Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Interview with Producer Andy Lang

BOOM widget 137244 After watching a lengthy single-player demo of Relic's upcoming third-person shooter Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, we were shuffled into a quiet office to speak with one of the game's producers: Long-time Relic staffer Andy Lang.

From the issues of The Outfit to the problems that may come with naming their latest title "Space Marine" in an industry that likes to use the phrase as a punch-line, we left nothing back. Our preview of the demo is currently live, so you can see what we thought of our early glimpse -- but for answers to some of your burning questions, read this interview.

Shack: This was a question that we've asked a few times since you announced the PC version of Space Marine, regarding Games for Windows Live versus Steamworks. Some THQ games use Steamworks while others, past Relic titles included, use Games for Windows Live. I noticed there was a Games for Windows Live prompt that came up during the demo we saw today...

Andy Lang: Yeah.

Shack: Is this game going to use Games for Windows Live or Steamworks?

Andy Lang: We're not talking about that right now (laughs)

Shack: Well, you're not talking about it. But I did see that, right? It did appear?

Andy Lang: It did appear, yes. But yeah, we're not really talking about whether we're using Steam or Windows Live.

Shack: Is it already decided but you're not talking about it, or are you still undecided?

Andy Lang: It is decided, we're just not talking about it. [Note: THQ has since confirmed that Space Marine will use Steamworks.]

Shack: During the demo it was said that the lighting engine in Space Marine was tech that Relic developed. What can you tell me about the engine you're using for this title?

Andy Lang: We took Vigil's Darksiders engine about a year and a half ago. We took a drop of it as our foundation. They had really great tools, a really great engine. Obviously, they were still in development at that point, it wasn't a "shipped engine" yet. We took it, we added a new lighting model in. It's all dynamic so we can do all real-time -- you saw on [a train level during the demo] with all the shadows, that was really important to us. Also, it's faster for production, you know "real-time lighting."

All the gameplay and combat stuff is all brand new. We're actually using Havoc animation, Havoc behavior. It's been heavily modified by our really senior technical animator we have here and our really senior animation programmer. The effects engine is pure Relic. That's actually the same effects engine we used in Company of Heroes, Dawn of War 2 and now we've put it into this thing. But it has been optimized for console.

Shack: You just announced it for PC, in fact you're showing it here on PC [Ed. Note: THQ has since said the version shown during the event was an Xbox 360 version emulated on PC], what took so long to announce this version? You announced it for consoles a year ago. Was a PC version always in the plan?

Andy Lang: It was always the plan. You know we've never discussed a ship date or when this game was coming out but all three SKUs [PC, Xbox 360 and PS3] will be coming out at the same time. That was the part that we were kind of like, "Uh, do we want to wait and ship it three months after?" But it just made sense with this IP, we really wanted to do a PC SKU.

Plus, Relic knows how to make good PC games.

Shack: I wrote the article about Space Marine coming to the PC and the community was split on it. One one side of the fence there are people who are happy to get another game available to them while others are saying something along the lines of, "Relic is going to give us a port of its new console title, just to try to get sales from the PC market."

Andy Lang: What I can say is that it is a SKU, so it will be the same game. I will say that we'll be doing controls designed for PC players. But we're not necessarily talking about all the details of the PC SKU, but I will say that it's not going to be some half-assed port.

It's going to be a quality version. It's the same game but with PC-centric controls, for sure. We don't want to release a PC SKU where you need a controller. We want to make sure that it's tuned and works well with it. You're right, it is complicated because it's not a simple, direct port. The way you play console games is they have a different feel with the buttons and we can have more than one core mechanic layered in, so it's definitely a challenge.

Shack: Is there a lead platform for Space Marine?

Andy Lang: [Xbox] 360 is our lead platform.

Shack: Relic has only made one Xbox 360 game, The Outfit back in 2005? Why did you go with the Xbox 360 as the lead platform?

Andy Lang: If you don't work on console right away, one of the big issues with developing on PC is that your memory is really free. You can have an 8GB box with a 1GB card and a 360 is just 512MB of RAM. It's like a really slow PC nowadays. Relic has a tendency to fill up all that memory, I'm sure you've played CoH where you need to go buy a rocket-ship or Dawn of War 2 your need a really fast computer to run it. With this we don't really have that option we can't have 4GB of memory being used up, it would never fit. So we had to start on a platform to make it look really good at 512MB and then maybe add to it.

Shack: So that PC SKU, you'll take that 512MB and add to the quality of the PC version?

Andy Lang: We're still investigating. It still looks good the way it is. We'll see what kind of opportunities we can take with that. Right now we're working on the controls more than anything. We have to nail that more than anything.

Shack: So the Xbox 360 is your baseline?

Andy Lang: Exactly.

Shack: When you announced what this project was and showed off the initial screens people automatically compared it to something like Gears of War. Are those comparisons valid?

