Whoa, where to begin? Empire’s such a rich and varied game that it’s really quite hard to pick a favourite feature… I guess I’d have to go for the new campaign map, which I think has worked out really well. It gives the artists a lot more control over the look of the map, and they’ve definitely made great use of it in places like India and the Caribbean.

Kevin McDowell: The new campaign map is a really big step up from what we have had in the past. The ships are wicked too.

Tom Pickard – On a Personal level, I’ve been involved with the campaign map pretty much from the start, when I arrived the concepts we’re done and the project approved so it was a case of getting down to it. It being a massive aspect of the game to work on and have a chance to influence the direction of the campaign map as we move into a non tile based design was a great experience.

The campaign map for at least a year and a half was somewhat of a minefield of new features and experimental tech, a lot of new coders and new ideas mixed with a now un-tiled handmade map, made in 3d Max(…. that one took a while :P) this map would drive the path finding and was originally meant to be the graphical side of things too, however with some rather frank admissions that this would be unworkable as both sides of the map, the wonderful graphics programmers worked their butts off to make me a more usable system that would give us (well me and Ben the other artist working on the map) greater control of the graphical side of the map. The campaign programming team on the other hand we’re using my max map to the fullest, as we started to create something that looked so unbelievably complex just so you the player would get a continuous experience across the world. Over the Last 6 months and many late nights we’ve all brought this together and polished it to be the largest TW map and something I hope all the players spend many, many months looking at.

Pawel Wojs – Literally every aspect, the game as a whole. I’ve seen it grow for the past 3 years, having played it to death, I still can’t get enough of it, and I’ll be playing it compulsively for a long time to come.

James Buckle – It’s hard to pick out any one feature, it’s just a big pile of awesome.  But I think the naval battles really stand out.  Few games have tried it and fewer have made it work.  We’ve managed to capture the essence of naval warfare and make it fun on our first attempt.  Building your first 1st Rate, sending it into battle and seeing it blow the crap out of an enemy ship with a single broadside is a really satisfying moment.  Having said ship attempt to board a pirate galleon only to be repelled, set on fire and blown in two by its powder magazine is a little less satisfying.  Damn those pirates and their wily pirateness.

Mark O’Connell: I love the entire game and it’s been an honor and a privilege to work with the talented team that created it. That said, I am particularly excited with what has been achieved with naval battles. I still can’t help but be impressed with the level of detail and depth of the new mode, which stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the other modes in the game. It’s also a lot of fun when a well-placed shot causes your opponents ship to blow up!

What is your favorite faction to play as and why?

Mike Brunton – I’m going to be dull and say the British, but that’s only because I know where to find Britain on a map, mostly. My grasp of geography south of Doncaster is a little vague. It’s a wonder that I ever find the CA office some days.

Lee Cowen – I’m currently playing Road to Independence Episode 3, so I have to say America. I’m very much into US history and politics anyway and our game fits perfectly into that. It’s good that we went ahead with RTI as it really helps with learning the mechanics of campaign map. As I was the campaign map coder on Rome and have had little to do with that side of the game this time around, it’s interesting to compare the differences. There is so much more to it now, it’s scope is massive in comparison. Rome’s campaign map was much smaller. Basically it was myself full time, plus 2 or 3 other programmers.

Jerome Grasdyke – Usually I play as the United Provinces. It’s a good challenge since you start with few territories, but you’ve got money, some targets close by and a presence in all three theaters. I like the Ottomans as well as they’ve got quite a few colorful units which are fun to experiment with.

Kevin McDowell: Sweden’s fun, you’re in your own little corner, and there are lots of different ways to break out of it…you play a land or sea game, it’s up to you.

Tom Pickard – Well… I do love playing Prussia as a faction, but when I had a campaign where I allied myself with Austria and invaded Poland and France in swift powerful moves before I was stopped as I marched towards Moscow…. sounded a little too familiar for me… So then I played as Sweden and found them to suit my style of warfare, controlling the Baltic and invading Russia (sorry Russia I seem to pick on you whenever I’m an eastern/Northern European faction) Struggling with my economy until I secured enough trade deals and regions I’d captured became well enough behaved to tax properly. Before sweeping through Denmark into the thick of Europe’s elite armies. I’m going to plug for Sweden with Prussia a close second…

Pawel Wojs – The Ottomans! Out of all the factions I’ve played they are pretty much the toughest on the highest difficulty settings, I challenge anyone to play as the Ottomans, without saving and reloading when everything goes wrong.

James Buckle – That’s a tough one, I’ve had a good run on all of them and each one is a different playing experience.  I’ll probably go with the United Provinces.  You have a foothold in both the American and Indian theaters right from the start, bringing in lots of trade.  Your home region is sat next Westphalia, Bavaria and Hannover, so you have lots of minor factions to stomp on.  Of course, it’s not all roses, if you pick on the wrong little guy and he’s allied to one of the heavyweights you’re in trouble.  France and the UK are right next to you. Pick a fight with them and they will raid your trade routes, blockade your ports and generally ruin your day.

