I attended the What’s Next de Focus event last week and had the opportunity to talk to some of the team that is working on Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Unfortunately, the game was not available to play at the event so please bear that in mind when reading this interview.
This was one of the strangest interviews I’ve ever had for a number of reasons. I was paired with another journalist, a journalist who happened to know an awful lot about the Werewolf series. I barely understood what Martin Elricsson had to say, mainly because the world of Werewolf is massive and, well, I don’t know anything about it. Also, the game is very early on it its development, so don’t be surprised to look back on this interview and be disappointed if something doesn’t make it into this game.
GameWatcher: Could we just get you to introduce yourself for us, please?
Martin Elricsson: I am Martin Elricsson, I am the Lead Storyteller of White Wolf, the reformed White Wolf. For years, we were owned by CCP, to do with the MMO World of Darkness, I worked as Senior Content in that and it completely broke my heart when that project went downhill, as some computer game projects do, of course. We left with a treasure of concept art and ideas, but now we are our own thing. We are financed by the Paradox group, we are not owned by Paradox but the money comes from the same place. We are very clear that we need to be our own thing in order to do our mature and complex stories about monsters hidden among us.
Martin Elricsson: Are you familiar with Vampire: The Masquerade?
GameWatcher: Somewhat, yes…
Martin Elricsson: This started in 1991 as a pen and paper table top roleplaying game which became the second bestselling roleplaying game during the 90s, after Dungeons and Dragons. Of course, it’s a game that pulls in a lot of women, a lot of goths and people with alternative lifestyles. It’s one integrated universe of monsters hidden among us, manipulating politics and being affected by us. It’s our world but under the surface, the nightmares are boiling. Twenty-five years later, we are updating the whole universe for contemporary times. Continuing the same stories that began in the 90s, we are now in the age of the apocalypse, we are in the end age.
The central question of Werewolves, “When will you rage? When have you had enough?” Our werewolves are nature’s revenge. They are born werewolves, they come from a tribal society that stretches back to the dawn of history. They were set on earth by Gaia, the living planet via the immune system of the ecosystem, if you want. For thousands of years they hunted us and made sure we stayed in small family groups, but they are both man and wolf. They were culling the herd and making sure we didn’t fuck up, but they showed us mercy, they kind of fell in love with us. They said, ‘let’s give the monkeys a shot’, let them have their time and see what they can build. Now, many thousand years later, they are severely regretting that decision. The thirteen tribes of the werewolves are now on the cusp of renewing the culling of humans.
The discussion is of course between the Red Talons and the Children of Gaia. This game is about the balance between wisdom and rage, it’s about saving the world but also asks what is the price of saving the world with violent activist action? It is clearly a game that reflects a lot of huge questions that are here and now, and that’s always what White Wolf has done with all of their games. The vampires explored the temptations of power and the temptations of variolation and being a predator on other human beings, so you could call them the 1% if you want. Of course, the werewolves struggle with the problem of violent activism; when is enough, enough? When will you rage? Our werewolves are deeply spiritual, they smell and feel and talk to nature in ways that humans can only dream of. To them a city is repugnant, unless they have lived in it their whole lives. Unless a werewolf is from the Glasswalker Tribe or from the Bone Gnawers Tribe, they often move out of the city into compounds or separate activist compounds. They may live outside in treehouses; the way protesters do. They are quite dangerous hippies, if hippies were three meters tall, had big claws, and had no moral qualms about killing humans. Not all werewolves think the best way forward is war against the humans. There’s the Glasswalkers, that believe technology can show us the way out. They would be highly supportive, or even be Elon Musk and Tesla and so on, having the idea that we can still change, we still have hope. But all of these different causes that the tribes represent give them conflict with each other but also with us and the shit we do.
This game will be set in North America, which is of course a place of great turmoil and great economic devastation. It’s the north part of the continent where you have fracking, you have polar ice caps melting, you have native reservations being infringed upon, you have pipelines, so there’s plenty of room for exciting conflicts that take place in pristine wilderness.
