In the dynamic world of digital gaming, transforming iconic tabletop experiences into immersive real-time strategy games requires a delicate balance between honoring tradition and embracing innovation. In an exclusive interview with Sandro Sammarco,
In the dynamic world of digital gaming, transforming iconic tabletop experiences into immersive real-time strategy games requires a delicate balance between honoring tradition and embracing innovation. In an exclusive interview with Sandro Sammarco, the lead designer of Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin at Frontier Developments, we delve into the intricacies of this creative process. Sammarco shares insights into adapting the rich lore of Warhammer, the unique gameplay elements of Age of Sigmar, the influence of renowned writer Gavin Thorpe, and the careful integration of player feedback. Join us as we explore the behind-the-scenes journey of bringing the Warhammer universe to life in the digital realm.
How do you approach adapting such a well-known brand like Warhammer into the form of real-time strategy?
Oh, that's a really good one. So, I think we're looking at two prongs. The first one is we want to make sure we get the spirit of the tabletop game. It's not just a pure recreation, because a real-time strategy game is not the same thing as a tabletop war game, but we want to make sure that the abilities, the characters, the feeling of what the units are meant to do is at least similar. So we gleaned all we could about the lore, we looked at the war scrolls, we talked to Games Workshop at length. It was a lot of good back and forth, actually. We would say, „What about this ability?“ And they would say, no, that's not in keeping with that unit. And it was a really good, they kept something straight and narrow.
And the second thing was we looked at all the RTSs as well, and made sure that we weren't making any obvious mistakes. There's loads of great real-time strategy games from across the ages, from Company of Heroes, Dawn of War 2, StarCraft, the list goes on. And so we wanted to make sure that it was a solid RTS. We're not trying to recreate the wheel. We're not trying to do anything super new and, „oh, it's all different“. We want a really entertaining and engaging real-time strategy game. So that was really our focus. Everything we did was, is this going to be fun to play as a real-time strategy game? And that's where we're at.
How does Age of Sigmar differ from the other RTS games on the market?
So for a start, Age of Sigmar is a unique fantasy setting. So it's got unique factions, the Stormcast Eternals, the Nighthaunt. These don't exist in any of the world. So it's really cool because we get to have the IP and use it and show it to its fullest. Also, though, in general, Age of Sigmar is a very melee-heavy game. Everyone fights up close. There are ranged units, but everyone can fight in melee combat.
So we made a distinct choice to make sure that melee combat was very important. Once you get into a fight with someone, you've either got to retreat or fight to the death. So it makes you think about who you're going to engage a little bit more carefully. And it lets us keep the pace of the game a little bit slower so it's easy to understand what's going on. But it's still just as important that you do the right things. So I think those two points are really good points. We're very melee-focused and we've got this cool universe playground to explore. So that's what we've tried to do.
Age of Sigmar introduces several playable factions. How have you differentiated them in the game and what types of gameplay experiences do they bring?
We looked at them, at each faction, and we tried to encapsulate at a high level what is the core of that faction. So for the Stormcast Eternals, for example, they're elite. All of them are heroes, long dead heroes resurrected and reforged. So they tend to be a little bit more expensive but a little bit stronger. There's less of them as well so you've got to manage your forces a little bit more carefully. You can't just keep spewing out more and more units because they're quite expensive. But they hit hard and they've got a broad range of tools to take on any foe.
Whereas, for example, the Orruk Kruleboyz, they're a little bit different in that they've got some units that are a bit more like fodder units early on. Orruks don't care about their own kind so you throw them in. But they rely on trickery a little bit more. So more of them can use stealth, for example, to get the drop on the enemy. The Orruk Boltboyz are really evil for that because they can lie in wait and hide invisible. And then when the enemy comes close they reveal themselves and do extra damage. So they're more tricky in that some of the units can plant mines at the ground to catch people in the wares. And also they've got some big monsters later on, like the Mirebrute Troggoth, he's an absolute beast. It's a giant Trogoth with a little Orruk on top of him controlling him with chains. He's really horrible and nasty but also very fun.
