Ever since Relic started up the Dawn of War franchise, THQ have been the true champions of Games Workshops's sci-fi IP. Seven years down the line and now THQ are brining out a slew of new titles using this property, one of which is the 40K MMO, now known as Dark Millennium Online. Being developed by Vigil Games, this title is slated to include all of the knowledge gleaned from the company's Darksiders title, as well as many of the staff's MMO background as Ex-NCSoft.
At GamesCom '10, Strategy Informer sat down with Vigil Games Executive Producer Tim Campbell, and General Manager David Adams and picked their brains to try and get an impression of what they hope their game will look like.
Strategy Informer: What made you want to do an MMO based on the 40K universe? Who approached Who?
David Adams: I love 40K. Well, I used to work over at NCSoft, and after I left I swore I would never work on an MMO ever again but then we started doing Darksiders and THQ said to us “Hey, we're going to do an MMO based on the 40K universe” and I was like “... ok! We'll do it!”. That was it really, couldn't put it any more elaborately than that.
Strategy Informer: How do you feel about Mythic Entertainment? They've already been working with Games Workshop with Age of Reckoning and so have that experience there already.
David Adams: Honestly, I'm indifferent. The Warhammer 40K IP is similar, but because it's got gun, got that sci-fi setting, that when people see our game it won't even evoke memories of Warhammer Online, they just won't think about it. I dunno I don't really dwell on it.
Strategy Informer: This was only formally announced just recently, although its existence has been known for a while longer – how far a long are you currently in terms of development?
David Adams: We've been in earnest development for the last year and half to two years. We're solidly in production – we have all the basic systems of the game figured out. We're a still a couple of years away though, so its not like we're close or anything.
Strategy Informer: Every MMO tends to have a theme or a particular mechanic they like to focus on, whether it be PvP, PvE, Story etc... what is the one thing you're focusing on with Dark Millennium Online?
David Adams: We want to focus on the moment to moment experience of the game, like what are you doing, what a re pressing, how are fighting, interacting... that's what's really important to us. At the end of the day, we think of an MMO ultimately as a game. I know it sounds a little trite, but I think some people forget that sometimes.
The joke here is that if you take the Nuts and bolts of an MMO, what you do, how you fight etc.. and put them in any other genre, people would laugh at it because it's so simple. It's like what RPG's were like 15 years ago before they really tried to up the ante in terms of effects or animation and all that.
It's funny, because I used to work on MMO's and I left because that's what I didn't like about them. I would look around and think “wow, console developers are way fucking better than we are”. They do stuff that we wouldn't even know how to do, and their level of just pure craft skill was much higher than ours.
I mean yeah, as an MMO developer you're good at managing a lot of assets, and there are some intricacies to managing an economy and systems like that, but in terms of pure craftsmanship I felt like I was falling behind. So we (Vigil Games) have done Darksiders, we've done a console game, and now we want to apply that superior craftsmanship to an MMO. It's something that will just up the game for everybody else.
Strategy Informer: Can you elaborate on that a bit? I mean what specific lessons are you applying to this MMO?
David Adams: I think one simple lesson is that there's a lot of subtlety in feedback. I mean in Darksiders when you fight a guy its important that the animations flow well together and that there's a good rhythm of you pressing the buttons – when you hit a guy its impactful and you see the results through effects and sound and the controller rumbles... every little detail is important.
I can't even imagine that there's an MMO developer that thinks about the rhythm of their combos or attacks. It just doesn't occur to them – when they hit another character are they really selling the impact? Does it sounds good? Does it look good? I mean they may think about it a little bit, but I don't think they think about it to the extent that you would in a console game.
That's not to say that you can do everything in an MMO that you can do in a console game, but just having that knowledge – it will definitely come across when you interact with the game.
Strategy Informer: How much creative freedom with the IP has Games Workshop given you?
David Adams: They're pretty cool. I mean it's our job I think to try and use the IP as much as humanly possible, but obviously there's places where we have to fill up gaps or make stuff up and they're there to help us and to guide us along. They openly make sure that everything we do fits in with their IP, and they're no unreasonable. We're not working with corporate suits, we're working with the guys who invented 40k, so it's a really good relationship.
Strategy Informer: Relic Games have been working with the 40K license for around 7 years now, do you liaise with them or work with them at all?
David Adams: Yeah there's friendly communication there. We share technology, assets, whatever we can do really. Hopefully they're games and environments will remain different, but whatever they have to share we're willing to look at.
Strategy Informer: The 40K universe has always been more war orientated, a little universe war, all v all type of thing... how are you going to really portray that in this game beyond the usual?
