Warhammer: Mark of Chaos Interview (PC)

Strategy Informer: Firstly, could you introduce yourself to our readers?

Chris Wren: My name is Chris Wren, Senior Producer for Namco Bandai Games America and head of the Warhammer: Mark of Chaos project.

Strategy Informer: Are there any features of Mark of Chaos we don't currently know about that you'd like to share with the world?

Chris Wren: One thing we're excited about telling people is that we will be releasing a very powerful editor to the public on the day the game launches. This editor will allow some of the more ambitious fans of the game to construct their own maps and scenarios for both single and multiplayer gaming. While we are shipping the game with an enormous amount of content already, 2 full campaigns and over 20 multiplayer maps, we feel that the community will really enjoy this tool to keep the Warhammer machine going while we are working on our next product.

Strategy Informer: How much influence has the Tabletop version of Warhammer given to this title?

Chris Wren: Quite a lot, but our goal was never to perfectly emulate the tabletop experience, it was to make a new type of RTS set in the Warhammer world. We have a very close relationship with Games Workshop and have been designing the game together from the outset. All of the units and their abilities have been crafted from the existing license in brilliant detail. One of the biggest benefits we earn by using the Warhammer license is the incredible balancing that exists between such diverse armies. This lets players of Mark of Chaos build armies of any size and makeup and using the points system that we borrowed from the franchise, we guarantee that the multiplayer gaming will be balanced no matter how you build your forces.

Strategy Informer: What can you tell us about the graphical and physics features?

Chris Wren: We got ambitious with the look of Mark of Chaos from the beginning, we wanted to show off this really cool universe in all of its glory, so having extremely detailed units, buildings and environments was a must. You can zoom right up to the faces of your units and buildings and they still look great, a rare claim for any RTS out there. As far as the physics, Black Hole has put together a physics package custom tailored for Mark of Chaos, it lets us blast units in all directions when a cannonball hits, and it allows for specialized physics when using cavalry to perform a charge so that they are actually basing their impact and the damage done on how fast they are moving when they hit their enemies. On a more subtle note, we have units moving faster or slower depending on whether they are moving uphill or downhill, or whether they are a light or heavy unit, they may move quickly or slowly through rugged terrain.

Strategy Informer: What kind of support do you plan to give once the game is released?

Chris Wren: We believe that the online community for Warhammer is going to be a critical player in how the game evolves as we start thinking about expansion packs and sequels etc.. The ability to customize your army and banner is a strong online feature that we think will keep people playing online and boasting about their accomplishments for some time past launch. We have a detailed stat tracking system that will keep records of all of your online accomplishments, allowing other users to view your profile and see how you like to play and what your favorite maps are etc. We plan on hosting many tournaments following launch to allow people to compete for prizes and just bragging rights online. The map and scenario editing tool I mentioned previously will allow players to keep making new maps and scenarios beyond launch and this too will keep the spirit alive, if even only a small percentage of the players actually generate new material, they way we have it set up, everyone that has Mark of Chaos can download and take advantage of this material. On the horizon, we are already planning what we'd like to do next, but some of this depends on what we discover once we release the game, we want to see what people like the most and what they still want the most and we will base some of our future decisions on what our fans want.

Strategy Informer: Are you planning to release a demo for Mark of Chaos?

Chris Wren: We currently have multiplayer demo planned for release prior to launch, and we have talked about releasing a single player demo at or around the time of launch.

Strategy Informer: Can you tell us about the single player aspect of the game?

Chris Wren: Single player starts with you choosing to play as either Empire or Chaos. You will start the game as an aspiring Champion and you will need to first raise an army before heading into bigger conflicts. THe early missions of the game usually involve you and a small force amidst much larger conflicts going on around you and you play a support role until you can raise an army large enough to lead your entire forces into the heart of enemy territory. Missions vary quite a bit from huge scale conflicts involving castles and thousands of units, all the way down to mission which involve just your Champion testing his mettle against the forces of nature or other Champions. The campaign for the game starts out with only a few choices to get you started, but as each chapter of the campaign opens up you will be presented with lots of alternative missions and quests to build up resources or advance your Champions. There are key events in the story you are always working your way towards, but the path you take to get there largely depends on the choices you make.

Strategy Informer: Will there be multiplayer support? If so, could you tell us about it?

Chris Wren: Multiplayer is a feature we could not do without, we have put a lot of focus on this aspect of the game. The single player campaigns are detailed and a worthy experience all by themselves, we expect the average player to spend about 30-40 hours on each campaign with a rich storyline and some cool events to take part in. Part of the single player experience is training you to be a better commander with whatever army you have chosen. So by the end of a campaign you should have a really good understanding of your army and the enemies you face, a perfect launching point to head into multiplayer and see how you do against human opponents. For multiplayer, we are providing an open format to skirmishing which will allow for matches of up to 6 players on a variety of maps with lots of options as to how you want the game to be run. We allow the host to specify a number of conditions to decide how the multiplayer game will play. The ability to restrict the types of units allowed in a match, so maybe no magic users or artillery are allowed.

A host can also decide if they would like to stick to strict Warhammer rules for army building or not, maybe an army of Giants and orcs sounds like fun... Deciding to allow for reinforcements during a battle or deciding win conditions for a siege are also options. SO there are many way just within skirmish mode to have a huge variety of game types out there in multiplayer. Combining some of these skirmishes into tournaments and ladder systems is easy, we are tracking all of your statistics online and to host a tournament or to create a ranking system for players online is something we're planning on. For clans we've implemented a system to allow people to create and manage clans within online play, to track statistics as a group and to allow for custom spaces online to represent your clan and to show off your clan's accomplishments are all part of the plan at launch.

