WAR is everywhere!
Here in the halls of EA Mythic, that phrase has become something of a motto. It's also a kind of goal, too; by the time we launch this game and you, the players, get to step into the world we've created, we hope you'll agree that war really is everywhere.
For the Writing Team, that phrase isn't just a destination, but also a point of departure that leads us to many questions. Why is war everywhere? How did it get there? What objectives are the armies of Order and Destruction fighting over? What effect will those battles have on the larger war? Providing the answers is the job of WAR's writers and Content Designers, and the first place we go to get them is the game's backstory.
As you probably already know, a game's backstory helps to establish its setting and give it a sense of history and scope. In most single-player role-playing games, the backstory tells you everything that's happened right up to the point where you start to play the game. Then, you step in and continue that story, taking it in whatever direction you wish. More often than not, you're fighting to resolve a crisis or defeat a villain. By the time you reach the end of the game, you've saved the day.
In a massively multiplayer game like WAR, there isn't going to be just one player, and there isn't really going to be an end, either. The backstory in WAR, then, has a few additional purposes to serve.
To begin with, there's the game's scope, which is nothing less than epic. In a single-player RPG, there's usually only one real hero, and that's the player. In WAR, there will be thousands of players, and thus thousands of heroes (and villains!), all of whom will contribute to a story that sees six of the Warhammer world's mightiest armies clash in hundreds of battles all across the Old World and Ulthuan.
The backstory, then, has to be layered. It has to encompass the epic, but also the personal, and it has to join those layers clearly. As a player, when you complete a quest to help a small camp of Dwarfs, you're also helping win the battle in that zone, which in turns helps with the war effort in that racial pairing, which in turn helps your entire Realm in the greater conflict. We need to make sure you can always see those connections.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the story of the Age of Reckoning has to allow for a perpetual conflict. We'll tell you how the war got started, but you have to fight it, and it has to keep going.
With those goals in mind, we hit the books, and let me tell you, there are a lot of them. Games Workshop has spent two and half decades writing about the Warhammer world and we couldn't be happier about it. We have a wealth of vivid, imaginative fiction to study for ideas and inspiration. In addition, many of our writers and Content Designers were huge fans of the setting before we even got the license, and they've brought a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and passion to the project, along with great knowledge of the Warhammer Fantasy setting.
We also have the support and guidance of some of the architects of the Warhammer world. One of the best parts of my job is interacting with folks like Alan Merrett, the gatekeeper of all things Warhammer, or Kate Flack, who brings years of experience as the Brand Manager of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game. There's also Erik Mogensen, who in his role as Games Workshop's Licensing Manager works closely with our team to ensure that every quest, Tome entry and line of dialogue that we write radiates Warhammer glory. And of course, I couldn't leave out Paul Barnett, who was instrumental in helping all of us to understand the essence of what Warhammer is really all about. (One thing's for sure, I'll never look at Batman or Crunchie bars the same way again!)
There was definitely an adjustment process. The first few backstory submissions we produced were... well, I'll be kind and say we really hadn't got the hang of things yet. But then, somewhere along the way, it just began to sink in. In collaboration with Games Workshop, we developed the backstory that you'll now find on our website.
As is often the case when working with a well-established license like Warhammer Fantasy, there was a tough process of choosing what we could include in the game and what had to be left out. For my part, I'd have liked to see more Wizards from the different Colleges of Magic. The Bright College is just one of eight schools of magic in Altdorf, the Empire's capital city. The Colleges have a great history, and they showcase one of the things I like most about the setting - magic!
In many fantasy worlds, magic is left more or less undefined, or described only as the exertion of a powerful will upon natural or cosmic forces. In Warhammer, magic comes from a very specific source, and is explained in a very detailed way. There is great risk in using magic, and the very mention of the word evokes paranoid fear in peasants all across the Empire. To my mind, it really is one of the most unique and interesting things about the setting, and I hope we'll continue to explore that by revealing more about the Colleges.
On the other hand, there are some things we're including that I'm really psyched about. Take the Skaven, for example. Gnawing away at the underbelly of civilization is a race of cunning, diabolical rat-men who have some of the best lore of any army in Warhammer. They won't be a playable race at launch, but you will find them (or rather, they will find you!) in various places throughout the world gathering Warpstone, preying upon the weak and unwary and plotting their takeover. The Skaven are a great example of Games Workshop's ability to take a familiar idea, put a creative spin on it, and produce something utterly unique. A few words of advice: watch your back, and if you've got a small but vicious dog, so much the better.
Once we finalized the backstory and made the tough choices about what elements of the setting we could and couldn't have for launch, it was time to go from ideas to execution.
Making such an epic backstory relevant to every player and every location in the game might seem like a daunting task, but we've got some good tools on hand. The Tome of Knowledge doubles as a sort of novel about the Age of Reckoning, where you are the main character. As you travel from place to place within the game, you'll unlock the chapters that make up that novel and you'll see how each location you pass through and the adventures you have there contribute to the unfolding story.
We also decided early on to make all of the players in a given race members of a specific faction. If you choose to play a Dwarf, you'll join the Oathbearers, a regiment formed by the High King and given an important mission that frames much of the Dwarf content. As a Dark Elf, you'll belong to House Uthorin, one of the most powerful noble houses in Naggaroth. You'll sometimes find yourself caught up in the tangled web of power struggles, shadowy alliances and bitter rivalries that typify the Druchii race. These factions will provide you with allies and support, but they'll also expect you to take on the most challenging and dangerous tasks as they lead their race's war effort.
Our best asset in bringing the game's backstory to life is our talented Content Design team. Because they approach each new area with the needs of the story in mind, the public and personal quests that you do as a player feel like small steps along a great journey. Everything that you do matters, and it's all connected to your realm's war effort.
Being the Lead Writer for WAR and helping to steer the high-level story for the game has been an amazing experience. I've fallen completely in love with the Warhammer setting; I have four armies for the tabletop games and I run a tabletop role-playing game and play in another. I've also learned a great deal of respect and admiration for the visionaries that created this colorful and engrossing world of grim fantasy, as well as the folks here in the studio who work every day to bring that world to life as an MMO.
It's my hope that when you're not out crushing the enemy army at Praag, delving deep into the Gunbad Tunnels in search of powerful artifacts or hunting fearsome creatures on the icy mountain slopes of High Pass, you'll take a moment to flip through your Tome of Knowledge and read the story of the Age of Reckoning.
After all, it's not our story, it's yours.
2006 Aug 22 20:51 GMT