GZ Interview: Delve Into the Gritty World of Warhammer Online with the Developers at Climax
Delve Into the Gritty World of Warhammer Online with the Developers at Climax
By Michael Lafferty
A Seamless, Huge World will Be Ready for Gamers in the Spring of 2004
The adventure continues, though this time, in a persistent land.
The world of Warhammer has spanned many media forums, from books and comics to games. But what will be unleashed in the Spring of 2004 is another step forward for the title, and perhaps it yields the biggest challenge to date.
Yes, the world of Warhammer is going into the massively multiplayer online world. But don’t expect this to be the reasonably safe and sane realms that other MMORPGs offer. Oh no, this will be a darker place, requiring toughness from the players, and a determination to forge ahead through the huge (400 kilometers in size) gaming world to rise up as a hero or villain.
The world of Warhammer is a dark, gothic place, filled with monsters that touch on the familiar and totally unfamiliar. The game itself takes place with the region of The Empire known as the Reikland. This area stretches from the Grey Mountains in the west to the River Reik. Three great cities of The Empire fall within the boundaries of the game - Marienburg, Altdorf and Nuln. Twelve smaller hamlets are also detailed on the world map.
SEGA, Games Workshop and Climax are the team responsible for bringing Warhammer Online to life.
GameZone.com was able to catch up with some of the developers at Climax to talk about this upcoming entry into the world of MMORPGs.
Question: Unlike static or non-MMO games that are released and either sell or don't, the online gaming genre is a tough battlefield in which the war to keep gamers in the realm is constantly waged. What do you think will draw players to Warhammer Online, and what will you be doing to keep them?
Climax: I think players will be drawn to the IP and to the game itself. The IP has millions of followers already, and many of them already play computer games. It’s not a big leap to imagine that many of the people that play the tabletop game, read the comics, the novels and so on will also want to try their hand at exploring the Warhammer world in person in an MMO. The different tack we’ve taken on the fantasy genre will simply attract other people. Pretty much the stock in trade of the industry is a very twee fantasy world with bright cheery colours and smiling peasants. Warhammer aims at a grittier realism where the downtrodden peasantry is suitably terrified of the monsters that really do go bump in the night (mainly when they drop the bodies they’ve been carrying). I think this darker imagery will appeal to a lot of people.
Once people start playing it is up to us to keep them entertained so they stay. This is largely the remit of the live team whose job it is to keep adding content as the game continues. In development we’ve carefully designed the whole game to be as modular as possible behind the scenes. What this means is that we can smoothly add extra items, careers, skills, and so on without any headaches. The aim in this is to create a world where a player can just keep on exploring and never find the end.
Q: Tell us a little about the world of Warhammer. What challenges will be awaiting game players? Is this a game that is divided into gaming zones in terms of degree of difficulty or will players likely find any number of things in a single area? Is there seamless transition from one area of the gaming world to another?
Climax: The Warhammer world is completely seamless with no (visible) in-game loading at all. The character is in a realistic 3D environment and just wanders about as he chooses. The area of the world we’ve started with is part of the Empire: the Reikland to be precise. This lies at the heart of the Warhammer Old World and includes the capital city of the most powerful of the human realms.
The game world is about 400km square and is bordered on one side by the mighty river Reik, and on the other by the impassable peaks of the Grey Mountains. Within this space is all manner of places to explore from villages to huge cities (and they are vast), from dark forest to warm inns, from marshy lowlands to mountaintops and everywhere in between.
In terms of "zoning" areas by difficulty, we’ve tried to take a more realistic view. Near civilization there is less danger from roving brigands and Orcs. The further away you get from the regularly patrolled streets, the more dangerous it becomes. This should make the game very intuitive: walking down the Nuln high road in broad daylight should be fairly safe, but hanging about in the rough end of town at night won’t.
There are a wide variety of different creatures roaming about in the hills and forests, or under the cities in the sewers. However, these aren’t just a bunch of static spawns and although a player might know that there are Orcs in them thar hills, he won’t know exactly where, or in what number. This makes every session something of a voyage of discovery.