Mark O’Connell: I have probably spent the most time with the British. Being an island nation they are pretty well protected in the early game and you can work on establishing a foothold in the United States. They also have an excellent navy, which is ideal for suppressing pirates and setting up trade routes abroad. I have also really enjoyed playing as the Marathas because of their unique units and setting as well as the United Provinces when I fancy a challenge!

Have you got any tips or winning tactics that you’d like to share?

Mike Brunton – Don’t spend all your money. Keep up with the Joneses (as it were) with tech research. And never, ever, do what I did (repeatedly) and put your immovable saker cannons in a spot where they can’t hit anything. That’s really stupid, I can tell you. And remember to go fish mining – no, hang on, that’s in one of those MMORPGs, isn’t it?

Lee Cowen – Keep your ship’s in formation or you’ll end up micromanaging every single ship. Cross the enemy’s line if their sails are up and chain shot them.

Jerome Grasdyke – At the risk of stating the obvious I tend to pile in with superior forces – my victories are mostly won on the campaign map before I even get around to fighting the battles. That does mean actually paying attention to diplomacy in this game though.

Kevin McDowell: No. Loose lips sink ships.

Tom Pickard – Strong Allies, Aggression, and knowing when to run away and save your troops. Also one of my weaker aspects is my economy, most of my wars become bloated and once a campaign is completed I have to slash army numbers just to balance books… Not good when you’ve just declared war on France and its allies, and failed to take Paris.

Pawel Wojs – Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of melee, even in this period and especially if you have elephants in your army :p.  Play RTI even if you’re a total war vet, you won’t be disappointed! Also build up a strong economy, and protect your trade routes at all cost!

James Buckle – Some of the tactics I used in the previous games don’t work in Empire as it’s a different kind of warfare, but most of them can be adapted.  One that still works and is as old as the hills, is to stack units on one flank and then wrap around the enemy line.  The cross fire it creates will ripe the enemy units to pieces.  Unfortunately, this tactic tends to fall on its face when the enemy has greater infantry numbers.

I leave you to figure out how to get around that problem.

A sneaky tactic I sometimes use is to attack the flanks with galloper artillery.  I hide them in the woods to the side and wait for the enemy to line up, once they begin firing, pop up on their flank and fire straight down the line.  The effect can be devastating, whole rows of men get wiped out by canon fire.  If you can get it in close, hit them with canister shot, it’s brutal.  Be aware of their cavalry units, they will often be floating around on their flanks and, if ignored, will quickly obliterate your artillery and with them any chance for victory.

The new naval battles gave me a headache for a while, it’s a new aspect of the game so I couldn’t adapt old tactics in the way I did for the land battles.  This took a quiet a while.  A great tactic when you’re outnumbered by smaller ships, which happens a lot with all the pirates around the place, is to sail away from them in a zig-zag.  As they follow you, turn into them and fire chain shot at their sails, then turn away and reload.  With their sails torn to pieces they will fall away.  Keep this up and as each ship is immobilized it will be left behind by the chasing pack until you have a whole fleet of strung out and disabled ships.  You can now turn around, park out of range of their guns and shred them with round and grape shot until they surrender and leave you with a tidy little prize.

Mark O’Connell: In naval battles, set a couple of your ships up sideways in the deployment phase. Then unleash a devastating assault of chain shot as your enemies move into attack. It’ll leave them sitting ducks in the water as their masts come crashing down into the sea. Then you can maneuver your fleet to catch them in deadly crossfire of round and grapeshot.  Here’s another tip – select any unit during land battles and press the ‘Insert’ key. It’s awesome.

Finally, do you have any messages for our community?

Mike Brunton – Thanks for being so informative and enthusiastic/keen/mad for it/vaguely threatening (delete as appropriate) in your posts over the years. Now go and enjoy yourselves playing the game!

Lee Cowen – This is one of the largest games ever written, with massive scope, so bear with us if you have any issues, we always consider your comments. Just enjoy what’s great about the game.

Jerome Grasdyke – Just to remember to take it easy, and enjoy conquering the world (again). And also, that Total War would not have become what it is without their enthusiasm and support.

Kevin McDowell: Have fun! Try playing different nations. There are lots of different play styles available.

Tom Pickard – First, I hope you enjoy, and I hope it’s as much fun for you guys to play it as it has been to make.

I’d also like to take this to address a one of the things I’ve seen repeated on the forums (see we do read them ;) ) The areas we covered (or the areas we left off the map): I understand many people’s frustrations at not seeing their country/faction, or not seeing all of say Siberia or China or Australia to capture, but the map is massive, it is truly giant on so many levels and it took lots of designers and many art/coders/producers months of wrangling to decide which areas should make the first draft of the campaign map, This was based on so many deciding factors, and then it took a year or so after to slim it down to a size that was both manageable and fun, and most importantly the gameplay /style/loading times/so many other things was vastly improved because of the time we we’re able to spend polishing the (vast) areas we ended up focusing on. Also If we gave you the world what would the fantastic TWMod community do ;)

Pawel Wojs – Enjoy! We’ll look forward to your feedback, in the forums.

James Buckle – See if you can find the kittens.

Mark O’Connell: I would like to personally thank each and every one of you for your feedback and support throughout the duration of the project. We have a lot more planned in the coming months so stay tuned to for the latest information. Oh, and thanks for reading!


