While The Settlers—as a series of strategy games that originated in the ’90s—never reached the critical acclamation of Warcraft or Heroes of Might and Magic, it remains dear to many gamers. At this year’s Gamescom, the story about starting your own medieval colony and fighting other settlers returned, as Ubisoft announced not one but two games: The History Collection, which includes the first seven Settlers games, and a brand new game that reboots the franchise. Gamnesia recently had a chance to talk to Volker Wertich, the man behind the series and Creative Director for the upcoming reboot, about the past and future of Settlers.
I started playing Settlers 1 when I was a little kid, and I think a lot of people are very nostalgic about the first two or three games. And since they’re fairly old games, you can’t play them unless you have old hardware lying around. Have you seen a demand from fans wanting to play these old games again?
Absolutely. For the Settlers, there are fans of each. Some are fans of the older ones, some are fans of the newer ones, and some are fans of all of them. And you know, the series is very old now. I created the first one when I was only 21 years old, 25 years ago. And of course, those games don’t run on modern PCs, so we wanted to bring those games back on Windows 10.
Have you done any modifications to the older games?
Yes. The modifications will vary from game to game, but one thing we’ve implemented is multiplayer, both local and online. In Settlers 1, for instance, you can play local split screen by connecting two mice to your PC, so it’s really nostalgic. Now, I have to say that I’m not as involved with the History Collection as with the new Settlers, so I’m not sure of all the features. But I know that in Settlers 2 and 3 there is also 4K and multi-monitor support, which should help on larger maps.
Do you know if the changes made are done to improve the original games? Or is your goal more so to preserve the original as much as possible, while—as you mentioned—giving players some new tools such as online multiplayer and dual-monitor support?
The first priority is to make them work on modern PCs, but for the very first game we’ve improved the controls a bit to work a bit more like a modern RTS. We didn’t want to change too much, because this is really a celebration of the series and it’s also an opportunity to show people where the series began and where it’s going with the new game.
How does it feel for you personally to look back on the History Collection going as far back as Settlers 1 and then to the newest titles? Do you feel like you’ve constantly improved the series since then, or have there been mistakes along the way? And of course, how does that factor into the making of the next Settlers game?
Before we started developing the new Settlers game, we took a step back and looked at what’s been done in the past with Settlers. As I’m the original inventor of the series, I can say that there’s a DNA to the series that describes what the game is about and what elements a Settlers game should have. For instance, The Settlers has a strong sense of “What you see is what you get.” Ideally, every process of the game—every transportation process or production process—should be visualized. You should be able to see as many game variables as possible. It should not be like in Civilization [where you might have one farm providing one food but you never see the one unit of food visualized other than in the food counter]. You give commands to your minions, which will go execute those commands. This makes it nice to just watch the game, not just interesting. We call that the Aquarium effect.
Other examples of the DNA is that you also have a lot of freedom in the game and also having a relaxing click rate. Settlers is not about handling your mouse with perfect speed and click rate. And I think that for some of the past games, all that has been well executed, and with others we might have gotten a bit lost in the direction that they went. With the new one, we tried to focus on what makes Settlers unique. We think this is the best way to attract fans of the series as well as new players.
So, that was a long answer. *laughs*
It was a good answer, so it’s okay. Do you think that you will be able to appease both fans of the new Settlers game and the old Settlers games? Because they are quite different.
Absolutely. I think there must be some people who think it must be impossible to make everyone happy. But what I can say is that with an earlier build of the game—six months older than the build we are presenting here—we did a play test, and we invited people who have never played Settlers before. We invited fans of the older games and fans of the newer ones and we asked them if they felt like it was an experience of two kinds of Settlers. They then agreed or disagreed, and out of a score of 5, the average was 4.8. So I think we really have managed to find a balance.
What is the single biggest new feature in the game that you think people will enjoy?
Well, of course we have a systems that have appeared in previous games that we have renewed or redesigned. But there are also new features, and one of the biggest ones is different winning methods. There are ways besides combat to win the game, and it’s not just going to be collecting a score, something more deeply implemented into the game.
So the game is releasing in the fall of 2019. What are you going to do between today and 2019?
I can hardly foresee the future completely. We are currently at pre-alpha stage, so we have a lot of work ahead of us, and we also want time to polish the game.
There is a bit of a trend in the gaming industry to release a game quickly and then patch it post-release. Is that something you want to avoid?
That’s of course what we plan to do. This is a reboot of the franchise. So it’s crucial that we do a good job.
So is “The Settlers” the final title?
Okay, thank you so much for your time, and we’ll be looking forward to seeing more of The Settlers in the future.
During E3, our team stumbled across HIDEit Mounts, a company that essentially takes your consoles off of your tables and shelves and put them on the wall. Basically, they’re selling wall mounts for consoles and controllers, which when put into writing sounds like a pretty common-sensed idea but it wasn’t something we had ever encountered. The sales pitch was—as expected from a marketer attending E3—really solid: put your gaming hardware on the wall. It’ll make less clutter with the wires, decrease the chance of misplacing controllers, and it’ll look sexy in the process.
