Ten Ton Hammer Interviews Games Workshop's Erik Mogensen
When tabletop meets MMORPG
When you look back over the 26 year history of Warhammer, you're looking into a world that is rich in history, detail, and a fan base as a dedicated as any in the tabletop RPG genre, if not more. Many of us old school RPG'ers remember going into the hobby store to get paints for our miniatures and seeing the incredibly detailed scenarios laid out complete with grass, buildings, shrubs, and exquisitely painted armies and thinking "That's what I want my setup to look like!". Over the years the Warhammer battle game has not only kept its huge following, but continues to add fans year after year. With all the different aspects of the game, it's not surprising as there's a little something for everyone in this hobby. Not one of us wasn't excited when we heard that Warhammer was making the jump from tabletop to the virtual world and the following that EA Mythic has had while making Warhammer Online:Age of Reckoning has been no less passionate than that of the tabletop game.
Ten Ton Hammer had a chance to talk with Erik Mogensen over at Games Workshop and get their view on what it's like to take a well known and loved IP and transition it into the virtual world, as well as to find out how one would get started with the tabletop Warhammer Battle Game.
What was your first reaction when EA Mythic approached you about making another Warhammer MMOG? There was already one Warhammer MMOG that never made it to the final stage of production, why did you want to try the process again?
EM: We were excited. We never stopped thinking that a Warhammer MMOG was a good idea; we just realized that we were better off letting someone else produce it. So when Mythic approached us, we were glad that such a capable company was interested. And, as Mark Jacobs has often pointed out, we’ve known each other for years, so it wasn’t entirely a surprise!
One of my first experiences with Warhammer was with the miniatures. I remember using a Chaos Mage to represent my D&D character because he seemed so much better than any of the other miniatures out there. That “look” stuck with me throughout my tabletop RPG career. Since keeping the look and feel of the tabletop game is so important, how involved has GW been in the artistic design of WAR?
EM: It’s not entirely true to say that we (GW and EA Mythic together) wanted to replicate the look and feel of the tabletop game. Miniatures have many design foibles that need to be considered – they need to look good at 28mm scale on a table, they need to be cast by our manufacturing division, they need to fit in certain types of packaging, just to name a few. So, for example, they have exaggerated proportions in certain places (look at the feet and the weapons!). To replicate that on a PC would look odd. So, our approach has been to be informed by the tabletop imagery, but not slavish to it. A Warrior Priest in W.A.R. needs to look like a Warhammer Warrior Priest, but that’s not to say it needs to look like a 28mm miniature. We’ve been very involved in all aspects of the game’s development, especially with artistic direction. We see, and approve, every piece of concept art, every 3D model, every animation, etc. We’ve been so impressed with EA Mythic’s grasp of the Warhammer World, that we’ve honestly had to request relatively few changes along the way.
During the process of creating Warhammer, EA Mythic has stated that they’ve worked very closely with you on what lore they could “bend” to fit it into the game. How far have you allowed them to bend the lore for their needs? Has it been minor (for example, perhaps a slight tweaking of the Eight Lores of Magic) or has some of it been major (maybe allowing something like making a class such as The Six Convents of Sorceresses open to males)? What sort of criteria do you look at when allowing some altering of the table top lore?
EM: Hmm…the answer to this question is largely subjective, and will change depending upon how you personally define ‘bending’. None of the fundamental facts about the Warhammer World have been altered. Karl Franz is Emperor, Orcs are green, High Elves live in Ulthuan, there are eight Winds of Magic, four Chaos gods, etc. However, the Warhammer World is also enormous – it’s bigger than Earth. We needed to let players move around, from the Altdorf to Ulthuan to Karak Eight Peaks, with relative speed and ease. In some cases you’re going to be able to walk between two places that in the ‘real’ Warhammer World are hundreds of miles apart. For some, that’s bending the IP, for us it’s simply accepting an MMO convention. The criteria we look at are very simple. We ask ourselves if it’s a necessary change due to the constraints of an MMOG, and if it breaks anything in the IP. If the answers are yes and no in that order, we’ll make the ‘bend’. It’s usually pretty easy. Female greenskins simply do not exist, so they couldn’t be in W.A.R. male Dark Elf Sorcerers? Well, Malekith simply orders that they all be put to death at birth…who’s to say that his every order gets carried out?
How does the recent decision to push the release of the game back affect you, if at all?