Modding Empire: Total War


At the Total War blog, Mark has posted an explanation and some tips for creating Empire: Total War mods. We’ve already seen mods being created, and there’s clearly a demand for more. The mod dev package is coming, but in the meantime, here’s how to work with the modding system, not against it. Using this knowledge, you can avoid breaking things released by CA in the future.

First of all, the ETW data is meant to stay packed. The pack file system and the virtual file system that it builds internally within the game are central to the patching and modding systems, so please don’t ask users to unpack their data in order to run with your mods.

So how should you mod the game? Well, it works like this. Empire loads files of type .pack in the data directory in a certain order determined by the pack’s type. There are three basic types – release, patch and mod. The fifth byte in the pack file header is an numerical id which tells the game what a pack is, boot packs are 0, release packs are 1, patch packs are 2, mod packs are 3. The game then loads release packs first, then patch packs, then mod packs.

At game startup, the file entries in all of these packs are mounted into a virtual file system, and if the game finds an entry in a later pack which has the same name and location as an already existing entry, the new entry replaces the old. This means that a mod pack can replace any file in the vfs and add new ones as well, without asking the person who downloaded the mod to overwrite files on disk and destroy data.
In order to tell the game to use a mod, you do need to feed the game a script command. Currently the easiest way to do that is to create a user script file. The way to do this is to find your preferences.empire_script.txt file (this will be in Application Data on a Windows XP machine), and create a text file next to it called user.empire_script.txt. Inside that file, for each mod create a line which reads “mod my_pack.pack;” (without the quotes, obviously). The user script gets processed on load, and will tell the game to load your mods in that order. The user script can be used for many other things as well, but we’ll leave those for another day.

So basically, a mod is intended to be a single “mod pack” file, and installing a mod is just placing that pack inside the game’s data directory and adding the mod command, and uninstalling it is removing those things.

Now, a note on how to work with the databases. You’ll have noticed that each table in the databases (inside the db folder) is both a folder and a binary file. When the game instantiates the databases, which happens after the virtual file system is built, it scans each directory and parses -all- of the binary files it finds. This means that a mod pack can add a new binary data fragment inside the db/unit_stats_land_table folder which adds several new units, and the game will add them to its land units database. The fragments are processed in the same order as the pack files, and any new database records with the same name as an old record will cause the new to replace the old. This means that you can replace any record within the database without touching the rest of the data or modifying the CA-supplied files on disk.

For example, say the CA packs contain a unit record for ‘french_dragoons’, which is one entry out of hundreds inside the shipped unit_stats_land_table data fragment, which is used to build the unit table that was available at launch. Now say you create a mod pack which places a new data fragment, say called my_mods_unit_stats_land inside db/ unit_stats_land_table, which contains just one data record for ‘french_dragoons’. What will happen is your new record will end up replacing the current record for that unit in the game data, and the rest will stay as it was originally.

So… hopefully you’ll now have a good idea of how the modding system was architected, and how you should build tools to work with it. There’s also another interesting consequence of how the system works, which is that it opens the door for mods built on top of other mods…

One more thing to keep in mind is that we’ve not yet finished testing the mod support fully – that’s part of what’s happening here before the mod dev package gets released. We’re aware that there is currently an upper bound of about 6000 files in a single pack, though it’s very possible to create a mod spanning several packs. But be aware that there is some overhead associated with mounting a pack, and a data directory filled with scores of them will make the game startup time significantly longer.

The other thing I should mention – since you’re going to be experimenting with this – is that the game checks the final database integrity after loading mods. So if you add a pack file which includes a new unit record which doesn’t include a display model or is invalid in some other way, the game will unload that mod pack (though it keeps the rest). This isn’t the main error checking mechanism in the ETW data pipeline, that’s done elsewhere, but as modders you should be aware of it. Unfortunately there currently isn’t any log output on the reasons why the mod failed to load, we’re looking into adding that when the modding dev kit is released.

Armed with this info you’ll at least be able to work with the system as it was intended, without having to wait for the mod dev package. I have to say it’s great seeing you guys making headway so quickly. The pack and database inspection tool was a great start, I think, and really bodes well for the future of the Empire modding scene.

Good luck!


Empire: Total War Special Units


For those of you that have got your hands on either a pre-order exclusive unit or the Empire: Total War Special Forces edition, here is a guide on how the requirements for getting them in-game.

Pre-Order 1: Deaths Head Hussars
Unique unit for Prussia, recruited from Imperial Palace in Brandenburg region.

Pre-Order 2: USS Constitution
Unique unit for America, recruited from Drydock in North America.

Pre-Order 3: Dahomey Amazons
Recruited from Governor’s Residence building in Morocco, Algiers and Tunis regions.

Special Edition Units
Rogers Rangers: Unique unit for Great Britain, recruited from Army Barracks in North America.
Ghoorkas: Recruited from Governor’s Residence building in Kashmir region.
‘Corso Terrestre’ Guerillas: Recruited by Spain from Magistrate building in Spain region.
HMS Victory: Unique unit for Great Britain, recruited from Steam Drydock in England region.
Organ Gun: Recruitable by Ottoman Empire from Cannon Foundry.

