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TVG chats to Namco Bandai of America's Senior Producer of Mark of Chaos; you can tell that he's really passionate about the game...
Based on Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy brand of table-top fantasy, Namco Bandai and Blackhole Studios's Warhammer: Mark of Chaos is set to hit European shelves during Autumn 2006 courtesy of Deep Silver. Focusing more on the actual tactics of large-scale battlefields rather than resource management, Mark of Chaos aims to bring the experience of the table-top clashes to the PC platform.
Recently TVG spoke to Namco Bandai of America's Senior Producer on Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, Chris Wren, who is also heading up the publisher's brand new PC division.
The first that I'd heard of Mark of Chaos was at E3 2005 with the Pac-Man trailer and the Orc jumping out. You don't associate Warhammer with Namco, so what drew the company to the brand?
It's kind of a long story; these are the kind of games that we wanted to make. I always wanted to make a great RTS game; I first started by working on flight simulators with Microprose with "Falcon 4.0". When I got done with that, I started working on a sequel called "F-15", and then Microprose went away, so I didn't get to finish that, but I liked working on war games.
I got my feet wet with a Star Trek RTS called "Birth of the Federation", mostly art because I was an artist at the time; I did mostly game design research and art. But when I sat down after that, I shifted gears and started working for Maxis working on everything from The Sims 2, The Sims expansion packs, The Sims Online - everything Sims I worked on; mostly in a production capacity with the strong influences on art and everything. But I kinda missed games; I really liked playing Sims, but I really wanted to make RTS games.
So along came Namco at a time when everybody was saying "No more PC", and said that "We want a PC department". They called me up and said that I'd done a lot of PC games and asked whether I'd like to come and help them build this PC division for them - I said sure because it sounded like a great opportunity - but they didn't know what sort of PC game they wanted to make. I explained some of the most popular genres of PC games that I liked, such as RTS and RPG, but they said they'd have to have a great license for an RTS game...and I said that I had a license in mind, which is when we started pursuing the Warhammer guys. We told them that we wanted to make an epic RTS; we want to use Warhammer; we want to do it our way but stay true to Warhammer, but we also want to make a different style of RTS. They agreed and said that they liked our thinking, and the type of game it was going to be, and then they asked who was going to make it?
"...it was Warhammer or nothing."
At the time I was looking around at a number of developers, but it was Black Hole who really came to mind. I talked to these guys, they really impressed me; there were a ton of Warhammer fans there within the company. There was a passion for making something different, not making a clone. With Armies of Exigo [Black Hole's previous title] they got slated by the press for being making a clone of Warcraft, so my pitch to them was that I wanted to make something different - I didn't want a standard RTS clone. So with the Warhammer universe, I think there's a foundation that allows us to build a really cool story, cool characters, great balanced gameplay and some multiplayer. I thought that we could do something mechanically with the game that was different from other RTS games.
They really bought into it and began working on the project two years ago now; their early concept art was great; there was the trailer for E3 that you were talking about, and it took about three months for us to put together a demo with some goblins and a grassy field - that was our E3 demo. It was enough to give people a sense of what the game was going to be like; big wide-open fields, tons of units running around in high detail, and the types of variations that would be inside.
Then we put together that trailer to make sense in people's minds that yes it's Namco, yes it's the company that made Pac-Man, and yes they're making a Warhammer game - hopefully yes they're taking it seriously and they're going to make a hardcore RTS game. So that was the goal of that movie, to say 'Stay tuned, we're going to be doing something cool' and we spent the last year and a half since then trying to show that yes we're Namco, famous for fighting games like Tekken and Soul Calibur, but this is a new division that's making games for the Western market. We're trying to compete with some of the biggest names out there.
So you yourself were one of the people to put forward Warhammer?
Oh yeah. At the time I was working for a director who was a big Warhammer fan who wanted a Warhammer game badly. We didn't think that we could get it to be honest with you; we went to Games Workshop and the negotiations went on for a long time before we finally came out. This was what we wanted, we didn't have any second choice for what we were going to do our fantasy-RTS game on; it was Warhammer or nothing. So for us, getting this freedom to make a huge RTS game and license to the whole franchise was what we wanted more than anything.
