Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade

Eternal Crusade Interview with Nathan Richardsson : The Road to MMO

We recently got a chance to sit down with the wonderful Executive Producer on Warhammer 40K Eternal Crusade, Nathan Richardsson, about the state of Eternal Crusade and how the road to live is going for everyone over at Behaviour Interactive.

 

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me and to MMOGames about Eternal Crusade and the roadmap to MMO glory. So lets make like the Inquisiton and ask some questions. I promise, no branding irons or neural whips this time.

Last month you released the roadmap infographic for where you clarified the launch feature set. I’ll just make sure though, you haven’t told any more artists to break a leg have you? Got people on hand to deal with the summer of Con Plagues?

Nathan: We have two initiatives right now to protect our people from evil and for those that are evil a clearer path to possession. While does not necessarily exclude people get limbs broken or succumb to the various plagues, we’re focusing on sending the useless to Cons (Read: Me) and exchanging some staff with some form of medical training of various origin. There is a witch doctor, sorcerer and some guy we found outside on the street that said he served as a medic in World War.

 

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In seriousness though, how is the Early access road treating you?

Nathan: We’re incredibly happy, get good reviews and our regular updates brings everyone back to the yard. Like Milkshake but it’s a rough ride. There are so many burnt bridges in the Early Access program and no clear definition of “what are you” when you start. Are you protyping? Pre-Alpha? Are you in a polished Alpha state and iterating to graduate to Beta? Are you a month preview before you launch? Are you open or closed? Are you agile and transparent and involving the players in the development and direction or are you there for funding or even just a cash grab and couldn’t care less.

We’re not there for funding so people can rule that out. We’ve been very open about that, that we are agile and we’re there to make an infinitely better game by including the players in the development of the game on so many levels. Transparency is important to us but it also gives insight into the ugly world of game development. We chase fun, not dates. That means we have a goal for putting out a patch and if that patch goes out 2 days later, so be it. The feedback isn’t valuable if the iteration isn’t finalized and the game isn’t fun if you just check if a task is finished or you do everything to hit a date. I mean, it’s not like someone is going to die or anything with a patch 2 days later.

 

Has it been difficult managing peoples expectations of what Early Access is and what an MMO is?

Nathan: That ties into the ambiguousness or perhaps a better word would be “lack of tradition” which will all sort itself out over time. Early Access means many things in many minds and I think when there is more tradition what developers are doing Early Access for – ultimately a better game – then managing expectation is less of problem.

We’re also very fortunate that we had Founders Access before that so a lot of Warhammer 40,000 kind of knew what they were getting themselves into. It’s an Alpha that we update very frequently and we listen and engage people. I’m everywhere, gathering information, taking in the feedback and engaging in dialog. It still means managing expectations has been easy, the expectations for an Early Access are still high but we decided to go against the flow. For the greater good of mankind and take unusual steps to ultimately make a better game.

The debate on what people perceive today is an MMO is also all over the place. It’s why we simplified and simply said “Massive Online Shooter” and right now we’re only trying to get the Shooter part fun. The MMO aspects, which only mean that you are part of a large online persistent universe with a lot of players – and you actions affect others – is the most basic definition of “MMO”. You have lots of games out there which can be classified under there, ranging from The Division to Destiny and even Clash of Clans.

We’re doing it our way. We’re not here to copy WoW or any other game, we’re our own and we’re going to use a hub-and-spoke architecture to cater to the multiple game modes, PVE, PVP, territorial conquest and persistent world catering to your every Warhammer 40,000 experience and dream.

Eternal Crusade Launch

Your stats guy had the wonderful tidbit on the infographic about there having been tons players in Early Access. I know some of them are likely eager to join the ranks of the xenos filth, any ideas on when they can get all green?

Nathan: We have so much stats on so many things most people don’t realize unless they’ve been developing and operating massive online games before. We join that with unstructured feedback (game chat, forums, twitter), player behaviour ingame and our own direction and gut feeling. There is far more science to game development today than ever before and we’re coming out with a massive report showing that tip of the iceberg.

Regarding Xenos filth, Eldar is our top priority right now along with a set of MMO-esque systems, which gives you a much deeper character experience, ranging from 100s of weapons and accessories, character progression and so forth. Everything that makes you a real character in a real universe, gathering reputation and making a name for yourself. In between we receive the last assets for Orks and delivering Eldar, we’ll do more MMO-esque work and then in a couple of months, you will see the green tide.

 

How has the Microsoft wanting to play nice with Sony cross platform attempt affected plans down the line? After all Eternal Crusade isn’t just going to be on PC.

Nathan: It got us tremendously excited. We believe we have most of the things required to pull it off due the nature of our game and the team being smack full of experienced MMO, Console and PC developers. Heck, we can do cross-play already, that’s the best way to develop a triple-platform MMO game, both technically, from the fun perspective and having the platforms playing against each other as soon as possible, not just port something together and hope it works. There is a lot of stigma, gameplay balancing and so forth and the sooner we start that, the better.

Is there anything going on? No, we just continue how we were going to develop the game in the first place but now eagerly away any sign from above what will be the next step.