We decided to review the Nintendo Switch and controller mounts. In this review, we will be looking at several different facets of the product. Also, this review was courtesy of a free review copy provided to Gamnesia.
The mounts are surprisingly robust, even the controller ones that look a bit fragile. Made out of metal, you won’t risk breaking one unless you are actually trying to. Being a somewhat nimble man of 60kg, I can lean on the controller mounts without bending them, which is impressive, given that they’re designed to hold controllers, not people.
I never had any worries whatsoever about the console mount either. It’s really robust and fits well with the Switch dock. The console and dock are entered from the left side of the mount. The right side of the mount has an extruding piece preventing the switch from falling out (or being inserted that way). This means that as long as you don’t tilt the mount counter-clockwise, your Switch is secure and will not fall out. For this reason, I tried to make the mount tilt ever so slightly clockwise.
One minor downside is that the surface that the controller rests on is—like the rest of the piece—just smooth metal. After moving my Switch pro controller on and off a few times, I can’t see any scratches on the surface of the controller, but it would be nicer to have a more cushioned surface for that part of the mount. While it’s not really necessary, the addition of a stick-on rubber or cotton pad would do the job for only a fractional price increase. Additionally, while the controller mounts are universal in the sense that they are not specific to any console, they do require a rounded bottom to fit in the mounts, which is standard for all the controllers of this console generation. If you want to mount other controllers, you may have mixed results. Other switch compatible controllers such as the individual Joy-Cons or the 8bitdo controllers can be placed on the mounts, but they’re not really designed for them, so keep that in mind.
Now this is a difficult one. A moderate set of mounts that include the Switch console plus two controller mounts will set you back $50 for what is practically just three pieces of metal. In reality though, you’re not just paying for three pieces of metal; you’re really paying for the end result which you can see on the image to the right.
In addition to payment, you also have to invest some time in planning and set-up. If you have a small shelf and a wall-mounted TV already, then this will fit perfectly with your TV setup, similar to the promotional pictures from HIDEit Mounts. Piece of cake. In my case however, it wasn’t that easy. I have zero wall space close to my TV, and so I had to dedicate some space elsewhere. This meant I also had to get creative with wire management to make the wires run nicely along the wall. The setup of the mounts themselves took me about an hour, since I mounted it on a concrete wall and required some heavier tools for that. Measuring, drilling holes, screwing things in, measuring again… it’s all a process you have to take into account when considering getting wall mounts. You could say that in my case, I didn’t have the optimal living room setup for this product, but that’s also part of why I wanted to review it. You may have noticed this in life, but things don’t always work out as flawlessly as you think they will when you hear the sales pitch. So with that in mind, am I still happy with it?
The quality is definitely the best part of these wall mounts, especially when compared to some of the plastic hardware peripherals that are common in stores. And despite my living room not being optimized for this product, I’m still happy with the end result, although I’m usually way too lazy to put the controllers back on the wall mounts.
Whether you want to pay for a product like this, that’s entirely up to you. If you are interested in making your gaming environment a bit more sleek and you have a good spot for the mounts, I can definitely recommend these. While there are a few small improvements that could be made to the overall quality feel, there’s nothing negative about the mounts themselves that I can think of (though do consider positioning and wire management). They’re probably the best, most robust hardware peripherals I’ve used, and for their purpose, they’re worth the money in my opinion. And perhaps it might just be us that have been living under a rock not knowing about these wall mounts, but they could make a great surprise birthday or Christmas gift for a fellow gamer.
At E3, Gamnesia had the opportunity to sit down and discuss Total War: Warhammer 2 (or as fans rightly call it, “Total Warhammer 2”) with Game Director Ian Roxburgh. Following the success of the first Total War: Warhammer game, which merged the Total War gameplay with Games Workshop’s popular (and also dead) Warhammer Fantasy universe, what will Creative Assembly do to make the sequel even better, and what role does things like fan feedback and DLC play in that process?
Note: This interview contains many references to the first game, as well as the Warhammer Fantasy miniature game.
Two years ago I had an interview with Al Bickham at Gamescom, and back then there was talk of a trilogy: You’ve already done the Old World with four starting races and a bunch more that got added, and now there’s the second game taking place in the New World with four more races, only three that have been revealed so far...
I think it’ll remain that way, I can assure you.
So is there still gonna be a third game?
Then, if we do the maths, you’re running out of races for the third game. If we count the DLC races and assuming there’s going to be four in Warhammer 2—you only have three races left: You have Ogres, Tomb Kings and Daemons. Am I forgetting any?
From the official army books… yeah, I can’t think of any others, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all going to be official races.
So are we gonna be seeing perhaps minor factions or…
*laughs* He’s a genius this man, isn’t he? Sucked me right into this one, hasn’t he? Carry on.
