ZAM sits down with Behaviour Interactive's Head of Studio Online to talk about their upcoming MMO, early access, Free to Waaagh! and more
Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade has had quite a busy year. They launched their Founder’s Program after E3, shown numerous demonstrations of the current build on their Twitch livestream, talked about their design philosophies, and constantly polled their fans to make sure they were both staying true to the WH40K lore as well as making a game that will actually be fun. As 2014 comes to a close, Behaviour Interactive will do their final Twitch stream of the year today at 1:30pm ET, but they’re planning on going out with a bang.
They’ll have a never-before-seen war zone, a Razer giveaway, and more! On top of all that, they released more details on what F2P players will get to experience on Arkhona as one of the Ork Boyz. To bring us up to speed prior to the stream, ZAM spoke with BI’s Studio Head Miguel Caron to learn what’s happening in this corner of the 40K universe.
In the Grim Dark Future There is Only War
We began by describing what today’s livestream would be highlighting:
Miguel: “We’re showcasing the first iteration map for the early access which we are going to release next year. One of the philosophies we’ve had behind the whole project was to be true, be fair, be transparent and open up the studio and have no marketing firewall between the dev and the fan. So the moment - a month after we started the first line of code, we started showing gameplay elements. Of course the models were placeholders and there was greyboxing and things like that, and throughout the last months we’ve shown each Twitch and each week and month the improvement of how it’s going. What we’re going to show this Friday is the combination of all the improvements we’ve made the last few months, but fused into an experience which will be the early access module next year.”
ZAM: “I watched the teaser trailer (for the livestream) earlier and I’m definitely looking forward to it. I was getting a really strong Space Marine vibe.”
Miguel: “That was the objective. What we wanted to do is in the Space Marine game, which is a fantastic game – the fact is there’s even an association of fans doing tournaments on the PvP side of that console game that’s what, 5 years old now? So our objective is not to beat it or be better than it. It was actually one of our inspirations, but it’s a single-player experience and the combat is great, but we’re taking inspiration from Gears of War as well in terms of the combat.
Miguel: “That was actually one issue that we were very, very worried about in the beginning before we joined Behaviour and started designing that project. To make a Space Marine feel epic and super powerful in a single-player game, this is something that is easy. The problem that you have in an MMO is that everyone has to feel epic and that’s more difficult to do. I think that with what we’ll show you Friday, we got it. There’s tons of work still to do, but we really have that emotional buzz. I’ve done two playtests per day (for) 10 months and the team is still not getting bored. I mean the playtest is made to work, right? But each time that we do one, we hear screaming and then our QA lead to turn off our servers for us to stop playing and go back to work, so these are all good indications that we got the most important part which is the fun factor and true to the IP. That’s another one that’s very important.”
We also discussed some of what makes the WH40K universe so unique:
Miguel: “The thing about that (WH40K) IP is that every other IP that you know of and are part of has a balance between good and evil – there’s always a dark force and a good force. In the Warhammer universe, it’s only evil. There’s only shades of evil.”
ZAM: “Yeah the Imperium (of Man) is about as close as you get to good and when you sacrifice a few million people every day, that’s a little…”
Miguel: “Exactly, and then you fear artificial intelligence because something happened in the history of Terra a little bit like the Terminator and Skynet. They had a Skynet issue in the past, so because of that they ban artificial intelligence. Instead of using AI they take your brain and they transfer you into a Servitor. And these are the good guys!”
There was also a fair bit of me geeking out on lore and talking about Tau and other aspects of the WH40K universe with Miguel, but let’s get back to Eternal Crusade, their recent news and more importantly the latest livestream.
There is No Peace Amongst the Stars
When Miguel talked about their early access module, he started by talking about your typical Steam Early Access games. Rather than simply putting up an Alpha build with many of the included features being half-finished, they’re going to focus on portions of the game for each early access build and making those work before they incorporate additional features.
