Ten thousand pages. That's my best guess at the amount of finalized documentation that our content team will produce before the launch of WAR. We should start an office pool, or a printing press. Ten thousand pages for a game based on an existing property rich with detail. I can only imagine the number of pages we'd be writing if we were coming up with a world of our own!
What in Sigmar's name are we writing about in ten-thousand pages? Well, way back in the beginning of May 2005 after the signing of the deal with Games Workshop at E3, we started with the basics. You see, pre-production documentation serves several purposes. At the most basic level we outline things like:
What is the game all about?
Here, we express the core idea of the game. We outline the backstory, overall setting, and general game play. We also talk about how WAR will be designed as a Realm-based PvP (we call it Realm vs. Realm, or RvR for short) game from the ground up. Every aspect of the game, including PvE content, will be geared towards the greater war between the Realms in some important way.
What are the primary development features and risks?
A good deal of thought goes into deciding certain core features of an MMO. There are the ones any game in this genre need to have (characters, races, magic, weapons, etc.) and then there are new ideas that we believe will make out game the best one out there. Some of the new features are minor additions; some are "big ideas". The danger of latching on to an idea too grand to be fulfilled is ever-present and has to be avoided. However, we must also come up with those one or two key ideas that raise the bar to ensure that our game is unique and exciting.
As the feature list is fleshed out, the team is also evaluating the potential risk of adding each feature to the game. All aspects of art, technology, systems (career paths, mounts, RvR, etc.) and content are thoroughly evaluated to make sure they can be done to the level we desire without driving development costs and time through the roof.
As an example of development risk, let's look world interactivity. For activities such as combat, questing, crafting, and taking part in PvE encounters we, as developers, would like to greatly enhance the level of interactivity between players and the environment. This presents a significant risk as world interactivity is expensive in terms of artist and programming time. By identifying this risk in advance we are able to manage our expectations and schedule our time accordingly in order to hit the level of quality in this area that we desire.
What are the schedule, staffing and resource requirements?
In the early stages of the pre-production period the Warhammer team was small, really small. Lance (Producer), Greg (Art Director) and I worked in a tiny corner of our office for a few weeks hammering out our staffing and resource requirements. We created an initial staffing plan based on an early version of the game's design and a projected timetable for production.
Even the simple task of identifying the number of employees you require to complete a project can get quite complicated when you factor in all of the variables. For example, based on our previous work on Dark Age of Camelot and early work done on Imperator, we can estimate the time it takes to populate WAR with monsters, NPC's, quests, and encounters. The trouble is that estimation relies on completed art, code, implementation tools, finalized design specifications, and a host of other building blocks. Should the amount of time and resources we estimate for one of those be off the mark, the entire project could be affected. It's like a giant game of dominoes. If one falls, the others tumble with it.
All of these questions and more are answered in a handful of documents that combine to create our pre-production portfolio. This makes for an invaluable resource when working on a project as massive as WAR. Our goals and guidelines are clearly established and available for reference should we find ourselves veering too far from our original path to gaming glory.
As pre-production comes to a close, production begins in earnest and the design of the game's content launches in full force. To guide this design and ensure that it's both cohesive and true to the Warhammer setting, we use zone design documents. These documents represent the efforts of our entire content team working in concert to create a world that is undeniably Warhammer. Maps, back stories, points of interest, quests, encounters, item rewards, and more are painstakingly outlined in great detail on a zone-by-zone basis.
Let me tell you, some of these things are thick and intimidating. Yes, we made the mistake of printing a few of them out. No, there were no serious injuries recorded, though I do suspect Steve Marvin (Lead Designer) has developed a small case of "document envy".
Several teams work together to create a zone outline in WAR. The design process typically works like this:
Step 1: Our Writing Team generates a brief back story for each individual area using the unimaginable amount of materials from Games Workshop that we have lining the halls of our office as both guide and inspiration. Interesting NPC's, war-related activities, points of interest, and other such topics are explored.
Step 2: The World Design team sketches out the basic layout of the zone, including PvE and RvR areas, points of interest, towns, cavern entrances, and so on. These are now lovingly referred to as "Matthew's maps" (named after the man that draws them all, Matthew Doyle, our World Design Lead).
