Warhammer 40K: Space Marine Interview
GameZone was privileged enough to get an interview with Raphael van Lierop the Producer at Relic.
GZ: Relic's mostly worked on the PC. You did The Outfit on Xbox 360. Can you talk about what it's like coming back to consoles? How has that process been for you?
RVL: Sure. We're really excited to be back on the consoles. The Outfit was a really interesting experiment for Relic and for THQ. I think people forget that we were actually one of the launch titles for the 360. We learned a lot of things with The Outfit. We had a new IP, a new platform, a new engine, and new gameplay. We were trying to do four new things, which is probably never a good idea. We're proud of the game, but we're not satisfied with how it did. I think we took a little bit of a break from consoles after that, but always with a mind to come back with the right project, and the right project was Space Marine. We got a lot of people into the studio, who are new to Relic, specifically to work on Space Marine, and we want to show the world that we're not just good developers of RTS games. We can be good at any genre on any platform.
GZ: Even kart racing?
RVL: Maybe not kart racing.
GZ: Kart Racing 40K?
RVL: I'm sure we could do it. I'm not sure we would want to.
GZ: At the beginning of each stage, it says, "So-and-so hours after planetfall." What is planetfall?
RVL: Planetfall is basically landing on the planet. When we start the campaign, you're just arriving on the planet that's been overtaken by Orks. That's just a little bit of a milepost along the way, so you can have a sense of what's gone along.
GZ: There were two AIs with you. Do they accompany you? Are they kind of like your Dom and Baird?
RVL: [Chuckles] They're the two sidekick story characters that are with you through a lot of the campaign. Not all of the campaign, but it's Sedonis, the veteran, and Leandros, the rookie character, basically.
GZ: I noticed he didn't have the dots.
RVL: Right. Leandros is a more junior Space Marine. He's a Codex literalist. He follows the rules. He's very much about the rulebook, and he doesn't have the ability to see shades of gray that Titus has. Sedonis is more of the wise veteran. He's kind of the mentor to Leandros. The interplay between the three characters (Titus, Leandros, and Sedonis) is really the heart of the story of Space Marine--how those characters are interacting with the events that they're experiencing around them. I didn't spend any time talking about it in my presentation, but we've got Lieutenant Nero, who's the IG commander, and she, again, is kind of the human voice in the story. These are Space Marines; they're not really human. In a way they're like demigods, almost. So we need a character who's an anchor for you and me--just a normal person who can see that different perspective. Really, the story is all about seeing the different perspectives of all these different characters as they're going through this experience. Those guys are a big part of the story.
GZ: You said Titus has served 100 years?
GZ: How long has the veteran served?
RVL: Slightly longer, I believe? He's a little bit older than Titus. I'd have to double-check, but I think it's like ... Titus is 175. They live a long time. I think Sedonis is a couple hundred years old and Leandros is younger. But they've served together.
GZ: I really liked The Outfit. It was a lot of fun if played under the right circumstances. It was kind of like in Grand Theft Auto III, when you decide that you're not going to do the missions, but just go on a rampage.
RVL: Just going to screw around in the world, yeah.
GZ: And you find that perfect flow. One of the things that people didn't like about The Outfit were the negative achievements, where you have to basically fail at the game to earn something. I was wondering, what did Relic learn from that feedback? And what sort of achievements are you planning in general for Space Marine?
RVL: I think we learned a lot about making console games in general from The Outfit. You have to remember that, as a launch title, there weren't really a lot of established practices about how achievements should work. It's much more understood now--the psychology behind how they work. There are lots of examples of games that have done it well, games that all developers can look at and say, "Hey, let's not do that thing because that kind of sucked." I think with The Outfit, many aspects of the game were very experimental. There were things that everyone was learning, not just Relic. The achievements for Space Marine, the trophies or the Steam achievements, are the expected mix. There's a whole bunch that are gameplay-focused: accomplishing certain things in gameplay, whether types of enemies killed, or a number, certain types of attacks or actions that you might do. There are achievements associated with progression in the single-player campaign. And then a whole bunch for the online experience.