To make things clearer, we have also produced two reference tables for you to download:

Special Units 1
Special Units 2

Special thanks to Mark and the Total War Blog for this information!


Weekly Roundup for Empire: Total War


News and reviews for Empire: Total War have been flowing in this week. Although some people have experienced problems, most everyone seems to be enjoying the game. I’ve even read comments and tweets about people skipping eating, bathing and sleeping to play! Please, conquer responsibly. :)

Patches and Help

Steam released a patch for Empire: Total War this week. The patch will be applied automatically when your Steam client is restarted. Here’s what’s changed:

  • Fixed Alt-Tab issue which prevents players from switching away from a fullscreen window
  • Fixed text rendering for certain resolutions
  • Fixed localized font overrun issues
  • Fixed a variety of crash and memory leak issues
  • Fixed a variety of multiplayer client lock
  • Fixed trade nodes for those nations with resource in home region which caused unprofitable trade theatre routes eg: Sweden and Marathas

If you are still experiencing problems with Empire, our customer service team is here to help! You can check our knowledge base for a quick fix, but if that doesn’t do the trick, you can file a ticket about your issue. This is the best way for you to get your issue solved and get on with playing.

Reviews & Giveaways

I’ve been tweeting reviews and giveaways as they come in, and here they are in a convenient roundup form. If you see any reviews you think we should know about, you can leave them in the comments or send them to us on Twitter.

Don’t have your copy of Empire: Total War yet, and want to win it? You’re in luck — BuzzFocus is givng a copy away! Hit up that link for all the rules and to enter the contest. You’ve got until April 2nd to get your entry in.

TrueGameHeadz gives Empire: Total War 4/5 stars, calling it “the best game in the Total War series”.

PC Gamer gives Empire: Total War a 94/100 and a “Must Buy”. The US version of the magazine is on stands now, and has the full review. The UK version is online (that’s the link) and they gave it the same score. “We cannot do anything other than play Empire, compulsively, obsessively.”

IGN AU lists 10 things  you  need to know about Empire: Total War. This article made the front page of Digg this week, too! Now, I’m no history buff — in fact, it’s my worst trivia category. But I appreciated that IGN AU called attention to the historical accuracy of Empire, including the plants and moustaches. Because everyone loves a historically accurate moustache.

Pocket Lint gave the game 9/10, saying it has “some of the most sumptuous graphics ever witnessed”.

Inc Gamers calls the game a “masterpiece”, and gives it a 94.

Keep those reviews coming! If you see one you think we should know about, let us know in the comments.


Reviews for Empire: Total War

Empire: Total War went live on Steam and in stores this week, and the reviews are starting to come back in. We’re thrilled that the reviewers love the game, and hope that you do too. I’ve been looking around online for people’s comments on the game, but I’m finding that people are too busy playing to post much. I’m guessing that’s a good sign.  Anyway, on to the reviews! (All emphasis/bold in the reviews is mine, not the reviewer’s.)


Gamespy gives the game 5/5 stars with an Outstanding rating and an Editors Choice award!

“What makes these games work is not only how well each side works as an individual unit (either might have been released on its own and been a quality product), but how well the two sides are married to one another. This, in a nutshell, is what makes Empire a brilliant game, easily the best of the Total War series to date.”

“Empire’s campaign map gameplay does an amazing job at simulating the empire-building, intricate webwork of trade partners, diplomacy and alliances and the jockeying for power that make the 18th century an inexhaustible treasure trove for armchair monarchs.”

“Creative Assembly has once again proven its reputation is well-deserved, and Empire: Total War is a game that belongs in any strategy gamer’s library.”


1up’s reviewer gives the game an A-, and the average of the 1up editors and reviewers is an A+.

It would be easy to be just bowled over by how glorious Empire: Total War looks. Creative Assembly’s signature series has always been big on spectacle, and Empire is no different. The battles are bigger and bloodier, only now you have the smoke of muskets and crack of 12-pounders to accompany your march across the known world. Don’t let the color of charging Cossacks blind you to everything else going on here though, Empire is a major step forward for the entire Total War franchise.”

“Empire overreaches in parts, but I suppose that’s the price of ambition. It will get even more ambitious once Creative Assembly adds the promised multiplayer campaign mode. But Empire’s lumbering remoteness says something about the age it portrays: a century of mass armies and big ideas, the Wealth of Nations and age of steam. For all its problems, it’s undoubtedly progress.”

Game Informer

Game Informer’s reviewer gives it a 9.5, and it also gets a 9.5 on the second opinion.

“To say Empire: Total War is a deep experience is an understatement. The latest game in the famed strategy series combines thrilling real-time battles with turn-based 4X empire building and outshines its predecessors in every possible way. The studious attention to historical detail, ambitious web of political intrigue, and spectacular battles place this game in the pantheon of strategy greats alongside Civilization and Age of Empires.”

“Empire also introduces naval battles for the first time. Watching your deckhands prep their ships for battle is awesome, but as the frigates and sloops move in for the kill they often engage in an awkward tango of shifting sails over which players have minimal control. Since every real-time battle is an opt-in affair, not even these battle deficiencies can take away from the fantastic Empire experience. This is one of the most sophisticated, entertaining, and historically accurate strategy games ever made.”

