It's just a few months since Climax and Games Workshop revealed that their adaptation of the classic Warhammer table-top system had morphed from an online strategy game to a massively multiplayer role-player. Today, in the first of a series of developer diaries, executive producer Matt Sansam fills us in on what the team has been up to...
Working with such an established intellectual property as Warhammer, and with a company like Games Workshop, with its huge global fan base, opens up a fantastic range of opportunities for a developer and more than a few constraints. On one hand, there is a vast range of information, images and background on the Warhammer world that has been published and compiled by GW over more than twenty years.
This means that when our artists sit down to create special creatures such as the Necrarch or Rat Ogre we are not so much inventing, as interpreting what already exists. Of course, we are aided in this task by the use of sound, movement and dynamic lighting, but essentially we are taking a small-scale metal or plastic miniature and delivering it to the player as a fully 3D rendered monster. At the same time, we feel a real responsibility to get it right in order to satisfy the expectations of the thousands of Warhammer gamers from around the world and their collective vision of how the world should look online.
In addition to the Giants, Wyverns, Rat-Ogres and Vampires, the team have also been focusing their efforts on some of the more mundane creatures that live in the world such as cats, rats and dogs! These do have an in-game function, as it is possible for each player characters to have a number of 'pet slots' into which they can place a cat, dog or more substantial beast such as a horse. As you can see from the images, these animals all have a rather unpleasant, mangy, scabby look about them, which seems to be perfectly in keeping with the tenor of the Warhammer world. [We've also released] images of a basic horse, an armoured horse and a pack-horse. As our players increase in wealth and prestige we fully expect them to spend money on improving the look and survivability of their mounts just as people in the real world like to get a bigger and better car!
Everywhere You Go
Pitching so far ahead to a game that is not due for release until 2004, we really wanted to try some things that hadn't been done before. In order to truly deliver the promise of a persistent world, we wanted more than just day/night and the occasional rainstorm! The superb graphical abilities of Nvidia's GeForce 3 and 4 cards means that we can change the reflective properties of surfaces when it rains to give the illusion of 'wetness' and actually create snow that settles on the ground and buildings.
Potentially this will allow the design team to structure the game in a way that, for example, it becomes 'winter' for one week per month (real world time) and this change in the weather alters all of the spawn and object tables for the game and so makes the game-world change its character for the players. As I've said, all this is a bit ahead of the curve at the moment, but we are feeling pretty good about both the art and technology assets we'll need to deliver this promise to our players.
Turning to the design front, the team have been finishing up the last few details of the core game structure and nailing down those last few features such as how player-run Warrior Companies actually work, which NPC's are needed to allow players to rent and occupy buildings, and the finer points of the weapon and combat systems. At the same time, the world creation team have finished up their work on the core map and have now laid out over 400 sq km of the Reikland at around 25:1 scale and in scary detail! This task has included the definition of all the major towns, farms, villages, coaching inns etc in that area, as well as the routes between them. When we begin to dig into the world in this level of detail, we realise that we are not just interpreting the Warhammer background, but we're actually creating and evolving it.
Delivering an online game is such a different kind of project to a tabletop battles game; where GW can fudge over the detail of certain places, we need to actually locate and build them into our world, and so we need to plan them out as if they were real places. As there are well over sixty of these settlements, you can imagine how long it took to get right! However, the really interesting part of all this has been the mapping out of Marienburg, one of the key towns within this part of the Empire. Watching a huge city growing street-by-street has been really exiting. We hope these cities will be one of the key features of Warhammer Online. Rather than using our towns as simple service stations as in other online games, we intend them to be urban dungeons where we expect our players to spend many hours, days and weeks exploring, fighting, trading and adventuring.
As you can see, these last three months have been a really interesting period in the development of Warhammer Online. We now think that we've got more answers than questions, which, for a producer, is not a bad place to be. With so much ground work now complete, the next phase is to really get our teeth into creating and populating the Warhammer World. Interesting times lie ahead...
Executive Producer Climax - Warhammer Online