Random Journalist: To what extent do you see this game as a political statement?
Martin Elricsson: It’s a question, that’s the way I see it. It’s playing with the big question: What is the price of saving the world? They are monsters, but at the same time, they are kind of right! I think games have a unique position to ask questions rather than to make very blunt statements. It’s more interesting to explore this question than to make statements about them. Our Garou, our werewolves, they are surely on the side of civilisation, but what is the human cost? It’s also about their relationship to the spiritual world, because they are a shamanistic culture that see everything as alive. They talk to the spirits of extinct species, to ally with them to gain powerful gifts. A badger spirit could give them the ability to lock their jaws forcefully, whereas the oak tree spirit could armour their hide… so they do that verbal negotiation with nature.
Random Journalist: This also comes at a price, right?
Martin Elricsson: Maybe the blood of the loggers that have been cutting down the oak forest for instance, the spirits are not nice. The werewolves are nature, red in tooth and claw. They are not cuddly, furry Captain Planet heroes, they are also monsters. Where is the border between being a fighter for the ecology and being an outright terrorist? It’s not easy. The World of Darkness has never been an easy place. That’s kind of the point! It’s not the World of Slight Dimness. We take serious questions. A lot of the IPs that have dealt with werewolves and vampires have been teen oriented, they have been very safe and quite nice, this is not that. Twenty plus is our audience. Not only because werewolves rip private security forces to pieces and limbs are flying, but because the questions are sophisticated, and we don’t want to give easy answers. It’s not a good and evil proposition.
Random Journalist: Is there much of a role for the Weaver?
Martin Elricsson: The Weaver is the force of order and technology; law versus the creative chaos of nature. Some werewolves are hedging their bets that the Weaver can help them. There are different opinions on it. Some werewolves, like the Glasswalkers, talk to Weaver spirits, they talk to the spirits of machines, they speak to the spirits of the web. So they believe they still have the chance to do it. They are progressives that are working within the technological field.
Random Journalist: Can the player play as any of those tribes?
Martin Elricsson: You have to realise it’s been two weeks since we signed this, so it’s a bit too early to say that, but the core setting is the wilderness that is being encroached upon. Maybe there will be missions that take you to the city and so on, but in essence it’s a game about the wild. The wild in you and the wild you defend, so that gives us possibilities for vibrant landscapes, projecting into the spiritual shadow with The Umbra will give us the ability to have wild and trippy visuals. It can be a rich game in the way that a lot of horror games can be a bit drab, this can go all the way in beauty.
Random Journalist: How do you imagine this game?
Martin Elricsson: I think the veil is thicker today than it was in the nineties. We want to root this in the old shamanist traditions, so if I was to project into The Umbra as a werewolf I would maybe suspend myself in hooks and do the sun dance, or eat mushrooms, or use shamanistic methods to project into The Umbra, but it will be possible. Stepping in and out quickly during combat and so on, that is maybe something that is not super interesting to us now. In the combat, the shapeshifting is the key mechanic. Building up rage to shift into Crinos and then maybe regret the consequences of doing that at the wrong time, it’s like setting off a nuclear bomb.
Random Journalist: To what extent would you like this to be a combat game?
Martin Elricsson: Werewolf is a game about savage horror, and it has visceral combat at the core of it. Sure, there are lots of tribal politics, there’s loads of big political and philosophical questions, and that needs to be there in dialog, but the combat has to be kick-ass and action-RPG focused. I have a hard time seeing this as turn-based, I have a hard time seeing this as third person from above, we want to be in there, very close, and feeling the popping of bones, the shifting and tearing of flesh. It is the most combat centric game of the World of Darkness, and that’s how it should be.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse was only just greenlit a few weeks ago, so don’t expect to see this game any time soon. It is scheduled to be released on PC and consoles.