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Interview with Space Marine developers, Relic

28 Jul 11

Space Marine, the latest game to capture the popular Warhammer 40,000 franchise, is due out in September. Techday gets the inside word on the game's development from  the studio’s marketing manager, James McDermot.

Techday: Warhammer 40k is a legendary franchise, what are the hardest and the most rewarding elements about working on such a well-known and loved brand?

James McDermot: We’ve had a wonderful collaboration with Games Workshop over the past 8 years, creating many games based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe. We feel it’s safe to say that we understand, respect, and cherish their IP as much as anyone outside GW. In fact, we were able to make Space Marine largely because of this trusted relationship – it’s unlikely they would have trusted another studio to do justice to their prized intellectual property.

Warhammer 40,000 is a very rich and deep fiction, developed over nearly 25 years, so there is an immense amount of source material to draw from – which is sometimes the hardest part of working with the brand as you have so much to choose from and so many characters and directions you go in with the plot. Everyone who’s a fan of 40K has their personal favourites so it’s sometimes difficult to make everyone truly happy. But in the same breath this is also the most reward part of working on brand – as staying true to the fiction is no easy task and it’s amazing bringing to life the up close world of 40K for the die-hard fans. We believe they will note the respect and attention to detail we’ve given to their beloved setting, and the amount of passion and energy we’ve poured into bringing this world to life in a way it’s never been seen before. Plus, we’ve also created a game experience that could be the gateway to bring new fans into the fold, once they realize how incredibly rich and diverse the setting is.

TD: Relic has had a lot of experience with the 40k universe now with the Dawn of War titles. Were you able to make use of any of those assets and experience in Space Marine, or did you have to start from scratch?

JM: The Space Marine team is comprised of veteran Relic developers who have built lots of award-winning RTS games, and who know the Warhammer 40,000 IP better than anyone outside of Games Workshop. Over the past 2.5 years of development, we’ve supplemented that core with outside talent – people who have console action game development experience. Combining those two talent pools has created a kind of alloy that is stronger than each would be individually.

At Relic, we’ve worked on the Dawn of War series for the past 8 years, and have had a lot of success with that franchise. And there were people in the studio who wanted to express other points of view, showing this IP through a completely different lens – in this case the action blockbuster. Of course, by creating a triple-A 3rd-person action-shooter, you are wading into a massively competitive market, and there are things about making an action game on the console that force you to make the experience as accessible as possible. But, we’ve done this without ever dumbing down the IP or the experience in any way. We believe we have taken concepts that are a natural, organic extension of the core IP pillars of the setting, and have found ways to express them as a blockbuster action experience.

TD: Given the large number of 3rd-person action/shooter titles, both on the market and coming up, what are the things that make Space Marine really stand out from its competitors?

JM: Space Marine is a 3rd-person action blockbuster video game, and it’s most definitely an inspired mix of games like Gears of War, Bio-Shock & Call of Duty Black-Ops. However, unlike other action titles where ‘cover-move’ gameplay is core to the offering, Space Marine is all about taking the fight to the enemy. Space Marines by their very nature are visible, violent death, wearing brightly painted armour and cutting through hordes of alien forces with relentless brutality. They are the embodiment of war, encased in armour, and we wanted to bring that directly into the core gameplay offering.

In our game you are always surrounded, always massively outnumbered, and you deploy shock & awe tactics to literally smash through the enemy presence and move forward with strength of momentum. Space Marine is not at all about hiding behind objects and popping up to take potshots at enemies while you fear for your life. It’s all about unleashing death on all who stand in your way, and empowers the player to become a living legend on the battlefield.

One of the coolest aspects of Space Marine is the iconic combination of the Bolter and Chainsword. We’ve made the combination of shooting and melee the core focus of our combat system, giving players the power to instantly and seamlessly switch between responsive melee combat and satisfying melee. It’s not necessarily about one being stronger or more powerful than the other; it’s about the player-driven moment-to-moment choices you need to make on constant blow-by-blow basis.

4) During our hands-on time with the E3 Build, we saw a great variety of weapons and found many different ways that you could replay a particular scenario. Did you find it hard to balance some of the weapons power or characteristics to fit the gameplay style? Were there any weapons from Warhammer 40K lore that you wanted to include but couldn’t make them work?

This is one of the many places that the Warhammer 40,000 universe gave us a lot – we were able to bring in lots of the weapons established in the IP and bring them to their full potential. On the ranged side, the most characteristic Space Marine weapon is the Bolter, a deadly assault rifle firing high-explosive rounds. But players get to wield much more, from precision sniping weapons like the Lascannon and Stalker Bolter, to devastating energy weapons like the Plasma Gun and Melta Gun.

In close combat, the iconic weapon is the Chainsword, a ferocious chain-saw blade that is fast and deadly. But you'll also be able to wield heavier weapons like the Power Axe, which is great against armoured foes, and the mighty Thunder Hammer.

In total we have 15 different weapons to discover throughout the singleplayer campaign. In multiplayer you can access the same number of weapons, but they can also be enhanced with special perks and upgrades.

5) We noticed during the E3 Build that in a later level Captain Titus had gained an Iron Halo. Is there some sort of a customisable inventory system like Dawn of War II, or is it more of a story, or XP-linked upgrade progression? Or something else?

Well spotted! Yes, the Iron Halo is one of a number abilities you unlock as you progress through the singleplayer campaign. This particular ancient artefact generates a personal energy shield that greatly reinforces the resiliency of Captain Titus and his power armour. You discover this item during the latter stages of the game when the forces of Chaos reveal their evil plot.

Note - Techday has already tried the Space Marine preview; you can check out our review here.

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