While real-time strategy games were once focused entirely on collecting resources, building up bases, then building armies to crush your enemies as fast as possible, recent strategy games have attempted to break with tradition to offer something new. Take Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, the soon-to-be-released real-time strategy game from veteran strategy developer Relic Entertainment and publisher THQ. What can you expect from a game that will attempt to bring the savage and chaotic sci-fi world of Warhammer 40,000 into the realm of real-time strategy? Producer Jonathan Dowdeswell explains. Or, try out the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War demo premiere.
GS: Now that Dawn of War's development is almost done, looking back, what seemed like the best part of developing the game? Is there an aspect of the game that you're particularly proud of?
Jonathan Dowdeswell: Actually, this whole development has been really positive. We started about 21 months ago, and the only time I would say was kind of a downer was during the beginning stages of full production. Our art director has a great description of the game at that time. He calls it "the teenage years." It's a time full of promise, but still pretty awkward and tough to comprehend, and definitely past the cute early years. In terms of what I'm most proud of, I would say it's our clarity of vision. If I go back and read our original concept docs and compare it to what we ended up making, they're incredibly close together. It's testament to some strong, well-thought-out ideas, I think.
GS: Were there specific lessons you took from other previous Relic projects and applied to this game's development?
JD: Of course! The biggest lesson I think I have learned at Relic and carried into this project is to make sure that the leaders of the project not only all share the same cohesive vision, but they all have the same idea of what the problems are going to be in fulfilling that vision and what the team is probably going to have to do in order to solve them. As long as the information flows fully to the rest of the team, everyone is going to be pulling in the same direction.
GS: And are there any specific lessons you feel the team has learned, having worked on this project?
JD: We learned a lot on this project as well. We really focused on delivering entertainment, and I think at various times we were surprised to find out that the things we worked on for a couple days were the most entertaining, whereas things we worked on for much longer periods didn't really live up to our expectations. From that the biggest lesson seems to be to find ways of trying things out quickly, with the least amount of investment. If you can change something before too much time is committed, or get rid of it because it's not going anywhere, you've saved a lot of headaches. That was our strategy during the first three months of the project when we created a prototype, and it really paid off.
GS: What do you think will be the most appealing aspect of Dawn of War for strategy game beginners?
JD: I would say the most appealing part for beginners is definitely just the sheer fun in the game. It's easy to use, which is good. It's got a lot of depth, which is also good, as it gives people enough to keep learning. But the most appealing part is really just the visual entertainment in the game. I still just love watching a squad of marines run into combat with some orks; the animations and special effects really make the experience come alive. You don't have to know anything about the Warhammer 40,000 universe to know that it looks cool, but you will start to love it along the way!
GS: What do you think will be the most appealing aspect of Dawn of War for strategy game veterans?
JD: The fact that we're hardcore real-time strategy fans ourselves, with a few games already published, should be enough to answer this one. We've definitely focused on ease of use, and making it more accessible, but we're also way too ambitious, and we've thrown tons and tons of cool strategy elements, units, and abilities into the game.
GS: And what do you think will be the most appealing aspect of the game for fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe?
JD: The best thing for Warhammer 40,000 fans will be seeing it come to life in a way they've only imagined. It's the most accurate depiction of the universe in a game ever, and we're finally at a time technology-wise when you can see battles and interaction the way you've seen them in your head. The battles are awesome, and they'll add to players' enjoyment of the tabletop game for years to come.
GS: Now that development is almost done, we have to ask: what's next for Relic?
JD: Hmm...I'm going to have to dodge this one. Most team members are taking their vacations now--trying to clear our heads so that we can focus on our next projects. As to what they are, my lips are sealed.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War?
JD: Go grab it! The game will be on the shelves before the end of September, and if you've been waiting for one of those classic titles that will draw you in and just keep on giving, this is it. I've been playing the game for 21 months, and I still can't get enough. I'm supposed to be tidying up loose ends before I go on vacation, and so far all I've done is honed my skills with the eldar.
GS: Looking forward to it. Thanks, Jonathan.