Or are we going to see factions that have never received an army book such as Araby or Nippon…factions that we know exist because they’re in the fluff but have never been playable on tabletop? Or could we be looking at minor factions like Kislev? If you’re not gonna do major army book things, what’s it gonna be? Now that I ask the question, I realize that you’re probably not gonna give me an answer.
Haha yeah, we’re not here to talk about the third game yet, but you’re right. There are main army book race, and we will definitely cover all of them throughout the trilogy. And there are other races that aren’t necessarily full army books in 8th edition of Warhammer that we will use in the full playable sense. As to what they will be, obviously that’s not something we’re going to talk about yet. But right from the beginning we designed the series to be a trilogy. So we always had this blueprint of how we’d distribute the content and while we could be a bit flexible as we go along, ultimately we had this plan of how it’d work and what would fit sensibly into each game.
That is very exciting. Now, a question about the blueprint: I first imagined that it would be three games with roughly five races in each. But you released a bunch of DLC races for the first game (Bretonnia, Wood Elves, Beastmen, Warriors of Chaos). Was that always the plan to release that much content?
Yes. As I said, the blueprint was laid out before we really did any detailed design on Warhammer 1. We haven’t narrowed down exactly how we’re going to do Warhammer 3, but there’s been a plan that’s always existed that we haven’t deviated from yet. Now, at the moment we’re focusing on Warhammer 2 and we haven’t felt the need to re-examine that blueprint because everything that we’ve done so far, the fans have really responded well to. For example, we knew that we wanted to do Bretonnia as a Free-LC. That was something that was always in the plans.
I’m not saying we won’t deviate from that blueprint in the future for whatever reason, but so far it’s been working out according to plan and it’s been great, and we really had to plan out the the entire scope of the project very thoroughly, way ahead of time. So… so far it’s been going according to plan and I’m not going to tell you what’s coming out next, haha.
*laughs* Fair enough. I want to ask you about the community and the feedback that you’ve been getting. What sort of feedback have you gotten from the first game that you’ve taken into account for the second game and what areas have you improved on from the first game due to community feedback?
To be honest, we respond to all of the feedback we get. Whether it’s vocally out to the community or not, we are always aware of what’s going on and we have a community team that feed into the dev team, and the dev team put themselves out there as well; so we’re always acknowledging what the fans are saying because the fans are essential to us, for obvious reasons. We never want to feel separated from our fan base because we’re making games for our fans to play. One high-profile example is the Warriors of Chaos DLC that we announced. It was received really badly and we didn’t expect that, and because of how that was received we realized that this was a mistake and that’s not something that we’re going to do again.
We also look at features. For example, some positive feedback we received not just from fans, but from the press as well, was something that was kind of a risk in Warhammer 1, which is the difference between the races. For instance, Vampire Counts don’t have any missile weapons. In a Total War history game we would have delved deeper into history books to find some examples of this faction using bowmen or whatever, because in the game they needed some archers for balancing purposes. But that’s not what the Warhammer IP is. We want to embrace that, but then we knew that we had to put a lot more time and effort into those systems because that will be harder to balance. It paid off, though, because universally that was one of the most popular parts of Warhammer 1, and that will be felt even more so in Warhammer 2, where we really go to town with the differences between these races, way beyond the unit rosters and how they play on the battlefield. Campaign mechanics that determine how you play the campaign will be different for each race so that separation of races is something that Warhammer 2 has in spadeloads.
We also have some longer-term feedback that’s not necessarily something specific to Warhammer 1, but something that’s more of a general issue for a turn-based Empire building game and it’s this situation where you’re halfway through a campaign, you own most of the map… and you think: I’m not even going to bother finishing. I’m going to start a new campaign where it’s more fun and challenging. And we just wanted to hit that on the head and do something about this. So in Warhammer 2 we brought in the Vortex that you have seen in the trailers and heard of in other interviews, and the idea here is that even if you own half of the map and you have massive armies, you’re still going to feel challenged; you’re still going to feel an itch that says, “hey, I could still lose this if I’m not careful.” And visually, you see all the other races of the game pushing towards controlling the Vortex and while you can ignore it and just win the normal way…
It’s going to be a factor.
It is going to be a factor.
I don’t want to give too much away about how the Vortex works exactly, but the gist of it is that you have five stages to it, five rituals that you have to cast. You don’t have to do them all at once. How you engage with the Vortex is up to you. We did some early focus tests with fans, and they would get to the point where they play the campaign and then they said, “actually, as much as we love the Warhammer 1 campaign, we kind of don’t want to go back to that now” because the existence of the vortex gives that extra feeling in your head while you’re playing that I mentioned before. It’s better for the longer-term goal as well as it’s feeding into a more comprehensive narrative for each race. So we’ve done all these things with Warhammer 2 because it was so well received from our focus tests and from Warhammer 1. I’m trying to think of a feature that wasn’t received very well but…
For me, personally, the biggest flaw of the first game was something pretty small but very important: end campaign cutscenes. In the beginning when you start up the campaign you got a cool cutscene with the old man who’s going to see Carl Franz or maybe he’s going to the Orcs, feeling a bit uncomfortable, etc. Those cutscenes were pretty cool. Then you have the mid-game cutscene with the big invasion of chaos with Archaon standing there, menacingly — that was really cool. But then when I beat the campaign after all the hard work I get a little… information box; it doesn’t even say “congratulations”…Of the previous games, the one I remember most fondly was Medieval 2 where at the end I’m sitting there on my throne and I’m the king of the world, and there’s a parade in my honor and you really get the feeling of accomplishment. That was missing for me, and I feel that’s also part of the issue you mentioned before where you get into this mode of owning half of the game and you’re steamrolling everyone, and at that point you’re thinking, “Okay, I could beat the Dwarfs for the long campaign victory, but am I going to see some cool cutscene of Manfred drinking someone’s blood, ruling the Empire and relishing in his ego? Well, no. So what’s the point?”
