Last week, I talked for over an hour with Nathan Richardsson, Senior Producer for Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade at Behavior Interactive. In our meeting, we discussed Warhammer 40k, Agile Development, and Steam Early Access. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
Jacob: Hi Nathan. Thank you for talking with MMOGames.
Nathan: No problem. The pleasure is mine.
Jacob: Before we get started, please introduce yourself.
Nathan: Yes. Of course. My name is Nathan Richardsson. I am the Senior Producer for Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade at Behavior Interactive. I worked at CCP for five years. While I was there, I was responsible for the development and strategy of EVE Online, DUST 514 and World of Darkness. After that, I worked for Trion Worlds as the Vice President of Development for Defiance–the game and the television show.
Jacob: The game and the show?
Nathan: Yes. It was the opportunity of a lifetime–and I love challenges. Working across multiple mediums gave me a chance to tell a much more compelling and complex story. I learned a lot. I also worked for Ubisoft for six months.
Jacob: Only six months?
Nathan: It wasn’t for me. I like working on smaller, more intimate projects. Ubisoft is so big–I just didn’t enjoy it.
Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade
Jacob: Tell me about Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade.
Nathan: Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade is a massive multiplayer online shooter based in Games Workshop’s popular Warhammer 40k universe. As a 40k tabletop player myself, working with Games Workshop has been a dream come true. And I am proud to announce that, after such a long development period, Eternal Crusade will finally be available via Steam Early Access later this summer! The game was originally slated for a Fall 2015 release, but due to Agile Development, we are able to get it in gamers’ hands much sooner.
Also, the game will be running on the Unreal 4 engine, it will be free-to-play, and it will eventually release for Xbox One and Playstation 4. Though I’m not allowed to talk about specific details, I am allowed to say that a console version is definitely on the horizon, slated to hit the market after the PC version releases.
Jacob: Before we get into more juicy news, you mentioned an interesting buzzword: “Agile Development.” What do you mean by that?
Nathan: It’s the term we are using to describe our development process on Eternal Crusade. “Agile Development” means streamlining ideas to get a working copy of the game to Founders as soon as possible.
Jacob: Does that mean Eternal Crusade has changed from its original vision?
Nathan: Yes and no. When I was hired as Senior Producer, I spent my first couple months “ruining dreams.” The original game was meant to ship with a massive universal sandbox and 1,000 player world-wide PvP. Though we are working to make that dream a reality, the Early Access version of the game will function less as a sandbox and more as a match-made MMO. And it will become more MMO-like all the time. By starting with a segmented world, we lay the foundation for the final product. Territories will expand over time and create a massive sandbox. Currently, we are predicting it will take two years to incorporate all initial elements into the final game, and we are using player input from Steam Early Access to shape it. I believe working on such a timeline will give everyone everything they want.
Jacob: How will Steam Early Access work?
Nathan: At Behavior, we treat Early Access as Alpha Access. Our Founders are our play-testers; their purchases directly contribute to the development and maintenance of the game. And their comments will directly influence the final product. It’s a chance for the community–a vocal, dedicated group of Warhammer 40k fans–to finally play the game they always wanted.
Jacob: How will you implement changes?
Nathan: That’s also a part of our Agile Development plan. Eternal Crusade will receive weekly patches, expanding the world, fixing bugs, and adding content like campaigns, characters, weapons, and armor. We are also preparing several bi-weekly updates. We want gamers to feel like part of an ever-changing environment.
Jacob: That Early Access plan is very different from other games. A lot of titles enter Early Access mostly finished.
Nathan: Yes. And I have never subscribed to that model. A nearly finished game does not need Early Access, I think. Why release a game, make people pay for it, tweak a couple things, and make them pay full price for it again? It makes no sense to me. Early Access should be an interactive experience that makes players and community members an active part of the development process. Our Founder’s Pack gifts players with a limited edition emblem, a special title, and a large sum of in-game currency–an amount that, for the price, sits well below the market value. I believe in rewarding people who contribute. They don’t have to pay to play a developing game (especially a F2P game), but they do; they should be well-compensated.
Jacob: Earlier you said the game will be running on the Unreal 4 engine. The last I heard, Eternal Crusade was operating on a completely different engine. Does that mean you have scrapped the old game?
Nathan: In a way, yes, but not entirely. The Unreal 4 engine is revolutionizing game development. In the past, companies hired developers that specialized in one specific engine, meaning different games operating on different engines required completely different staffs. But Unreal 4 is easy to use, and it translates well for everyone. Most developers these days work directly in-engine, something unheard of two or three years ago. It’s incredible.
We did restart, but we did not restart from scratch; a lot of the old elements translated quite nicely. And it looks great, something we never could have done in the old game. Textures and elements look incredible! I’m proud of it.
Jacob: You also mentioned that Eternal Crusade will be free-to-play. What does that entail?
Nathan: When it launches, everything in the game will be accessible to everyone. F2P players will be limited to the Ork class, of course, but all areas and missions will be available to everyone. We plan to release an expansion every three months (this is also part of our Agile Development plan). Everyone will have access to the expansions. There will be no pay wall.
There will, however, be DLCs that can be purchased with real-world money. These DLCs will provide access to special items, armor pieces, and advanced classes. None of these assets will be necessary to play the game. In fact, a lot of the DLC items will be statistically weaker to items earned in-game. Say, for example, you unlock a golden minigun in a DLC. That item is stat-locked. Though it might be extremely powerful, it cannot be improved. Regular miniguns can be improved and, over time, will out-perform the golden minigun. The goal is to make items that are fun but aren’t necessary to the game. Who doesn’t want a golden minigun or a pimp hat on their helmet? Well–I don’t want a pimp hat, but somebody might.
Jacob: How will gameplay work? Will there be a story mode?
Nathan: This is one of the coolest features of the game, I think. Eternal Crusade is a non-traditional MMO, meaning the story is (within certain limits) determined by the player community. We will write as we go. Within the game, we will give the community story-driven Campaign options. Their decisions will affect what we write next.
Jacob: So Behavior is acting as a sort of tabletop GM?
Nathan: That’s one way of thinking of it, yeah. Sort of. On a much bigger scale, yes. We will be a very passive GM, though. We want the players to act for themselves.
Jacob: Are there any other surprises up your sleeve?
Nathan: Just one: currently there are four classes in the game. We are preparing a fifth class for Early Access–the 1st Terminator class. For details on that, though, you’ll have to wait and watch.
Jacob: Awesome! Thanks again for sitting down with me. It’s been a blast.
Nathan: The pleasure is all mine.
Warhammer 40k will be available for Steam Early Access this summer. Founder’s packs can be purchased here. Check back to MMOGames for more news, exclusives, and updates.Related: Alpha, E3, E3 2015, Early Access, Interview, MMO, MMORPG, Sandbox, Shooter, Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, Warhammer 40k Eternal Crusade