Given what the brand represents it was inevitable that Warhammer was going to be a strategy game; how have you tried to create a game that will not only appeal to hardcore fans, but also attracts newcomers to the brand. How do you get from tabletop Warhammer to this?
It's kind of like serving two masses. One, you have the hardcore Warhammer fans who play the tabletop game; they're going to be the strongest critics and say the likes of "That doesn't look like a night-goblin", or "He doesn't have a teleport skill" or whatever crazy thing we do with the game. So making sure they're happy, making sure that it feels like Warhammer, and I think that working as closely as we have with Games Workshop that's been easy. All the art we've been working on with them - we went through several goblin designs before we settled on the one that we've gone with. Everything in the game, look and feel-wise, had to be Warhammer. So not only the artwork, but also the way the characters move, the way that they sound, all these things we had to get Games Workshop involved with and make sure that while we made sure that the Campaign was cool, they have been the ones keeping us honest every step of the way and making sure that every step of the way that Mark of Chaos stays true to Warhammer.
What was the goal of Namco/Blackhole in the creation of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos?
We kinda came to the conclusion early on that we wanted to made sure that it would be a great RTS game; it was our and Blackhole's job to make sure that this would be fun for anybody who isn't a Warhammer fan. If you didn't know what Warhammer was, would this be a fun RTS for you? Or is it only fun because it's Warhammer?
So our job at Namco and Blackhole was to make sure that the game was fun and approachable by anybody; we didn't want to it to be so hardcore that only masters of RTS titles would be attracted to it, but that anybody that thought it looked cool would be able to pick it up and at least give it a try. My goal with the single-player is that anybody who buys the game will be able to get through at least one campaign. So we put in a couple of ways to accommodate that including scalable difficulties; if you have trouble with one mission, you can scale it down and carry on. Within the tactical map of the campaign we added a lot of optional missions; some are easy with the intention so that if you get into trouble in one part of the campaign, instead of restarting the mission you can go off and get more resources and then move on.
"... they [Games Workshop] have been the ones keeping us honest every step of the way..."
It's a catch all for whatever kind of trouble you have you can continue to move on with the story of the game so that by the end of the game, you'll hopefully have a pretty broad stroke of what Warhammer is like, some of the politics involved and the race-relations in the game. You'll hopefully get a feel for why people go out and buy little units, paint them, spend half their life gathering an army, and play against their friends on tabletops in what is traditionally a hobbyist game. How do you get a mass-audience of millions of gamers involved with something alien to them, something that was once considered so geeky? Look at Magic: The Gathering or Lord of the Rings; these were once considered geeky at one point, but are now so mainstream because people outside of the card game or the book have taken the time to expose the coolness of those worlds to a larger audience. Largely that was our goal.
The intention is not that once you play this game, you go out and buy the little figures and start little Warhammer armies. We know that the tabletop game isn't for everybody to go out and start this hobby that takes a lot of time and money to do. We think those people will be thrilled with the game too, but for those people who aren't, here's a way to get a window into the world of the Warhammer universe and see how cool we all think it is without having to invest half your life into building an army. There's nothing wrong with the tabletop game, I used to play it myself - still do now that I've started making videogames based on it - but it's not for everybody. I totally respect that but I can't believe that anybody who's into fantasy videogames wouldn't be into Warhammer. The fact that we haven't had a game to date that's brought that to light for a large audience is something that I'm hoping to do with Mark of Chaos; anybody can play it, love it, get through at least one campaign, play some multiplayer, hopefully do some customisation, and hopefully see some of the grander stage of what Warhammer is all about.
The game features a number of ideas, for me specifically it was the addition of a specific Weight attribute of the different characters. In the grand scheme of things, how does this affect gameplay for players?
Weight is like anything, it's personal preference; we've made the big units intentionally cool and powerful. If you want to use them exclusively, then you can do that. For hardcore strategists who like to flank the enemy and arrange defensive formations, they're probably going to focus more on units and making formations, whereas people who like hack 'n' slash gameplay will probably focus on these larger units with heavier weights.
"The intention is not that once you play this game, you go out and buy the little figures and start little Warhammer armies..."