Step 3: By now we have a zone-based back story to draw from and a detailed map showing where all the spots 'o fun are located. Using these resources, our Quest and Encounter Teams plan out their content and begin their design work.
A final document outlining a higher tier zones can literally pass the 700 page mark. When the time comes to implement a specific zone into the game, we have all of the information we need written out in advance. Every bit of NPC dialogue, monster placement and item drop information is decided upon in advance. The obsessive-compulsive side of my brain is quite pleased.
So, for those of you who have stuck it out this far and actually read through all of my ramblings above, I've got a reward for you. Below is an excerpt of one of our zone documents for your viewing pleasure. It is hot off the top of our 10,000 page pile. I hope you enjoy a portion of our internal back story for our first publicly announced zone. This is the exact same text that our quest and encounter writers pulled from in order to create the content that you will ultimately play through in Mount Bloodhorn.
Decades ago, an Imperial expedition set out to establish a profitable trade route to the lands far south of the Empire. Unfortunately, the expedition suffered one hardship after another. The terrain was treacherous and the wagons were constantly in need of repair. Supplies ran short, and the caravan was frequently attacked by packs of wolves and bands of brigands. The expedition's leader, Erich Krieghoffer, the son of a wealthy Imperial Baron, frequently argued with the captain of the mercenary guard hired to protect the convoy. This captain was none other than Dietrich Lichtermann, founder of the renowned Imperial militiamen regiment "Dietrich's Dogs". More used to giving orders than taking them, the veteran soldier found it increasingly difficult to put up with the spoiled, impetuous Erich.
Following a heated argument, Lichtermann decided to abandon Erich and the remaining members of the expedition. His mercenary warriors following behind him, Lichtermann struck out into the Badlands, determined to find his way back to the Empire. Without the expedition's maps, however, the mercenaries soon become lost in the wilds.
Lichtermann knew he would never see the Empire again unless food, shelter and water could be secured. Though his warriors had no supplies, they did have weapons and the skill to use them. They hunted to feed themselves and while exploring a network of caves they had discovered in a winding canyon, found an underground stream suitable for drinking water. The caves soon became the mercenaries' home and Lichtermann ordered his men to begin stockpiling supplies in the hopes of making a second attempt at returning to the Empire.
Those plans were dashed when a great horde of Orcs and Goblins suddenly appeared. Before long, the surrounding area was saturated with the green-skinned creatures, and the mercenaries were hard pressed to defend their caves. Meanwhile, back in the Empire, Baron Krieghoffer, determined to establish the trade route he was certain would ensure his wealth as well as to learn the fate of his son Erich, sent another expedition along the same road the previous one had taken. Though they found no trace of Erich, this second expedition was successful in reaching the southlands and regular commerce began to flow along "Krieghoffer's Road".
Fortunately for Lichtermann, Krieghoffer's Road passes very close to the caves in Mount Bloodhorn that his men now call home. The numerous Orc tribes that had settled in the area make hunting for food extremely dangerous, and so the Imperial merchant wagons now passing regularly north and south along the Road are an excellent source of fresh supplies. Fancying himself a bandit hero, Lichtermann has named his crew "Dietrich's Dogs" after his former militia regiment. The Dogs have a reputation as a nuisance for merchants wishing to make a rich profit by trading along Krieghoffer's Road, and if there were not so much money to be made in doing so, more of them have given up due to the frequent bandit attacks.
Other challenges await those souls intrepid enough to brave the dangers of Mount Bloodhorn. In order to build their stockades and siege engines, the Orcs and Goblins that have recently come to occupy the area around the mountain eagerly hacked down every tree in sight. In so doing, they discovered a number of Dryads living among the trees, which they slew without hesitation. So h3 was their magical bond with nature, the spirits of the Dryads return sometimes as vengeful ghosts bent on destroying any living creature they encounter.
Also, to bolster their presence in the region, several of the greenskin tribes have moved their Squig pens to Mount Bloodhorn. Here, they breed, train and stable their creatures of war, keeping them close at hand to better deal with the many threats they face in the area.
2006 Aug 22 20:52 GMT