What happened the day Rome: Total War went gold? Was there a flurry of champagne corks, or did everyone drag themselves home to bed?
For most of the team the last day was mostly spent waiting. We were fixing the last few issues, making a build and testing it. Most people ended up just playing the game all day. We went round that loop a few times, but by late afternoon we were done. There's then a quite long process to go through to get the build out the door. All the variant builds have to be compiled - unprotected, Safedisk and dongled (for the localisers). They're then zipped up, checked, copied, checked, burned on to DVD, unzipped, tested, and finally sent on their way to the publisher. There's not really anything for the team to do during this period. We can't go home in case anything goes wrong and we have to go round the loop again (which happened several times). So, as the evening wore on we played the game some, and people gradually drifted away, until about half a dozen were left. We spent the last six hours playing Mashed on the PS2, finally crawling home at about four in the morning.
What was the very last thing to be fixed? Was there anything which had to be abandoned or removed at the last minute?
The last thing we fixed was a bug in the assassins, where they could end up trying to kill a guy who had just died of old age. It took a few attempts (and loops round the build process) to fix the unexpected consequences of the fixes. We did give up on one last fix we intended to make - the game writes out log files tracking stats on traits and advice, and we intended to turn them off, but they refused to go, and by 2am we gave up. No harm done.
What did the team do on the day the game hits the shops? Did anyone go around
re-arranging shelves to make sure Rome was at the front?
We had a good look around the shops. I was on holiday, so I went round EB, Virgin, and Best Buy in Miami, checking that the Activision marketing machine was doing its job in the US, that copies were available and all the POS was in place. We didn't have to re-arrange the shelves - as Rome was already at the front. They had done a great job.
How does the team feel about reviews? Are they anxiously awaited or are they completely ignored?
Review scores are posted on our newsgroups as they come in, often along with the reviews. We pay a lot of attention to gamerankings.com - a great site that tracks all the reviews every game gets, works out an average score, and then ranks the games. After 60 or so reviews Rome averages 92.8 per cent, making it the best PC strategy game ever written (apart from Starcraft: Brood Wars, which I don't count because it's an add-on and only has 12 reviews). It also makes it the seventh best PC game of all time. So, we do really care about all the reviews, probably worrying more about our gamerankings position than we do about sales. We'd been waiting with baited breath for some time to hear Edge's verdict - and were really pleased that you gave it a whopping 9/10!
We do get very upset when we get an unfair review. Rome has only had one - GameInformer - the biggest multiformat mag in the US. They gave it 77 per cent when all the other reviews were over 90 per cent. It wouldn't have been so bad if the review had picked on the weakest parts of the game. We have our list of the things we know can be made even better for the next game, and their gripes just weren't on it. Without that review our average would be 93 per cent, and that hurts even more than the fact they've told all their subscribers not to bother buying Rome. It's not fair, but there's nothing we can do except break out the voodoo dolls and order some more chickens.