War never changes. Its soldiers get older, some of them wiser, but the same bloodshed and open air conflict largely remains the same. But in Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade, war is nothing if not a whole lot of fun. Based on the popular sci-fi franchise, Eternal Crusade looks to take the armies of Space Marines and Orks online into a powerful player vs. player conflict involving virtual swathes of gamers. Thus far, it’s looking fairly promising as far as giving us the feeling of all-out battle goes.
We spoke to Miguel Caron, Studio Head for online games at Behaviour Interactive to get his take on the game, including mechanics, playable races, what did and didn’t make it into the game, gameplay, next generation platforms, how to stay relevant in this free to play age and much, much more.
Ravi Sinha: Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about Behaviour Interactive and the work it’s doing?
Miguel Caron: Sure. My name is Miguel Caron. I’m 40 years old. I’ve been in the field for the last fifteen years of my career. The beginning of my career was spent in a very large IT firm that I built. Recently, I moved to the gaming industry out of luck, because I’ve been a gamer all my life and I never thought that I would actually work in the industry since, for me that would kind of be too good to be true. So when I was called by Funcom to be part of their operation in Canada I was very happy.
I was in charge of production, so I was basically in charge of making the game. Most of the time I was in charge of helping them to sell them the right way, and at one point, when they didn’t want to pursue my project, which was Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade, I decided to leave Funcom, and I had a new home waiting for me with that project, and I chose Behaviour Interactive as my new home.
The reason I chose Behaviour Interactive is because they were the first ones in Canada to open a new studio. They are the largest indie studio in Canada. They’re about 300 employees. They’ve been around for 21 years, and they’ve made their career by making games for other people. So by making games for Disney, making games for Pixar, and all these very large publishers and IP owners. And in order to survive doing that, you need very, very stringent financial discipline, and you need a lot of tools that allow you to ensure the performance of the development cycle of the project, which is something that is lacking in a lot of the very large studios in the industry.
So I can know the cost of one of my employees daily. I know the cost of every single part of the game. I know each time there’s a delay, I know in the long run, how much we were affected by the delay. We have a project management office with all of the cost data, so that allows us to do a lot of stuff for less than half the cost of other large studios in the marketplace. That’s how we survive. So that was the catalyst that allowed Behaviour to take the next step, which was to become a product company. So we created Behaviour Online, and that studio has only announced two projects: Star Citizen with Chris Roberts, and Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade, which is us. And these two projects are some of the most anticipated games coming in 2015.
So, in order to create this studio, I took the best people that were core to me at Funcom, but I added to that core team a lot of senior veterans of the MMO space that were let go by a lot of companies in Montreal. You know, there have been a lot of large studios that closed down in Montreal: THQ, EA, Ubisoft has gotten a little bit smaller; Funcom has gotten a lot smaller, so obviously there were a lot of good candidates available in the marketplace. That allowed me to create a very strong team, and some of them have been working for me for the last five years.
So we announced Eternal Crusade at E3, and since then we’ve changed the whole architecture of Behaviour to become a product company, and my team is a part of a product group of Behaviour. We still do a lot of games for Disney and all of our other customers, they’re very important to us, but we approach these situations a little bit differently now. We approach them not only as doers, but as thinkers, and that has had a very good impact on the service side of Behaviour, as well as on the products.
Ravi Sinha: You were saying that this is part of the largest industry in Canada, and that you’ve had a lot of veterans working on a lot of different franchises across a lot of different studios.
Miguel Caron: Last time I checked Montreal was the 5th or the 6th largest gaming city in the world. We have over ten thousand game developers in Montreal, out of a population of about three million, so that’s pretty large.
Ravi Sinha: Warhammer 40,000 is such a big franchise, and Eternal Crusade is possibly the biggest undertaking in the history of the series. How comfortable are you taking over from Games Workshop, the creators of the franchise?
Miguel Caron: Oh, it’s fantastic. The thing is, in order to do a good game in that franchise, which is so beefy, and so rich, you absolutely need the majority of your devs not to become fans of the license because they are on the project. They need to have been fans even before the project.
They need to be involved with the IP, playing tabletop games, and that kind of stuff to make the project successful, and I’m lucky enough that more than half of the core team I put together were extremely active in the 40K universe even before I called them to work on the project. I have two or three of my managers who are actually doing international tournaments in the tabletop, and one of them spends at least a thousand dollars a year buying the figures and painting them, so for us, it was more of a reward than a challenge.
The other thing is that Games Workshop is an absolutely fantastic partner. We don’t work with them as a licensor, although they’re very disciplined, they’re very – I don’t want to say severe, but their IP is not a joke, you know? Their IP is something they take very seriously.
