Interview with Nathan Richardson, Senior Producer for Warhammer 40,000 Eternal Crusade

Nathan Richardson is the Senior Producer for Warhammer 40,000 Eternal Crusade. Some of you may know him from his presence on the boards. Others may know of him from his career, working previously for both Trion Worlds and CCP.

Now of course you’ll know him for that one guy who got interviewed by a beardy guy about Eternal Crusade. After all, there are questions floating around and about regarding Early Access, Founders Access and the road ahead for Behaviour Interactives Eternal Crusade.
The Inquisition is all about bullet points, but we’ll just go with questions ourselves. So without further ado let’s talk about the disposal of the Early Access idea and the revamped and juicy Founders Access.

Founders Access is a 16 on 16 bowl of pain and dakka. What’s not to love? Only people seem to be missing the idea of all the little cute touches like being on the troopship going through the Warp. So…

 

Will you ever come back to some of that fluffy stuff for the game in the future? Obviously development takes priority which is why it got changed.

Yes, absolutely. The changes we’re doing is re-prioritizing, we try to avoid cutting out entirely. That might mean it comes in one of our expansions post-launch – which we aim for every 3 months or so – or it’s patched in between the major expansions.

Through that, we focus on the core gameplay first, find the fun there because otherwise, the rest doesn’t matter. That’s why you see that we didn’t go for these smaller early modules, like a singular shooting range, and instead wanted to do the Founders Access – which is the core combat of the entire game. The shooter in massive shooter has to work first, the massive part second.

Sub-factions, clans, with their own private and upgradable ships are especially things we want to do but we think there must be more to it than just owning them, and that we should have a working massive shooter first. However, I can’t resist the temptation of guilds boarding each other’s ships as part of clan warfare in the future. But that’s just me and is probably a silly idea.

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Do you think the confusion can be blamed on the new terms we’re all obsessed with? After all an Early Access game isn’t half done and half (if we’re lucky) broken, it’s really half launched and that means I can have it now!

Certainly. We wanted to make sure that what we’re doing is continuing our Founders program, not just doing “Early Access” which is now closely associated with said program on Steam. Sure, it’s an early slice of the core gameplay that we want to playtest, but it’s with our Founders and we want their feedback. We’re committed to them as part of the development process and we felt that giving them early access to the core gameplay – the foundation of the game – would benefit us far more than smaller modules, like a ships quarters or shooting gallery.

We know we could probably have sold more relic items and Founders packages if you had those things and could go in and see them but in the long run, we felt it was more important to get the core gameplay right. It means a delay in the “early access of stuff in general” but I think people will be pleased with the slice of the core we’ll start out with.

But broken or half done? Not so much actually. We strive for continuous quality as part of agile development, rather than loading all fixing into the end of when we launch. The entire team takes part in the daily smoketests of the daily builds and we take more care in what we code and content we check in. Half a game? Sure, if you think massive shooter, you only get shooter. But it’s not half a shooter.

I saw recently on the forums that as with many things in game development, technology and business have both spoken. Regional Servers may be coming instead of one megaserver. Being a former EVE man, do you have any feelings on megaservers for games you’d like to share?

Yes, I have pretty strong feelings on the subject. I believe strongly in single world servers – but I also have to be practical. A game needs to be built from the ground up to be able to handle that, and by that I mean not just technology, but from a game design perspective too. EVE was built to tolerate huge latency so it barely matters.

Now imagine a twitch shooter. Tell me how I’m going to solve the speed of light problem to keep latency down between a player in Japan and Belgium. Sure, I could have transparent matchmaking which makes sure you don’t end up playing with someone in Belgium from Japan but that’s not a single world server and doesn’t solve all the problems people think it solves. Defiance had EU and NA as separate regions and that went fine, but cross-Atlantic was more of a problem and we tested all that.

So regional servers is not just business, not just tech, it’s also game design. We’re still testing and perhaps we can do cross-Atlantic as one region but we must face reality instead of always living in dreams at some point. That’s where I come in I guess. I have to ruin some dreams to make things a reality. Not exactly the favorite part of my job but sometimes you have to choose the lesser of four evils.

