Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning recently took home the hardware as the most anticipated game of '07 in our awards and today we have a chance to present an exclusive interview we did with EA Mythic's Josh Drescher, an Assistant Producer on the title. Expect random interjections from Director of Community Relations Sanya Thomas.
Answers by Josh Drescher, Assistant Producer
Questions by Dana Massey
Josh Drescher: Achieving a player-base of 6 billion people (settling for MILLIONS of players is SO two years ago). Creating the single most enjoyable entertainment experience humankind has ever known. Total world domination. Stuff like that.
Oh, you mean IN the game. Just... uh... edit out the "world domination" part.
We're trying to accomplish a great deal with WAR. We're going to bring the Warhammer IP to life in a way that fans have never seen before. We're going to take all of the lessons we've learned from DAoC and build a game that will excite our existing fan-base, and bring RvR to the masses.
Josh Drescher: We know - in the core of our very beings - that RvR, executed properly and presented in an engaging way, is irresistibly exciting and fun. DAoC proved that to a huge number of players, and was an awesome success as a result. We've got a much larger platform (and more standing in the industry) this time, so we'll be bringing that experience to a significantly larger audience as a result.
In terms of people, we benefit seriously from the loyalty Mythic enjoys from its employees. We have a team that's being led by people who've worked together for five, ten years or more. We speak the same language, we've learned the same lessons, and we know how to get things done.
As for technology, WAR is a very different beast. To be sure, we've taken the best elements of DAoC's tech and built upon it in some cases, but we've built most of the core systems from the ground up. We're not making Camelot II, so it only makes sense to start fresh in a lot of ways.
WarCry Network:: Obviously, Electronic Arts must have been impressed with Warhammer's chances to buy EA Mythic. What has it meant to the development of this title to have EA behind you?
Josh Drescher: We get a lot more free food. Donut availability is up a staggering 250%. And we get lots of free swag. Oh, and a cool new logo.
(Note from the Community Weenie, Sanya: SOME PEOPLE get lots of free swag. Some of us have so far scored a hat. You suck, Josh.)
Other than that, it honestly hasn't impacted us very much at all. The acquired us because they looked long and hard at what we do and how we do it and decided that they had faith in those processes. EA has no interest in stepping in and messing with things that work well.
WarCry Network:: Ever since it was first announced, WAR has been one of the most talked about MMOs in development. Are you worried that you might suffer from 'overhype', in that fans are expecting more than you can realistically deliver?
Josh Drescher: Not in the slightest. Anything that gets a proverbial "foot in the door" and gets a player to take a look at WAR is great for us. Players aren't stupid. They know that no one is ever going to deliver their perfect, personal vision of EXACTLY what they want in a game. At the end of the day, players just want to have a really good time and it's our job to make sure that's exactly what happens. So, to be honest, it's only "overhype" if the experience we deliver isn't engaging and enjoyable enough to get them to stay.
WarCry Network:: Warhammer is not the typical serious fantasy intellectual property. For those who do not know the IP, can you explain some of the things that set it apart from a more traditional medieval fantasy setting?
Josh Drescher: Yikes. That's a doozy of a request. Do you have a week or three?
Warhammer isn't about beautiful people rising up to defeat a great evil for the last time. It's about grim, superstitious people frantically attempting to breed quickly enough to make sure the Empire will have enough soldiers a generation from now. It's about REALLY believing that your scarecrow can tap into the dark power of Chaos and that that bird over there really IS talking to you. It's about bitter, working class people with chips on their shoulders and soccer hooligan mushrooms that like to break things, crush things and cover things with poo. It's about posh dandies with swords and drug-addled aristocrats with a thirst for blood and RIDING ON THE BACK OF A DINOSAUR. It's about a war that will never end.
It's packed to the brim with social commentary, weird historical references, strange European in-jokes about archery, manic aversion to the color blue (in places), sex, drugs, slapstick comedy, grim reflection on the human condition, religious fanaticism and just about everything else you can imagine.
Warhammer is a fully-realized hobby experience. It's books, miniatures, comics, pen and paper RPGs, PC games and - of course - Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Warhammer is the last hobby you'll ever need.
WarCry Network:: Each race you chose for Warhammer (Dark Elves, High Elves, Greenskins, Dwarfs, Empire and Chaos) carries a distinct flavor. What types of players do you think each one will appeal to?
Josh Drescher: Smart, savvy folks who like having a great time.
Honestly, I think it's impossible to guess what will attract certain players to certain races or careers. I, personally, have hated elves in every other game I've ever played, but I'll be rolling a Dark Elf on launch day because I just love the crazy Lord Byron-in-and-evil-opium-den vibe. And they look really cool. And... well, you'll have to wait a bit longer to see what we're doing with their careers, but I think people will be very excited.
WarCry Network:: Individuality is something people crave in life and increasing in online life. What has EA Mythic identified as things that promote individuality among characters both artistically and internally?
Josh Drescher: Well, we'll probably leave people's internal sense of individuality alone. Our early tests at completely rewiring the human psyche were promising, but not quite perfect.
As for differentiating yourself in the game, we'll provide a full battery of customization options from the get go. As you progress through the game you'll earn trophies, trinkets, banners, tabards and on and on that will help your character stand out as unique and interesting. This is, of course, on top of all of the incredible armor and weapons that you'll be obsessively collecting.
