Danny Bilson doesn't do interviews like other high ranking videogame executives. The THQ core games boss is happy to talk frankly about not only announced games, but unannounced games. This, we're not used to.
Here, in a wide-ranging interview with Eurogamer to coincide with the beginning of German expo gamescom, Bilson does exactly that, discussing at length Dawn of War III, yes, III, the next UFC game, reveals when Vigil's Warhammer 40K MMO will be out, gives Tim Schafer much love and says something he probably shouldn't have about Guillermo del Toro.
Oh, and then there's Bilson's thoughts on Space Marine, Company of Heroes Online, Gears of War, Uncharted 2 and more. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the fireworks.
Eurogamer: If you were to liken the experience Space Marine offers, what would it be?
Danny Bilson: It's kinda close to Gears of War except it's not a bunch of hunkering down behind things and shooting around them. It abuses cover.
A Space Marine doesn't need cover because he's got his Power Armour. He will just destroy cover when the enemies use cover. We have these sequences where the Space Marine just smashes and then hacks him up with his chainsword.
It's intentionally mocking the Gears of War mechanic, which of course is spectacular in its own right. But we're differentiating based on our experience of being an Ultramarine. That is exactly what you are in this game.
You play a very special Ultramarine on a forge world that's being raided by orks. Of course, the orks don't know what they're getting into. They're just raiding.
The plot spans and twists and it brings in... You know I'll get in trouble from the marketer if I give you the whole story.
Let's just say there's a lot more than orks going on in that forge world.
Eurogamer: My next question was going to be: is it an ork-only affair?
Danny Bilson: No. There is a dark secret going on on that forge world, that some of the most nefarious elements of the Warhammer universe are behind. They explode on the scene in the second act of that game.
Eurogamer: You couldn't possibly be talking about Chaos then?
Danny Bilson: I could be. The great thing about that race is it's multifaceted, right? Chaos has demons and Chaos Marines and all kinds of crazy stuff. If we were doing that there's a lot of opportunity there.
Eurogamer: The game will probably be compared to Gears of War.
Danny Bilson: Well, that's up to you. It's about being an Ultramarine and you are a part of a unit of five Ultramarines and there are other Ultramarine characters involved in it.
I love the story of this game. It has a fantastic story with a lot of twists and reveals. And remember the game does have a deep multiplayer experience that we'll be talking about later.
Eurogamer: Do you feel Space Marine will compare to Uncharted 2 in terms of its story and cinematic quality? That game's considered the best of class in that area.
Danny Bilson: Yeah. It's best in class in its story delivery. I would question the originality of the story elements in Uncharted. I feel like I've seen that movie 50 times in the eighties.
It's fantastic in its delivery. I love the game. I finished the game. I thought it was glorious. Obviously we're into another level of glory with the Space Marine that also involves gory.
It also plays into the beauty and the brutality of the 40K universe, which is so exciting. There's nothing about that violence that feels exploitative at all. It's just glorious.
Eurogamer: I've been excited about the Warhammer 40K MMO for a long time. When will it be out?
Danny Bilson: A couple more years. It really is about two years out.
Look, there is an 800 pound gorilla out there called World of Warcraft, which is a fantastic MMO that's going to get updated with Cataclysm soon and drive a lot of people including myself back into it.
I'm a big MMO fan and player. I've played EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, City of Heroes, I've got a few level 80 characters in WOW. Now, imagine that the people making Dark Millennium Online are all a bunch of guys like me, who love WOW and the expansions it's had along the way.
We all say to ourselves, 'We're not going to get all the WOW players to move to 40K.' 40K has its own unique coolness and edge. And that edge and glorious gore is not going to appeal to everybody. It appeals to you and I.
But what I know about our 40K game is that if you've played WOW you'll be able to pick up and play this instantly, and you'll find all these things that feel like upgrades, in a way.
How soon you get vehicles, how many vehicles there are in the universe. If you know 40K, you know the things in the universe. You know the races. You know things like ranged combat is going to be important for the bolters. You know the chainsword matters, and having both.
You know being an ork is a completely different experience than being a Space Marine, and being a Space Marine alone is a very different experience than being a scout or an Imperial Guard or any of the other Imperium of Man that you're going to see in this trailer.
What does being an Inquisitor mean? That's down the road somewhere. I always say too much in these things, but I get excited.
It has a lot of the same qualities of WOW in terms of ease of use and how the interface is. I want to say that if you play WOW, you'll be able to jump into Dark Millennium Online really easy.