Andy Lang: They have to be. They are. I'm a huge Gears fan. Love Gears 1 and 2. If we're going to do a third-person game, we have to look at the best as our baseline.

Our shooting, we were really looking at their shooting to get it to be that good and then we wanted to layer on some unique stuff. Relic's not about cloning other people's games, it's really about taking the best of and building upon it. We look at it as a competitor and a mark we need to hit. But for Relic we know we have to draw our own lines in the sand. Build something that can really emphasize the combination of melee and shooting. We want to push the player into different kinds of encounters.

Shack: So, The Outfit was the last non-RTS title Relic has developed. It received mixed reviews, landing an overall Metacritic of 70, what has Relic learned since making that game that you've brought to Space Marine?

Andy Lang: Don't try to use an RTS-engine to build a shooter engine. (laughs)

Shack: Sounds like a solid plan, so far.

Andy Lang: Company of Heroes came out about a year or eight months after The Outfit, so we took a drop of the CoH engine to try to build a console game. It just didn't work out very well. We were trying to build a new genre, launch title, all these things with The Outfit. This one we really took a different approach. We started with a console engine, we built upon a console engine and we also built a team around building a console game. We actually hired some experts who had built shooters and have built melee systems before.

The thing that happened on The Outfit is that we left all the optimization to the very end as a PC developer does. Crams it all. We did the same thing on The Outfit and we kinda got screwed and had to hammer all the graphics. So now, we're being a lot more cautious on how we're developing this game. We're bitten by it. Relic is not proud of The Outfit, we made a point to try to make a new IP and make it stand but a 70 percent rated game is not a Relic game. We want higher quality than that.

With Space Marine we're still learning those lessons and there are still developers from The Outfit that carried over, to bring over that knowledge so we're not going to step on the same piles of turd.

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Shack: What about the timing, now, makes it right to push this IP into a new genre?

Andy Lang: It was just timing, really. The first time you zoomed in on a Space Marine on Dawn of War 1 and think, "Man it would be cool to make a shooter out of this." The cards of this little "perfect storm" just fell in line. The right team, the right engine, it just made sense to make this game.

THQ, Relic and Games Workshop have always wanted to make a third-person shooter. Just had to make sense for Relic and THQ and this timing seemed to fit. It just happened that way, it wasn't a huge strategy. We just knew that, "We've got to bring Space Marine 40,000 to the console." We know that there are people who are fans of Warhammer 40,000 who can't necessarily afford the tabletop game and are intimidated by RTS's or aren't interested in a game that's that technical. This is that game.

Shack: So, "Space Marine." That's sort of an ongoing joke in the industry that there are space marines in every shooter. Then you named your game that! There was a point made in the demo that the Warhammer 40,000 marines are the original space marines but do you think that, since you're also trying to attract people who are not familiar with the franchise that name might bring some bad perceptions?

Andy Lang: Yeah. We are aware of that but we also want to make a bold statement with this game. This is the original space marine and we want to call it out, so when people talk about space marines this will be the one they're talking about.

Shack: Was there ever any consideration to go in a different direction with the name?

Andy Lang: You know, Games Workshop bought the video game rights to "Space Marine" back in like 1990. They've been waiting for a game to drop it in and it seemed like, "Seems like a good name for this game." It's not like we're diving in the middle of the Red Sea and we're like, "Hey, everybody! Relic showed up with Space Marine!"

Shack: At the end of the year last year, Relic lost a few leads. One went to Bungie and another left to work with Blizzard on StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty. How has the culture at Relic changed over the years?

Andy Lang: I've been with Relic since 1998. I worked on Homeworld 1 and I left for a year to realize how unique the culture here is. The cool thing with Relic, even though the leadership changes, there's enough people to keep the spirit of Relic alive. Relic is really about a bunch of developers who want to make some really cool games.

We don't have an overriding person coming down on us all the time. It's really much more of a collaborative environment. It's interesting to work at a company where everyone loves the game they're working on. That's what Relic is. It's that company. People love making Space Marine, they're passionate about it. It's not like they're making some sports game that they're like, "Well, it pays the bills." You know? "Bonuses are great." No, we're making Space Marine. Called, "Space Marine." (laughs)

Shack: How has the culture changed since Danny Bilson joined THQ? He has been very public about keeping things cooking until he feels they are ready and isn't shy about delaying titles. How have things changed since then?

Andy Lang: It's great for Relic because we've always operated with those same principles. To have somebody leading our company that, creatively, thinks that same way, works so well for us. I'm a big fan of Danny Bilson and a big fan of the way his leadership and his philosophy is. I think it's because he comes from film, where you can take those risks. Those big bets. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. Video games aren't quite there yet. They're not really ready to take a big bet and throw away $40 million on a game.

I think they're still coming to terms that they're going to have to start doing that. But he's already doing that, which is great for us because we want to emphasize the quality and make a really great experience.