More reviews as they come in. We’ll be posting links to reviews in our twitter feed, and posting them in groups here on the blog. If you see a review we should feature, send us the link by commenting on the blog or tweeting it to us.


Solving Common Issues with Empire: Total War

We’ve noticed some common issues as people begin to install and play Empire: Total War. The helpful folks in our customer service department have just published a new knowledge base article with answers and tips to help you along.

1) Nvidia Drivers.

a. After the game was finished, Nvidia released a new set of drivers which we were unable to test before release. Unfortunately this has caused some incompatibilities with the game. We recommend that you roll back to the previous drivers until this is resolved (located here:

2) STEAM installation issues

a. There are a couple of known issues with STEAM that occur when the servers get very busy.

i. Sometimes downloads will pause whilst downloading from the STEAM servers, the download should eventually restart. However you can force restart the download by selecting pause and then restarting the download using the right mouse button and selecting the appropriate option.

ii. After STEAM downloads the game, sometimes the game cache doesn’t update. In such circumstances, simply quit and restart the STEAM client. This restarts the process and allows the installation to complete.

iii. After a complete installation, sometimes the activation will fail due to the servers being very busy. Usually waiting 5 minutes and trying again solves this issue. If that doesn’t work please close STEAM and restart the client.

iv.   Despite having a boxed version, Steam appears to be downloading the whole game. Answer to this here on Customer Services,6,165

STEAM have identified a fix that will correct the majority of problems here that will be implemented ASAP today. In the meantime quitting and restarting STEAM is the best way to resolve these issues.

3) FAT32 (Portable Hard Drive/Old Hard Drive)

a. Due to the large size of the game, FAT32 will not work with the title. You are unlikely to have a FAT32 drive unless you have an old hard disk which you have installed STEAM to, or are using a portable drive. You can fix this problem by converting the hard drive by using any partition tool such as Partition Magic or the Microsoft Tool found here: We recommend backing up any data on your hard disc before using any partition tool.

Hopefully this answers your questions. If not, you can post your query to the Empire: Total War forums or contact SEGA customer service directly.


Tune Your Graphics Settings for Empire: Total War

So you’ve bought your copy of Empire: Total War and started playing. But now you’re wondering if you can adjust the graphics settings to make the experience even better. Wonder no more! Richard Gardner, the Graphics Lead at Creative Assembly (developers of Empire: Total War), is here to walk you through the nitty gritty of graphics settings.

This article is also posted at the Empire: Total War blog where you can see FAQs about the game and more!

Tuning your Graphics Settings

ETW is built on a brand new rendering engine, internally code-named “Warscape”. The Engine is DirectX9-based, supporting both Shader Model 2 and Shader Model 3 graphics hardware. Supporting Shader Model 2 hardware has proven to be very challenging, requiring scalable content, SM2-optimized alternate shader paths, and a host of careful optimizations to squeeze out the most from SM2 cards. The result is an Engine that scales down to hardware ~4 years old – no mean feat for a game of this complexity.

The focus of this article is on tuning your graphics settings, so I won’t go in-depth on Engine features, unless doing so helps communicate the impact of each setting.

So let’s talk about the Settings UI. Keen players will have already noted that the In-game graphics settings UI (i.e. the UI shown when in a battle or the campaign) is a subset of the Front-end graphics UI, with some options missing from the in-game UI.

Here’s a handy table showing you where these wee beasties live.

Graphics Settings Availability


ResolutionFront End and In-Game

Windowed Front End and In-Game

Vertical Sync.Front End and In-Game

GammaFront End and In-Game

BrightnessFront End and In-Game

Shader ModelFront End

Texture QualityFront End and In-Game

Texture FilteringFront End and In-Game

Anti-AliasingFront End and In-Game

HDRFront End and In-Game

ShadowsFront End and In-Game

Hardware ShadowsFront End and In-Game

Volumetric Effects Front End and In-Game

Depth Of FieldFront End and In-Game

SSAOFront End and In-Game

Distortion EffectsFront End and In-Game

Unit Size Front End

Unit DetailFront End

TreesFront End

GrassFront End

WaterFront End and In-Game

SkyFront End and In-Game

Building DetailFront End

Ship DetailFront End

Particle EffectsFront End

The reason why some options are missing from the in-game graphics settings UI is due to internal engine limitations – in some cases we don’t retain enough internal data to switch settings on-the-fly in-game e.g. for buildings on low quality settings we discard the highest level-of-detail for buildings at scene load, making it difficult to reload efficiently with high Building Detail setting.

So let’s look at each setting and review how it impacts the game.

Resolution (List)

As you all probably know already, the more pixels you draw per frame, the more GPU-power you need, so as a general rule, pick the lowest screen resolution that you can.

The minimum resolution we support is a humble 800×600, clearly this resolution is of no interest to most gamers, but if you’ve got a SM2 card with barely enough texture memory to meet the min spec (256MB) then you may find that playing in 800×600 rez gives you a much smoother frame rate. For most folks though this low rez is of little interest.