WarCry Network:: Many have longed for the game that lets them play start to finish bathed in the blood of other players. Can you go from start to finish without fighting NPCs? And if so, what keeps it varied and fun?
Josh Drescher: You can essentially play through the game doing nothing but RvR, but it won't be the most efficient means of advancing. Similarly, you'll be able to play through only sticking with PvE content, but will suffer from the same inefficiency. We want players who tend to prefer one play type or the other to have the opportunity to focus on their preferred style, but we also want to encourage them to get out there and enjoy the other side of play as well. There's so much goodness all around, it would be a disservice to not nudge people in the direction of enjoying it all.
WarCry Network:: There are also those who fear their enemies and prefer to fight computers. What do you offer them?
Josh Drescher: Two things:
- A fully realized, deeply engaging PvE experience.
- A chance to "get their feet wet" in RvR in a way that won't force them into gank-fest bloodbaths right off the bat. Many people who dislike PvP feel that way because - frankly - modern PvP can be awful. We want to show them that it can be something more than completely lawless anarchy or boring "capture the windmill" gags that repeat endlessly and serve no real purpose.
WarCry Network:: Artistically, many fans have noted that there is an artistic similarity to World of WarCraft. Can you talk about your art direction and how you explain the similarities?
Josh Drescher: Our art direction draws heavily from the quarter of a century that Games Workshop has been honing the look, feel and style of Warhammer. That's really our ONLY source of inspiration because it's such an unbelievably vast and awesome resource that - quite frankly - there's no REASON to look elsewhere for ideas.
As for explaining why any of our Noble Competitors are also producing games that bear possible resemblance to Games Workshop's Warhammer IP, you'll have to ask them to explain those similarities themselves.
WarCry Network:: RvR in Dark Age of Camelot is well respected, but can feel a touch chaotic. What are you doing to make RvR in WAR feel more like a fantasy battle and less like a video game? I ask specifically with regards to pacing and player tactics.
Josh Drescher: War (and WAR) is a chaotic experience. We're certainly taking care to create an RvR experience that is intuitive and fun, but we absolutely DON'T want it to feel like a turn-based, tabletop strategy game. Players will make tactical choices - both as individuals and as groups or guilds - prior to entering combat that will dictate a great deal of how the engage that particular battle. Sometimes, it will make sense to gear yourself towards absorbing damage and defending, other times you'll want to crank out the highest amount of damage possible and just go straight for an enemy's throat. You'll have options that will help you make decisions like that with great ease.
With that in mind, it will still be up to players to understand their character and how to play it properly.
WarCry Network:: Warhammer, the IP, is a bit more adult than most. What rating are you shooting for? Specifically, where do you intend to push the envelope and are there things we should not expect to see you do?
Josh Drescher: "T for Teen."
While we intend to push more envelopes than a steam-shovel in a post office, we have the utmost respect for the ESRB and the good work they do and would never dream of doing anything that expressly violates their rules.
WarCry Network:: At an event last year, the press was told that Warhammer Online is ultimately about WAR and not focused on building stuff. Nonetheless, are there options for crafters, gatherers and other support times? What do you have in mind?
Josh Drescher: There is a crafting system, but it's a SECRET at the moment. If you give Paul Barnett a couple of glasses of fine champagne (Veuve Clicquot would probably do), however, he may spill a bean or two.
Sanya Thomas: Note from the Weenie: More like a red herring or two. Paul is mean.
WarCry Network:: A problem people have with most MMOs, including WoW, is that high end content often, despite their best efforts, requires huge time commitments. What are you doing to ensure players can experience epic content without wasting an epic amount of time?
Josh Drescher: First of all, you don't restrict the epic content to the highest end of the game. Players should feel like they're part of the war from the moment they first enter the world.
Second, you make success in the end-game reliant on how players everywhere else in the game are doing. Your actions and efforts from day one will have an impact on players in the highest levels of the game.
Third, you present an end-game experience that isn't overwhelmingly difficult to get to, but that requires a lot of effort and skill to master AND that is fun to take on repeatedly. Most players in WAR will have no problem getting to the highest tier of content in the game, taking part in city capture and defense and so forth. But that final tier of content is enormous in scale and complexity. The battlefront will be moving constantly, your homeland can come under siege at any time, your city can be burned to the ground.
WarCry Network:: Finally, can you let us in a bit on your testing plans as they stand today and where you're shooting to get this on the shelves?
Josh Drescher: Sure. We're already in closed beta and have been for a couple of months now. There will be a few other phases of testing prior to us turning the general public loose on the game, but I can say with absolute confidence that we're going into Open Beta on -
For some reason, Sanya just crushed my fingers with a large wooden hammer. So I guess that's another one of those secrets. For now.
Sanya Thomas: Weenie here: Part of the reason I just crushed Josh's hand is because people hear "open beta" and think that means THEM. It does not. We are not planning to have a complete FFA where anyone with a modem can log in. We will have a beta period later this year where thousands of people who acquired beta keys through magazine and website promotions can log in. For details as they come up, people should subscribe to the newsletter or bookmark this link and refresh it often.
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