Ravi Sinha: Yep.
Miguel Caron: So, they’re very serious about the IP. We work in teams. There’s nothing that comes out of the studio that hasn’t been reviewed and approved by them, but they’ve been absolutely fantastic. I have a big bookshelf filled with all the figures they sent us for reference purposes, but they send more than one copy of the figures because they know that the team wants some, as well. They understand that we’re fans as well as game developers, and they are fans as well, and they are gamers as well, so we have a great relationship.
The other thing is that we can focus on the most important part of the game, which is the gameplay. Because the IP is so thorough and so deep, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Actually, trying to reinvent the wheel is why some projects have failed in the past. So we’re not trying to fix what has worked for the 20 years that the IP has existed. Let’s not try to fix it because it’s working well, so let’s focus on the gameplay. That allows us, after a month and a half to two months of coding; we have a full build with live gameplay already, which the fans will be able to see soon, probably by the end of the month. It would be hard for me to see how it could work better between us and Games Workshop. It’s a very fun project for us to work on.
Ravi Sinha: As you were saying, the universe itself is very deep and rich. Could you tell about the plot and storyline for Eternal Crusade?
Miguel Caron: I can’t tell you everything, for two reasons: the first is – I don’t know if you are aware of the ARG we did over the weekend?
Ravi Sinha: This is the first time I’m hearing about it.
Miguel Caron: Do you know what an ARG is?
Ravi Sinha: Yeah, Alternate Reality Game.
Miguel Caron: Yeah, exactly. It’s a thing we’re using because, first of all, the fans love it. Second of all, I did it, and I allow myself to say it now because the fans agree with me, so I’m not insulting them by saying that. You know, when we were doing ARG with Secret World, it was very natural for the fans to play that because Secret World fans already had the tinfoil hats on their heads because they were all conspiracy theorists, and the whole game system was about that, so we attracted that type of fan.
In Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade, most of the fans just want to kill stuff. You know, they’re grunts. They just want to go and kill some Orcs. But I’m trying to teach them throughout the next two years that we are going to do the ARG, so it’s two things: first of all, I’m teaching them, through the ARG, why these four races are on the planet and fighting there. In the 40K universe, you don’t need a lot of reasons for Eldar, Space Marines, Chaos and Orks to fight, but still, it’s pretty rare that these four races are all battling at the same time, on the same planet.
And throughout the ARG and throughout our communication within the next few years, you’ll find out exactly why these races are on the planet fighting. The other reason why we’re using the ARG is like the one we did at PAX. It took a while for everyone to understand that none of the groups could solve the ARG alone. You needed hints and clues from PAX; you needed hints and clues from the people who had received a very evil phone call. There are like four or five thousand of them that, the day PAX launched, received a very weird phone. That phone call was broken into three parts, so all these fans needed to regroup and put the phone call together.
They needed clues and hints from the people who were hunting a walk bubble, which was basically a Wi-Fi signal in the backpack of one of my employees who was walking around PAX. So they had to find out where that signal was, which was called Eternal Crusade, and find clues within it and send it to the rest of their team members outside, that had found clues on the web, and had found a hidden website that that you needed to crack. So you needed the phone calls, the PAX clues, and the web hackers to work together in order to solve the ARG. What I’m training them to do is work as a team, because our game is very different. It doesn’t fit any existing genre.
Our game is a Massive Combat RPG. So, yes, it’s an MMO, but it’s not an MMOFPS, it’s not an MMORPG, because the whole game is driven by the player and by a player hierarchy that’s going to come up in the game. So imagine a persistent world where, to vanquish your enemies, you have to take over their territory and ultimately take over their fortress. To do that, you need to organize, strategize, and work as a team, and we’ll be able to support more than one thousand players in one battle.
So imagine the people that you see on your screen are protecting a fortress, and you and four hundred and ninety-nine of your friends have to find a strategy to beat. So team work and team spirit are absolutely required for this type of military strategy. I got my degree in military strategy from the Royal Military College of Canada, and I was an army officer, so real military strategy and gameplay will have a real impact on who wins, and who loses.
The game’s combat is very visceral. It’s not like typical MMO targeting and tabbing combat. It’s comparable to Gears of War and Space Marine from THQ. You can block, you can roll, you can hide under cover, and some of the cover can be destroyed. All of the major 40K vehicles will be there for you to drive as well, so it’s going to be really important to build yourself a strategy in order to win.
