Angus recently had a chat with lead designer Jim Preston about Relic Studios's up-coming third-person shooter from the ever-expanding Warhammer 40,000 universe. A far cry from just another clone of war, this third person shooter sounds like it could break the mould and do something new...
Angus: Relic Studios have worked on Warhammer games in the past, but this one looks very different…
Jim: Space Marine is the first action-adventure game for Relic Studios. We’re known mainly for our strategy PC games, like the Dawn of War and Company of Heroes series. So, we wanted this to be a game that felt like Dawn of War, that had faithfulness to the IP. But now, we’re bringing the camera down from the top in a strategy game to the over-the-shoulder of an action game.
Angus: For fans of the series, where it is set within the Warhammer universe?
Jim: The game takes place on what’s called a Forge World, which is a planet entirely devoted to manufacturing machines for war. And there’s a certain kind of machine in the 40K universe called a Titan, which is an enormous like, building-sized bipedal robot which can destroy entire cities in a matter of minutes. The orcs have invaded this Forge World to try and get their hands on that Titan. So the Imperium of Man sends in the best of the best – they send in Ultra Marines. That’s who you take control of. The beginning of the game is when you’re cleansing the world of this orc infestation, and later, the Dark Horses of Chaos make an appearance, and suddenly you realise that the orcs are the least of your concerns. And that’s where the game sort of leads to.
Angus: I’m not a follower of the Warhammer series, how would you describe Space Marine?
Jim: We started with this iconic character of the Space Marine. We looked at him and we had him dictate our game design. When you look at a guy who’s blue and gold, wearing massive plate armour, this is not a guy that does a lot of hopping or fancy twirls. He’s not a guy who does a lot of crouching behind bushes and stealth kills. This is a guy who runs out into war and basically turns them all into bloody pudding. So, we wanted to have a character that, when you played as him, that’s exactly what you did.
So, for example, at the mechanics level, we have a sprint mechanic, where you can sprint in, do a shoulder charge and the enemies go flying back in slow motion. With all the carnage, it gives the player a chance to breathe, survey the surroundings, and figure out the next best move. At the games system level, the way you gain health in the game is not by running away from combat. It’s by killing an enemy, grabbing him, ripping his head off, and that’s how you get more health. So the way to get stronger is actually to engage in combat, not to run from it. So that was an absolute goal of our game, I think it’s something really key.
Angus: So plenty of extreme, grutitious violence?
Jim: Definitely **we watch as the Space Marine slowly saws through an orc’s gut with a chainsaw before stomping on his head in slow motion**
Angus: He’s certainly wearing a lot of armour…. but er, he hasn’t got a helmet on?
Jim: [Laughs] That’s true. It’s a fair point. Space Marines are hard-core and don’t need them. Nah, it’s really the fact that if you want to have a character driven game, you’ve gotta be able to see the face. It’s for dramatic reasons.
Angus: So, I hate to mention it but with lots of armour, third-person shooting and the heavy weighted camera action, I can’t help but think of Gears of War (don’t hit me!)
Jim: Ahh… I’ll let you live. But this game is NOT cover based and despite the armour, the game is still super-fast and fluid. The truth is, there’s a lot of influence throughout this game. When we started, we knew we had to reach out and get some different talent in to Relic. We brought in animation directors from the film industry, we bought in some of the most senior technical animators, guys who built the animation engines for EA Sports which are known for it’s beautiful, fluid animation. We bought the shooter guys who had worked with Valve and the CounterStrike experience, we have guys from Madden, we have guys from all over. So the end result is something familiar, but unique at the same time.
Angus: So run me through a couple more of the game’s features.
Jim: **Jim shoots a huge armoured ogre-like creature armed with a giant hammer, sending blood all over the screen** You get health by engaging the enemies, by sawing them in half and pounding them into the ground. We track the camera and enemies will fly back towards you in a gory manner. We wanted the player to feel like they are right in the middle of the action.
We really wanted this to be, in many ways, a kind of a throwback game. There’s been a lot of move towards hyper-realism, at least on the surface in recent years. We wanted something that was more in the old sort of a brawler tradition, of about ten years ago. There are a lot of big enemies and epic scenes where you just go at it with tooth and nail.
We have both ranged and melee combat and we have a lot of target assisting on the melee stuff. We know where you’re trying to get to, so we’ll blend those animations in so you can land your sword right on that guys collarbone and just start sawing him up. We also have a fury system, so as he’s doing damage, he’s also building up fury in the left hand corner of the screen. You can tap Y at any point and unleash hell to give you some breathing space.
So everything about this system is keyed around engaging combat. If you look at all the classic images of the Space Marine series from the Games Workshop, they’re usually surrounded with enemies. These are guys that are not afraid to just wander out into the mass of baddies and start slicing them up. And we wanted that to be the experience.
We’ve come across a range of players who still try to play this game very timidly and conservatively. They’ll play sort of hunt-and-peck, or they’ll play peek-a-boo. So all of our systems had to be around sort of forcing you to engage the enemy.
Angus: Finally, you’re one of the multiplayer designers behind Space Marine. By that alone I am thinking the game will actually have multiplayer right? *grin*
Jim: *laughs* Yes, as a multiplayer designer, multiplayer will be a great idea for Space Marine. But… we’re not talking about multiplayer or co-op yet, that’s for a separate event coming and I’m sorry but I can’t go beyond that right now.
Angus: Fair enough Jim, thanks for your time. We look forward to seeing it later this year!
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is currently scheduled for release on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 this September. Make sure you check out NZGamer.com for more updates closer to launch.