So that’s another reason you wouldn’t bother finishing a campaign?
Exactly! Like you said, then I might as well go back and start a new campaign. For me, that was a big one. I would like to know what the Warhammer world would like if the Orcs smashed the Empire to bits or the Wood Elves conquered all of the Old World. It’d be very interesting to see, especially if you’re interested in the fluff.
Yes, I know. When you are looking across a project like this and the massive undertaking of it all, you always have to marry up how much effort you can put into the gameplay and balancing the mechanics and all of that, and at some point you can’t do everything; and for Warhammer 1, one of the things that was cut was the end movies and yes, we would have loved to do them. We would have loved to do millions of things. But we do have those in Warhammer 2.
That is excellent news. And I hear you about the undertaking of the project. I think that everyone can see the effort that you have put into the first game. For instance, as the Orcs I hated fighting against the dwarfs. Because they never flee! So they have like two guys remaining in their units and I’m surrounding them with 100 black orcs and they’re just like “nah, we’ve got this, guys.”
But it fits, and out of that almost frustration, if you like it makes you think differently about how to deal with it.
Yes, it’s frustrating, but it’s positive frustration; it doesn’t feel unfair.
And it makes you think about an alternative way to deal with them and that’s something that’s going to be even moreso present in Warhammer 2. So you might have an army that you’ve made and that you’re happy with. One that works well against one type of army but then suddenly you have to fight a High Elf Army—for instance—and it’s not working the same way. You don’t usually get that in Total War, where you usually have your army that can beat everyone up. With Warhammer—in particular Warhammer 2—the races are so different, and that normal tactic you used before doesn’t work anymore, and you might have to rethink your tactics and you might even have to create another style of army to deal with a particular race. As long as you can see that it has a role and that you can see a possible solution, that’s a very positive thing.
I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the first game, and the second one has the Lizardmen in particular that, from the demo, seem to play very differently from others races. I mean, elves… they’re almost human...
In terms that they have similar army composure. They have their infantry blocks, war machines, cavalry etc. But the Lizardmen are quite different because some of their infantry are almost on par with cavalry: they can run pretty fast, they can hit pretty hard… and they’re terrifying also.
Oh yes. I’ve seen some of the animations you’ve put out and it looks like you’ve had a lot of fun putting those together.
It’s been very fun, but it’s also been challenging for the whole team. The art department and animators in particular. Sometimes they come in and say, “I’ve worked on Total War for 11 years and I’ve been drawing a variety of humans with swords or spears, and suddenly they’re doing a dragon and other creatures with crazy animations”. There’s a spring in the step of everyone in the office where they have all loved making history games, but suddenly they’re doing something different that challenges them and inspires them and it’s been an absolute pleasure to us. Games Workshop has been absolutely brilliant as well. They are very passionate about their IP so they’re similar in a way to us as a company (and they’re based in England as well). We have a lot of respect for what they do so we’ve all been on the same page from the beginning. We want to do their cool IP in our game and we want to do the IP justice. And they said that they want their IP to be a Total War game, so there’s been no friction or anything like that. Everyone’s been on the same page in order to make [it so] Warhammer world come to life in a Total War game. It’s been real good fun as well as hard work.
Have you seen that pay off both in terms of fan feedback and in terms of sales?
Yes, fan feedback has been very positive. Even the hardcore history fans that we kind of thought some of them might hate this game have come onboard a lot more than we thought they would, because they appreciate the mechanics and it still plays like a Total War game. You just have more tools to play with. And financially, it’s been the most successful Total War game ever made, so obviously a commercial success and the DLC has been successful as well. There’s always gonna be a bit of backlash from people who dislike DLC… and you, as someone who writes for the fans, understand that, and we at Creative Assembly understand that as well. But the sentiment from the fanbase was: “Please make more DLC beacause we want it.” That is what enables us to do as much we are doing for the next game and the whole trilogy. We released Bretonnia for free, and that was at massive cost, but we can give back. Likewise, the combined campaign map that we are releasing after Warhammer 2 is completely free, and imagine the amount of work that goes into combining two games and all the content. But we can give back to fans and we want to.
