Thursday 18 July 2013

Enter the Citadel: Bringing the Apocalypse

"I say Jervis, shall we turn 40K up to 11?"
"I don't see why not, Phil..."

Having found some breakfast at Bugman's, I managed to make the first part of this seminar, rather than coming in halfway through.

The set up was that the headliners, named as the guests on the promotional material, would sit on the stage on some nice leather sofas, while questions were taken by a chap who I never really caught the name of, but who radiated Corporate Enthusiasm. They 'warmed up' with a few core questions on a projector, before opening the floor to questions.

The only real downside from a practical perspective was that they had hung a lot of cloth around the staff canteen to make it look better (you just head in and eat how it is normally during Throne of Skulls events) - and the kitchen was still working, so the entire place became a huge oven. I'm not sure making it look a little prettier was worth the sweltering heat we endured as a result.

The people going to the painting and hobby seminars will have probably had a much better experience, as the room they went down to was the one used for the painting masterclasses, which has at least some pretence of air conditioning, and doesn't have a kitchen next to it!

Some of the answers to the questions here are very basic, but I'm going to include everything I noted down.

What is different with the new Apocalypse?

They've added new rules, and new scenarios. There are Unnatural Disasters, Finest Hours, the list went on. Formations have been included to give people benefits for placing your tanks / models in a certain way. They also wanted to focus on the social aspect of the game.

Phil is especially fond of the Master of Disasters. One is appointed at the start of each game turn. He was not allowed to include a rule to say you had to wear a special hat. The focus of the book was very much on arranging a big social game. Players should consider it a permission slip to go crazy. You can theme your battles, and destroy the world you're fighting on. You don't have to include these rules, it is up to you.

They've added Warzones - Armageddon, and shortly coming, Pandorax. These are campaigns from Warhammer 40K's background. There will be extra data sheets and so on, including bespoke stuff from those backgrounds. They allow you to take those backgrounds and form strongly themed games in the context of a particular bit of history or timeline.

Guy Haley mentioned in passing that the novel "Baneblade" was written about two years ago, but had been waiting for an appropriate release slot.

They said that one of the things they are trying to do with 6th Edition is to make it feel like you are there on the battlefield. This is one of the reasons behind having a Warlord. They wanted you to have a trooper or commander's eye view of the battle, not a God's looking down.

It was mentioned that Yarrick and Ghazghkull both have Finest Hours which continue while their nemesis remains on the field.

Is Apocalypse needed?
They strongly believe so. People were locked into the idea of 40K being fixed point value battles. The book needed to say "you can do this". It can take you where you want to go.

They commented it was scary how quickly people like to put things into a box of restrictions that the designers never intended.

The book talks about how to organise large battles and how to make it easier to do. Its a toolbox of stuff. It allowed Games Workshop to make the big models.

Warzones are "Codexes for Apocalypse". They focus on warzones, etc. They will cover a number of armies. Pandorax is a completely new warzone, while Armageddon is an existing historical one. They've tried to inlcude lots of flags and portraits to bring the campaign to life.

Phil Kelly and Guy Haley are working on another, new Warzone - working collaboratively with the Black Library to help write the background and setting. The idea is that in addition to the existing 'classic battles' of 40K history, they will add some new ones.

What are your favourite bits of Apocalypse?

Jervis likes Unnatural Disasters. He wasn't convinced with them to start of with, but the players loved it. He feels he learnt something from that. It lets you go a bit "Michael Bay".

Phil likes Datasheets. There will generally be a story and a theme to datasheets. Phil already had 25 Fenrisian Wolves and a fwe Thunderwolves, so he decided to buy enough models for the huge flanking wolf strategem in the book.

(My notes fail at this point, I think it was Guy's favourite thing): The warzones - they're like the Osprey campaign histories. He needs to be enthused to write, and the details in the warzones really help with that.

How do you make sure the game is balanced?

The trust the players. Not every game will be balanced. But an unbalanced game can still be an excellent experience - it's about the story. Balance is often actually equated with fun, and feeling like you contributed. Spectacular is not always balanced.