There are three levels in the hierarchy in the game. The one that the whole thing is based on is the squad. The squad is ten people, and the squad will have a squad leader. All the squad leaders can apply to become a strike force leader. Strike forces consist of 100 players. All of the strike force leaders can apply to be on the war council, which oversees the whole faction. Since we have single server technology, you’re talking about the whole planet being on the same server, so the war councils will control the war effort for a campaign on the continent. There are many different types of campaigns. We have primary campaigns and secondary campaigns with secondary objectives. Campaigns will last between two weeks and three months. The range is there because we don’t know. It depends. If all the Navy SEALS of the U.S. military decide to create a faction, then maybe they’ll win the fastest.
As a new player, you arrive in the game, and you’ll see the objectives that come from these three different hierarchies. You don’t have to follow it. You don’t get punished if you don’t follow it, but you get experiences bonuses if you do. It’s really a way for the player to take control over their gameplay, and their own strategy.
One of the things I don’t like about MMOs where you have massive warfare is that you don’t have a winner. You’re just fighting and fighting, but there’s no purpose to your fighting, and there’s no real reward for you winning, because it’s a continuous game, so you never win. But, in Eternal Crusade, if you see a Space Marine on the battlefield with five or six veteran medals for campaigns that he’s won, he’s a guy you don’t want to mess with, you know?
Ravi Sinha: Wow that actually covers quite a lot of other things. You were talking about how each faction in the game can form different sub-groups, and you can have someone who becomes a strike force commander. How will you differentiate between the different sub-groups? Will they each have different skill sets?
Miguel Caron: No. The groups are more of an organization for social interaction, but we don’t give them additional powers. The game is made so that if you want to play the game alone, that’s fine. There are a lot of things for you to do that can still help the war effort. It’s the same way in Eve Online. People forget that Eve Online is one hundred percent PVP. The people doing the actual fighting are a very small percentage. Everyone else is helping the war effort by doing any other kind of action like finding resources, claiming new technology, etc.
You have the same concept in Eternal Crusade. We have Promethean mines, which are procedural dungeons filled with waves and waves of Tyranids you can kill. You can find relics, which will boost your character, but everything that you do benefits the whole faction. There’s always a benefit to your squad, there’s always a benefit your strike force, and there’s always a benefit to the faction, your whole race. So we make sure that even when you do personal stuff, it actually helps the faction as well. So, to answer your question, they won’t have more abilities or anything like that, but they will all control resources that the strike force leader can allocate to a certain task. I’ll give you an example, and hopefully my creative director will not be upset that I revealed this because we haven’t talked about this yet.
In the 40K universe, you have certain types of characters that are really, really powerful like Librarians. We’ll have these types of heroes in the game, but these heroes cost a lot of resources. It’s like removing your goalie at the end of the Stanley Cup in order to have one more attacker. Yes, you get an advantage, because you have one more man trying to score, but if you don’t do it right, if you don’t choose the right man, you’re actually weaker than you were before, because you don’t have a goalie. So if that hero dies, it’s over. The resources have been spent. So that’s something that being in a group allows. You wouldn’t be able to do it by yourself.
The currency that we have in the game is a military currency called Requisition Points. When I was in the army, I didn’t buy my rifle, you know? I just had it. But since I was an officer, and because I was attached to a tank unit, I had a different kind of weapon than everyone else had. So that’s how progression will work in the game. Because it’s a PVP-centric game, if you take a new player that has just come into the game, and someone who has been playing for three years, and if you were to undress them, they would be about the same in terms of power.
The difference between them is that one of them is very good at one thing, and the other one can be a very good everything. So if you have a Baneblade tank, only the experienced player can drive it. If you had a strategy with a ground force pushing forward, with snipers on the side, and a flight force being protected by a juggernaut, and the place where the snipers are hiding gets bombed out, someone on the war council can tell these guys, because they know they’ve been playing for a long time, “Switch your gear, I don’t want you to be snipers anymore. I want to you be assault troopers with jetpacks.” So they can switch their gear. But if these guys are newbs, then they won’t have that ability. So that’s how the progression will work. It’s not about you becoming super powerful and killing one another with a look. That would kill the balance of the gameplay.
Ravi Sinha: Earlier you talked about Requisition Points and currency in the game. How do plan to add a social feel to virtual trading in the game?
Miguel Caron: That’s a question I can give you a very high level answer on, but that is something my creative director or design director can answer much more totally, so I don’t want to say stupid stuff and have then be upset with me later. Basically, if you take Eve Online’s economy, it’s going to be a very, very, very dumbed-down version of that. So it’s a war economy, and it’s based on Requisition Points. Yes, we will allow trading and all that stuff, but then again, we’re kind of limited by the IP, because we cannot allow Space Marines to publically trade with Chaos Space Marines.