One of the things that stood out for me when I saw Lord of the Rings was that Sauron was this uber-powerful character that with one swing of his mace could knock out fifty guys. You can take your Champion and run through a group of enemies, and use your weight to trample them - although they do get encumbered if they get surrounded. It's all balanced so if you like heavier units then you're going to be able to afford them. The idea is that you really plan your attack and not just rush towards your enemy; the likes of flanking has an effect or planning cavalry attacks so that they get around the back of the enemy spares more of your units if you use strategy effectively. It's not required but I think that it can only help on more difficult modes or in Multiplayer; you're going to need to know how to use strategy more than just pointing and clicking on an enemy. Cavalry charges have a lot of point-counterpoint formations; cannons have a feature so that you can anticipate when they're going to fire. With regards to weight, cavalry will be more powerful if they charge at full speed - they'll be faster running downhill than uphill.
There are things like Aggro, Psychology, Physics, and Weight that because we got rid of a lot of the resource management side, we had to make sure that we made the combat really involved and deep to compensate the fact that you're not spending any time with that. The whole point of the game is to focus on your army and what you can do to maximise the potential in the battle situation.
You mentioned in your presentation the 'Dogs of Wars'; what exactly are they, and how do they impact the game?
Dogs of War are kind of a specific thing in the Warhammer universe that fight for a particular cause; there're some Mercenaries who'll work for any army because they like to fight, but the Dogs of War like to fight for a specific cause. More often than not, they're just called Mercenaries.
There's a lack of resource management in the game, so how will a player rebuild a broken army after a defeat?
There's a few different ways, such as the optional missions that become available more and more through the game. You start of with a pretty linear approach, but then it begins to branch out until you have lots of optional missions. There are definitely lots of opportunities for you to go back and do an optional mission to get more units before going back to the battle. I could also just go back and replay a mission. We want a challenge to be there, we want it to be a factor, but we don't want you quit the game until at least completing one campaign.
There are two campaigns of twenty-five missions each, but between customising armies and other gameplay aspects, there does seem to a significant emphasis on the multiplayer side of the game.
Let's not make light of the single-player game; there are twenty-five missions in a campaign and two complete campaigns with a minimum of thirty-hours of gameplay each, and no missions that are the same. There are no maps that are the same, there is no mission that is the same; they're completely independent of each other. They take place over the same timeframe, and the same story, but the missions are all completely different. So if you look at that, there are sixty, seventy hours of gameplay minimum - which is quite a lot for a single-player game.
We got Gav Thorpe who wrote the Hordes of Chaos book and works at the Black Library here at the Games Workshop writing the campaign. He writes all the dialogue in the campaign, so what you're getting is a really authentic campaign in the Warhammer universe. We spent a lot of time talking to Games Workshop trying to figure out the timeline for the game; we didn't know whether we wanted it to be The Great War or Modern Times. In the end we settled on somewhere in the middle where it was the end of The Great War and you find yourself at a crossroads. Chaos still exists, the Empire is trying to re-form itself, and you're there either to help pick up the pieces or cause it [the war] to happen again.
"I think that these other games [Warcraft III and Starcraft] have gone a lot bit too hardcore on their multiplayer set"
So single-player is pretty intense, but I would say that with the nature of Warhammer, we wanted there to be a huge focus within the game as well. Think of the single-player as a great story that you can play in the Warhammer universe by yourself. In multiplayer, you take what you learnt in the single-player campaign against real players; in the single-player we expose you to lots of different situations such as sieges, small skirmishes, large battles, learning what it's like to fight against flying units or ranged weaponry. What I'm hoping is that people who play the single-player are encouraged to take it online against real-people, so with the ranking and matching system that we have, we're hoping for a graceful entry into the multiplayer.
I play a fair amount of online RTS, and I find that at this point it's really intimidating because there hasn't been a really strong multiplayer RTS in a while like Warcraft III or Starcraft. If we go and play those games now, the only people playing them are hardcore tournament players, and to get into that crowd is overly intimidating - and we don't want that for Warhammer. We always want there to be an entry level in Warhammer that continues to expand. I think that these other games have gone a lot bit too hardcore on their multiplayer set and not producing enough of an opportunity for new players to get involved. While I want the hardcore element involved, I want them to play other high-end players, because if you don't have the entry level thing then you're going to reduce yourself to just a small group of high-end players.