So let’s clarify the general sentiment that you probably heard before when it comes to preorders and DLC (and you mentioned the Chaos DLC that wasn’t received). I think that over the past five years or so, a lot of gamers have preordered the games that they look forward to just to get really disappointed on release day. And I know that Creative Assembly has had some trouble with releases in the past. There’s a bunch of glitches, there’s people dying on the stairs and when this becomes commonplace in the industry, people feel like they don’t have the confidence to preorder games anymore because they know that half of them are going to be the broken or subpar or they’re going to be patched on day one.
Then, couple that with day one DLC. Then you get the feeling that’s it a gamble, almost. “Should I put in money for a pre-order and save money for the DLC? But what if the game is unplayable on release?” And it comes across as a cheap way of selling. People who are generally interested in games are prepared to pay for good content. It’s just that they have to feel that sense of security and trust. They need to know what they’re getting, that’s really important.
And a big part of the whole project was, from the beginning, to make a fundamental project pillar to actually guarantee that we release solid and stable games that we don’t have to patch. You might have followed that whole Rome 2 thing. That hurt. It hurts us as developers but also as a company. Because we want to release high-quality content on day one because that’s what we live for, that’s what we’re passionate about, and obviously for Warhammer 1 it was not only the case of just realizing the Warhammer IP. It was also to reestablish with our fans that we are committed to releasing quality on day one, and it was very relieving that it was accepted as such that it was a solid game on release. Having said that, even beyond with our DLC, we’re still evolving our game and putting new content in, so it’s not a fire and forget kind of thing. The trilogy means we can keep that up.
I think a lot of people are forgiving and they like to be addressed. You mention Rome 2 for example. Just coming out and acknowledging that you hear the concerns and you’re going to work on it—that builds confidence.
It’s important to note that there might be times where we see a thread that’s raising a complaint about something and people wonder, “Do they even care?” We do. We have a community of eight people that report back every week. We may not all post but we are always aware of what’s going on. That doesn’t mean we do what the people in that forum think is the best solution, but we do listen. We always ask people internally what they think. We ask the forums what they think and we also look at metrics. It all feeds into the decision-making process, and it’s important that we don’t lose track of the fact that we make games for other people to enjoy, not just ourselves. Luckily, a lot of us are fans, so we’re kind of one of you guys as well and we’re playing the game at home, and when we see something, we’re thinking ,”this is something I have to change.”
I wanted to jump back to something you said earlier about the Vortex. You have the Vortex that adds some more story in the campaign, but then you also have the combined campaign map. Is the Vortex going to play a role in the combined campaign?
No, the campaign will be an absolute sandbox. It will have all the other new features other than the Vortex. So you will get the armies, their individual mechanics, the characters, the treasure hunting, etc. And we will have a brush up on all the existing races from Warhammer 1 as well, but the Vortex is very much about the Warhammer 2 campaign. It should also be said that the combined campaign is not exactly A+B, it’s a morphing of the two. It is bigger and it combines two land masses, but technically it’s a separate map. So it doesn’t have every little region, but overall it has way more regions than any other map. And like I said, apart from the Vortex, all the content is present in that combined campaign.
For new players, strategy games can be a bit difficult to jump into. Is that something you’ve looked at?
It’s a big part of what we started with Warhammer 1 and we’re doing it even more with Warhammer 2. We understand that there are a lot of people out there that are coming in new to the franchise through Warhammer because of the fancy content, so to speak. It’s a difficult issue to tackle because ultimately the essence of Total War is, what the people like you will appreciate—and what most of our hardcore fans look forward to—is the breadth and the complexity—not complication because that’s a bad thing, but complexity—of a Total War game is a big part of what makes it great to play, and it’s what makes people like me who’ve played the series for 15 years still play it till two in the morning even though I should be fed up with it (and sleeping) because there’s so much you can do. But to get people to that stage from not knowing anything is a really hard thing to do because we don’t want to dumb down what it is that makes Total War awesome. So what we’re doing in Warhammer 2 is trying to improve how we explain how you’re engaging with the units and what they do. This also goes for the campaign map, explaining what your goals are and what the features mean. So that whole onboarding process is refined. So in the campaign, your first few battles will be a lot more introductional. And you’ll go in there and they’ll lay it all out for you. That is, if you choose the main lords with their own story. We tried doing something a bit more with Warhammer 1 where we instruct you but also leave you to sandbox as you choose which worked well with focus testing. But when people choose that prelude mode—just for the first bit—we need to be a bit more hand-holdy, exactly because we realize now just how difficult it is for people who haven’t played these games before. I mean, for someone who’s played Total War before—even though Warhammer is a very unique Total War game in the series—you know the basics and you know what to expect out of the fundamental gameplay.
So would you say that for someone who’s played perhaps historical Total War games and looked at Warhammer 1 and said, “Hey, it looks cool but it looks a bit crazy and maybe not my thing“… is the sequel gonna be the game to jump into?