This is something that the devs would have refused to do even if Games Workshop wasn’t there to supervise us, because they’re hardcore fans of the license. We have to find a way, in terms of design, to allow trading and things like that. Maybe have a third party in between, but that economy is going to be very important, not just to the player, but in terms of the campaign. As an example, when I play Eldar, my tactics will not be to go on the front lines, charging against a force of Space Marines. My tactics would be to take my squad of ten people and go behind enemy lines, and look at all the outposts that the enemy has made. Outposts are for mining resources, creating new weapons, things like that.
So I’ll sabotage them, so when the big battle comes, the enemy lacks the resources to defend itself. So that’s why the economy is important. You not only have to create it, you have to maintain it. And that’s one thing you have to think about in terms of strategy, as well. Because you have a few continents on the planet, and each continent is split between all of the different factions at the start of a campaign. However, each of these faction areas are surrounded by Tyranid territory, and the Tyranids will be controlled by the AI.
Ravi Sinha: There was actually a question about why the Tyranids weren’t a playable race, so I think we’ve got that one covered.
Miguel Caron: It completely breaks the IP to have the Tyranids as a playable race. The reason why, is – have you seen Starship Troopers?
Ravi Sinha: Yeah, I’ve seen it.
Miguel Caron: Well, Starship Troopers, the book, was written before 40K was created, and there’s some rumors that some of the inspiration for the Tyranids came from the insects in Starship Troopers. Well, like the insects in Starship Troopers, Tyranids are controlled by the Hive Mind. So having one Tyranid walking around using emotes would not be something that would be good for the IP. So that’s the reason. I know some fans would love it, but it would not be true to the IP if there was one Tyranid walking around dancing. It would completely ruin the immersion.
At the end of the day, video games are about creating emotion, a wide range of intense emotions, and you get that through immersion and logic. You know, like if you’re a super-duper powerful Space Marine, and you turn the corner, and you have jetpack, and there’s a pile of rubbish about two to three feet high, and you can’t go above it, you know? So instead of putting a wall of something, the game designer just put the rubbish there, but the Space Marine still can’t go through. These type of – I could call them junior mistakes, or polishing mistakes, or “I don’t care” type of mistakes, this is something that the team doesn’t want.
It’s embedded into our DNA. We want you to feel like a Space Marine or feel like an Ork, and act like an Ork and really feel all the emotion that you would feel in real life if you were on a battlefield and seeing five hundred Orks screaming and running towards you. The first time the player experiences that, I want them to be scared. I want them to say, “Oh, what the -?” I want them to feel nervous about it. So that’s the type of environment we’re trying to create.
Ravi Sinha: Well, we already know about the four factions, with are the Space Marines, the Chaos Space Marines, the Orks and the Eldar, and their different sub- groups and class, but will you be adding any more factions later on?
Miguel Caron: Yep. This is something that is very important to us. Our ultimate goal, if the game is successful, is to have all the factions in the game. That’s our ultimate goal. Now if it will happen or not, we don’t know, but that’s the goal. So far, for launch, in terms of cost, in terms of balance, and timing as well, those are the four factions we’ve selected. Today, we’re doing a new reveal, which is the other Ork clan that we’ve selected, with some of the Ork classes. Have you signed up for the beta?
Ravi Sinha: No, I haven’t signed up for the beta yet.
Miguel Caron: Ah, you have to go sign up for the beta, because on top of that, you’re going to get our newsletter, and there’s a lot of additional information in the newsletter that we send at least once or twice a month. Within the next few months, we’re going to ask the fans to vote on the next sub-faction we’ll add. And obviously when we decide to add the next real faction, we’ll take feedback from the fans. Right now, the biggest ones the fans want are Tau, Necrons, and Sisters of Battle. Although Sisters of Battle is more of a sub-faction, these are the three we’re being asked for the most.
We’ve decided that there shouldn’t be a firewall between the fans and the devs, which means the devs are required to spend thirty minutes to an hour a day speaking to fans on forums, or on Twitch, or Twitter, etc. We’re talking about the whole team, down to the QA guys, having carte blanche to talk to the fans about the things that are approved by the marketing staff, or their own train of thought.
I’ll give you an example. If you check my Twitter, you’ll see that one of the fans tweeted me, saying “You should have races” as like a mini-game. I talked to Grant, my lead gameplay designer, and he said, “Wow, what a great idea. I’ll try a few designs first, and I’ll let you know later.” So the communication between us and the fans is not us faking it. It’s real two way communication. When we did the Meet the Team video, the fans could see some of the in-game gameplay and assets in the background, and they were very quick to report that one of the chapters of the Space Marines, I don’t remember which one, but the logo on its shoulder was upside down.
