As a teenager I wasted many a weekend stooped over a large sheet of plywood covered in polystyrene hills, match-stick fences, and various bits of assorted shrubbery, moving little hand-painted lead and plastic figures around, measuring out firing ranges and areas of effect.
Amongst the games of choice for weekend warriors at the time was Warhammer, a rule set created by the ubiquitous "Games Workshop". So when I heard that BritSoft developers Climax were working on a multiplayer computer game based on the classic table-top wargame, I tracked down the company's CEO Karl Jeffery to find out more...
"Games Workshop and Climax had been talking for quite some time about the possibility of working together", Karl told us when we asked how the project first got started. "We decided that forming a joint venture to create an on-line only Warhammer game was a great idea."
The imaginatively titled "Warhammer Online" was the result, allowing players to build their own custom armies and lead them into battle against other real human opponents around the world. Much of the details are "under discussion still as we are only in the pre-production phase at this time", but what we do know at this stage is that the game will feature some sort of persistent world as a backdrop to your individual battles, and that massive multi-army battles will be possible.
The Warhammer fantasy battle rules are obviously the basis for the game, but Climax won't necessarily be following them slavishly. As Karl explained, "Warhammer On-line will follow the table top game to some degree, but obviously having the game run by a computer allows you a lot more freedom".
To make sure that the game retains that classic Warhammer feel though, "Games Workshop are equal partners in this project, and are involved in every aspect of the game's design and creation".
One way in which the online game may mirror the table-top original is in the buying and selling of units. Part of the charm of the table-top game was in assembling and painting all the hundreds of little models that represented your army on the battlefield.
Selling hordes of intricate new units to addicted players is also how Games Workshop makes much of its money, with a vast network of stores across the UK and overseas stocking a wide range of figures for their various role-playing and table-top battle systems, alongside the rule sets themselves. Climax are apparently looking at a similar business model for the online game, possibly selling the game itself cheaply or even giving it away for free, and instead making money by selling additional units to the players.
According to Karl though, "selling units is only one business model under consideration [for Warhammer Online], but if we do go that route then we have strategies planned to ensure that sheer wallet-power alone will not win the day. Put simply, more money will give you more selections to choose your army from, but will not necessarily give you a bigger army in the field."
If Climax do decide to go down the route of selling miniature add-ons to the game, then their recently announced partnership with Microsoft should provide them with the necessary technology.
The press release announcing the deal earlier this month reported that "Microsoft's involvement will cover a number of distinct elements, from online gameplay .. through to management of the game's back-end databases and e-commerce functionality", with Mike Gamble of Microsoft quoted as saying that "we are delighted to get involved, and believe that Microsoft's vast expertise in online gaming and e-commerce will help this project to achieve its enormous potential".
"Microsoft are going to be a very important part of the project, especially on the software and technology side relating to the servers", Karl told us. "We are delighted to be working with them on this."
But although Microsoft are helping out with the back-end and servers, Climax are developing much of the game's technology themselves. Details are scarce at this early stage, but Karl did reveal that the game "will be using the Climax Halcyon engine, which gives infinite level of detail and provides stunning visuals, both close up to an individual character or zoomed right out to show the whole battlefield".
Strategy fans looking forward to taking their Warhammer armies online still have quite a wait on their hands though - "the game is currently in the early pre-production stages", and as with most online projects, it could be some time before it is ready to launch.
"We expect the full development to take around 24 months before we are ready to roll it out, [although] it may take less or more time depending on how things go". The bottom line is that we can expect to see Warhammer Online appearing some time in 2002.
And for the moment it is only Warhammer Fantasy Battle which Climax will be bringing to life, not the equally popular "Warhammer 40k" rules and their bizarre mixture of high tech weaponry and fantastic creatures. Depending on how Warhammer Online goes though, we may yet see the science fiction version of the game coming to the internet in future.
"We currently have no plans for a '40K online game, but if the first one is as successful as we all hope it will be then it is definitely something we will consider."
Fingers crossed then!