Rogue Factor General Manager Yves Bordeleau talks about the challenges, development, and success of faithfully creating Mordheim: City of the Damned
The Warhammer universe is extensive and varied. Whether you’re looking at the medieval Warhammer fantasy or the far off future of Warhammer 40K, there’s a massively rich tapestry to draw from and in turn, developers have used the Warhammer universe for a ton of successful media. However, there is one corner of Warhammer that sees little action: Mordheim. Mordheim City of the Damned was originally a tabletop game based on the iconic Warhammer fantasy universe. It’s the story of a city destroyed and warped by the impact of a twin-tailed comet and the race of different factions to pick over the remains. Mordheim is a favorite among hardcore Warhammer fans, but it had yet to see any adaptation.
Enter Rogue Factor, a development studio who has worked closely with the tabletop creator and license holder, Games Workshop, to bring Mordheim: City of the Damned to a successful video game format. Under their development, Mordheim has been running in Early Access on Steam and has gathered quite the following of dedicated fans. GameWatcher caught up with Rogue Factor General Manager Yves Bordeleau to talk about the challenges, development, and success of faithfully creating Mordheim: City of the Damned for PC.
GameWatcher: The game you’re making is an adaptation of the tabletop game. What led you to pick Mordheim as the basis for an adaptation from tabletop to video game?
Yves Bordeleau: Well, first of all, we were huge fans of the tabletop game. So we had a good knowledge of the actual tabletop game’s lore and rules. When we decided to move forward with the idea of creating a video game for it, we were concerned with creating a game that would translate well.
GameWatcher: What kind of steps did you make to ensure a good seamless adaptation?
Yves Bordeleau: We were aware that sometimes one to one adaptations from tabletop games to video games doesn’t translate well because of the absence of physical human interaction and dice rolls or mechanics that are just clunky on computer. When we decided to work on Mordheim, we went out of our way to spot things that would be problematic in adaptation. One instance was the pace. The tabletop game has specific rules when it comes to things like order of player actions. By those rules, you play all of your units in your warband for a turn, and then your opponent plays all of their units. On a 10 unit vs. 10 unit map, you’d be waiting forever between turns.
In order to break this up, we introduced an initiative ladder, which factors in an initiative stat value given to all of your units and your opponent’s units. The higher a unit’s initiative, the sooner that unit will have their turn. It made the game much more dynamic. It opens the opportunity for players who want to act first and fast to construct their warband with units that have high initiative, sacrificing statistics like armor that other players might favor more.
We also decided to implement a system inspired by the Warhammer Fantasy RPG from Fantasy Flight which used maneuver points and skill points. Our version is blue points and red points. Blue points are strategy points and red points are offense points. There are moves that use points from one category or a mix of both. For instance, reloading a weapon with ammo costs a few blue points and a red point where casting an offensive spell will require red points alone. This helped to add variety to the game. Outside of changes like that, we tried to remain extremely faithful to the original tabletop game with hardcore elements like permadeath and limb loss; you can literally have a leg chopped off. These were fan favorites.
GameWatcher: Obviously much of the video game comes from a foundation set by the rules and settings of the tabletop, but are there any other influences that inspired the design of Mordheim?
Yves Bordeleau: Yes, absolutely. We’re big fans of X-Com/UFO and you can see that very obviously in the game. We also decided to investigate games that might offer ideas for making the game more responsive and immersive. Valkyria Chronicles was one such game because of the way you move your characters in the game. It’s really free-roaming and immersive when it comes to unit control. We decided to use some of that in Mordheim. Every time you control a unit, you move them freely in the world, spending movement points to move different places, climb up structures, leap down from high places, and similar things. Baulder’s Gate, Final Fantasy Tactics, and even very old games like Shining Force were influential as well because of the way they use terrain to give units strategic advantages or disadvantages.
GameWatcher: Players take on the command of warbands from one of four factions. Available now are the Human Mercenaries, the Skaven of Clan Eshin, The Sisters of Sigmar, and the Cult of the Possessed. Beyond cosmetic differences and story, is there a huge difference in tactics and gameplay between factions?
Yves Bordeleau: Oh yes. Big time. The differences are huge. The Human Mercenaries are kind of the run-of-the-mill generalists, nothing extraordinary, and have access to most weapons and some magic. Their impressive unit is the Ogre who is big and burly, but still quite middle of the road. In contrast, take the Sisters of Sigmar warband. Really into close-quarters, heavy armors, blunt weapons (they can’t use bladed weapons), and also strong magic. The Skaven of Clan Eshin are basically ninjas. They’re really fast, really nimble, and have some cool tricks and tools up their sleeves like ninja stars, but at the cost of defense. Finally, the Cult of the Possessed are really different. They worship chaos and are right at home in Mordheim. It grants them mutations. What this comes out to is that every few levels, your units will gain a mutation. It’s a gift from the gods, completely random. Sometimes it’s super useful and other times… not so much. (laughs) But if you like slot machines, lottery, and just playing with luck, the Possessed are really interesting because there’s so much that can happen. The main thing when you look at the four warbands right now is that they all have specific types of gameplay you can discover and it offers a lot of variety.