They told us right away, and so we changed it right away, and we created a new video based on their feedback and the mistakes we made, and we said thank you to them. Same thing: the Drop Pod safety gear. When the Drop Pods fall to the planet, there’s a metal harness that needs to go up so all the Space Marines can go out in the same time, but in the concept art and the miniatures, it’s mechanically unsound. So we actually took a picture of it, and sent it to a few fan forums to ask them to come up with a solution for us, and they’re the ones who found the solution, which is to pop it out like an ejection seat. So that’s our new approach, and so far the fans have loved it.
Ravi Sinha: We all know about the Titans in the Warhammer franchise. Will they be making an appearance in Eternal Crusade as well?
Miguel Caron: This is a very good question, and honestly I don’t have an answer. In the last Ask me Anything on that we did on Twitch, David Ghozland, the Creative Director, was answering a fan question, and he talking about the different strategies like we were talking about earlier, and he was talking about the primary objective. At the end of the campaign, if the Space Marines have conquered the three other races, they can say, “Yeah, we’re the winners!”
But what David said was that there are many ways to look at the winners. Yes, the Space Marines can say they’re the winners because they took the three other fortresses, but maybe the Eldar were able to take over a Titan manufacturer, and that’s going to give them a lot of buffs and advantages in the next campaign. That was the example he gave, but I never did ask him afterwards if Titans themselves will be in the game. So we’ll need to check on it, but if he mentioned that, it’s probably a very good indication.
Ravi Sinha: We spoke a lot about combat and the different classes. How will the weather system in the game play a role in tilting the balance of war?
Miguel Caron: The same way that the weather system played an important role in the battle of Stalingrad. You know, winter is what made the Germans lose. The weather system is going to be very different on each continent, and you will have to adapt your strategy. I know that the lead level designer is working on a dynamic weather system, as well, so that the weather can change in the midst of battle, but it’s not something that is fully designed yet.
As I said, there’s no firewall between us and the fans, so we’re telling them what we’re thinking but this is not something that we’ve announced as a feature yet. The fact that the weather will be different on each continent is something that is for sure, and while we want a dynamic weather system, we have to make sure that it works well in terms of design and performance. The fact that we’re going to be the largest type of battle you can have is fantastic, but it means that we have to take other aspects of the gameplay into consideration.
For example, we know that it is very fun for the fans to be able to modify their look, and customize their character. We’re going to allow that, obviously, but only on certain parts of their character, because at the end of the day, in terms of rendering, if you have one thousand different looking characters, that becomes hard, technically speaking. Not only that, but in terms of military strategy, when you’ve got one thousand players all around you, you want to quickly be able to tell who is the enemy and who’s not, so if there’s a rainbow of colors on the battlefield, then it’s going to be very hard to know what you’re doing. It’s the same thing with a dynamic weather system, and the Tyranids.
They will always try to eat away some of your territory, and if you’re on the war council or in a strike force, you have to make sure that if you push for battle to take territory from the Eldar, you’re not leaving your rear to the Tyranids, because they’re going to eat you from behind while you think you’re winning the war. So you have to manage that. The Tyranids will stay away from large battles, because adding NPCs on top of players in a large battle will create performance issues. Then again, the Tyranids would wait for a battle to finish.
Because they’re very efficient creatures, they would just wait for their enemies to kill each other, and eat what’s left on the ground and kill the weakened winning army. So we can keep it logical, but we have to take into consideration the fact that we’re going to have a lot of players on the same battlefield and without preparation. It’s not like Eve Online. CCP knows in advance that there’s going to be a really large battle and where it will be. In our game, it’s something that can happen anywhere at any time, without us even knowing about it.
Ravi Sinha: You mentioned how big the battles will be, but how big will the planets be, and how many players will be supported at any given time?
Miguel Caron: For now, we only have one planet with many continents. What you’re asking is about load balancing and how we will manage the population. Again, this is something that’s design, and I’m not the best guy to answer that question, and even if I did tell you, it’s something that will probably change many, many times before launch. Our idea is to create single server technology, so that everyone will be on the same server.
Now, in terms of how to manage the population, we’ll see if the population is naturally spread equally throughout the planet, but our ultimate goal is that everyone is somewhere on that planet, and that we have it split somewhat equally. But balance is something that we approach very differently. All of the large scale MMO and MOBAs on the marketplace have spent a lot of their budget trying to have a perfectly balanced game. Balance between factions, balance between classes, balance between melee and ranged, etc. This is not something we’re trying to do, for a few reasons. First of all, the 40K universe is unfair. It is equally unfair, so it’s unfair for everybody, but it’s unfair. Depending on the situation, I might have an unfair advantage over you, but you might have an unfair advantage over me.