Traditionally Namco use a third-party to distribute or co-publish their games in territories such as the UK, usually Electronic Arts. Why has the decision been made to use Koch Media [Deep Silver's parent company] this time around?
There are a lot of things; I sought out Koch. I looked at a number of publishers in Europe; one of the things that Namco are new at are PC games - we haven't released that many. In building up the PC division at Namco, part of my job is to see what you do to make PC games successful globally. One of the things that Namco hasn't had to deal with in the past is piracy; with consoles you don't get much piracy - there's region specific code that make European versions not work in North America. One of the things that I learnt at Microprose and EA is the need to globally release simultaneously. The whole world has to get it at once or else you're encouraging people to go steal it from somewhere else.
If somebody gets a game in German at the same day that someone gets in England, they're not going to go and steal the English language version instead - they're going to want to get it in their own language. It's worth fifty bucks just to get in their own language. So that's kinda the idea behind finding a good solid European publisher that's going to be with us in for the long term.
Since traditionally some of Namco's PC port titles have gone with EA in the past because they have a really good publishing model - there's nothing wrong with EA - they hadn't been planning to launch the product worldwide from day one. We wanted a partner that was going to be with us not just for this product but other products going forward. When you look at EA they're somebody with some competition with us such as Battle for Middle-Earth II - it's not a direct competitor but it's fantasy, it's RTS, and it has a lot of commonality. You can run into the issue of there's only a certain amount of marketing dollars to spend and there's only so much resource to allocate towards a certain product, you really want a partner that's totally invested in your game, which wants your game to succeed above all else.
"...it wouldn't surprise me to see this game on either console or handheld."
Koch is a newcomer to publishing games, it's only a few years old, and they're eager to become bigger. What we saw in Koch was a publisher that really wanted to publish games with us worldwide, and compete against the likes of EA, THQ, or Ubisoft. If we went with any of these other big houses, we'd always run into this issue of competition, which I don't feel is that healthy. It wouldn't have made much sense to go with THQ [Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War], although I think they're a great publisher and I know those guys pretty well. When you're looking at Supreme Commander and the Dawn of War expansion, there's only a certain amount of dollars to spend to get people involved in your game, and if you've got five RTS titles, your game is just not going to get the attention that it deserves.
We thought that Koch really brought the love of Warhammer to Europe; Koch has a large presence in Germany, like the RTS genre, and we thought they got it. Right away they said that they could get people excited about it, and wanting to play it. We just like them; they had the right attitude about how to structure the business and the partnership so for that reason, we really like Koch. I'm not going to say that they're the only publisher that we'll use in Europe, but we're off to a pretty good start with Warhammer.
I can guess what the answer is going to be to this, but how is work proceeding with an expansion to Mark of Chaos?
Well there's obviously a lot do with this game, within the universe there's more armies that we could use in any one game. We really like a lot of these other armies and it was a hard choice to come up with the four that we did. I really wanted Ogres, more Orcs, more Vampire Counts and Undead. We sampled some of those units, but we didn't have the time to fully explore the politics behind them.
With expansions we'd like to do more with all of these armies, I'd love to do more with Ogres and do an entire pack of them. I'd like to do an entire pack on Orcs and Goblins.
I can't see how we won't expand on this.
So has the decision been made yet?
We have some things in mind; we haven't made any announcements yet but we definitely want to do more. If we do one, we'll probably do more. Releasing the online tool and customising the armies and maps anyway you want, and within the Map Editor we're essentially allowing you to create your own missions.
Hopefully after launch the community will create this hub of new campaigns and things; they can't do everything as well as we can, but can at least figure out what they're interested in and make that the next big thing for Warhammer.
And Namco has exclusivity for Warhammer Fantasy?
That's exactly it. THQ has Warhammer 40k, and EA Mythic has the MMO rights of the Warhammer Fantasy. We do have the rights to the console and handheld versions [of Warhammer Fantasy], although no official announcement has been made, it wouldn't surprise me to see this game on either console or handheld.
Thanks Chris, I think that's it.
No worries, cheers.
TVG would like to thank Chris Wren for taking the time to answer our questions; Warhammer: Mark of Chaos will be published by Deep Silver during Autumn 2006.
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