Miguel: “The first early access, which is going to come early next year, we’re taking the first game pillar which is the combat. It’s going to be a smaller map – 20 versus 20, so two squads on each side. There’s going to be only two factions, Chaos and Space Marines. My other factions aren’t ready yet. And in order to finish a match, you need to play both sides. The first side is you play a Space Marine in your small outpost and the objective is to go up to the Chaos fortress and to realign the missiles that they’ve put a countdown of 20 minutes to launch towards the Space Marines’ territory – obviously every evil mind always puts a countdown on missile launches. So you need to get to the enemy fortress in 20 minutes and realign those missiles for them to go towards the Chaos territory.”
Miguel: “The way we’re going to do it – we’re taking one pillar; we’re polishing it and creating a completely embedded experience with a leaderboard, with XP mechanics, with some leadership mechanics, all of this. Like I said, to win a match, you have to play both the attacker and the defender. Once this is ready, we’re going to put this on Steam, people are going to play it and while they play it, we’re going to work on the second early access which will have two pillars. It’s going to have probably one more faction, so three not two. At that point, which is probably going to come late 2015 or early 2016, we’re going to have a database. On the first early access, this one we won’t have a database of the users, which means when you play the early access, we’ll be giving you a selection of four classes. Each of the classes have four or five loadouts and basically I’m giving you a character to play, but once you log out you give it back to me and I give it to the next guy. There’s no progression and there’s no persistency – these pillars will come to the next early access, which will have the combat pillar, progression, leadership mechanics and maybe one other faction. A little later we’re going to have a third early access which will have three pillars. And then the last one a little bit later will have the four pillars of the game, which the last pillar is the open world. At that point in time we’re going to say the game is ready. So every time we’re going to release an early access, it’s going to be a very polished and embedded experience, not just every week upgrading our early access. That’s not the way we’re going to do it because we feel that the type of community that we have and the license that we have deserve no less. I would be very uncomfortable to have my build outside with bugs, with missing textures, with this and that – it’s an IP that deserves more than that.”
All of this discussion of how important the lore is to the IP and that isn’t just talk for Miguel either. We talked about the novels (Miguel said he was actually one of their bigger experts on the 30k timeline from digging into the books) to the positive fan reactions to their treatment of the lore and world design.
Miguel: “The biggest compliment that I had was on the first video that we showed. (The fans said that) the tread underneath the boot of the Space Marine was correct and that the shoulderpad did have vents underneath for the backpack that generates heat. These are the biggest compliments we got from the fans, even though the models weren’t even textured yet.”
To further please the WH40K lore aficionados out there, Miguel also brought in one of the best novelists in the 40K universe, Graham McNeill. Graham has written over 36 novels in the 40K universe, including seven of the books in the long running Horus Heresy series.
Miguel: “Graham McNeill is our writer. He’s the one writing the backstory for Arkhona and the Eternal Crusade. Because we have him on board, it gave a lot of confidence to Games Workshop and GW decided to bring our game into the 40K canon. So Arkhona is not just in the galaxy – Arkhona is right beside the Eye of Terror and the lore of the planet is tied in to all the Primarchs and all the backhistory of 40K. We’ve releasedtwo of his short stories that you can read on the website and we’re going to release a third one soon. The first one is about Space Marines and the second one is about Eldar after the Dark Eldar gave birth to Slaanesh (ZAM note: Chaos god of lust – all around bad thing for the universe) and that destroyed most of the Eldar. That happened 20,000 years in the past from the 40K perspective and (in the story) it’s a female Eldar going to talk to her foreseer father who is showing her the future in a pond where you see Arkhona. And Arkhona is… I don’t want to spoil the story for you because it’s things that you’ll need to discover when the game is going to be fully launched, but whoever controls Arkhona controls the galaxy.”
ZAM: “So no pressure.”
Miguel: “Yes, so Arkhona has a very long and special history and because of Graham McNeill, we’re able to tie into everything.”