And then you've got the Nighthaunt. They're different again in that they're a bit brittle. Their units aren't quite as strong but yet they're cheap. You can have lots of them and they're fast and they're everywhere. And because they're ghosts they have a health bar but then they also have an ethereal bond. And if you don't do enough damage the ethereal bond will regenerate very quickly. So they're back to full strength before you know it. And also if you've got them all together you can unlock upgrades where they mob up and they get bonuses. So where one chain rouse board unit might not have been strongest, when there's two of them near each other, suddenly they both get a bonus. So it means that you want to mob up and be around. And obviously there's risk in that because some units, like the Celestar Ballista, they love mobs because they do lots of area effect damage. So there's all different tactics. With the factions, we're trying to make them all different from each other and fun basically as well. And also stick to the lore of what that faction represents.
How has Gavin Thorpe contributed to the world of your game?
Massively. We got him on board, he helped co-author the story, he helped co-write the screenplay, he's helped write loads of other content. What he brings first and foremost is authenticity. He's been a Games Workshop writer, as well as a bestseller writer for many many many years. He knows his stuff. So the way creatures talk and the way events unfold, all of the good stuff there, that's because of Gav's influence and help in writing it.
And also he's actually a top notch guy, he's the most friendly guy as well and really accommodating to work with. So it was really a pleasure and we're eternally grateful that we got to work with him. He's helped be part of this group that's made sure that it's a Games Workshop game, it's authentic.
What does the game offer in the multiplayer?
So multiplayer, we have 1v1 and 2v2, cross platform multiplayer as well, so you can play PC vs Playstation 5 vs Xbox S&S. So that's 1v1 to 2v2. There's also a competitive 1v1 ladder as well. So you'll have a ranking that you go up as you play people and rank games and you'll be able to kind of brag if you're really good or if you're like me and you're quite mediocre, you'll just kind of sit and not make that much progress. So there is a progression that you can do in that as well for multiplayer.
And how do you balance controls between mouse and keyboard and gamepad system?
Well firstly, our control system for gamepad, we put a lot of time and effort and R&D into it. We think actually once you get the hang of it, it's very quick, maybe not quite as quick as a mouse and keyboard, but some actions are actually a little bit faster doing it. And we've got multiple ways of even using the gamepad, so you can use our direct step system where you plan routes around, but you can also toggle a reticle mode where it acts a bit like a mouse cursor, so it's entirely up to you how you play it on gamepad.
And secondly, the pacing of the game, there's more weight to it, it's a little bit more thoughtful, which means we don't rely quite as much on the high actions per minute. The games where you can click a million times, we didn't really want that. Maybe you click a few less times, but each one is more important. Because the pacing is a little bit slower, I think it accommodates both control systems reasonably well. Some of our best players that have been QA testing it, played it on gamepad, and they trounced me on a mouse and keyboard. It really is part of this desire to make sure that everyone can get involved and everyone can enjoy it, because at the end of the day, having fun, that's how cool they are.
Since you've mentioned players, what has been the community feedback so far? Because I know that the Warhammer community is quite difficult to please.
They know what they like.
Did you make any adjustments to the game based on the fan reactions or their feedback?
We ran an open beta in July for multiplayer, and it was really, really useful, it was really good. We got lots of great feedback. We actually got lots of feedback about the controls, especially mouse and keyboard, and we've been working through and iterating and finessing the controls, just to make them as good as we possibly can for launch.
And we took on board a lot of feedback about the balance of the units. When we did the beta, because it was mainly a stress test for the servers as well, it wasn't entirely fully balanced anyway, so it was really good to see, to match our expectations of where we were going with it, with what the players thought needed to happen and change. And more often than not, they were aligned, but we've made some balance and feedback changes as well. So it's been really, really useful. We're really excited now to actually let people get a bit.