Last week we were fortunate enough to have a sitdown with two members of the development team behind the upcoming turn-based chess-like game; Warhammer 40k Regicide. From CultureMass, it was myself and our 14-year Warhammer expert, Kyle Peterson. Hammerfall were represented by Cathrin Machin and Thomas Holdsworth.
Cathrin is the Project Lead and has been in the industry for a decade. She comes with experience from working on several titles including, but not limited to, Warhammer Online. She also has numerous years experience with the Warhammer tabletop.
Thomas’s official title is Community Manager but he wears several hats, not least among those is his 18-year Warhammer veteran status. He has also worked for Games Workshop in the past, and wields the IP hammer to ensure integrity with the Warhammer lore.
Cathrin: Hi guys!
CM: How would you describe the game in one sentence?
Cathrin: Can it be a really long sentence?
Thomas: I’m not really a fan of brevity with anything in this universe, because there’s always so much to say. Mine would be to simply say: It’s an exploration of classical strategy gaming, through the medium of the gloriously brutal Warhammer 40k universe.
Cathrin: We definitely like the gloriously brutal. The most important thing is we all love 40k so much, and it’s important to be respectful of everything that’s been built up so far.
CM: With your love of the franchise, do you guys play the tabletop in the office?
Cathrin: I really like the painting side rather than the actual playing side. I find it incredibly therapeutic, apart from when I stick my fingers together. I find it very relaxing… Thomas has more of a competitive side.
Thomas: <laughs> I don’t like to use the word competitive, because that can be sort of a nasty edge in what is such a glorious hobby itself. The hobby is a wonderful thing. But the best competitive environments cover all aspects, such as painting as well as the playing. I’m actually preparing a Warriors of Chaos army for a tournament soon.
Cathrin: We actually do have boxes, and boxes, and boxes of models in the office. And every now and then we take the entire team down to the local Games Workshop store and hang out, and build models, and play games, and whatnot. In particular some of the artists who might not have had much experience really loved it.
CM: We know the Classic mode is chess with Warhammer characters and brutal animations, but how is the Regicide mode different?
Cathrin: There are several different key aspects we wanted to add to this classic game. Firstly, when you perform actions there isn’t always a set outcome. It’s very much like rolling a dice in such a way where you may get a hit but you may also have a miss. So while you may be playing a tactical game, you are also considering not just your hit points but your odds against certain characters as well.
Thomas: It’s something that some Chess players have actually found horrid; the idea of non-predicative logic being applied to a game where they are so certain some things are going to happen. It fits so well into this universe because the idea of a single pawn, or a single tactical marine, who just by a fip of a coin might actually end up charging through and taking the head off the king on the other side of the table. When in a normal game of chess that wouldn’t happen at all. It really adds that heroic element of the Warhammer 40k universe, where all of humanity is so brutally downtrodden but there are sparks of light among it. And those are the really interesting stories.
Cathrin: The way I’d like to describe gameplay is that each player has two phases to every turn instead of just one. First off they have movements, which are similar way to how chess works. You maneuver your characters into position on the board. The second phase then comes in where you have a pool of points which you can use to shoot, throw grenades, use psychic abilities, raise shields, or encourage your troops. There’s all sorts of things you can do, and as you progress through the game you unlock more and more abilities, such as calling in off-board airstrikes, which makes it very varied. On top of that we have on-board elements such as barricades, destructible blocks, landmines, or trigger switches. Along with all of this, you don’t always start with a full chess side. You might be starting a match with 4 or 5 rooks, or two queen pieces, so a lot of it could be a puzzle element with the units you have.
Thomas: One thing regarding complexity in Regicide mode compared to Chess is that you may be aware that in an opening turn for White in chess you have 20 possible moves. In Regicide there is something closer to 500,000 opening sequences in the first turn alone, and that exponentially increases as the game goes on.
CM: With all of these possibilities, is the singleplayer part of the game limited to only the campaign?
Cathrin: We have two key singleplayer modes; Campaign and Quick Play. You can obviously play those matches as many times as you want, or however you want. There are difficulty settings involved in the quick play, and the game settings allow you to pick which army you use. It is important that each race, Space Marines or Orks, have their own unique set of abilities. And those abilities are themed toward that particular race as well. Each race is also balanced differently between the units in the way that you play with them. So you may want to have Quick Play matches where you pick what your opponent is and who you are so you can learn about how each side works.