We call that asymmetrical balance. If you look at chess, the game is fully balanced. But if you take a white queen and a black pawn, they’re not balanced against each other, but the black pawn can still beat the white queen, depending on the strategy you use. So that’s what we mean. We’re going to have a secret meeting place as well, where the war councils of opposing factions can meet and make deals with one another. We don’t participate in that. We create the place, but they decide amongst themselves. So if the Eldar talk to the Orks, and they say, “You know what? Let’s wipe out the Chaos and Space Marine and fight it out with each other at the end.” That’s something that could happen easily in the game. We don’t know if that’s what the players will decide to do, but we’ll give them the tools to do that.
And this is something that has happened in the 40K lore in different ways. I mean, you’ve had Sisters of Battle fighting against Space Marines; you’ve had a lot of different things that are not normal or natural happen during war time. So we’ll give them the tools, but it’s up to them. If one war council decides to call a truce over one continent to have an overwhelming advantage against another faction on another continent, that’s their prerogative. But then the other one can do the same thing on the other continent. We’re going to fine tune the balance of this, because it’s never been done before, throughout the closed beta, which should be starting next year.
Ravi Sinha: Eternal Crusade will also be coming out for the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One. Will Eternal Crusade support cross-platform play between the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC?
Miguel Caron: I got the license for the game from Games Workshop for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Right now, we’re developing the game to be launched on the PC, because that’s what we’ve announced, but the minimum requirements are the Xbox One minimum requirements. Because of the technology we’re using, we’re going to make sure that the game is very easy to port to one or both of the other platforms. The reason we’re not doing it at launch is because we’re waiting to see what business deals Microsoft and Sony will want to have for an MMO. We can’t wait two weeks for updates to be approved, or deal with the other blockers that are on consoles right now.
We’re waiting to see what kind of deal they’ll provide us before we announce it. But to answer your question, I’m in talks with Microsoft and Sony right now, and I told them this would be a deal breaker. If you want to separate the community, it’s a deal breaker. So if you want it to be on next gen platforms, it has to be in the same universe as the people playing on PC. They have to be completely transparent. That’s the reason why we’re using gamepads in the Meet the Team video. It’s so we can have full gamepad support in the game, as well as mouse and keyboard. We’re designing the game to be fully playable without giving one any advantage over the other.
I think that naturally, if you fight melee, it’s more natural with a gamepad, and if you fight ranged, it’s more natural with a mouse and keyboard, but that’s just my own personal take on it. But both of them are designed for in the game, and it’s very important for us that that balance and that visceral feeling of melee and ranged are balanced and equally potent and equally fun to play. Again, we’re mirroring the way it was in Space Marine, so you can have your bolt pistol in your left hand and your chainsword in your right hand.
But if you’re getting in close range, and you want to keep it that way for speed, with one in each hand, your shooting will be less precise and your melee will be less powerful. But if you switch, and you put your sword back in your scabbard, and you use two hands on your bolter, you’ll be a lot more precise, and if you use two hands for your chainsword, you’ll have a lot more power. But if you’re dual wielding, you can hit him with your chainsword and then shoot him in the head with your bolter to finish him.
Ravi Sinha: Speaking of next gen consoles for a moment, Microsoft is pushing cloud gaming with the Xbox One, which allows them to update games and add more content on the fly. What are your thoughts on this, and will cloud gaming be used in Eternal Crusade at some point?
Miguel Caron: You’re asking very good questions. I don’t want to reveal too much, but we’re planning a big event at GDC next year, where we’ll showcase our game with new technology with a very strong focus on internet partners that we have. The game can run in the cloud, can be hosted in the cloud, instead of on a server farm inside of a dedicated building. So cloud gaming is something that we’re already working on, and it’s very important to us.
We haven’t revealed exactly how we’re going to do it yet, maybe because we’re still designing it, but to answer your question, yes we know about it, yes it’s important to us, and yes, my goal, after we’ve done a lot of tests, because our game is very twitch sensitive, so we need response that is way below eighty milliseconds to make it fun, but my ultimate goal is to have the game hosted in the cloud at launch.
Just to give you an example, everything you see right now, the website, and the forums that will be launched soon, none of that is hosted on our server. Everything you see is hosted in the cloud.
Ravi Sinha: As far as the Playstation 4, there’s been discussions ever since it was revealed about the GDDR5 RAM and the performance advantages that it provides, and there have been several developers that have been very positive about it. Do you see developers using that extra memory in their games, and will Eternal Crusade use it as you start working on consoles?