Windowed resolutions are pre-picked, full screen resolutions are determined by your graphics hardware. Out of the Box we’ll run in full screen and default to your desktop resolution. We support all common widescreen formats.

Top Tip: Most monitors have a ‘native resolution’, a resolution at which the screen pixels map 1-to-1 with the elements of the display. At this resolution, running in full screen, your game will look crisp; at other resolutions the display hardware will need to scale pixels to map onto the screen elements, which may impact the crispness of the resulting image – though typically you will only notice this on UI text. So have a dig around for details of your monitor and see if you can see any difference at the monitor’s native resolution.

Windowed (Check Box)

I strongly recommend that you run the game in full screen always, you’ll generally get better performance versus windowed mode, and your graphics card will have exclusive access to the available video memory, not such an issue on Vista, but generally recommended and very significant on XP.

If you do run in Windowed mode, then kill off any other DirectX apps in case they’re stealing precious video memory resources.

Vertical Synchronisation (Check Box)

When you are full-screen, enabling this option limits the frame rate to the monitors refresh rate, avoiding tearing that you may see with this option disabled. My recommendation is to run with this off, as the tearing is usually only occasional and minor, and you should get higher frame rates with this disabled.

Gamma/Brightness (Sliders)

These are standard controls that allow you to balance the game’s colour response to better match your monitor or personal preferences.

Shader Model (Drop-down, Shader Model 2, Shader Model 3 (Low), Shader Model 3 (High))

In short, a card that supports Shader Model 3 is capable of rendering many instances of the same geometry very efficiently, compared to Shader Model 2.

If you have Shader Model 3 support then don’t use Shader Model 2; Shader Model 2 is slower, less efficient, and visually less pleasing. If the two Shader Model 3 options are disabled, you have a relatively old graphics card that doesn’t support SM3 – if you can find spare cash then a wise investment would be an upgrade to a SM3 card – of which there are many options to choose from. I won’t make any recommendations as it’s a matter of budget and personal preference.

We’ve provided two flavours of SM3 for your enjoyment. The Shader Model 3 (Low) setting runs the high performance Shader Model 3 instancing path, but does so with a set of light weight Shader Model 2 shaders, so you benefit from the enhanced performance of instancing, but with less visually complex detail across-the-board, so  you win on fame rate – sometimes by as much as 8-10fps, depending on your rig. The Shader Model 3 (High) setting runs with instancing and our high quality shader path, which delivers the most realistic in-game graphics, but uses the most GPU horsepower.

Texture Quality (Drop-down:  Low,Medium,High,Ultra)

This is a key setting both in terms of visual fidelity but also for your texture footprint.

By setting this to anything but Ultra you are telling the engine to throw away detail from the texture maps. A Texture is comprised of a set of 2D images, from the highest detail e.g. 256×256 pixels in size down to the lowest detail – 1×1. Each level of detail is known as a “MIP”, and each MIP Level is a power-of-2 smaller in each dimension e.g. a  256×256 texture has 9 MIP Levels: [256×256,128×128,64×64,32×32,16×16,8×8,4×4,2×2,1×1]. The highest resolutions are seen close up, the lowest resolutions far in the distance. Your Texture Filtering setting determines how the hardware interpolates between MIPS.

So, with this in mind, each Texture Quality level corresponds to throwing away one or more MIP Levels. At Ultra you see the best textures, nothing is thrown away. High settings causes the highest Level to be discarded – the [256×256] level in the example above. Medium discards 2 levels e.g. [256×256 ,128×128] Low discards 3 levels.

Discarding Textures in this manner can free up considerable video resources, but comes at a cost of visual richness – as the lower MIPS can look blocky and very SNES-like.

Texture Filtering (Drop-down Bilinear, Trilinear, Anisotropic 2x, Anisotropic 4x, Anisotropic 8x, Anisotropic 16x)

This setting impacts how your graphics card interpolates a texture across the surface of an object in 3D space. In short, the higher the setting, the better the quality of the resulting interpolation. Of course, like chocolate, there’s a price to pay for over-indulgence, as the higher settings can hit your frame rate.

I recommend that you stick with Trilinear unless you can personally see a qualitative difference in the game visuals when you turn on Anisotropic. The positive visual impact of Anisotropic Filtering is most visible on the Terrain, so the way to figure this out is to run a land battle and look at the terrain in Trilinear vs Anisotropic – with Aniso. on you should see visually cleaner terrain textures, if you don’t see a difference, then leave this option on Trilinear, which modern hardware can handle with little performance hit.

Anti-Aliasing  (Drop-down, values None,2x,4x,8x,16x)

Anti-aliasing is the first setting that I recommend you should tweak to claw back performance.

Anti-aliasing has a big impact on game visuals as enabling it causes the hardware to smooth out the edges of images on screen, so otherwise jagged lines become softer and less noticeable.

The 2x, 4x notation, for simplicity, can be thought of as the additional size of the texture required to enable the effect. e.g. 2x means a texture twice the size, 4x four times etc.

Depending on your other settings turning on AA can have a major impact on your video memory footprint. At 4x setting any full screen render targets are 4x the size in each dimension, which equates to roughly 16x the video memory required, per anti-aliased surface.