CM: In the campaign, how will the narrative be presented?
Thomas: It’s delivered essentially by voice over. If you are familiar with Warhammer 40k Armageddon which was recently released, it will be a similar style in that you’ll have an avatar that speaks to you. Our narrative will be delivered a little like the Black Library audio drama series. The drama unfolds and you are called upon to respond to something that occurs during that storyline. For example as the drama builds between two of the Blood Angels characters, there may be a sudden attack by a new type of Ork force that will be the first time you’ve come up against these heavy weapon trooper Orks. You will respond to that in kind, and it will carry on in the vein of “Okay, we have to deal with this”. Then afterward it will carry on to what they were originally looking for in the narrative.
CM: What sort of talent do you have behind the mic for this voice work?
Thomas: We have some wonderful voice actors on board. We’ve been working with Brian Dobson, and Steve Blum. Both of which did a lot of work for the Dawn of War series of games. We’ve had a hell of a lot of fun directing their voice work.
Cathrin: The voice sessions are unbelievable. There’s certain aspects where they just stun you into silence. It’s just mesmerizing when they get into the swing of things.
Thomas: We actually have some samples of their voice work on our About The Game page.
CM: Do you have any notable names working on the narrative we’ll hear during the campaign?
Cathrin: We have several authors, one of whom is experienced 40k author, Ross Watson, who is helping us guide our way through the interesting narrative. He’s so awesome, so great to work with. Such a nice guy.
Thomas: He is indeed. I’ll tell you a bit about Ross Watson. He was the lead developer of Fantasy Flight Games Warhammer 40k roleplay series, which has done quite well. They have released something in the order of about 38 expansion books, just for the core rulebooks. So we have some good experience behind the narrative.
CM: Right now we have the Blood Angels and the Orks anounced. Are there other races available in multiplayer or the campaign?
Thomas: There will be sub-factions of the Space Marines and Orks represented by different chapters or different Ork clans; some of which will be available at launch. We have actually been offering the White Scars content as an exclusive gift in the initial phase of access to people who sign up before the game is launched. To add value to that, I’m actually working with several Black Library authors to develop additional unique mission and campaign content for all of those we include.
Cathrin: Our absolute goal would be that as well as getting various chapters and clans, you also get a sort of level pack or playable mini-campaign with some great story that not only tells you not only a little about that chapter or clan itself but also how they fit inside the universe.
Thomas: As a follow up, we do want to add new races as soon as we possibly can in order to make it interesting.
Cathrin: It difficult because each new unit we add will have more animations. We don’t just use simple animations, but rather have one on one fight animations for each piece. We have every piece paired against every other piece, and every time we add a new one the number of animations exponentially grows. But we also want to make sure that each race plays differently, and they have a whole new set of abilities. And beyond that we also want to make sure each race has their own interesting narrative, and objectives.
CM: I hear you had an interesting interaction with the game’s AI?
Cathrin: Yeah. One thing we found very very interesting is setting the AI playing against itself. Watching what it does is absolutely amazing, and it is actually really helpful when we are balancing as well to see how the computer plays against itself. As an example, when it was playing as the Orks, it actually threw a grenade at themselves and blew up one of their own characters. In the game the objective was to reach a tile and activate a beacon on that tile, so the quickest way for it to get there was to blow up one of its own pieces and have another unit just walk over; and we were absolutely gobsmacked.
Thomas: Yeah, we had to power down that ability a little so it wasn’t quite so powerful.
CM: How skillful is this AI going to be? Should I be worried?
Cathrin: We actually had a Chess grandmaster play our AI, and he lost, so… it can match the highest level of players. One thing that is great is the engine has a setting to make it play more risky or less risky. You can set it so that the way it plays is very risky, and it is interesting to see how that changes its playstyle.
CM: Will there be an asynchronous mode in multiplayer?
Thomas: Chess lines up very well with the idea of correspondence play, and as a turn based game it’s something that we are able to offer. You can actually have multiple matches waiting alongside each other, where you may be waiting on someone on the other side of the world to take their turn days apart. Something like Chess.com for example is a website that offers this sort of play.
