Gamersinfo.net: First, could you please introduce yourself to our readers.
Chris Wren:: Hi, I'm Chris Wren, Senior Producer at NBGA, and project lead on Warhammer: Mark of Chaos.
Gamersinfo.net: Did you and your team play Warhammer before starting this project? If not do you now? What armies do you play?
Chris Wren:: The Black Hole dev team has a lot of Warhammer buffs in its ranks. I myself had a Chaos army in high school, but honestly lost track of it through the college years and it was not until we started this project that I get back into Warhammer again. It’s been great to get back into the hobby over the last couple years. The team here at NBGA spent a lot of time with all of the rulebooks and playing games here at the office to get up to speed early on the project and we also go down to the local Games Workshop stores frequently to watch games and talk with fans to get some first-hand impressions. Many of the team members here and at Black Hole have taken up a new army since starting this project, painting and detailing our tabletop armies. They are cool to have around the office and whenever we want to try out a new battle mechanic, it’s much easier to try it out on the table top first to see if it works before getting it coded. It’s not a direct translation, MoC and the tabletop are two very different games, but it does let us know if a battle mechanic holds water. Istvan, one of our lead designers has a high elf army, another designer, Gabor Szabo, has an Orc and Goblin army, I’m a Chaos guy still, and we’ve got some Skaven and Empire armies in the team too.
Chris Wren:: There was definitely a learning curve to putting the story and gameplay elements together. Having a lot of Warhammer experience on the team made this part pretty easy, the challenge was to create a game for Warhammer fans and non-Warhammer fans alike. We wanted an experience that has a lot of details for those players who are longtime fans and know quite a bit of the Warhammer history and lore. We also wanted a game which introduced Warhammer in a way that the game would not be daunting to someone who had only loosely heard of Warhammer or perhaps not heard of it at all. In writing the story for the game, we drew heavily from pre-existing themes, political relationships, and even mirrored some major events in Warhammer history, but we wanted it to be a new story and also one that fit right into the existing Warhammer timeline. So as it is, you find yourself at the tail end of the Great War between Chaos and the Empire, but there is still much left unresolved and the situation remains a powder-keg just waiting to go off.
Chris Wren:: We decided early on to go with 4 armies because we felt this was a good number for multiplayer, and we felt that we could make these four armies very complete and well balanced in the time we had versus trying to support more armies and having them be less complete or less well balanced. We included mercenary units from other races, like dwarves and orcs, to sample some of the other offerings of the Warhammer universe, even including Champion units for each of these so that they are playable as independent races in multiplayer.
The four main armies: Empire, Chaos, Skaven, and High Elves were chosen for many reasons, but primarily it had to do with creating the stage for Warhammer fantasy gaming on the PC. In our minds, the struggle between the Empire and Chaos is the most integral to the Warhammer universe and we thought this was a good starting place for new fans to the genre to get a schooling in the ways of the Old World. We intentionally chose not to represent orcs and goblins as a main race mainly because there are a gazillion orc and human games out there. We wanted people’s first impression of Warhammer to not be just another orc versus human game, it is much bigger than this.
The Skaven were chosen for a few reasons. They had a very different play mechanic than the other races chosen, including large numbered armies, the ability to burrow, as well as some unique morale and Champion mechanics. The High Elves played a major role in the great war and it made a lot of sense to include them as an ally to the Empire for this struggle. They bring to the battlefield a lot of magic as well as great ranged units and, like the skaven, there are unique strategies to using the High Elves that differ from Empire and Chaos. The Empire have probably the most diverse portfolio, they have a little of everything from cavalry, to artillery, flying units, siege towers, magic users, ranged units and heavy melee units. They are a great army for anyone to get comfortable with many of the battle mechanics in the game. The Chaos army is the strongest per unit. They move slow, have limited range attacking capability, but at melee combat they are second to none. So with these four choices, and the mercenary armies available, we have a really diverse set of options available to anyone who wants to play either single or multiplayer. Like the story, it is a great place to start for anyone new to Warhammer and offers a wide variety of playstyles to anyone already familiar with the universe.