HDR – High Dynamic Range Lighting (CheckBox)

This is a big button to push – by which I mean that turning on HDR has significant impact on the performance of the game, especially if you’ve also chosen to enable Anti-Aliasing.

If your hardware supports HDR, and not all hardware does, then you can benefit from the enhanced lighting that enabling this setting provides. HDR delivers ‘bling’ by simulating the eyes response to bright lights – these areas of over-brightness, e.g. the sun glinting from a raised sword, cause a sudden flash of bright light that bleeds into the surrounding area – much the same way as bright light seen through a window appears to bleed around a window frame. The effect is cool, but subtle.

HDR is very spendy on video memory, especially if you’ve also enabled Anti-Aliasing, so spend some time to get the optimum setting for your PC.

Shadows (Drop-down: Off,Low,Medium,High,Ultra)

Rendering shadows of all objects in the scene requires us to render them from the light’s perspective into a texture, which is then sampled when computing occlusion for any object in the scene.

The Quality setting controls two factors, the size of the shadow-map texture (which on the highest setting is 2048×2048, on lowest is 512×512), and it also impacts the range over which the shadows fade out in the scene: 1000 scalemeters on Ultra, 100 meters on Low ( the playable area is 2Kx2K meters).

Shadow artefacts are very visible on the lowest setting – mitigated somewhat by turning on Hardware Shadows.

Hardware Shadows (CheckBox)

Enabling this option causes the engine to use hardware-accelerated texture sampling to improve the visual quality of shadows – effectively softening the edges, and reducing visible blocky artefacts. This works on most recent ATI & NVIDIA hardware, and should be enabled if it’s not too costly on your frame rate.

Volumetric Effects (CheckBox)

A catchy name for a family of graphical effects in the game, which all require a separate render pass for all screen objects to compute and record their depth in the scene. Yep, that means rendering all the scene objects twice per frame, once to record depth, then again to render the lit scene (and a third time to compute shadows!). Clearly this has a significant impact on performance – though the depth pass is heavily optimized and comparatively light weight.

Why do we do this? Well, once we have the depth information we can do cool things. Think back to most games you’ve played where these cool explosions are spoilt by the hard line the particles make with the ground. With depth information at-hand we can alpha out the edges of particles when they intersect with surfaces – leading to a very soft edge with no VPL (Visible Particle Lines).

Building on this effect are Depth Of Field (DOF) and Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO), both of which require a readable depth buffer to work their magic.

Depth of Field (CheckBox)

This effect simulates the focal range of a camera, objects inside the focal distance are sharp, objects outside are blurred.

You’ll see this in action in the Campaign and also in Battles, where distant objects are out-of-focus. I personally find this very useful, as it helps me focus on the action, and particularly on the campaign map leads to a nice table-top-gaming feel. This is not to everyone’s taste, so take it for a spin.

SSAO (ambient shadow) (CheckBox)

SSAO stands for Screen Space Ambient Occlusion. This is very much a high end feature, it’s the most computationally intensive of the in-game effects, but the results add significant realism to the scene.

Simply put, enabling this option – which is enabled if Volumetric Effects are enabled, and your card is beefy enough – causes the engine to compute local shadowing of objects in the scene.

Imagine you are looking into a white cardboard box in daylight. The inside corners of the box will be slightly darker than the sides, because the sides effectively shadow the corners as light bounces around on its merry photonic journey around the box.

So that’s what SSAO simulates, and the results are instantly noticeable in-game, where subtle shadows appear under objects grounding them to the scene, and shadows appear in the folds of soldier uniforms and in the nooks and crannies of buildings.

In short it’s a big switch that you should throw if you can. The results are a much richer scene, with noticeably more realistic lighting.

Distortion Effects(heat haze) (Checkbox)

This full screen visual effect simulates the effects of drinking 6 pints of Sussex – also creating a hazy distortion affect around heat sources.

It’s relatively cheap to implement too, so you’ll notice the effect on explosions in game, especially the concussion impact of grenadiers doing their stuff – where a shockwave of distortion ripples out from the impact. It’s all very satisfying, and quite cheap to enable.

Unit Size (Drop-down: Small,Medium,Large,Ultra)

This is one of the key settings that you should play with to tweak your performance. Unit Scale is more than just a graphical effect, as it affects the campaign game as well.

Simply put, the lower you put this setting, the fewer soldiers are used to represent your units. As rendering hundreds or thousands of units is one of the trademarks of Total War, and our primary performance bottleneck (closely followed by trees & grass) you should spend some time playing with this setting; and I apologize for this being available only in the Front End (technical limitations), which makes playing with it very time-consuming.

Unit Detail (Drop-down: Low,Medium,High,Ultra)

The close Banjo-playing cousin of Unit Scale, the Unit Detail setting has a huge impact on the game’s performance and visual look.

Units in ETW are hugely improved over Med2, each unit can have variants of each body part modelled- torso, legs, arms, head, hat, cross-belts, hair, cuffs, face hair, and hands. It’s a huge number of variations to render and a challenge to efficient instancing.

The higher your Unit Detail setting the more variation you will see in your units, from coarse level detail such as two chaps with different coloured tunics, to fine detail such as different beard styles close-up.