But you won't be able to be a Space Marine right away, because that's a very unique class, if you know the universe. The road there is a great road, and they are in the game.
You've seen already what chapter of Space Marine is represented in that game. It's very cool. What's your chapter of choice?
Eurogamer: The Space Wolves.
Danny Bilson: The Wolves are fantastic. I'm a Dark Angel fan myself. Neither of us are the core race in there. But I'm insisting we encounter and have experiences with some of the other core six chapters along the way.
Some of that will come later. Some of it'll be at launch. I can't wait to come across that Dark Angel fort and those guys and their mission and what they're all about, because that's my favourite chapter.
But the Wolves are phenomenal, and I'm sure they're represented somewhere down the road as well. You know how deep this universe is, that we have so much cool stuff to mine.
We don't make fun of it at all. There's a lot of charm in the WOW, 'Have a good one.' All that kind of stuff. But in Dark Millennium is just that. It's a Dark Millennium. It's not goofy.
The orks are pretty wacky, but that's part of their barbarous nature, right?
Eurogamer: But it's two years out.
Danny Bilson: It is. But you know what, you know how those betas come really early? Just keep in touch and you could be one of the first in.
Eurogamer: Moving on to Dawn of War II: Retribution, what can we expect to see from that?
Danny Bilson: Multiple races all in the same game. This is the one that brings them all together. In multiplayer you can choose them all. But in the single-player experience you encounter them all.
You can play single-player experience from each race through the game. So whatever your favourite race is, you can play that, and then you can play it through again from another race. And it does go halfway back to... I'm not going to say there's base building in there particularly, but you do have the ability to build and grow larger units.
It's not just the four units on the screen thing we've had in the last two games. There was a lot of demand for that from the players of Dawn of War I. We've come halfway back.
This one is really cool in the fact that I can play it as the different races, and go up my tech trees on each race and all of that.
Eurogamer: Any new races?
Danny Bilson: You'll see at gamescom.
Eurogamer: When are we going to see Dawn of War III?
Danny Bilson: Retribution's going to ship in February, and then we start laying out Dawn of War III. You can probably expect it between 18 months and two years after that.
It may be a more digital free-to-play experience with all the depth and quality of a Relic RTS.
Company of Heroes Online is another thing we're showing at gamescom, because we're going to be bringing that to North America and Europe very soon in the fall.
We're taking company of Heroes, and we've added all kinds of things to it. It's now going to be launched as a free-to-play micro-transaction, where you don't have to buy anything. It's just time versus investment.
You can play the heck out of it and unlock and earn certain things. But at the same time, we'll be selling little pieces. Little bits of the game to enhance your game online. Leaderboards, you can have an avatar and a screen that shows how you're doing in the game.
We've invested years in bringing this to free-to-play, and a lot of money to make it a cool free-to-play. I haven't seen everything in the world, but it has to be the biggest budget, biggest blockbuster free-to-play game that's gone that way yet. It's coming this fall, and I think winter in Europe.
Eurogamer: So Dawn of War III may be like Company of Heroes Online, then?
Danny Bilson: Could be. It all depends on how COHO does, and how it works and how people respond to it. If they do that would definitely drive us to... Now Dawn of War III, either way, is going to have a much larger strategic component to it, more of a global battle going on with little tactical things, sort of MMO-like.
I'm just giving you a lot of preview. We haven't announced anything about it, and it's still in its early formative stage, but I'm just talking to you about the brainstorming going on around it. I'm excited about it. I'm a big fan of that, obviously.
Eurogamer: Moving on from Warhammer to UFC, I was listening to your recent financial call, and found it interesting to see sales of the last game weren't as good as the original. THQ's mentioned it may not do a UFC game every year. Can you clarify that?
Danny Bilson: The mission on UFC 3, the next game, is to make everybody who's ever bought the first or second game, have to buy the third one. We don't believe it's a churn it out game every 12 months. We just don't.
It's a very deep simulation game. I can tell you some of the things we're addressing in the next game. One of them is ease of play. It'll still be awesome for the hardest core, but it's going to have an adaptive AI system that ramps the newbie into the game in a really good way.
Whatever your skill level is, you'll be able to have a great time with it. We're addressing every single thing we could think we would want out of a UFC game, and taking the time and spending the money to make the most awesome UFC experience in UFC 3.
That means it will not be one year out. It's more between 15 to 20 months till we ship it again. We'll announce a date I'm sure when it's convenient for those people who announce dates. I know when it's coming out and I know what's going on with it.