GameWatcher: Are there any future plans to implement other factions outside these four core groups?
Yves Bordeleau: Absolutely. We’re entering discussions with Games Workshop and our publisher regarding that. There are a lot of people asking for many different warbands, so we’ll have to go with the flow in some regard, but the game is built in a way that the addition of new factions is quite possible.
GameWatcher: There’s a single player campaign for each of the factions, but also multiplayer. The recent trailer mentioned taking your warbands online once they’re strong enough. Are the troops you use in single player shared across multiplayer and vice versa?
Yves Bordeleau: Yes. That’s one of the hardcore aspects of the game we wanted to keep. The warband you use gains experience in single player, but there’s an iron man style gameplay here that carries between single player and multiplayer. The idea is that you play a warband, you do some of their campaign missions, some random missions, and maybe a few unique missions as well, and when you feel comfortable and confident you can take them up against other players. There’s an Exhibition Mode where there aren’t consequences, but there’s also Contest Mode which is closer to everything you’ll see in single player. If a unit gets knocked down or takes a critical hit, there will be a roll of fate after combat to determine what happens to your character. It’s really hardcore and people really like it so far. It changes a lot of the way you play.
GameWatcher: A few of the features included are procedurally generated maps, tweakable deployment possibilities, and map specific gameplay modifiers. What kind of modifiers can players mess with in multiplayer? Are there plans to implement more customizations?
Yves Bordeleau: There’s quite a lot of modifiers. The first determinant is the map you’re playing on. For instance, in the Barracks, there is a set of gates that can be opened or closed in order to alter the available paths that units can take. Warbands can also have different secondary objectives. One warband might have a capture-the-flag type objective where another might have a character marked for death that they specifically need to kill. You can also impose some gameplay specific elements like turn timers. Back tracking is an important one. Back tracking is where if you made a mistake on a move, you back track them to their original location and move them somewhere else. There’s a modifier to eliminate back tracking from a game. Under that condition, if you use a point for an action, it’s gone forever.
GameWatcher: One of the initial gripes a lot of Early Access players are having is that the single player is much too difficult right now. Complaints about the movement speed of enemies and chance being a little bit too far in favor of the opposition are prevalent. Are there any plans to include options to alleviate the difficulty of Mordheim?
Yves Bordeleau: Honestly, no. Mordeim is a very hardcore game. In the Warhammer fantasy world, Mordheim is the most dangerous place you can be. We want to really stay faithful to that. We’re still in Early Access, so of course we can look at the difficulty of certain characters like demons and tune that, but in terms of pure learning curve and difficulty, there’s a lot of people who are happy with it the way it is. For the more casual players, I think what they should do is play more normal missions and not be so quick to venture onto the hard setting missions. One of the features we have in Mordheim is the Veteran System and that also helps with the difficulty. The more you play the game, the more perks you will gain, so when you start a new warband you’re not really starting from scratch. You can give perks and options you can give to your warband and things you can upgrade via the Veteran System. It’s our way of helping you progress, but at the end of the day, we still want it to remain a hardcore game. We want every move you make to be calculated and thought out so it will be faithful to the IP.
GameWatcher: How has feedback been on this project so far? What kind of response are you getting and how is that affecting Mordheim as a whole?
Yves Bordeleau: The main reason we decided to go on Early Access was to involve the community into making Mordheim a great game. I can honestly say we’ve succeeded because we have quite a lot of players and even guilds. I’d like to point out the Gentlemen of Mordheim. These guys are over a thousand strong and they’ve been helping so much with the game and helping tweak the gameplay. On the Steam forums as well, everybody’s giving us an excellent objective point of view for ideas and balancing. There’s a wishlist that has been followed by the development team. We read the forum many times a day. It’s not a community manager that handles it. The lead designer and the lead coder get involved. I’m on there as well. We are really close to the community. It was a gamble bringing features progressively and having the community help us tailor those features to their needs, but we’ve been moving in that direction from day one and now the game is feature-complete and people are really happy with it. The entire reaction is outstanding.
GameWatcher: Are there any plans for mods and mod support in Mordheim?
Yves Bordeleau: Right now, no. Games Workshop is super picky regarding everything, from the visual look to the characters, lore, sound effects, music, etc. For a game that’s under license with Games Workshop, it’s hard to have modders that will do things that are not part of that universe.
GameWatcher: Are there any major plans following the game’s final release on November 20th 2015?
Yves Bordeleau: We’re looking at the possibility to improve the game via DLCs, but we’re not going to step away from the forum just because we come out of Early Access. We’re really committed to the game and the good relationship we’ve built with the community. We’re the kind of developer that wants to keep that support going.
Mordheim is coming to the end of a long journey in Early Access, but you can still get in and check it out before the final release on 20th November on Steam. If you’d like to learn more about the game, keep up to date on news, or even get involved with the dedicated community of Mordheim, you can find all of that and more on their official Website.