Going back to today’s livestream, Miguel gave a quick outline for how the 20 minute match would go. This battle would be scripted, showing the 10 Space Marine players attacking the 10 Chaos players. During this scripted match, viewers won’t hear Miguel talking over the gameplay and talking with the other Twitch hosts; instead, they’ll be playing the audio from the Space Marine players to show how the game will actually be played. There will be a squad commander giving orders and determining military tactics throughout the whole event. While the winner for this match may be determined in advance, this will at least illustrate to players how they’ve built the game to be played as an organized group if you want to achieve victory. If you’d like to see this match from beginning to end, you had to tune in to watch the liveshow. Due to various business reasons, negotiating with possible partners, having surprises to show them, etc, the on-demand version of this stream will only have five minutes of this 20-minute exhibition included. So if you wanted to see the full match, you would have to had to be there to see it live. Well, that or see it on YouTube whenever someone’s ripped the stream and posted the full match.
When players can get their hands on the early access build for themselves, Miguel mentioned that in addition to the swapping factions for attack and defense, players will have access to vehicles. Space Marine players will be able to use Predators (battle tank), Rhinos (armored personnel carrier), and a variant of the Rhino called the Damocles that’s a mobile spawn point. You’ll move forward towards the enemy base when you’ll run into pushback from the Chaos equivalents to your own vehicles. That area is built to be a tank battle. Once you win the battle, you’ll move forward to an area with a void shield, preventing your vehicles from moving forward. You’ll have to dismount and send a squad into the Chaos outpost there to disable the void shield generator before returning to your vehicles. You can’t leave your vehicles unmanned though since the enemy could move in, destroy your mobile spawn point, and leave your men with a long hike to get back into the fray while the enemy repairs that void shield generator. Should all of that work, now you can move forward to the fortress, break down the gates, get out of your vehicles, make your way inside to capture the command center, and reprogram the missile launcher to hit the enemy’s territory instead. Piece of cake, huh? Once that’s done, the sides are swapped and now it’s your turn to defend against the Space Marine forces.
Free to WAAAGH!
All of that organized gameplay sounds great and all for the Space Marines and Eldar out there, but Miguel acknowledges that not everyone coming into their game will have that attitude, especially one group: F2P players, those folks who jump from game to game and never pay a single cent for any items, packs, etc. Miguel and the team have acknowledged that in general, the culture and mindset of F2P versus premium/paid players is different and you have to find ways to satisfy both groups. The two groups can have “less than flattering” views of one another, with F2P players insulting the paid players for spending all their money and time on a game that could be free while the premium players are annoyed by how the F2P players don’t take the game seriously: they don’t follow game rules, they don’t learn the lore, they gank on spawn points, they insult and troll others, etc. When the team looked at this stereotype for the F2P community, they noticed that it was an almost perfect description of the Ork Boyz culture in 40K. In the lore the Boyz caste of the Orks don’t like to follow the rules, they behave out of fear of their boss, and they will always try to win and kill stuff in the easiest/fastest way possible without putting themselves in danger. By putting in the Boyz as the F2P option, it allows them to match real life player tendencies with game lore.
Miguel: “If I have a premium player calling my customer service and going, ‘Hey, I have five Boyz ganking my spawn point!’ I’m like ‘Okay, and what’s your problem, sir?’ ‘Well they’re ganking my spawn point!’ ‘Well they’re Ork Boyz – what do you expect? That’s what they do.’ ‘Well they’re cheating!’ ‘Again they’re Boyz – what do you expect?’ So I’m trying to bring the conflict to the lore instead of the players.”
Miguel: “The mechanic that we put in there is cool. As a premium Ork, let’s say I’m a Nob (boss Ork/squad leader), I’ll have a StrikeForce of 10 Squads of Boyz (10 Boyz per Squad). Let’s say two of my squad will include premium Boyz, so I know that when I give them orders and when I mark a point to be taken or when I say to do a diversion, I know that they will obey me just out of my leadership. But my seven other Squads of free players who don’t know who I am, they don’t care who I am, they just want to play for free – they’re just waiting for an excuse to tell me $*#@ you. For these guys, I need to use a different kind of leadership towards them and we put in different kinds of gameplay elements towards this. For example, if a Boyz come close to a Nob, he gets buffs just for being close to his leader, but that buff doesn’t last forever, so every 15 minutes or whoever long that free player needs to get close to me again to get that buff.”
