Interview: "It's getting hot in here!"
15th Apr 2003 | 17:37
The Warhammer universe, in its myriad incarnations, commands a huge and fanatically loyal fanbase across the globe, but until now has never had a videogame that has done it justice. But all that's set to change. UK developer Kuju is currently slaving away on an intense first-person shooter for PC and PS2, which should thrill not only fans of the genre, but also die-hard Warhammer obsessives.
Indeed, don't be fooled into thinking this is a game just for beardy geeks who fiddle around with tiny models in dark, damp rooms - Fire Warrior is very much a mainstream shooter that's fired up and gunning for the competition. But has it got what it takes to win over the fickle games-buying public? Executive producer James Brooksby believes so:
How did Kuju become involved with the Warhammer licence?
Brooksby: Well, Kuju got involved by going to pitch an idea with about 30 other developers back in 2001. We pretty much won the pitch by saying a couple of very key things. Primarily we said we're going to build a first-person shooter which will be mass-market and something gamers are familiar with - a gamer's game. Also, it would be first and foremost set against the background of Warhammer 40k as opposed to saying we're going to make a Warhammer 40k game that's a first-person shooter.
I know that sounds similar, but it isn't at all. We weren't going to try to recreate the rule set or rebuild the same game mechanic as the table-top version. We just wanted to use the image of their universe, their artwork, characters and back-story. We built an FPS on top of this that derives its inspiration from the best of the best in the genre.
At the aforementioned presentation, were they basically already looking for an FPS or were they open to offers?
Brooksby: I think different types. And I think other people were pitching shooters but they missed the mark; we won because we said the right things. We also have quite a bit of technology behind this, and have been building on the PS2 engine for many, many years now. We had very early PS2 dev kits when it was just a big, purple box. This is our fourth outing on PS2 now and we have an advanced engine now.
So you're very comfortable with the PS2 hardware, then?
Brooksby: Yeah, we've got people who now can't wait for PS3 as they pretty much know what is possible with PS2. I think there's always more you can do; maybe if we did a fifth generation game we'd have something even more fantastic. But what we've achieved here puts a lot of games to shame. It really represents the idea of the Warhammer 40k world well. It's just beautiful to see and there's things we haven't shown yet which are quite incredible.
For those who haven't got a clue about the licence, can you tell us what Warhammer is?
Brooksby: For first-person fans who don't know Games Workshop or Warhammer, it doesn't matter. The important thing from the original remit was, we were gonna build a first-person shooter that is familiar immediately.
There have been a huge amount of people in focus testing who knew nothing about Warhammer, but were familiar with FPSs, who got into it straight away. We've refined the best of the control systems, refined the best game mechanics and so on.
When people play Fire Warrior they will say: "I know this game", as they'll have kind of played it before. It's all the games they love rolled into one. It will actually be very familiar and immediately enjoyable.
It's also a great visual experience in terms of the detail we've been able to put in front of you, and the atmosphere we've created by being inspired by a number of games that have done really good things with it. When you combine all this together, you don't need to know about Warhammer 40k. You'll learn about the universe as you progress, but it's not essential to the experience.
But fans of Warhammer will appreciate it what you've done, we presume?
Brooksby: Fans will go mad. For a Warhammer fan who has played the game and read the comics, they'll just go: "Oh my God! It's one of those! And one of those! Wow, look at that ceiling - it's the picture of so-and-so, I've seen that!" There's an awful lot of detail taken from the universe.
But for other people, they'll just enjoy it.
You've said you've taken the best of the best in designing the game - does that mean you feel this will be the best FPS out there?
Brooksby: That's a big claim. The proof's in the pudding but there's a way to go yet. But it's shaping up nicely. There's a lot of focus group testing and balancing to go, but we've got a good bunch of things in there meaning we have a fair crack of the whip.
So do you feel you're raising the bar in any way or was the focus on creating a solid, compelling shooter?
Brooksby: Well, obviously we're trying to create something that's strong in its own right, so we want people to say it's a solid, well-built game that's fun to play and has no major floors.
As far as advancing on what others have done, I talked about gun mechanics earlier - we've taken what we thought was a good gun mechanic and have made it that bit better. We've found that being frightened by the fact you've forgotten to reload while running around a corner is great, so we've put that on top of an already good gun mechanic.
We're just trying to advance things that little but further; hopefully that will produce a really good experience and a really good game.
Do you plan to include online support for the PS2 version?
Brooksby: I can't talk about that today.
That's a yes, then?
Brooksby: I'm really not allowed to say.
OK; finally, what's the one feature of the game, in your opinion, that's going to make people go: "Wow! I wanna play that!"?
Brooksby: I think people will say they really want to buy it because of the atmosphere; because you feel like you're there. And people will buy it as their mates will tell them it's a fun experience. And it's an experience that people want these days, I think, not just 100 hours of gameplay. They want something that draws them in, gives them kicks, then spits them out the other side so they say: "That was great!" That's all people really need, I think.