Warhammer: Mark of Chaos Designer Diary #1 - The Origins of Mark of Chaos

Senior producer Chris Wren introduces Warhammer: Mark of Chaos and explains how the real-time strategy game came to fruition.

Warhammer: Mark of Chaos is one of the real-time strategy games due out later this year that has caught gamers' eyes thanks to some impressive visuals. Based on the popular Warhammer tabletop wargame, Mark of Chaos will let you command virtual fantasy armies on a beautifully rendered battlefield. Mark of Chaos will avoid many of the traditional conventions of the real-time strategy genre, and it should offer some combat-heavy gameplay experiences. Chris Wren is the senior producer of Mark of Chaos, and he kicks off our designer diary series with an introduction to the game and how it all came to fruition.

Mark of Chaos looks like the tabletop game come to life on your PC.
Mark of Chaos looks like the tabletop game come to life on your PC.

Making the Mark of Chaos

By Chris Wren
Senior Producer, Namco Bandai Games

This story starts and ends with Warhammer, the war game that made its way across the Atlantic about 25 years ago and inspired thousands of hobbyists to spend countless hours collecting, building, and painting their armies to perfection before unleashing them on a tabletop battlefield. These gamers now test their mettle against opponents from all over the world in matches ranging from friendly basement skirmishes to giant annual events that attract tens of thousands of people, all with one thing in common: a love for Warhammer.

I, too, love wargames. The first title I worked on in the industry, Falcon 4.0, was a modern-day sim set on the Korean Peninsula. My first job in gaming was to build out the armies for the real-time campaign in Falcon. I spent months researching all of the units that might partake in such a conflict, adding the appropriate munitions for every unit in the game, building out battalions and placing them in the campaign theater. I later became an artist on this team and spent a lot of time making things blow up. So for me, the chance to make a wargame the way I wanted meant allowing players to do exactly what I love about wargaming: building out big armies and then blowing them up.

Warhammer was such a natural fit to the type of game we were thinking of at Namco Bandai Games. In our minds, there was no other choice. It has everything: big nasty orcs, cavalry, cannons, castles, magic, daemons, giant rats, and fantastic races, each with a unique take on how to do battle, as well as a rich history and great imagery. So we had an idea, and we had a cool universe to put it in, but we still needed someone to make it. The next step was to find a team that had the chops to deliver the grandiose game we wanted and shared our vision about how cool this game could be.

Yes, the game does look this good.
Yes, the game does look this good.

It just so happened that around the time we were looking for a development team for Warhammer, we were playing a new real-time strategy game called Armies of Exigo from a then little-known developer, Black Hole Entertainment. The game had some amazing multiplayer and was technically and graphically superb. It was obvious that these guys understood real-time strategy gaming. (We would later find out that the team had in its ranks several Starcraft champions.) So we contacted Black Hole and sat down with them to discuss the possibility of making a game together. It didn't take long to realize this was meant to be. These guys shared the same passion for real-time strategy gaming and loved the idea of making a Warhammer game with the focus on combat. The designers at Black Hole were longtime Warhammer fans, and when we told them what we were thinking, we could see them start to salivate at the prospect of bringing it all to life on the PC with us.

We've seen a handful of Warhammer-based titles trickle into the video gaming space over the years, but none of them have captured Warhammer quite like we imagined it. The PC group at Namco Bandai Games has a passion for real-time strategy gaming. We've played them all--going way back to Dune 2--and what we wanted to do with Mark of Chaos was to make a real-time strategy game unlike any other, one which gave the player a true command of the battlefield and was less focused on tech trees and building farms. We wanted to start a war and put the player right smack in the middle of it. It didn't hurt that this is what Warhammer is all about.

Leaving a Mark

There was a lot of debate about which armies to use, how many, and where in the world we wanted all of this to occur. There were so many great armies to choose from that we settled on four. We chose the Empire because it has the most well-rounded army--a bit of everything from magic to cannons and cavalry. We chose the Hordes of Chaos mainly because they are so bad ass, but also because they provided a really different play style than the Empire and were a good matchup for a campaign story. We added the High Elves to the list because of the powerful magic they would bring to the battle, as well as cool dragons and fancy pointed hats. Finally, we selected the Skaven for the fourth army because they brought a very different play style to the game, with their focus on overwhelming numbers. Also, we liked the Skaven because the idea of watching a bunch of rats charging into battle is something we all had to see.

The Hordes of Chaos aren't pretty, but that's cause they're mean.
The Hordes of Chaos aren't pretty, but that's cause they're mean.

For the armies that didn't make the cut, we decided to represent them as mercenaries, or "Dogs of War," for use in multiplayer and providing ancillary support to the campaign story. To this group, we added orcs and goblins, trolls, undead minions, vampire counts, giants, and dwarves. This allows players to play with an orc or dwarf army in multiplayer if they want to, but with a more limited set of unit types. The goal here was to give a good sampling of how these races play, while leaving the full exploration of these armies to an expansion pack or sequel.

Our high-level goal was to get the players spending their time more in the heat of battle and less managing their base. We will have buildings that you can take (or destroy), some that can be upgraded, some that provide valuable resources for the war effort, and some that just provide a healthy defensive garrison. We recognized this aspect of real-time strategy gaming as something we enjoyed, and no real-time strategy game would be complete without it. We've just shifted the focus so that you get to spend some more quality time swinging axes.

Mark of Chaos has champions that you command throughout the single-player campaign, and they will evolve over time. Fallen enemies will drop loot in this game, and your champions can pick these items up. Our heroes are able to equip items and to develop new skills determined by the player so that no two champions are alike. When champions meet on the battlefield, it is epic. They face off in a duel, and no other units can interfere.

We've added a new set of tools to the battlefield that make it possible to get involved in the clash between units and actually change the outcome based on the choices made. So no longer do you send your units into a scrum and just wait for the outcome. Each unit in your army is unique and has a customizable set of abilities depending on how you have developed them. No two conflicts are the same, and the outcome is determined by the skill of the player in real time and not necessarily just based on outnumbering your opponent. We have added huge castle sieges, and we've made them fast-paced. Much like the open-field battling, we've added the same level of customization to the strategies of siege battling.

There is also a huge campaign for the game, which involves all four of the main races, as well as the Dogs of War. Depending on which side you choose (Empire or Chaos to start), you will have a very different experience, and the choices you make on the campaign trail will further customize the experience. We worked closely with Games Workshop (creators of Warhammer) to develop a rich storyline right in the heart of the Warhammer universe. If you're not a fan of Warhammer yet, the dark and unforgiving world we are portraying will surely seduce you into becoming one.

Mark of Chaos looks great, and it ships later this year.
Mark of Chaos looks great, and it ships later this year.

The art in the game is striking: beautiful models, environments, animations, explosions (very important), and real-time physics make this a very rich world to run around in and experience. This is no fairy tale though, so don't get caught admiring the view, or you might find yourself in a heap of trouble. To top it all off, we've made it so that you can do all of the things above in multiplayer with up to five other players, in either single skirmishes or even possibly larger endeavors...more to come on this in future diaries. Stay tuned! The hammer drops this fall!

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