David Adams: Obviously this is going to be more action orientated than a typical MMO, it's going to be more visceral, more responsive, cause and effect etc... PvP is going to be important to that because it's about war, but we don't want to neglect PvE. I would say that our game is pretty balanced, there's an equivalent amount of PvE vs PvP content. We wanted, as a player, to feel like you had a choice on how you wanted to play the game, if you want to be a hardcore PvPer, great, if you want to do the more exploratory elements of the 40K universe, we've got content for that too. We're going to have an avenue for both types of player.
Strategy Informer: A few MMO's are now experimenting with the Free to Play business model instead of traditional subscription. The eastern market is more comfortable with that model as they've been using it for years, but you're just starting to see it come into North America and Europe – are you thinking of going to straight into a F2P model or are you sticking with subscription?
Tim Campbell: At this point in time we're trying to keep our options open because we don't believe right now that one business model is going to work for every territory around the world. You're right, Free2Play is very much in experimentation in the US and prevalent in the East, but we don't believe that things are going to get homogeneous. We think those preferences are going to be maintained and we're not going to be able to predict what they are. What we're tying to do is create flexibility in the way we're designing the game and the systems around that so we can find the right alchemy for territories when we do ship that gives us the greatest potential.
Strategy Informer: Because this is pretty much a first look at the game, can you explain a little bit about the set-up? The fiction that the MMO will be based around?
David Adams: The beauty of 40K is that it's a giant world, lots of space to plan, lots of systems to play around with. We have our own system called the Sargos Sector, there are multiple planets within this sector where our game takes place. Gameplay will take place both on and off planet. There will be a central storyline but that will more to tie things together in the backdrop. There's going to be multiple stories and stories with different points of view – but they'll be some climatic struggle centred around some alien constructs, a mystery will unfold and there will be a high-stakes struggle for dominance. These are all themes that are prevalent throughout the 40k universe, so we're working with those because they're tried and true and they're what people are familiar with.
Strategy Informer: I assume you're going to divide up the playable races by factions? They only thing is, apart from ones like Imperial guard and Space Marines who can stick together, not all of the other races fit neatly into 'factions'. The Eldar, the Tau, the Necrons, Tyranids Chaos... had to generalise them. Are you going to try sticking with the traditional two factions or branch out to more?
Tim Campbell: We're going to have two overall factions in the game, and all of the playable races are going to fit into one or the other.
There are compelling reasons why that works in this situation and our game, and Games Workshops are completely on board with it so we're not doing anything that violates the IP or the fiction – the details though will be revealed in the near future.
Strategy Informer: Obviously you can't talk too much about the races at this point, but can you give a rough indication of how many you're going to use at Launch? Will you be using all of them?
Tim Campbell: The number of races at launch is something we're holding back at the moment, but it's safe to say that there's a lot of races in the 40k universe, and it would be really hard to do all of them at launch. It's going to be some number less than all of the races, so we'll have to pick and choose.
That's what's great about the IP though because you have this runway and you know where your future content is going to come from. There's probably more content in this IP that we'd ever be able to build, even over a long time. We're not going to run out of content any time soon. We gain comfort in that because we're not going to have invent new races or anything.
Strategy Informer: Coming back to combat, another staple of the 40K universe is the vehicular element. Everything from a speeder or a tank all the way up to a Titan take part in these ferocious 40K battles – will that be represented at all?
David Adams: We have three different classes of vehicles in the game: personal craft that you use to get around the world, public transport that everyone uses, and combat vehicles. Take tanks for instance – multiple characters will be able to jump into them, they'll drive, man the turrets, vehicles will have physical interactions with the environment. They're going to use what we call 'Cart racer' physics, the fun side of physics so you don't need an advanced degree just to control them. You won't have to worry about tipping over or getting stuck, but you will be able to go over things.
Strategy Informer: It's obviously too early to talk about a specific release date, but do you have a window you're looking to hit?
Tim Campbell: We do: we're slating the game for release during our 2012/13 fiscal year, so that will be sometime between April 1st 2012 and March 31st 2013.
Strategy Informer: The MMO space is starting to get more and more populated now – can you just sum up what you think will make your game stand out from competitors?
David Adams: We think our IP, the moment to moment gameplay, the vehicles, the PvE and PvP integration. That's where we're being innovative, and that's where we think we're different. We have our unique blend of sci-fi with a little bit of fantasy and horror thrown in. We're embracing guns and action gameplay, we're embracing compelling and high quality vehicles. We think that's a lot for us to stand out and take ownership of.
Strategy Informer: How soon do you think we'll be able to see s playable build, or footage off real gameplay?
We're hoping by the end of the year we'll have something to show.
And there you have it folks, an insight into Vigil Games' hopes and dreams for their own homage to a popular franchise. We look forward to seeing some actual gameplay.