Yes. That’s what we’re aiming for, and that’s something we identified within the project. Like I said, we did focus group testing and you’ll certainly see a lot of changes from Warhammer 1, and that’s our attempt to do that. No one’s ever going to pretend that that’s gonna be perfect, because it’s very hard in a game like Total War because you jump into the campaign map and there’s a lot of concepts to talk about. But we put a lot of effort into it and we’re aware that it’s something we’re gonna have to keep refining. So yes, I’d say—definitely—Warhammer 2 is the best one to jump into and is more user friendly and newbie-friendly than any total war game we’ve ever made. But at the same time we will always continue to evolve that side of it. We appreciate that it’s a deep game and there’s a lot of meaty goodness in there but there’s a steep learning curve and we’ll keep reducing that as we go along.
Well, thanks a lot for your time and we hope to see you again at Gamescom this August.
Yep, we’ll be there.
And I heard that you might be announcing some cool stuff around that time…
Ooh… we might be… Haha, well I can’t say anything. I’ve had a lot of people trying to drag information out of me but you’ve been closer than anyone to getting it, I think.
*laughs* I’ll take that as a compliment. And thank you once again.
And thank you for reading our interviews! We’ll do our best to get a follow-up interview with Creative Assembly in August. If you have any questions you’d like to see asked by then, be sure to leave a comment below.
At Gamescom this year, Gamnesia had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Creative Assembly Communications Manager Al Bickham about the upcoming Total War: Warhammer. The reactions from the fans have been many, and the questions have been many more. How will a series like Total War, which has previously engaged in historical campaigns, tackle a fictional realm of not only humans but Orcs, Dwarfs, Trolls and Dragons? There are many new elements to this game such as monsters, flying units, and magic. Will Creative Assembly make an amazing new kind of Total War or will this end up being a buggy cash grab? Going into this interview, my mindset was that this game really looks amazing… but so did Rome 2. So I wanted to ask the kind of questions that might answer the previous question. How much effort and enthusiasm does Creative Assembly put into this project?
Before the interview we watched a scripted demo of the game, which you can watch here. And with that out of the way, here’s the entire interview:
So Al, we just saw the presentation for Total Warhammer… and I’m gonna call it that.
The whole world wants to call it that so knock yourself out. *laughs*
From what I saw, the game is looking really good and I have a lot of questions. You talked a bit about collisions in the presentations – cavalry collisions to be precise – and how you wanted to work on them more… Now, this game uses the engine from Rome 2, right?
Well, every total war game we make is a modification of the previous one. We had a big engine re-write so after Empire for we got a nice modular system where we can plug in new graphical effects or animation systems or things like that. So it’s modular and with every total war we can develop aspects of that game relevant for that time periods or in this case we had to develop entirely new systems for spellcasting, flying creatures and also huge monstrous single units that aren’t a cluster of guys which is what we’ve had before. So we’ve had to figure out how combat plays out between say two monsters, multiple monsters or many regular units vs one monster.
So I assume for singular unit such as the spider or wyvern a lot of guys can attack them simultaneously but they have a lot of HP.
Yeah they have a shedload of hit points. The ideal situation is if you defend of one of those and – you know those kinds of beasts are terrifying creatures that cause fear or terror and will have an impact on your morale… The ideal when you’re being attacked by one of those units would be to hit them with many smaller units, counter attack with larger units or hit them with a nasty spell.
After Rome 2 you got a lot of criticism about the engine. I’ve seen some good videos highlighting for instance poor collision where soldiers don’t stick to formation and just blob up. Have you been looking at these videos and taken feedback and what are you doing to improve on combat and collision?
There’s a lot in there… Such as mass and speed affects an impact… We look at a lot of such things carefully with Warhammer. It’s also about how animations play out between individual models (individual soldiers). In Shogun II we focused a lot on matched combat animation because we wanted to get across the sense of samurai warfare between two honourable warriors, a single combat in amongst the throng. So one samurai would look around for another samurai that wasn’t engaged and almost challenge him to a duel. And then you’d see those guys play out these beautiful motion captured combat animations. With Warhammer we want to create more of a sense of a throng so we rely a lot less on matched animations but we still have them such as the Wyvern or the Giant. We have one for the Giant which we didn’t get to see unfortunately where the Giant just yells at them and the sound and breath of the Giant knocks soldiers over.
But to answer your question a bit more in details, we have a what we call a synced animation system.
Yeah, so one guy sees another guy so he just finishes his attack and the other guy takes some damage and that’s it, so the front line will be more animated and kinetic. Also with cavalry we want to work more with impact because they’re coming in as heavy units with speed and as you saw in the demo – even with infantry – how spectacular some of these charges look where Orcs will jump into the fray with axes swinging down. And on the other side you’ll see Imperial soldiers with spears brace for impact or even try to get the first slice so it’s much more animated.
Yes, there was one scene in the cinematic trailer where two halberds were stepping out of line to take out incoming orcs before falling back into line and it looks great. I really hope that what we’re seeing here with collision is actual gameplay.