Miguel Caron: I cannot answer for the PS4, because, as I said, we were using the minimum requirements, so we haven’t made it work on PS4, so the programmers haven’t been faced with the question yet. But I can give you answer using the PC to show you what our thinking is. One of the things that I really want with Eternal Crusade is I don’t want to have to choose the gaming experience of the fans by choosing a lot of nice to have features that provide a wonderful, beautiful word, but don’t allow the majority of players who can’t afford the brand new NVidia cards, the 3D goggles, and things like that to play the game. With NVidia and ATI, yes of course, we want to be able to support the latest features of the newest video cards that will be available at launch, but these are nice to have features that can be unavailable and if you don’t have access to that feature on your PC.
My take is PS4 is obviously the moment we decide to launch on PS4, we’re going to use the maximum amount of features available on PS4 to be able to give best possible output of the game, but we’re not going to be doing it just so we can be like, “Oh, yeah, we have that new feature and you need that to play our game, that’s why we’re great.” To me, these are nice to have. I should quote one of the tweets I got from a fan yesterday: “Please don’t make this game suck! Well, it can suck a little bit, but just not dried out on the vine.” The fans, they’re not even asking for a perfect game. We will deliver a fantastic game, but they don’t even have that expectation.
They just want a Warhammer 40K MMO that they can play with their friends and have fun with, so of course our focus is on the gameplay. Of course, the game is going to be gorgeous and beautiful, and we have a lot of very unique ideas that will surprise the industry when we announce them. You know, companies, and I’m not just saying gaming companies, fail because they want to be great at everything and instead end up only being mediocre at everything. We want to be great at Massive Combat RPGs. This is what we want to be great at.
We want to be the number one in that genre. At few years after launch, we want to become the League of Legends of that genre, so that’s really what we’re focusing our energy on and yes it’s going to be beautiful, and we’re going to surpass the fan’s expectations, but I’m keeping the boat geared in one direction, which is the best combat and gameplay possible for a Massive Combat RPG in a dynamic open world.
Ravi Sinha: The game does not come out until 2015. We have games that are funded right now but come out in the next year or two years (Kickstarter projects for example). How are you planning to make the game fool-proof from the constant market fluctuations in the Free to Play genre? For example, a year ago, no one would’ve thought we’d see this many Free to Play games on the PS4 and now we have about 3-4 of them about to launch alongside it this November. So how do you account for those fluctuations?”
Miguel Caron: One bad habit I noticed when I worked at my IT firm before the dotcom bubble burst, and one I see now in the gaming industry is to dictate to the consumer what his Behaviour should be: what he should like, how he should pay for it. Obviously, the gaming industry is in the midst of very large changes. From a year and a half ago, to now there’s been big changes in the industry, so it’s kind of like the dotcom bubble.
The gaming industry hasn’t crashed, it’s just that the business has moved, you know? It’s moved from selling triple-A console games in boxes to mobile games that are making more money than some of the console games, from the subscription business model in MMOs to Free to Play. So it’s not that it’s crashed, which is a good thing, it’s still growing, it’s that moving between the different styles that the industry has unfortunately created. Usually, when I see a flock of sheep going left, my first instinct is to go right, right? So in terms of the business model, it’s a hybrid business model. You have a premium, which is a lot like Guild Wars 2, but with a Free to Play option, which are the Ork Boyz.
So there’s two groups of Orks. There’s the Ork Nobs, which are equal to the Space Marines, the Elder and the Chaos, but there’s another sub-faction which are the Ork Boyz, and they are a Free to Play faction. Both models are in the game, and once you play the Free to Play Boyz, you can upgrade through micro-transactions just as if you’d bought a full Nob package or a full Space Marine package. And once you buy your package, I’m not dictating what’s going to be in your package. You’re buying a number of points. Let’s say you and I are going to play a tabletop game.
We have to figure out how many points we’re going to play with. So, maybe we’ll play a five hundred point game because I don’t have a lot of time, or maybe we’ll play a one thousand pointy game so I can bring two armies. And once we decide how many points we’re putting on the table, we decide what kind of units we’re going to play, so I could play one Stompa, which is a Titan for the Orks, or one hundred Boyz. It’s the same way in the game. This approach in design is kind of a natural safety net for the changes that will happen in the marketplace in the next few years, and that’s why we don’t want to dictate to the players. This is a player driven game.
Ravi Sinha: We also heard about a cash shop within the game. What is that exactly, and how does it work?
Miguel Caron: I’m in discussions with many different publishers right now, and I’ve been in discussions with them since GDC. When I start talking with publishers, I show them the game design document. We’ve designed for almost a year before we started doing code, and that design part includes monetization, and monetization is designed to the items level, and publishers were completely flabbergasted that all of this was already down on paper and designed before we even did lines of code. And I said, “Why are you surprised?” That’s the number one rule.
