Warhammer 40K: Space Marine Interview – Relic's Creative Manager Talks Orks and Ultramarines

Richard Walker

In a huge museum/church hall in Dublin, Ireland, we sat down to talk with Relic about its latest foray into the Warhammer 40K universe after the developer's runaway success on the PC with the Dawn of War RTS series and its expansions. This time however, the team is moving into uncharted territory, crafting a third-person action title out of the wildly popular IP.

Speaking to Relic's Creative Manager, Daniel McGuffey, we asked about the challenges that have faced the developer by moving outside of its comfort zone and tackling what is essentially a new genre for them. Having to please an army of avid Warhammer followers and trigger-happy shooter fans won't be easy, so what has Relic done to please both camps?

And furthermore, what does the future hold for the Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine series if it takes off? We found out all about that and a whole lot more besides, including potential plans to possibly add more Warhammer 40K races via DLC, the game's set-pieces and the pressure of delivering “visible, violent death” to the masses.

What brought about the decision for Relic – a developer primarily versed in creating RTS titles – to pursue a third-person shooter using the Warhammer 40K licence?

One of our goals was to really bring the experience of being an individual Space Marine to the player and what it feels like to control just one entity in Captain Titus. We decided that the console was the way to go and that delivering a third-person shooter with melee mechanics would work best with the controller and that's really the best way to communicate the visceral pace and bombastic combat to the player.

What were your primary influences on Space Marine, besides Gears of War and its ilk?

Honestly, Gears of War was never really a direct inspiration. Certainly, you're aware of other games and what everybody else is doing, and of course we're very much aware of what Gears is. I also feel like every game that has good melee is eventually compared to God of War, but games have had fantastic melee combat for ages and ages, but that's the one that stands out to people, which is interesting. That's something that resonates very much. We really wanted to convey what it's like to be a Space Marine and to us, the combat is much different, the pace is much different, the momentum is always about pushing forward and there's no cover mechanic and therefore no hiding. We reward the player for charging into the fray and for not hanging back. That's the way we keep the pace going, that's the way we keep things very interesting.

In terms of your melee mechanics then, which other games, like God of War, did you look at as an example of how it should be done?

 hat's a good question. I mean, we play everything, so we're always aware of what's out there. But I think more than just looking at games with melee mechanics, we are aiming to create something that feels good and feels empowering. We wanted something that was first and foremost, responsive. You'll notice that as you attack with melee mechanics, you swing the sword almost as fast as you can push the button and that's something that we feel is very empowering.

Relic has an enviable pedigree when it comes to making Warhammer games. What would you say is the secret to making a really great Warhammer video game?

I think more than anything, we have a great experience working with Games Workshop, delivering game after game with successful Metacritic scores and tremendous fan qualities, showing that Relic not only understands Warhammer 40,000 more, but really respects it. There's a great relationship between Games Workshop and Relic, and there's give and take. As much as Relic wants to respect the lore and do things that are right got Warhammer 40,000, we also have to do things that are right for Space Marine. Sometimes that means creating something new that hasn't previously existed within the IP and that's when there can be a little back and forth. There are some weapons that you'll see that have been created just for Space Marine and it's just to break up the gameplay and give the player some variety and some more options.

How supportive is Games Workshop generally then and how much creative input do they have when it comes to new weapons created for the game and so on?

It's amazing the way their minds work because they have such a robust and granular understanding of their universe. If there's a gun or a vehicle, Games Workshop has thought of the way it looks, how much it weighs, what it sounds like when it fires. They've thought about what colours it would be and why it's coloured that way, so in a lot of ways they've already done most of the work for you and that's one of the things that the fans respect so much, which is why it's something we want to honour. At the same time, they want their games to be fun, in addition to how closely it adheres to the universe. So, when we present something like the Vengeance Launcher, which is a remote-detonating grenade launcher, when we explain why it's fun and why it's good for the player to have something like that, it's something they're on board with. And then they'll work with us and say, “well, it should look like this and it should function similar to this,” and they're very helpful.

Do you ever feel that working within a universe that's already so well-defined like Warhammer 40K can be slightly restrictive at times?

It can be as restrictive as it is empowering, because you know the blueprint ahead of time, you know where you want to get to and what pieces you have to work with. So, whereas other games are very 'blue sky', where they have these incredibly lofty goals to aspire to, you can become over ambitious. Everybody has great ideas and everybody is contributing. It's comforting at times to see the tool set you have to work with and then just find the best way to employ those to make the most enjoyable experience.

But with such a rich universe to work with, do you find that you have to rein your own ambitions in a little bit, lest you lose focus? The temptation to cram in more races beyond the Orks and Chaos, like the Eldar, Tyranids and so on, must have been hard to resist.