Well, you saw the game engine running and of course we have the usual caveats: that’s pre-alpha and the game is still in development but we wanted to show a bit of how units interact with each other on the battlefield and while we still have a while to go and a lot of work to do I think that we’re heading in the right direction and we’re doing not just total war fans justice but also the Warhammer IP justice.
Right, and on that I really have to compliment you because as a Warhammer fan I can see that you’ve stuck close to the source material and paying attention to details. The way that units move, say how the Orcs run vs how humans run.
That’s actually one of the really big challenges for us. In previous total war games we’ve had maybe five or six different human body types. Then we can map motion captured animation to those models, so we’d do sword vs spear, sword vs sword, spear vs spear, horse vs guy… With this game we’ve had to hand craft so many of them. You know… you can’t get a dragon into a motion capture studio *laughs*
So the way we’ve had to approach that is to hand-craft and create the animations ourselves rather than resorting to motion capture. So the wyvern for instance… there’s no wyvern in the real world to study. We can look at the miniatures and they give you a sense of how they moved based on the pose they have but that can only get you so far. So we looked at it and thought “well it has two legs, it’s not a dragon, dragons have four legs… so how does it move on the land?”. We figured it’s have to crawl on its wings and the only animal that does that in the real world is a bat so we modelled its animations based on a bat. And the same with the demi-gryphs, they’re a mix between a lion and an eagle so we looked at the way lions move to capture the grace of these creatures when we animated the demi-gryphs. So we’ve had to devote much, much more of our own resources to the animations than we’ve ever had before and it’s really bringing the units to life. Sometimes the guys from Games Workshop will come in to look at the project and you can feel their excitement seeing these models that they’ve made come to life… it’s awesome.
Now characters, they move around similar to agents on the campaign maps, yes?
But they’re also playable on the battlefield.
So are they their own individual units that can move around independently with a unit card or are they stuck in a unit?
They’re individual units. So if you take a warrior priest, for example… on the campaign maps they are effectively agents like in previous total war games. Agents have skill trees and unlock abilities and get better at those abilities, so a character in Warhammer might have access to sabotage skills or assassination skills or those kinds of general skill sets you’re used to seeing in Total War. But in addition to that they might have a combat or magic skill tree. So if they’re a magic-based hero they’ll have a specific magical lore and as you level up you’ll unlock new spells.
So you attach them to an army and they’ll become a unit in the army and then appear in battle and that’s a big difference to previous total war games where… we’ve had warrior type agents but they have simply given your army stats boosts. With this game you’ll have that as well but now they’ll actually appear in the battle.
And I guess if they die in battle they’ll also die on the campaign map
Exactly, so you’ve got this elastic tension of really wanting to get them into combat because they are powerful warriors in their own right that can make a difference but you also don’t want to get them killed.
Also, you also have different types of characters in this game. You have the heroes, like your wizards and warrior priests. Then you have your Lords which are general-type characters. Like in previous total war games you have a call for a general, you select one and build an army around that character but of course you’ll have a much deeper skill tree than generals in previous Total War games with their own combat abilities and mounts. Finally you have the Legendary Lords. These are named characters from the Warhammer universe, like Karl Franz or Grimgor Ironhide.
Can Legendary Lords die?
No. What happens is they get taken out for a bit, lick their wounds for a bit and then return to the fray.
Like Napoleon (from Napoleon: Total War).
Exactly. In that way the legends of these characters go on.
The way you level up characters… I assume you get something like experience with things like taking parts in battles. Are there other smaller missions like sabotaging?
Yes, you’ll get experience for everything that characters is designed to do. So it’s the same as in for instance Shogun II where – if you had a ninja, he could sabotage a gate and get experience for that.
Another thing that’s really interesting when it comes to these characters is that… unlike the historical games where we deal with the years 430 BC to 300 AD, this games takes place in a set time in the Warhammer world so characters don’t age in Warhammer.
So it’s kind of like… time passes but not really?
Yeah, exactly. You can only die by falling in battle so that will allow you to build really powerful characters with the expanded skill trees.
So right now you’re based on the 8th edition of Warhammer Fantasy. Do you plan on sticking to that or are you looking at units or characters that might have been around before but no more? For instance, there was a Kislev faction that was around temporarily for 6th edition. Is that something you’re looking at at all or are you just sticking to the standard in 8th edition?
At the moment we’re focusing on the core stuff so it’s just 8th edition for now but who knows what’s gonna happen in the future?
On that note, since you say nothing is really final… Of course with a game like Warhammer, there are going to be fans with a ton of requests and wishes…
… What kind of feedback, ideas or general input are you taking from the fanbase?
At this stage we feel like we’re going to satisfy everybody over time. Everybody who’s into Warhammer in some regard has a favourite faction, a faction they associate with in the way they play or that fits their style… I think we’re aiming to please as many people as possible, without going into specifics at the moment. [Creative Assembly has previously stated that they will release two standalone expansion]
Can you catch them all?
*laughs* And can you kill them all?
