Insider 8/30/2010

Coming Full Circle

This month saw one of our most exciting Gen Con trips ever, and the question most often directed at me was, “What’s it like seeing the WARMACHINE video game demo?” The short answer is easy. But to really describe my reaction properly, I have to take you back to the beginning—the inception of WARMACHINE.

When I first conceived of WARMACHINE nearly a decade ago, I didn’t start with game mechanics; I started with the question “What would war in the Iron Kingdoms look like?” The pictures in my head aren’t still images; they move, they make sounds, the characters have voices, and there’s a soundtrack playing. The exercise in creating the tabletop experience of WARMACHINE was translating these moving images and concepts from my brain into a set of rules that allowed the player to feel some sort of connection to the dynamic action we would describe in the artwork and fiction of the game. Because of this, I actually first imagined WARMACHINE as a video game, a medium that sits somewhere between tabletop games and film.

The core of WARMACHINE is the relationship between the warcaster and his warjacks as well as his ability to tap into a reservoir of limited power that enables him to perform amazing attacks, feats of magic, and boost the combat prowess of his battlegroup. This idea was informed by playing numerous video games that included a power meter, a reservoir of power that could be drawn on to bolster attacks.

As development of the WARMACHINE tabletop experience progressed, I returned time and time again to video games in search of mechanics that would make the tabletop game feel as visceral and dynamic as its electronic competitors. Slams, throws, and knockdowns—the power attacks—were born from a desire to imagine our warjacks as powerful, energetic entities constantly in motion and affecting the environment around them. When you slam your warjack into another, don’t you imagine the metal rending and crumpling as the target is launched into unwary troops behind it? This was the picture I wanted to plant in the head of the player. I wanted you to see what I was seeing.

Thus, the very essence of the tabletop game was inspired by many of the mechanics one experiences transparently in video games. And because of that, I have always known what the WARMACHINE video game would look like . . . someday.

The obvious choice for a video game expression of WARMACHINE was some sort of simulation of the tabletop experience: a turn-based strategy game, perhaps, or at most an RTS (real-time strategy). And within the first year of WARMACHINE’s publication, we were approached by multiple developers who were interested in creating such expressions. And though these developers were making excellent products, to me, such an experience was somewhat redundant. We had created a fantastic strategy experience on the tabletop, complete with wonderful miniatures that quite beautifully allowed you to experience the 5,000-foot view of WARMACHINE, as I like to call it. But I wanted to see our big foray into interactive media to represent what I’d been seeing in my head since the beginning. So as the years ticked by, we turned down numerous opportunities to explore WARMACHINE with developers who just didn’t quite have the same vision for the game that we did. Then, a year and a half ago, we experienced a planetary alignment, the kind of thing you hope and dream will happen even once in your lifetime—we met WhiteMoon Dreams.

The story of how we came together is another tale in itself, to be saved for another time. Suffice it to say we took some calculated risks, received some help from another party who also believed that WARMACHINE could be a fantastic interactive property, and ultimately caught the eye of the fine folks at WhiteMoon Dreams, who were preparing to embark on their next big journey. Through email, they reached out with an inquiry and we set up a conference call. For lack of any better analogy, it was love at first sight.

Our initial conversation started with what we both felt was the most critical basis for any relationship we might cultivate. I posed the question to Creative Director Scott Campbell, “How do you envision the WARMACHINE video game?” I then sat back in my chair, a grin growing across my face as he described beat for beat the game experience that had been playing out in my head for so many years. By the end of the phone call, I think we both knew we had found exactly what we were looking for. It sounds a little sappy, but when you pour your life into creating something, you want to know that when you hand it off to someone else they’re going to care for it as much as you do. And I’ve never felt that WARMACHINE could be in better hands that than those of the incredible artists, programmers, and designers of WhiteMoon Dreams.

Fast-forward about fourteen months. During this time, we’ve had countless creative conversations, I’ve watched the evolution of character models and the world setting, and I’ve seen the game design move through various stages of development. But it wasn’t until the Thursday at Gen Con, the day before the unveiling of the demo, that I had the opportunity to see it all come together in one complete package. I’m never going to forget the moment when I first saw Commander Stryker stride onto the battlefield and lift his goggles to survey his surroundings. This was the moment I’d been waiting for. This was the day I got to be on the other side of images in my head and saw WARMACHINE with my own two eyes. I haven’t stopped smiling since.

For those of you who were lucky enough to see the demo and speak to Scott Campbell and Game Director Kevin Mack at Gen Con, you know what I mean. The rest of you have either skipped to the online link or will soon know what I’m talking about as well. This video game is a whole new WARMACHINE experience, but it’s the IK world come to life. Don’t be confused—the video game is not meant to make you feel like you’re playing the WARMACHINE tabletop game. This is a whole new experience that immerses you in the world and makes you feel like you’re a warcaster in the middle of a battle that has ravaged the Iron Kingdoms. You get to swing the weapons, sling the spells, fight side-by-side with your infantry, and—wait for it—see through the eyes of your warjacks. We’re not sitting at 5,000 feet anymore; we’re at ground zero, right in the middle of the action. This is the viewpoint from which the tabletop experience was born. We have come full circle.

Do not presume to compare these experiences. They are separate and distinct, individually valid but remarkable and beautiful because of the way they so accurately reflect each other. More importantly, they are each exactly as they were conceived—every rivet of them.

Fans of turn-based or RTS games need not despair. These are genres we fully intend to explore in the electronic gaming space as well. The beauty of WARMACHINE is that it is deep enough to explore through many, many different expressions for a limitless variety of experiences.

We’ve got a couple years ahead of us before we get to go head-to-head, battlegroup-to-battlegroup, online in the Iron Kingdoms. But in that time, we’ll get to watch together as WARMACHINE unfolds in sound and motion before our eyes.

And if you ask me what it’s it was like to see the WARMACHINE video game demo, I hope you’ll nod in agreement when I simply say:

Amazing.

Catch my latest ramblings on Twitter at @MattWilsonPrime and join me on Facebook.

Discover the latest information about the WARMACHINE video game at www.whitemoondreams.com