GZ: Relic's very RTS-heavy, and The Outfit had some hybrid elements from the RTS genre. But I didn't really see anything like that in Space Marine. You said that you liked The Outfit and were proud of it, but you weren't quite satisfied. When I started the demo, I was kind of expecting an evolution of The Outfit. Are there elements of that in Space Marine, or is it more something else?
RVL: I think the strategy in Space Marine is more tactics, really. It's much more second-to-second decision-making, which is a little bit different from what you see in RTS and a lot of other shooters out there. The original inception of it, back in 2006 when it was Carnage, was to take the ideas of The Outfit and wrap 40K around them and create a game like that. Space Marine isn't that game. Space Marine is something that's evolved differently. And like a lot of projects, we may have started with a certain goal in mind and kind of ended up where we are right now through iteration--a lot of decision-making that goes into it along the way. Sometimes games find their way as you develop them. They take on a life of their own.
When we started the project, we had a lot of other ideas--things that we wanted to integrate, some more progression, some more RPG-lite elements. And as we continued to develop it, there's a winnowing process that allows you to focus the game on what it needs to be. We realized that a lot of those things were distracting our attention and the player's attention from what we wanted them to be doing. As we kept tuning the focus, we realized that the heart of what made Space Marine feel like a really unique game was the combat system. So the strategy, if you can call it that, is how you're using the tools that we give you within each combat encounter. It's a very different way of thinking than how you employ your strategy and your thinking process in an RTS game. We're completely comfortable with those things being separate. We're not trying to take key RTS learning and adapt it to the console action genre. We're trying to make a blockbuster action experience that's true to ... what is the core fantasy of being a Space Marine? That's a very specific character, even though it sounds like a generic name. In the IP, a Space Marine is a very specific thing: this huge, towering superhuman hero. So what is the experience that you get to? Who is that guy? What do you get to do when you're that guy? That's what we focused on creating for people.
GZ: The other thing about Dawn of War is that it's pretty hectic. There are hundreds and hundreds of things going on at any time. It's epic. Obviously Space Marine has a more intimate focus on the main three characters, but what sort of things have you done to bring the scale of this ongoing war to the visuals?
RVL: You see in a lot of the action set-piece moments that we showed you today in the demo, you get a sense of the scale of the world and the action. When you arrive on the planet with your strike cruiser and you literally have like 30 Space Marines with you ... that's an acceptable number of Space Marines to deal with that kind of invasion. Like, a million Orks? We'll send 30 Space Marines. That's their relative power, right? So it was never about a thousand Space Marines landing on the planet and fighting. So we show you a window into the battle as you're going through the campaign. We touch on different events that are happening in the fight around you. But really, the game is about, as you said, the more intimate experience that Titus is having and the characters around him. You have a lot of, as I said, windows into that conflict. When you encounter the Imperial Guard at various points in the campaign, you have those action set-pieces and you see the huge, epic scale of the environments, all that stuff. It really comes through more from that perspective than it does from, as you said, the Dawn of War kind of perspective of looking down from 100 feet away and seeing that kind of vast battle spreading out before you. They're different games. They're meant to be different games.
GZ: You're aiming for a balance between ranged and melee combat, but one thing I noticed, not only when I was playing, but also when the guy who was driving the demo was kind of struggling: the camera was at odds with the melee combat. When you swing, I don't know if it's the lock-on system, but you'll kind of lunge forward, and the camera will come in with you and get locked in tight because there's a lot of tight corridors and stuff like that. You'll lose track of this little goblin or Ork that was right next to you. I think if you can find a way to hone that and make it better, you'll definitely have nailed what you're aiming for.
RVL: If you come to E3--I don't know if you'll be at E3, but come see us at E3 because we'll have a fresh build, a more progressed build. We've put a lot of attention since this demo build into that specific problem. It wasn't where it needed to be with this demo, but it's much better now. It's definitely been a focus for us.