Miguel: “The other thing is if I give them a mission to do something, I can allocate requisition points to that squad in order for them to spawn premium vehicles using my Strike Force in-game money. Now, I won’t do this if they don’t obey me and I won’t do this before they do what I tell them. I’ll tell them, ‘Squad, I’m gonna give you a good tank now with my requisition points so you can distract the Space Marine quad cannon right there. If you do a great job, come back to me and I’m gonna give you extra bonus requisition points that you can use on whatever you want.’ So basically bribery – again, that’s what the Orks do between themselves with Teef (Orks use teeth as currency)! We’re creating a mechanic where even if you hate my guts and you don’t want to have a boss and a leader, you’re like ‘Okay, I want this for free, so I need to obey him.’ Personally I think that’s the faction I’m going to play when the game will launch just to test my different leadership skills between premium players and my F2P players. We’re trying to not limit the F2P player with marketing payment walls. We’re limiting them based on what a Boy is allowed to do in the lore. As an example, a F2P player cannot be a commander because if a Boy tries to be a commander, he’s going to be eaten by a Nob, simple as that. Same thing, Boyz don’t have the rights to drive all the different types of vehicles – again, it’s based on the rules and the lore. Obviously the goal is for them to upgrade to a premium player; I’m not just ignoring that. We’re trying to make it feel natural. Let’s see if we’ll be successful.”
Joining the War – At a Discount
Amongst all of the info about the livestream and Free to WAAAGH! details, the latest EC newsletter also detailed their winter sale. With the holidays upon us, many would have expected to see EC’s Founder Store and Rogue Trader shop filled with various discounted packs, skins, items, etc. However given that the game is still in development and none of the current backers have been granted access to a build of the game, this could be taken as an insult to any existing backers – these new players would have all the benefits they paid for, but at a fraction of the cost. EverQuest Next Landmark ran into this issue earlier this year when they discounted their early access packs during one of Steam’s sales. To prevent this problem, Miguel took to the fans and asked what would please them.
Miguel: “Basically what I did is I presented my problem to the community and what they suggested for me to do is what I hadn’t planned and that is we didn’t discount any packs – we only made a promotion on the upgrades for the packs, not on the packs themselves. So it’s 100% geared towards our older Founders. If a Founder bought a Warrior pack, he can upgrade to a Sergeant or Captain at a 25% discount and upgrading will allow him to get early access faster because the Captain are the ones that are going to have early access first. This way, using the fans, doing it in a very fair and open, transparent way allowed me to do a promotion that… it’s been on for four hours now and my sales are up. I pleased the old founder and made more money only because I was humble towards my community and that’s the thing I love about our approach.”
If you look at the Add-On tab of the Founders Store, you’ll see various options to upgrade existing pack levels to a higher tier for the difference in the price. By discounting these upgrade packs, new players can still get their backer tier of choice for a cheaper price, but now existing backers can also take part in the savings by bumping up their existing pack level.
There are still plenty of questions I have for Miguel and the rest of the Eternal Crusade team, but there’s only so much I could squeeze into an hour-long interview. I was already interested in the game and talking to Miguel only amplified that. If you liked what you read here, be sure to tune into their livestream or watch the video after the fact. In addition, if you were planning on backing the game and buying a Founders Pack, don’t forget to look at the sale on upgrade packs to save a few dollars (or get tempted to buy the next tier like I usually do).
For those of you coming in after today’s livestream, what did you think of the scripted match? How about the gameplay? If you’re a diehard WH40K lore fan, are you satisfied with what they’ve shown? Let us know in the comments below.
Michael “Ragar” Branham