It's going to have way more robust online features. It's going to have lots more both for the casual fan and the hardcore fan. The game is really hard for the casual fan like me. We're going to go way beyond tutorial into a very experiential training system that's fun and competitive as you do that
Also we're going to be having the virtual UFC, as I call it. The complete online experience of competitions and leaderboards and rewards and things like that.
As soon as day one sales came in, personally I was like, okay, what do we need to do here? Even though the second game was a huge improvement over the first game – and it really was – it was limited consumer dollars these days and a brilliant game hitting the market at the same time in Red Dead, people can't buy three games in a trip to the shop. It's going to be one.
We're going to make UFC 3 an absolute must-have for anybody who's ever thought about liking UFC. That's the mission. We're investing in that. There is a humongous feature set coming into this, and a lot of not just core features and sim stuff and better combat, there are a lot more fun entertainment features.
Some are more of the things you get when you see it on TV. Brining everything up and really robust, in the same way a Madden has so much going on in it.
The mission is, anybody who's ever bought it has to buy the third one if you like UFC. That takes time, money, engineering, skill and careful thought. So churning it out is not the plan for UFC. The best fighting game in the world is the plan for UFC.
Eurogamer: Will it be released in 2011?
Danny Bilson: It won't be in May of next year, no. It won't be on a one year cycle at all. It's more closer to 20 months.
Eurogamer: Let's talk about THQ's two game deal with Double Fine.
Danny Bilson: I'm a huge fan of Tim [Schafer]. Grim Fandango is a masterpiece in the history of gaming, not to mention everything else he's done.
When he came in for a meeting, what he presented were some digital games, with all of the Double Fine creativity and originality. There are two of them, we're doing. We've announced Costume Quest, and we haven't announced the name of the second one.
They're both really cool, inventive and fun. And bring the originality and freshness Tim brings to everything. I'm very excited about that. Costume Quest is really fun and has a large mass appear factor.
The second one is just as cool, if not cooler. The second one was the one that really knocked my socks off. When we announce that we can talk about that.
Costume Quest is coming this fall, obviously in time for Halloween. It's kids, adult – anybody can enjoy it. It's got all of the Double Fine sensibility. I'm really excited about that.
Eurogamer: I interviewed Tim about a month ago, and he had some choice words for Bobby Kotick.
Danny Bilson: Oh yeah, was that your interview?
More on Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
Review: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
Digital Foundry analysis of the PS3/360 demos.
Preview: Space Marine
The Emperor's new groove.
Your first glimpse of Relic's upcoming action RPG for PS3 and Xbox 360.
Eurogamer: Yep. Did Tim's comments endear him to you?
Danny Bilson: No. His games endeared him to us, and always have over the years. I go way back as a Tim Schafer fan. I have to point again to Grim Fandango as being a work of art. It's a genius product. Freshness of Psychonauts is fascinating. The games he's doing for us are really cool.
Brutal Legend was a hilarious cartoon. People have said games are funny, blah, blah, for 30 years – as long as I've been playing games. That's the first one that really made me laugh.
When the Jack Black character was mocking what was going on in the environment around him, I was laughing. I want to work with Tim more in the future. I want to do something on the core side with him as soon as we can.
Eurogamer: Is the second game Psychonauts 2?
Danny Bilson: It is not Psychonauts 2. It's original. It's completely original. It's brand new. You've never seen anything like it. I promise.
Eurogamer: Finally, when will you talk about Volition's third-person RPG?
Danny Bilson: We're not announcing anything but I can tell you Guillermo del Toro and I are very close friends. He lives about two miles from our office. I'm not confirming anything, but we have a lot of shared vision. We both spent a lot of time in the film business.
Now my PR person is about to smack me upside the head. If we were to do a game with Guillermo and Volition, I would really support that in a big way, personally. But we're not announcing anything yet. I'm not telling you what type of game it is or anything like that, if we were to do something. But I can tell you... [Bilson is muted].
...But he and I are good friends. We get along great. We have a lot of shared sensibility. He's a big fan of my previous work in the film business and I'm a big fan of his current work in the film business. He plays a lot of videogames and he lives practically next door so we hang out a lot and have a lot of fun.
Eurogamer: You went silent there for a few seconds. I wonder if someone pushed a button that meant I couldn't hear what were saying.
Danny Bilson: Yeah, I got smacked upside the head.
Danny Bilson is THQ's executive vice president of Core Games.