Chris Wren:: In single player you will first choose to play as either Empire or Chaos. We will then start you off with a small group headed by your army’s champion. As you proceed through the single player campaign, you will be continually upgrading and customizing your army. By the end of the campaign you will have a very specialized army that you have crafted, and this army can be saved off and used in your multiplayer games. For the purposes of the story, some of the customization options are not available in single player, for example you cannot paint or customize the look of each unit in single player, nor can you customize your banners. The reason for this is that the army that you lead plays a specific role in the story we are telling, they are from a specific clan or district and thus wear the colors and banners of that region. In multiplayer you can do pretty much whatever you want with customization, you can make your army look however you want, and banner customization is completely at your discretion.
Gamersinfo.net: Will armies gained during single player game play be playable in multiplayer?
Chris Wren:: Yes, every aspect of army creation is saveable and tradeable with other players. This includes painting, randomization, the actual units and upgrades you specify for your army and its champions. When you finish a single player campaign this army can then be imported as a multiplayer army.
Gamersinfo.net: Warhammer has always been a visual game, how did this affect the game's art and graphics?
Chris Wren:: One of the reasons we wanted to do this game was that we felt that PC technology was at a point where is could handle the level of detail we were after with a Warhammer title. We wanted to have all of the customization for multiple armies and thousands of units on screen at the same time, along with the cool particles for explosions and detailed animations for battling. A lot of effort has gone into the detail of the environments and the units of this game to make it as representative as possible of the Warhammer universe as well a as a visually rich realtime experience.
Chris Wren:: The campaign is very story driven. The main story points are fairly linear and you will need to proceed through major points in the campaign to advance the story, but there are also many dynamic elements to the campaign which give you many more options between encounters to decide what you want to do next. You might want to spend some time at a nearby city to replenish your troops or upgrade them, or you might instead of heading straight a the heart of the enemy, divert yourself to some side missions to gain more resources, acquire a rare magical item or unit for your army, or possibly challenge your champions to increase their abilities.
The two main campaigns, Empire and Chaos, take place over the same time period in the story, but we did not just flip the maps around and call it a different campaign, it is actually two completely separate campaigns with completely unique missions for each. We anticipate a campaign will take on average about 24 hours to complete without many distractions, so that both campaigns are easily 50 hours of gameplay, and this is not including taking many optional missions along the way. There will be difficulty settings in the game, so if you find yourself stuck at a battle you cannot seem to win, you can bump it down a notch and try it again, or if your mad skillz have led you to believe the game is far too easy, try bumping it up a notch and see how the cookie crumbles.
Gamersinfo.net: While fans of Games Workshop and their products will be naturally drawn to the game, what would you say to players who are not fans and might be interested in the game?
Chris Wren:: It is a great RTS game on its own merits, it offers a very different fast paced playstyle than other RTS games on the market, with little focus on base management, and a much stronger focus on the strategies you use with your armies in realtime. We’ve built a lot of RPG elements into the game with the champion units..They have inventories, they collect loot, and duel other champions, they have skill trees and experience and they level up. We think that anyone who’s a fan of fantasy RPG or RTS should find a lot to like about this. Being a Warhammer fan before trying it out is no way a requirement, but we hope that this game will make you a fan if you’re not already.
Gamersinfo.net: Was there any moment in development that stands out in your mind as significant to the design of the game?
Chris Wren:: When hero skill trees showed up, this marked a pretty significant shift in what we wanted to do with the game. We realized how cool this was and wanted more of it, so we proceeded to add more skills and more diversity to the skill trees, we added many more champion units to the game, and we’ve been working on making the duelling portion of the game a unique minigame all its own. The strong emphasis on champion units was definitely something we did not put much emphasis on early in the design of the game, and until we got some of it in game to see how it worked, it was hard for us to say how significant it would be.
Chris Wren:: Warhammer is far too big to be handled in a single game. Of the 12 major races, each with their own subfactions, we are barely scratching the surface with what we can do. Mark of Chaos is a great start, but looking ahead there are many things in the multiplayer arena and in continuing to expand the races, environments and game modes still to come.