You have to understand how you will monetize your game, and you have to make sure that you’re not putting something on top of a cool game that makes it not cool anymore. And you don’t want to fall into very junior, but large mistakes that can kill a lot of games. For example, say you can buy an item with a certain kind of game currency, but you can convert that currency into the type of currency that you can buy with cash.
And so you buy items that are better than what you’ll get for the next twenty levels, so you take those items that you receive during the next twenty levels and you trash them or sell them, but none of the loot that you ever get will be more powerful than the loot you bought with real cash. Even games that have come out recently have that issue. That’s what killed Diablo III, by the way. This type of mistake can be avoided when you design monetization while you’re designing the game.
So, yes, we’re going to have a cash shop, obviously, and yes we’re going to have micro-transactions, that’s going to be very important, and I can’t tell you how all of that will work, but I can tell you the philosophy behind it, and the philosophy behind it is that we will have pay to win over my dead body. We don’t want to have to spend money in the shop. We want you to want to, so you’re happy when you do it. It’s like the day you put your money aside to replace your old tube TV with a big new LCD TV. So you put two thousand or three thousand dollars aside, and now you go to Best Buy to buy a new TV. You’re not sad to spend that money. You’re excited about it. And once you’re installing that TV, you don’t have buyer’s remorse. You want to go back to buy that little webcam that you can add to your TV, so you can control it by looking at it. You want to buy the other accessories. That’s the emotional relationship I want people to have with the cash shop.
Let’s say you go to a high-level dungeon, and the reward at the end is a very powerful sword. But maybe you don’t have the time or you don’t want to do that dungeon, or you don’t want to grind. You want to go right into the shop and buy a sword. The golden rule that we found that makes everybody happy is the sword that you buy in the cash shop is twenty percent less powerful than the sword that you grind and work your ass off for.
And that twenty percent difference in power is what makes the really dedicated player want to work for it because he knows that his sword is better because he worked for it. But the guy who bought his sword is happy because the sword he bought is at least thirty percent more powerful than the sword he had before, and he understands that the other guy has a more powerful sword because he actually worked for it. So that aspect is going to be even more important in Eternal Crusade because it’s a PVP game. So fairness and balance is important there, too. So the pay to win factor is going to be something that’s going to be looked at very seriously to make sure that nothing creeps into the game that allows that.
Ravi Sinha: Speaking of fairness and balance, and as the final question, we read that a player’s cruiser will be able to merge with their friend’s ships, and they can create a social guild structure, and they can fire on the surface of the planet from their ship. How does this work, and how does this affect the balance of the game?
Miguel Coran: Let’s say you just bought the game and you log in. Where you spawn first and where you always start the game is in your own personal space ship orbiting the planet, so kind of like a gun cutter or something like that. When we launch the Founder’s Program for the pre-order of the game, and when the game is going to be launched, there’s going to be individual packages you can buy, and there’s going to be group packages that you can buy.
I think the maximum is like forty licenses, so you can buy forty keys for a group of friends of up to forty people. So basically, either when you buy it, or afterwards when you join a squad or a strike force, we will give the players the ability to merge their ships into one big battleship, where they will have their own personal quarters that will be the size of the ship they had. On top of that, they’re going to have living rooms and training areas, and trophy rooms and things like that.
The main purpose of that is not gameplay related. The main purpose is social. You can also use it for planning. So all the battle maps, and the white boards to plan your strategy, and the hierarchy tools you’ll need to get voted as the leader, and things like that are in your space ship or strike force ship. The fact that you can actually use some of these to bombard the planet is something we’re going to have, but how that will be implemented has not been released yet. The philosophy behind it is exactly the same as the philosophy behind the heroes I told you about.
Yes, you can use it, but there’s going to be a lot of requirements behind the ability to use that, and it’s not something that one individual can decide to do. A least one hundred people would have to gather the resources necessary for a strike like this, and if you miss it, or you don’t do it right, you’re going to lose of lot of resources. So it’s unfair, but like the rest of the 40K universe, it’s unfair for everybody. So it’s something that has to be used as a strategic decision, not as a tactical decision. You need to go to military school to know the difference, but there’s a very large difference between tactics and strategy.
Ravi Sinha: Well, Miguel, I want to thank you for your time once again. You answered a lot of our questions and helped us to understand more details about the game. We look forward to seeing the progress the game makes over the next few years.
Miguel Caron: Thanks, Ravi!
A big thank you to Max Trudel from Human Equation for setting this interview up.