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Building Rome

Rome wasn’t built in a day – and for iPad it took a while. Here we describe our journey in a series of five enlightening dev diaries, from our first experiments with touch controls right through to completing the full and glorious experience of ROME: Total War on iPad.

The Touch Controls

We always knew we wanted the player to feel like a General in their tent, drawing directions onto a huge Campaign Map and pushing models of troops into position. This is how we began thinking about touch controls.

Controls that manoeuvre units on the Campaign Map were based around drawing paths onto whatever you want the units to interact with, be that a peaceful settlement or a threatening enemy army. We then brought these controls to the battlefield so players could draw paths directing their troops into combat.

Navigating the UI with touch controls was kept pointedly simple, using taps, holds or swipes to interact with the options. We reserved the tap and hold function for tooltips and info panels.

In the same spirit of keeping things simple, we made the camera controls match those already used on the iPad. In ROME: Total War, the pinch, spread, rotate and pan gestures behave exactly how you'd expect. You can even draw squiggly paths and circles with your finger like you would in a painting app, giving the iPad touch controls even more precision than the desktop controls.

The controls were thoroughly tested by our own QA department, Beta testers, and eager staff keen to give it a whirl. We dedicated considerable time to collating this feedback, observing how people played, and trying out new tweaks to get the most intuitive touch controls possible.

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The User Interface

With its extensive User Interface, ROME: Total War gives you ample power to manage your burgeoning empire. We wanted to keep all of the desktop version’s juicy functionality, so set about making it accessible and perfectly visible on a smaller screen.

For a start, we used all available screen space to maximise the amount of information we can show. We were also careful to organise everything intuitively. For example, if you select a Settlement, you’ll be able to control everything about it from a single screen.

We also took the opportunity to pull some lesser-known features into the foreground, such as the ability to move Retinues between Generals. When we discovered that some veterans of ROME: Total War hadn’t even heard of this awesome little feature, we decided to make it much easier to access.

In battle mode, we identified the commands used most regularly, including halting troops, activating a special ability, toggling walk/run, skirmish mode, guard mode, and fire at will. We then spread those commands along the bottom of the screen to make them immediately accessible.

Commands less frequently used, or more likely to be used in the deployment phase, were put into easily expandable sub-menus.

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The Art

We don’t normally get to redo artwork for our games, so we were very excited when the opportunity came along with ROME: Total War for iPad. We worked with a team of talented artists, some of whom had provided art for Creative Assembly on other Total War games.

The art for ROME: Total War has always been something special, but the UI was built in 2004 for lower-resolution screens, and didn't transfer fantastically to the Retina screen of the iPad.

So we spruced it up, preserving the original look while perfecting it for the greatly increased screen res.

The artists painstakingly repainted over 1400 icons, cards and map images at four times their size. They even drew some from scratch. We then added the new art to the game for a super-sharp finish.

While we’re on the subject of gorgeous aesthetics, we hope you’ve admired the opening, prologue and faction introduction cutscenes on your iPad. We rerecorded them from 4K Mac displays to achieve the most spectacular quality possible.

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The Help Function

When ROME: Total War reached the hands of testers who’d never played it before, some found it tricky to master Total War mechanics and touch controls at the same time. So we teamed up with the Advisor and set about making it easier.

First we took the help text displayed next to the Advisor and made it full-screen so it couldn’t be missed. We also implemented an archive feature, so you can swipe back through the help to refresh your memory.

After upping the accessibility of the help text, we implemented some extra crib-sheet style help for anyone needing a quick 'how-to' for their current predicament. As well as a manual in the pause menu displaying a list of controls, we added context-sensitive guides to show you what each on-screen element does. All you have to do to bring up these guides is hold your finger over the Advisor for a few seconds, anywhere in the game.

We made sure to keep veterans happy too, of course: the advice level can be lowered or switched off entirely.

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The Full Experience

Determined to provide the full ROME: Total War experience on iPad, we explored every game flow to ensure we didn't miss a thing.

One major focus was battle mode. This wasn’t just about making battles as epic on iPad as they are on desktop, but also about making them convenient. Playing ROME: Total War for iPad, you might find yourself on the battlefield during a short commute. (Of course we don’t have short commutes here in London, but we have heard tales of the phenomenon.)

While we didn’t want to spoil players with too much of a cheat option by introducing manual saves mid-battle, we did implement an auto-retrieve. This means that if you leave your app running in the background and it closes due to competing apps, or if you close it through the home button, starting up again will return you to the fray – exactly where you left it.

Speaking of a full experience, we knew from the beginning that we didn’t want to introduce any micro-transactions. These have their place in certain games… but ROME: Total War is not one of them.

We topped it all off with cross-platform save compatibility between Mac and iPad. So if you’re playing on Mac and want to keep playing on your way to work, transfer the Mac save to your iPad for the commute, and then back again when you get home.

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The Expansion

Since ROME: Total War made its grand debut on iPad, we’ve had some excellent suggestions from fans for new features and tweaks. We have adopted some of the best and incorporated them into the regular updates that keep ROME: Total War on an upward trajectory. Here are some highlights:

  • Bigger units! In Settings you now have the option to select a unit size larger than that recommended for your device. Doing so may affect performance, but the choice is all yours.
  • Extended zoom Zoom out even further on the battlefield for an all-seeing God's-eye view.
  • Half-speed battles Slow the action and give yourself time to fine-tune your tactics.
  • Interactive radar map Touch the radar map to survey the field of battle and navigate the campaign map with greater ease.
  • Clearer markers Purple markers will now glow at your fingertips when you enter unit rotation and positioning mode.
  • Easy unit information Check the status and orders of your units above their heads on the battlefield by using a new option on the Commander menu.
  • Extra campaign map information Tap and hold the map icon to view a wealth of detail on units, settlements and fleets.
  • Support for new devices We’ve further optimised the game to run like a beast on the latest iPads, including the 10.5-inch iPad Pro unveiled at WWDC 2017.
  • Russian language support ROME: Total War has been updated with a Russian language pack for all you Cyrillic commanders out there.

In the year after ROME: Total War's successful launch on iPad, we released its two epic follow-ups!

Barbarian Invasion lets you play out the final years of the Roman Empire as either a Barbarian commander or a Roman General. And Alexander puts you in the sandals of antiquity’s greatest commander in his far-flung campaign to conquer the all-powerful Persian Empire.

Barbarian Invasion and Alexander on iPad are both standalone and each sits at $4.99/£4.99/€5.49 on the App Store – a low price of admission to history’s greatest theatre of war.

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Before purchasing please check the store page to confirm that your device is supported.