I don’t really have any doubts at this point that we’ll come up with a solution that meets a lot of our previous requirements and doesn’t create the myriad of problems we’re all fearing, because the team we have has a lot of experience with this type of games. We’ve solved the individual problems before, we will solve them now.

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Some Xenos players are probably feeling a little left out with the 16v16 Founders Access idea. Are there any bright lights you can shine for the Eldar players or da boyz amongst the fanbase?

We’d love to have them in but we simply can’t. First, the Orks and Eldar won’t have a full complement of classes, weapons and vehicles to compete. Space Marines and Chaos would eat them for lunch. Second, if we’re trying make sure that the core gameplay works, we have to work with two factions which actually has as close to the full complement of these things as possible. This is why SM and CSM start with a subset that is equal.

However, during Founders Access, we will gradually evolve, add and improve on a regular basis what’s there. Will our Eldar and Ork friends join? I can’t say because it hinges on so much else. But I can say that CSM and SM players are in a minority in the office. It’s all xenos scum here.

 

I know we’re only four months into the year but it never hurts to ask early. Given the timeline you’re working with, do you think people will get a chance to get their hands on Eternal Crusade this convention season?
(Come to Gamescom, I’ll buy pizza)

Yes, this is currently our goal. I would put money on us being at Gamescom with something sexy, be that me in spandex or a huge floor to play, I don’t know yet. All depends on when we launch Founders Access. We’ll be present at other events up till then with other big announcements but not a huge area to put your hands on. Yes. Huge area. Hands on.

 

How has that patent gone on the pay-to-look-even-more-badass business model? Or more coherently, do you think people still fear item shops? How often do you get asked if that flash gitz bolter be better than mine?

That fear never goes away until people actually see the “shop” and what’s available vs what’s available in game. I can write essays on monetization in games by now but it would never calm anyone, since people always want to read between the lines and cite the many failed examples of this and that. That’s also normal, because there are so many games that do this now and they do it so differently that there is no direct comparison.

It’s silly really, the industry and players talk about “freemium”, “free-to-play”, “pay-to-win”, “subscription” etc. as some singular things which are all alike, when the difference on how these things are implemented and the strategy used varies so much just within these terms, let alone across these concepts that I couldn’t even possibly name them all.

This is the year of the hybrid business models. You have a strategy which fits how your game is, how it plays, what’s fun and you have a shop which is built up from things that people want to buy, not necessarily need to buy. If you need the store to play, you’re doing something wrong. If you need the store to win, you’re doing something wrong too in my opinion. If you want something in the store and equivalents are also available in game through effort, it’s a successful mix in my mind.

Perhaps, that Nathan Pattern bolter with Brass Balls hanging off its handle is only available in the store, but its stats won’t be superior to the most superior weapon in game. This is important to us.

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How much longer do the sorts of people with plenty of teef in their pockets have to get in on the Dawn of the Imperium and Xenos packs?

Those packs expire May 7th, so you better run if you want those packs. They’re the best you’ll ever get. Not only are the Founders Packages the best bang for the bucks, but those two pack an extra punch. As another example, the Founder price of a Warrior Pack is $40. When we hit retail, you will not be able to get that pack anymore, the price will be higher and they contain far less benefits and currency (Rogue Trader Points).

 

We’ll end on something nice and easy. Just your personal preference, not a vote one way or the other. Snakebites or Blood Axes?

Snakebites, I think we have enough structured factions and the more feral factions could use some more brutality.

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Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us and hopefully this helps clear up some of the misconceptions out there about what people will be getting and testing.

So ladies and gentlemen, what do you think? Are your fears settled and your interest rekindled? Is there something else preying on your mind that you want to get answered or are we all settling into the normal pre-release “Wait and see” mentality? Personally though given the choice between 16v16 dakka or a solo shooting range…. Dakka. Always dakka.

Thanks again to Nathan for taking the time to talk to us and answer our grab bag of queries.

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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.