Cathrin: Hero Academy had a sort of similar mechanic as well, where you have several matches on the go. Some may be quick fire matches, some you may want to consider a little more before taking your turn.
CM: Will there be a way to limit the time allowed per turn?
Thomas: Absolutely, yes. XCOM was another inspiration for us. You can have a sort of, rapid fire mode where you are very heavily restricted in the amount of time you will be able to play a turn. With that you may not even be able to move half of your units in that time, you just need to be able to do what you can.
Cathrin: It’s interesting because it does change your mindframe going into those matches if they’re timed.
CM: Do you have plans for a ranked multiplayer matchmaking system in addition to casual modes?
Cathrin: Yes. We have basically two ways to play multiplayer. You can play in unranked casual matches or you can play in a ranked match. You can either create a match or can search for a match. When you are creating a match you can be quite specific on what you want. You can set things such as the maximum amount of points used to create an army, set the map, or even the turn time frame. But if you just want to go in there and start a game, you can click search and the first thing that comes to you is a preview of the outline of what the match is. You can then pick your army before you jump into the game.
For the ranking system, there are basically two different levels. First off is, you have your “player skill level” which is how well you play, what your tactical level is in terms of how you use your troops. Along with that we take into account what you are going in the match to play with. So you could have a game where you are a higher player level but have fewer units going in.
CM: Will the abilities you unlock through the campaign all be restricted in the multiplayer, or will they all be available for everyone?
Thomas: That’s actually a very important aspect of game balance, and something that we are still hashing out. We essentially have an armory, and how we are using it in the game is still being established. The idea there is we want to be very careful about how people get access to these in both game modes. Whether they will be linked, or if they will be separated is still something we need to finalize.
Cathrin: I also want to add that the individual units themselves have their unit abilities, but you as the player are playing as a sort of psychic unit or an off-board unit. You will have your own psychic abilities and as you level up and increase your experience these also unlock. This is also taken into account in the multiplayer matchmaking as well. So with preference, when you put in to apply for a match you will be paired with someone who has similar playing stats.
CM: Will there be an “offline” mode?
Cathrin: Yes. There will be an offline mode. Obviously you can’t access multiplayer, as you would expect, but you can play campaign and quick play without being connected to the internet.
Thomas: Just to add, offline play won’t sync with your online progress because unfortunately that’s a risk for exploitation with how things are unlocked in the game.
Cathrin: Yeah. It’s very, very clear in the main menu when you are offline and it reminds you that whatever you are doing won’t be synced with the server. Because we don’t want people to feel like: “oh my god, I’ve just done all this stuff and it’s not saved”. So we want to educate people that when they’re offline, they are offline and it’s not syncing.
CM: What is the release model going to be like?
Cathrin: We are planning to release an in-development version of the game on PC in Q2. This development build will run for 2-3 months, with other platforms like phone and tablet to follow. Something we think the community will like in this build are aspects to the main menu where people can actually just get in touch with us if there is anything there are unhappy with, or if there is anything they want updated, or anything they enjoy as well. So we want to make it as open for people to communicate with us as possible. We try to do this on the website also with the “Message the Team” option at the bottom, which actually goes to the entire team.
Everyone will have a game account, it’s the same game account you use to log on to the website and use the forums. Everything is connected. You can log on with your account on any supported device to pick up your progress. You still have all of your progress, your characters, your army, and your abilities. All campaign play and multiplayer matches are accessible. In addition to that for example if you’ve bought the base unit of the game, you can technically speaking log out and have a friend who hasn’t bought the game but has a game account log in and play. It doesn’t charge them because creating the game account is free.
CM: Will each version of the game be separate?
Cathrin: You buy each version of the game, but each version will come with slightly different content. So you have lots of different factions and chapters. If you only wish to play on one device, you can purchase the rest of the content you want, and all that ports over when you play on another device. As an example, you might purchase the PC version and get Armys A, B, and C; then go on to purchase the mobile version and get Army’s D, E, and F. And if you wanted to, you could also buy Army’s D, E, and F within the PC version. Each pack will also come with additional narrative and missions. We are balancing things to ensure no faction will give you an advantage over another one, it will just be a different play style. We want it to be “Play-to-win” and not “Pay-to-win”.
With pricing still yet to be confirmed, Warhammer 40k Regicide is due out Q2 of this year and we are very excited to get our hands on it.