Q: How many playable races are there? How many skills or professions are there? How do players pursue a skill class and can they have more than one main skill? Are there gender traits that have a bearing on skill and class?
Climax: There are five playable races: human, high elf, dwarf, halfling and ogre.
We don’t use classes in the traditional D&D sense. Instead each character joins a career, learning the appropriate skills of that career until he chooses to leave and join a different one. So a character might start out as a watchman and learn some combat skills before moving on to study thievery before he changes again and becomes a wizard. Characters can keep changing careers as they like throughout their lives, but can only be in one at a time. Characters are therefore not just in a career but are the sum of the careers they have ever been.
Gender has very little bearing on the game in mechanical terms, though we have included the options for limiting careers and suchlike so we could, for example, do a female only Sigmarite Sisterhood if we chose to.
Q: Tell us about the crafting system in the game if there is one? Do weapons and armor degrade over time? Does the game have an economic system and is it player driven? Will players be able to purchase articles from NPCs?
Climax: Players will be able to craft certain items if they join the appropriate careers and learn the skills. In fact, as weapons and armour do degrade, being able to keep your kit in repair is both money saving and useful when you’re far from help or resupply.
The game’s economy is driven by a number of factors. Some items are only available from NPC merchants, others only player made. Still other items are seasonal or only obtainable by foraging or use of similar skills. On top of this, GMs have the ability to simulate trade wars and stock market crashes so that we can have economic events as well as invasions and assassinations. Somewhat like real life, we expect that individuals will have an effect on the trading of goods, but there will always be things that are beyond their control. Speculative trade, and trade caravans between locations is entirely viable as a means of making money. Just watch out for brigands.
Q: What about in-game communication? Some of the newer titles are inserting guild-based rooms or allowing players to create their own chat rooms. Others have e-mail systems. What will Warhammer do to ensure open lines of communication that have plagued other titles?
Climax: Players will have a number of chat channels available to them including those for company (guild) and group. They can, of course, simply chat directly to their friends. In game chat is split into "realistic" where the character’s words are heard by others nearby, and "gamey" where you can talk to anyone in game just by addressing your message to them.
In addition to this we have a system for flagging yourself as seeking a group, and for looking through those people nearby that are looking for one. This is all filtered so you can find a veteran healer or a novice fighter, for example.
Q: Does the game have an overriding plot, and if it does will it be amended on a regular basis?
Climax: We decided to avoid the pre-planned overarching story as we felt that this stifled creativity and reduced responsiveness of the live team. What we’ve been doing in every aspect of the game design is creating the most flexible system possible so that when the game goes live the team can respond to what the players want quickly and easily. This includes storylines, so whilst we have a host of GM tools and GM controllable characters we haven’t hobbled our live team by deciding what’ll happen at any given moment years in advance. Instead of following a train timetable they schedule their own events to best effect at the time. This freedom also allows us to potentially tie in events in WHO with campaigns or other events run by GW for the tabletop game.
Q: What will players be able to do in Warhammer Online that they cannot do in other MMOs?
Climax: Enter the Warhammer world!
Q: When will this game go into beta and will there be open testing?
Climax: We have several stages of internal beta before the public one. This final stage opens at the start of next year. Keep your eye on our website (http://www.warhammeronline.com) for the latest info on signing up if you’re interested in taking part.
Q: What elements of Warhammer Online do you think will blow gamers away?
Climax: That's a hard question to answer, as there's so much to choose from. It could be it’s finally seeing the Warhammer world brought to life in all it's dark and gritty glory, but if you then add on top of that the large cities, sprawling Skaven burrows, hidden dungeons, cunning creatures who move about and form their own little groups and you're starting to get an idea of the kind of thing we're trying to achieve.
Not only that but we have seasonal variations which actually trigger visual changes in the environment, such as snow, and which also affect which creatures inhabit a certain area at a certain time of year, which quests are available and even affects some of the spells you can cast. It’s a living world.