EM: It makes us even more convinced that the final product is going to be awesome. We’re looking at the game all the time, and we agree with EA Mythic that the game needed more time. The delay only makes us happier and more confident that the game is going to make fans happy.
Recently, it was revealed that one of the final High Elven classes would be a Shadow Warrior. Does GW have any input into what classes should go into the game? What would be some classes that you would like to see in the game eventually?
EM: We’ve made suggestions, and had plenty of discussions with the design team in terms of what we think the most iconic and seminal classes for each race are. We’d never insist, against EA Mythic’s judgment, on putting anything in the game though. This is their baby, and we’re here to help.
I played Warhammer about 16 years ago (jeez I’m old!) and I loved it. Do you think this delay in the release of the MMOG would be a great opportunity for those people looking forward to the game to start playing the Warhammer miniatures game and why?
EM: For those who are interested, their best bet is to see if there is a Games Workshop store in their area. If there is, they should pop in for a visit and ask for an intro game. Our staff are happy to introduce the Hobby to new people and can give you advice on what you need to get started. www.games-workshop.com will lead you to the GW homepage for your country, and each will have a location list of GW stores and independent stores that also stock our products. Collecting and painting miniatures, and then playing games of Warhammer on a beautiful gaming table is a very rewarding hobby, and if you consider yourself a gamer, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. It’s unlike any other gaming experience out there!
It’s been said that Warhammer is more than just a game. It’s easy to see why with all the time and care that goes into creating a sizeable army. Do you think this approach is one of the major reasons for the games success, longevity, and popularity? How do you think this concept will benefit the MMOG?
EM: We don’t consider Warhammer to be ‘just’ a game, it truly is a very broad Hobby that requires dedication and determination, but it’s also richly rewarding. To plan your army from scratch, assemble it, paint it and get it ready for battle takes work and determination, but there is nothing in all of gaming quite like the feeling you get from putting your new army on the battlefield for the first time. Some people enjoy collecting models, others only paint them and never play a game, and others are gamers at heart. They all share a passion for Warhammer though, and a love of the Hobby. That’s what makes Warhammer endure.
If someone were interested in starting to collect an army and play the Warhammer battle miniatures game, what would be the best way to go about doing it? Should they go directly to the Games Workshop store or should they do some research online first?
EM: Oops, I seem to have been overly efficient and answered this one already! (see Question #6)
Back when I played the game, one of my favorite things to do was to set aside some time and just relax while painting the miniatures. I remember my best friend and me spending hours getting everything just right. For people just getting started in Warhammer, your army's “look” is very important. What’s the best way for these people to learn the painting techniques associated with miniatures? Is it all about practice?
EM: Practice is definitely vital, but there also countless tricks of the trade that experts can teach you. As a true beginner, your best bet is the staff in our stores. They can teach you everything you need to know to get fully started in every aspect of the Hobby. There are also painting guides in the Warhammer rulebook, and the Army Book for each race. There are even painting and collecting guides available to buy, which give you very detailed information on the more advanced modeling and painting techniques. Finally, there are painting articles in each issue of White Dwarf magazine, our monthly magazine.
I’ve been to a Games Workshop battle bunker once, and I have to say it’s an impressive sight. Huge areas of land, hand made houses and battlements, details like trees and mossy covered terrain. What’s the average cost of creating a setting like that? How much time does it take to create? How does the Warhammer Online environments compare to these sort of settings? Do they take anything from settings that have been created for the miniatures game?
EM: The gaming tables in our stores and battle bunkers (which are stores with big dedicated gaming areas) are built to a very high standard, and the very best gaming tables can cost a fair bit to make. However, some of the best game of Warhammer I’ve ever played were when I was a teenager playing on my best friend’s ping pong table, using books as hills and blue construction paper cut out to form rivers! A beautiful table is a joy to play on, but it’s certainly not necessary to have a great game of Warhammer. We’ve recently released a new range of scenery, including some fantastic plastic buildings that make creating a great gaming table not only easier, but a lot less expensive too.
The artists on W.A.R. had access to all our concept art for the new plastic buildings, and I’m sure you’ll be able to see the similarities!
I'd like to thank Erik and Games Workshop for taking the time to talk with us and not only answer our questions, but provide us with these exclusive screenshots as well.
Feel like further discussing what Erik and Games Workshop had to say? Head right on over to the Ten Ton Hammer WAR Forums then! Everyone's waiting for you.
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