They then derailed for a few minutes as a discussion of how most players of Apocalypse are friends with each other, and in many way, the battle is a way of expression that friendship or relationship. This then completely derailed with the line "Their eyes met over the Ork Warboss"...

You have to come at the games with the right spirit. Groups of friends will arrange a game, and there will be a lot of discussion before the game about what's going to happen. The players should like and respect each other to ensure everyone involved has fun. It is not the only way to play teh game. It is not for everyone. They're not making this for a "market", they're making it to show other people how they (the Studio) have fun. They are sharing and showing that.

What about old data sheets?

There wasn't enough space for everything. New Warzones will include some old ones, plus some new ones too. Probably not 100% of the old datasheets will be produced, but most. They are not as likely to include as many of the old conversion from the epic range where there is no existing model. There will still be some conversions.

They appreciate Apocalypse for its effect on people's collections. People have moved to thinking of it as an army, not a series of isolated and separate 1,500 point 'things'.

In some ways Games Workshop treat 40K like it's "real".

It then moved on to questions from the floor...

"How much do you have to put in expected features, and how much are things you love instead?"
There's more freedom in Apocalypse, so they can put more stuff in there. You are working to a brief - you need to release rules for the Baneblade, for example, or some players will {my writing in my notes gets frantic and unintelligible at this point}.

"How much are you constrained by technology?" (In the context of someone who works in the computer game industry asking)
You aren't as constrained by technology as in computer game design. There's a lot more freedom in that respect.

"Why did you take the points values off formations?"
We wanted to give people a reward for focussed collections.

"What's in the new Pandorax Warzone?"
Dark Angels, Catachan, Grey Knights, Black Legion and Demons. It's about Abaddon's ongoing nefarious plans. There's a battle report on board a space ship. It runs from asteriods, through space, and into an Imperial space ship. There's a planet with dinosaurs on it. Space Marines, fighting, in SPACE! It was a surreal board to play on. There was a cargo lift carrying Baneblades into the fight. There was also a cross section with a little control room with a small kill team game - Dreadclaw versus the admiral, to decide who would control the main guns.

There's links to the other bits of background and story for Abaddon's cunning master plan. You can call on the gods during the battle - in this one (during the playtest), Khorne was called on an his sword blow killed nine fliers instantly. Phil said that this was probably a bit too powerful, so after this playtest they dialled that back a bit.

Will there be allied formations?
Yes, a few. Like the Heroes of Armageddon, which consists of Black Templars, Blood Angels and Imperials. It will be rare, though.

Did they work closely with Forge World?
Yes, and they were happy to help. They took some of the classics from Forge World such as some of the mainstream Titans. They got lots of advice from the Forge World people as they have a lot of experience of designing and building on this scale. Warzones will include additional Forge World products.

They then clarified - Warzones aren't supplements to Codexes. They are more like a smaller Imperial Armour book. Warzones are far more varied - including plants and dinosaurs.

"Where do you go to top up on inspiration?"

Guy Haley: Whisky Bar.

Phil: Sci fi books and films. Greek myths as well. He tries to incorporate that sort of thing. Archaeon's quests in Warhammer Fantasy could be seen to be influenced by the labours of Hercules, for example. 40K is more like Science Fantasy than Sci Fi. Space Wolves can be seen to be like Beowulf. In many ways, the old legens are The Stories, and those echoes are often repeated.

Jervis: Military history. For Pandorax, he got to do a map like the old WWII Naval Battles. Its an inspiration and a homage to what inspired you when you were younger - all ramped up to 11.

Guy again: 40K is effectively self sustaining now. He views writing for Black Library as similar to writing a historic novel - you need to research. He has a massive collection of the old Ork book and early White Dwarfs which he used for an Ork short story he wrote recently. You have to think about things like "how does Marine Terminator armour work". How does zero gravity affect fighting? He likes to add in some hard science fiction, and finds inspiration in many different places.

And with that, this Q&A came to a close. I hope to have "Here be Giants" written up in the next day or so...

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