Anybody who is a fan of Warhammer 40,000 wants to fit their favourite race in, and I think that's probably one of the most common questions we get. Usually it's more granular, like people asking where are the Tau or where are my Tyranids? And the answer is that Relic is a studio that's very concerned with balance and creating an experience that doesn't just have a variety of content, but has very finely detailed content, and that's our goal. We want to stick with Space Marine for a while and want to explore Captain Titus more and more, so we're going for a very balanced experience this time round. I mean, hopefully, maybe we'll be able to add more with DLC or the next title. Who knows?

So, do you think that this could be the start of a big franchise for Relic?

I think that's always the broader goal. I don't think anybody just wants to create one game and be done with it, so yeah. Here's hoping.

Is a pre-requisite to be a massive Warhammer fan to work on Dawn of War or Space Marine then?

I wouldn't say it's a pre-requisite, but it's helpful. Sometimes it's helpful to not be restricted by your knowledge, to have a broad vision for something you'd like to incorporate more. Good gameplay is good gameplay, so thinking of that outside of those restraints is good, because there's always somebody who can help you find out how to make something work within the context of Warhammer 40,000. Our biggest goal is making sure that fans of Warhammer love this game, while also making sure that someone with no prior knowledge can pick up the controller and still have an amazing time. I think if everybody on the team were obsessed with 40,000, we'd make a game that Joe down the street couldn't embrace, and that wouldn't work for us.

Is there still a degree of pressure to deliver something for that set of fervent Warhammer 40K fans first and foremost?

I don't think it's pressure. It's more a sense of commitment. That's what we aim to do, because we work so closely with Games Workshop and everything follows Warhammer 40K canon, it's almost easy to know we have the right experience. But at the same time, our fan service comes with one guy knowing what this unit is and what a certain embellishment on a building is, while everybody else doesn't necessarily have to know what it is, because it just looks cool. There's Space Marines and Orks, and all of their technology, everything on the Forge World looks very big and epic in the truest sense, and so you don't need to know what everything in the universe is just to enjoy it and take in the sights.

Relic has made Warhammer RTS titles with Dawn of War and now you've done the third-person shooter with Space Marine. Which other game genres do you think would be a good fit for the Warhammer universe?

Oh wow. The sky is the limit when it comes to Warhammer 40,000, because it's so unique, so you could do anything with it really.

Does the entirety of Space Marine take place on the Imperium Forge World, and if so, was this another creative restriction somewhat?

I wouldn't say it's a restriction. It's helped us create very well-designed levels, where we've got some great scripted moments that we want the player to see; giant set-pieces where we want to guide the player along a path where they're going to be able to see these things and fixate on the things we've created just for them. Even though it's all set on the Forge World, there are still some radically different environments, so you'll go inside these massive Titan factories, giant sewer systems and so on. We're exploring things that you'll have never seen before in Warhammer 40K like the hab blocks where the humans once lived and that's something that no one has ever had to think about. That would never be addressed in the tabletop game, because it's somewhere that you'd never need to go to in that. So, for the first time, you're able to see these things and we've found a way to be creative and create constantly changing and evolving landscapes.

Can you give us one or two examples of the kind of set-pieces we can expect to see in Space Marine?

Without giving too much away, we wanted to keep the pace pretty fresh, so there's so much rich potential to draw upon. There's a lot of vehicles, weapon emplacements and different mission objectives to keep things moving along, so you're going to see something different every 15-30 minutes. Something new will always come up.

Will any of these set-pieces be on-rails sections?

Yeah, sort of. There are some on-rails sections in there. There are free-falling sections and again, without giving too much away, I'm sure people will have noticed that Titus has a jump pack by now, so that's going to come into play. And there's also a lot of freedom and exploration that people are looking for.

Can you tell us anything about the game's multiplayer and co-op?

We're not really discussing those details right now. That's our next big venture and we're going to start talking about it real soon, but we do have both competitive multiplayer and co-op.

You mentioned DLC earlier and the possibility of perhaps adding further races. Would there be anything else that you'd want to add too?

There's tons of stuff that we'll want to add, so we'll want to find out what's best for our audience and what's best for the game itself right now. I can't really talk too much about that.

Would you personally prefer multiplayer or single-player DLC?

Just talking about my own personal preferences and sensibilities, I would definitely opt for multiplayer content.

Where would you like to see the Space Marine franchise heading in the future?

Well, I can say that the team is definitely talking about what they want to do, so while I can't divulge anything, we probably have a path towards exactly what we want to do. Sorry, I can't really say more than that, but we've certainly thought about it.

Would you keep Captain Titus as your protagonist for a Space Marine sequel?

Yeah. We're staying with Titus. We think people are really going to dig him. He's very interesting and I think he's a conflicted hero and we're committed to progressing the story of Titus throughout.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is slated for release in August 2011.

  • Can't wait for this!
  • omg i cannot wait this is going to be epic hopefully theres going to be a special edition im going to get all dlc for this game
  • I am so excited about this I don't think I will be able to sleep until I get to play it. I need this game like I need oxygen to breath!!!!
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