There are literally hundreds of unique animations for each unit, and Unit Detail setting impacts how we cull out these variations with distance – as units recede into the distance we start sharing their animations, so we have less unique animations to render.

Trees (Drop-down: Low,Medium,High,Ultra)

This setting controls the distance at which those lovely 3D trees turn into billboards. Rendering thousands of 3D trees is very costly, and so arriving at a good setting for Tree quality can have a big impact on you frame rate (and enjoyment).

The lower this setting, the closer those pesky distant billboards become. The sharp-eyed observer will spot that each tree has a number of discrete levels of detail (3 to be precise) that it transitions through on the way to billboards, which helps smooth the transition.

This setting also covers shrubs, which have 3 levels-of-detail, but never render as billboards – you’ll notice that they “fizzle out” as they recede into the distance, disappearing long before the trees billboard.

Lowering the setting also causes as to cull far billboard trees from the outfield (the area outside the playable area) which helps keep frame rates up.

Grass (Drop-down: Off,Low,Medium,High,Ultra)

Grass adds texture and richness to the scene, and the higher you can set this setting, the further away from the camera we draw grass – it’s that simple. Grass clumps are rendered as camera-facing billboards, and pick up the colour of the terrain they sit on.

A note on over-draw as relates to Grass and Trees

When you’re low down to the ground, looking through the grass, or looking through a clump of trees, your frame rate will suffer due to “over draw”, where many screen objects are visually overlapped and the same screen pixel is written to multiple times.

This is going to hurt your frame rate. We do what we can to alleviate this with sorting and culling, but this is only going to go so far. If your rig can handle Volumetric Effects, then enable it because doing so accelerates the process of culling out objects that would otherwise render on top of each-other – I won’t bore you with the details of how/why.

Water (Drop-down: Low,Medium,High,Ultra)

This setting affects the campaign map sea surface rendering as well as rendering of the sea in sea battles, and the river surfaces in land battles.

The 3 features that this setting controls are reflection, refraction and foam effects (sea battles only).

Setting                  Reflection           Refraction                  Foam

Low                         Off                         Off                         Off

Medium                   Off                         On                          Off

High                        On                          On                          On

Ultra                       On                          On                          On

Note that you only see foam effects on sea battles at high wind settings, so to experiment with the impact of enabling foam, start a custom sea battle with gale-force winds.

Sky (Drop-down:Low ,Medium,High,Ultra)

At Low setting the sky is rendered at scene load to create a classic sky cube rendered at 512×512 resolution. With this setting, clouds are pre-rendered into the sky cube and the sky has a rather grainy old-school look.

At any higher setting than Low the sky is rendered using a high resolution pre-computed sky cube overlaid with high res clouds, the resolution of the sky cube and clouds goes up with quality level, to a max of 1024×1024 per face at the highest resolution.

Building Detail (Drop-down: Low,Medium,High,Ultra)

All that geometry in those Star Fort battles and Town battles can put quite a strain on your graphics card. By dialling down your Building Quality you control the maximum level of detail that we load for each building, and you also control the distance at which buildings lose detail.

Like tress, buildings are created with a number of detail levels (typically 3), the lowest detail level being basically a box with some gross detail. Dialling down this setting causes us to throw away detail levels, and decreases the distance to the lowest detail level – making that boxy-building more noticeable.

This setting is perhaps misnamed, it should read “all non-animated objects quality” – but you can see why we decided to simplify the name. The setting effects farm props such as carts and hay bales, as well as buildings.

Ship Detail (Drop-down: Low,Medium,High,Ultra)

This option is currently not wired in, as of the first release, we will be wiring this in as part of a future patch.

Particle Effects (Drop-down: Low,Medium,High,Ultra)

This setting controls our Particle System, which I mentioned earlier in the context of Volumetric Effects. When we talk about Effects, we’re talking about the smoke, dust and fire effects that add so much atmosphere to a battle.

On low quality settings we limit the total number of particles emitted, and we reduce the emission rate of particles. Put more simply you see less dense smoke. On the lowest setting you will probably notice particles disappearing when they hit the budget, otherwise the culling with quality is not that noticeable. Rendering particles introduces loads of over-draw (which I mentioned earlier in the context of grass & trees). Loads of overlapping particles means lot of overdraw, so play with this setting to fine tune performance.

Appendix: a note on Presets – Automatic, Low, Medium, High, and Ultra

The five preset configurations are selected to give a simple coarse-level performance tuning.

The Automatic Setting sets your graphics to a very conservative configuration, which are the settings selected the first time you run Empire.

The higher presets will only be available if your hardware has sufficient video memory.


I hope that you all found the above walk-through useful, and it helps guide your tune-up session.  There’s no single right way to approach performance tuning, as different rigs can perform quite differently. I leave it to the enthusiasts on the forums to formulate and share strategies that may work for others.


Richard Gardner

Graphics Lead, Empire Total War. The Creative Assembly


Empire: Total War Superior Tactics 3 Trailer

We’ve just release the third and final Superior Tactics trailer for Empire: Total War. In this video, designer Jim Whitson and associate producer Mark Sutherns take you through naval groups and formations, to guide you through the naval battles that are new in Empire: Total War. Enjoy!

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