 

In terms of the development, I have to say that the Eldar are shaping up nicely. If you need a big stocky guy to do motion capture for the Orks, I volunteer to go to Toronto! Is there anything in particular about the Eldar work that you’d like to get across to fans?

Nathan: Just that the effort behind an asymmetric 5-faction based game isn’t as easy as it sounds. Not to mention we have to be true to the lore and some of the things we’re doing hasn’t even been fully fleshed out in lore either, so we’ve been doing a lot of discovery work with Games Workshop. For example just Eldar, they haven’t been in any form of shooter before and that’s a challenge in itself, the animations and everything, how do they look, their weapons act.

It’s great fun for huge Warhammer 40,000 fans to get to work on this and a great honor so the dedication is very high and while we love feedback even though some is negative, the positive is also just fuel to our fire for getting it right. Like the guy that had to shower after playing the Alpha. That’s my kind of feedback.

Eternal Crusade Eldar

How are things with the unholy xenos swarm that infests Arkhona? ‘Gaunts still trying to tear us all apart? Tyranids I imagine are a real pain to animate.

Nathan: They certainly aren’t easy to work with, especially since they are also driven by AI so it brings more complexities and they are aliens that are entirely different from everyone else. Which ones exactly will show up and tear you apart is still in progress and is everything from matching to game modes to what fits with the AI modules right now. We’ll continue to expand them and play around with crazy game modes because as you know there are two ways to get rid of Tyranids from a planet. Exterminatus or keeping them at bay while you complete your mission.

 

The DLC and expansion plans you have really make players like myself happy. After all there’s nothing worse than expansions fracturing a playerbase. I’m sure I could make it worth your while to just give me one Necron, just one single bot somewhere…. Or shall I just resign myself to free stuff to make playing fun? Or phrasing it as a question, is this a sneaky and clever way to make sure people don’t wear themselves out on certain modes or maps?

Nathan: Free expansions and updates has been a cornerstone of the games that I have worked on for a very long time. I despise segmenting the playerbase, I hate to have to be forced to buy more, and if I come back to play after 3 months with my friends, I don’t want see a line of 4 DLCs just to be able to play with them.

I call it “pay to not play with your friends” which one would think would be pretty counter-intuitive. Instead we do have ingame stores with non Pay-2-win things and cosmetics and such, we might do a DLC for promotional purposes but it would just be a nice bundle of discounted currency and some things from the store and such. Pretty standard “hey you don’t have to buy anything but we’ll make it really really really hard not to. We have to have food on the table long term but what people also forget is one fundamental thing.

Online games never stop selling the game. We’re always selling the game to new customer wherever they are in the world in addition to getting people to come back and try out the new stuff so the store isn’t the only revenue source. You see, people are the best content for other people. Even in free-2-play games this is recognized that the free player is content for the paying player. Critical mass has to be there.

So is it sneaky? No. It’s free content and you can come play it if you want to. Might we entice you with some irresistible content? Yes, but that’s the clever part, isn’t it? 🙂

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The Game At Launch Infographic presents a very together, very feature complete looking game for launch. I won’t put the squig before the warbuggy and ask what you have planned for after launch, but I will ask, what launch feature you are most looking forward to yourself?

Nathan: Thank you! We put a lot of work into it, we’ll be updating it, using it in a lot of places and it’s already cleared up tons of misunderstandings and what will be at launch. Our scope and ambition is still huge but we also have to make feasible achievable milestones during our 10-year plan of the Eternal Crusade and there it is.

Our dreams afterwards are so highly dependent on our players and how we prioritize features and content based on what’s happening in a huge persistent world where 100,000s of thousands of players are battling for the greater glory of their faction. If anyone is going to say they can predict that kind of thing and you just “press play” and watch must have jogged on a wall somewhere. We do have one thing set in stone, our first free Expansion, which are roughly every 3 months, contains the Terminator Equivalent Class for all factions. It’s what the people want. Big badaboom.

My personal favorite for launch though? I’m a big meta-guy so the persistent world where PVE, PVP, Campaigns, everything affects each other plays like a beautiful orchestra of blood-fueled carnage everywhere you look and who controls the various parts of Arkhona. Do or do not, you will die.

The final question isn’t hugely a question but I have a burning need to know. Have you seen “If The Emperor Had A Text To Speech Device” on YouTube? Because as it happens Bruva Alfabusa is a fan of Eternal Crusade and he made this little tribute to Power Fists recently…

Nathan: Yes in both cases. Also, repost.

Ah well even so. Who doesn’t love tank punching?

Our thanks to Nathan taking time out to answer my nonsensical rambling. Was there something more pressing you would have liked to squeeze out of him? Do you care less about Orks and more about the Fire Prism? Give us a shout in the comments below for next Eternal Crusade interview.

Eternal Crusade is available now on Steam Early Access focusing mainly on the core combat experience and does not contain the MMO elements yet.

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About Jonathan Doyle

Once long ago Westwood made a space game. Earth And Beyond was the start of the journey. From there, through Paragon City and to the fields of Altdorf, there were battles. Westwood brought me to MMOs. City of Heroes refined my love for them. Warhammer brought me to writing about them. He loves all things space, sci fi, Warhammer or heroic.