Strategy Informer: Can you give us an assessment of the health and long-term viability?

Chris Wren: I assume by health you mean the health of the relationships and the teams involved. I can say that the Black Hole team has had a really good time working on this title and it shows in the quality of the product. NBGA is very happy with the current partnership and we would definitely like to continue making games with Black Hole in the future. As for Games Workshop, we have established a great relationship with the license holder for Warhammer over the course of this project and we definitely plan on doing more with Warhammer down the road.

Strategy Informer: Could you tell us about the sides that we'll see in the game?

Chris Wren: There are four main armies in the game, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. It really just depends on your preference and play style as to which army suits you best. The Chaos have the strongest individual units, but they can be slow and do not have much in the way of ranged attacking. The High Elves on the other hand move very quickly and have incredible firepower from range. The Skaven are great if you like having lots of units and enjoy playing with things like disease clouds and warpstone technology. Finally, the Empire are probably the most diverse army as far a play styles, they are good at a lot of things which makes them great overall because you can really customize this army to be great at ranged attack or combine that with some cavalry and magic. All of the races have some form of magic in their ranks, so you won't be left out by picking one race over another, some, like the High Elves are a bit more powerful in this respect, but magic is powerful with all of the races and something that really makes the Battlefield interesting to watch. Many of the races have large units at their disposal, like the Skaven Rat Ogres, the Dragon mounts of the High Elves, the Gryphon mounts of the Empire, and the mighty Chaos Spawn. Each of the races also has a selection of artillery to use, with the Skaven this is their Warpstone Cannon, the Chaos have their Hellfire Cannon, the Empire have their standard cannons and hellfire volley guns, and the High Elves have their repeater bolt thrower. Among the mercenary units of the game you will find a lot of variety in terms of big units and magic users as well, so there are a myriad of playstyles for every race in the game, and it always comes down to how you like to play that defines your army and your strategy.

Strategy Informer: Could you tell us about some of the units we'll get to play with?

Chris Wren: We've done our best to pick some of the more interesting units from the Warhammer Universe for each army, but they all are great in their own way so I'll just detail a few of my favorites so far. I really like the warpfire throwers for the Skaven, they can lay down a nasty warpfire cloud over an area near the enemy and cause a lot of damage. The Hellcannons of Chaos are great in that they can shoot body parts to demoralize the enemy. I really like the Giant units because they can pick up and throw regular units across the battlefield. The Magic users are all great, for example the Bright Wizard of the Empire can call down meteors from the sky and the Undivided sorcerer of Chaos can teleport around the battlefield. The Rat Ogres of the Skaven have a special relationship with their packmasters, in that they behave well if their masters stay alive, but once their masters die, they go on a rampage and can easily take out their own units. Likewise the Bloodletters of Chaos are a vicious bunch but if they get a little too battle frenzied, they too can become unruly and begin to do their own bidding. This is just a small sample of the units in the game, but imagine all the cool battles that can erupt with such a rambunctious crew out there, it is like nothing else.

Strategy Informer: As a gamer, what's your favorite part of Mark of Chaos, what makes you proud to have helped create it and why is it a game fans will want?

Chris Wren: I've been playing games my whole life, back to the arcades and the early home computer and gaming systems. RTS games have always been a passion of mine dating all the way back to Dune 2, which was actually the game that got me off the consoles and back into PC gaming. So for me to make an RTS with a license like Warhammer, a game I played as a kid, was an honor in itself. What I'm most proud of in this game is that we decided to not stick with convention when designing the game, we didn't set out to make the next best whatever game, we really spent some time thinking about how to make a great Warhammer game and how to take advantage of the best parts of the license and still make it a great real time experience and what we ended up with is a unique game, it really focuses on the battle itself and we've added many layers to make sure there is plenty of fun to have just telling your troops to charge. We could have put some more focus on base building and resource management, but we decided that we would need to cut short our plans for the battling aspects of the game we so badly wanted, so in the end we decided to put all of our effort into making the battling experience as rich as we could and while there is some building and resource management, you will spend most of your time swinging swords, giving orders, and casting down fire from the sky.

Strategy Informer: What's the currently release date and is it possible we may see some changes in the future?

Chris Wren: We are looking at the end of October for release, as far as changes, you can expect that we'll be listening to the community very closely to see if what we are working on next is on track or if we need to think about some adjustments to make sure the next thing we do is even bigger than Mark of Chaos.

Strategy Informer: What has been the hardest part of development so far?

Chris Wren: Early on, communication was a bit of a problem, with a publisher in the US, and a licensor in the UK, and a development team in Hungary, we spent a lot of time on the phone and flying around to see each other. Over the last two years we've ironed out the details and now it is just part of our average workday to talk with people on the other side of the globe.

Strategy Informer: Well we've come to our last question, is there anything you'd like to say to the fans of Mark Of Chaos which are eagerly awaiting the release of this great looking RTS title?

Chris Wren: Mark of Chaos has two goals really, one is to open up the Warhammer Universe to RTS gamers who maybe have never heard of Warhammer or never played the tabletop game, and the other is to pay homage to a great tabletop game and Universe by representing it on a new medium with great looking graphics and play mechanics anyone can enjoy.