Through the demo you talked about how the different races are different on the campaign map. So you have humans that deal with more traditional Total War elements like tax collection and politics while the Orcs for instance probably aren’t gonna build grand schools of magic…
Well… They won’t build schools of magic in that sense. Their magic is kind of shamanistic.
But yeah, the way we’re building it is that every race is quite different from the others because that’s how they are in Warhammer.So they won’t only differ on the battlefield, the types of units they have or the way they fight but also in the campaign game. So a good example is Empire versus Greenskins. So like you said, the Empire is going to be more of a traditional Total War faction. When you start with Karl Franz as your Emperor, you’re gonna be dealing with a lot of diplomacy within your own race because there are other elector counts in provinces all around you and there’s intrigue and backstabbing that goes on all the time. So if you want to expand the empire, you’ll want to do good diplomacy to get everyone on your side, or perhaps go and take over territory somewhere else away from those provinces.
The Greenskins are much less about that kind of expansion. They’re more about building up momentum. There’s a concept in Warhammer called the Waaagh! which embodies everything about the Orcs philosophically, if you can apply that term to the Orcs. They’re all about just charging into battle and whacking things, they’re very Alpha, so to speak. The way that works in the campaign game is the Waagh! is like a resource. So the more you engage in and win combat the more your Waaagh! meter goes up and you’ll get other Orc generals and armies popping up to support you and you’ll find yourself in a situation where you can start steamrolling. Now, you have to keep that momentum going or your forces are going to start suffering attrition from infighting because the Orcs are not like anyone else: they need to fight so they turn on each other. So they’re very different from the Empire, there’s no tax mechanics and the Orcs don’t deal with population management the same way, they just want to get as many Boyz as possible into battle.
And we saw that too in the battle where… the Empire has properly organized rank and file units whereas the Orcs just rush in without any regard for unit formation.
Yeah, exactly, they’re just really messy and noisy.
So that about the Orcs… When can we expect some more details about the Dwarfs and Vampire Counts?
Very well *laughs*. So to finish off, what’s your favourite Warhammer faction?
Firstly, I’m an Ogre player. I have an Ogre army. I find them fun because they’re really expensive and powerful so they’re kind of an all-or-nothing army. You have small, compact and hard hitting units. And we actually have… Games Workshop supplied our artists with one of every model in the Warhammer 8th edition range and that’s what we’ve been working from when building our 3D models. And the idea with that is also that so we in the studio can play the tabletop game. So I got all the Ogre models after the artists were done with them and if anyone wants to play an army it’s their responsibility to paint and assemble them.
That’s actually a genius idea.
Yeah, it’s great! Especially because you have people in the studio who might not focus on the lore, they might work with some technical things, so it’s a great way for everybody to getting used to seeing those armies and all their backstories and such. If you want to play a game of Warhammer, you have to read the army book which contains the history of that race and so on. So it generates people who are fiercely into one particular army and you also get some animosity towards other armies. So I play Ogres who are low on Initiative and a colleague of mine – Joss, the User Interface guy – plays Tomb Kings, so he has a spell that slaughters guys with low Initiative and it’s great because it really gets you into Warhammer on an emotional level. At Lunch time we have two Warhammer tables and there’s usually one or two games playing most days.
Cool! Did you have a tournament yet?
No, we planned on having a league but what we have instead is army lists printed that people can borrow so if you wanted to try a new army you just get the list and the models and give it a go.
Alright, well I have to thank you so much for your time.
I was very impressed with the enthusiasm Al showed for this project, and I hope that’s something many more at Creative Assembly shares. I have high hopes for this title, and I’m confident they can pull it off so long as they get enough time to work on it. What’s your take on this game? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Creative Assembly went to Gamescom to showcase the 2016 title Total
War: Warhammer. Since this is a crossover with Games Workshop’s popular
tabletop game with its own rules and lore, the next big Total War title
is going through a lot of changes from what Total War players are
familiar with. We got a chance to sit down with Creative Assembly’s
communications manager to talk about the game and we got a run-down of
exactly how characters are going to work in the game.
There are three types of characters in Total War: Warhammer:
these characters are similar to agents in previous games. They are able
to sabotage and assassinate but can also partake in battle as their own
Lords: the generals of your armies.
Lords are recruited in much the same way generals have previously been recruited. A call
is made, and you select your Lord and build an army around that him or her.
named characters from the Warhammer universe such as Karl Franz or
Grimgor Ironhide. These characters are everything that Lords are except
they cannot die. If they fall in battle they’ll retreat back home to
heal and return some time later, similar to Napoleon in Total War:
All characters have skill trees that are much
deeper than previously seen in Total War. Wizards unlock new spells from
their lores, warriors unlock new combat abilities, and generals unlock
monstrous mounts to ride into battle. A character in Total War: Warhammer can not die of old age so you can build quite powerful characters over
time as long as you keep them alive. It’s this dynamic of wanting to
use powerful characters in battle versus your will to preserve them that
makes them a fun part of the game. And of course, the more powerful
your characters are, the more your opponents gain by killing them.
Find out more about Total War: Warhammer in our full interview, which will be released later this week.