Tindalos Interactive chats about the upcoming Battlefleet Gothic: Armada03 Feb 2016 0
Many moons ago, I recall saying to a good friend that, of all the Games Workshop licenses, it was baffling that Battlefleet Gothic hadn't yet received the digital translation treatment. As he metered out violence from his Planet Killer upon my small picket of Imperial ships, we were both in agreement that it was prime material for computer gaming. After all, it sported all the sensibilities of naval warfare and condensed a lot of the finicky minutiae into what really mattered; moving, broadsiding, ramming, boarding, claiming victory. Or, in my case, drifting in pieces through a universe that knows only war. Over a decade on, that dream is finally being realised.
I pulled my plucky monitor alongside the imposing hull of SS Tindalos and took my place at the captain's table, readying for a chat with studio founder and game director Romain Clavier. I knew his work from both Stellar Impact and Etherium, both interesting titles that didn't make as many ripples as they should have. Stellar Impact was a starship MOBA, essentially Fractured Space before Fractured Space. It had fantastic ship class designs, with a punchy little dreadnought-esque take on fleet engagements. But sadly, a ship is nothing without a crew, and a MOBA without a community is a silent place. "We were pretty sad that Stellar Impact [and Etherium] didn't find their audience," Claviar admits, "It would have given us the opportunity to support them further."
But the Parisian studio, under the auspices of publisher Focus-Home Interactive, are back in space with Battlefleet Gothic: Armada. Games Workshop have been on a licensing frenzy in the last few years, and the rate of critical return has been quite positive. From mobile to PC and console, the strike rate has been rather impressive. My preamble puts Armada at the front of the pack, as the interstellar combat cathedrals of the 40K universe are unequivocally its most desirable element.
Being the studio's first licensed game for a marquee property, the pressure is on. "There are lots of pros," Clavier explains, "You get a well established universe that people love, with many great art concepts and characters that are already designed." He speaks of a team who grew up with the panoply of Games Workshop titles, their enthusiasm and how it feeds into wanting to do justice to this admittedly niche corner of the tabletop heavyweight.
The biggest challenge is turning a meticulous IGOUGO tabletop wargame into a workable real-time strategy, for there seems no greater ire served than that of a punctilious grognard, rulebook in hand. Clavier explains that Armada is aiming to stay as close to the miniatures game as possible, but that facts have to be faced admitting "It's more of an adaptation than a translation".
A recent adaptation of a revered Games Workshop franchise was Full Control's Space Hulk Ascension, which I personally thought was one of 2014's hidden strategy gems. It maintained the claustrophobic crawl through derelicts, but replaced the dime-turn luck of the original with a much cleaner, fairer combat system. In Armada, it seems similar choices are being made; excising the abstract or inappropriate without losing important elements. Tindalos are doing away with particularly fussy rules, such as planetary gravitational fields and accuracy modifiers related to the position of nearby suns, while adding their own.
"Games Workshop gave us a lot of freedom regarding the game design. For example, a problem we had was that most ships in the tabletop game didn't have a clear role to fulfill. Therefore we had to create a lot of upgrades, skills, crews and favors in order to allow specialization of ships in specific domains like damage, tanking, control, support, maneuvering, recon and so forth." He goes on to discuss deeper elements aboard each vessel. "We also decided to add an insubordination system in the game in order to show captain’s moral. If you throw captains into desperate fights, they may tend to fly away from the battlefield against your will. Fortunately, there's an Imperial commissar on every ship awaiting for your order to execute coward captains."
One of the most compelling elements of starship science-fiction is the sheer scale. Be it a Super Star Destroyer or Voth City Ship, the notion of a gigantic construct of booster stacks, armour and broadside capability is one hell of a draw. Given Armada is being touted as the first strategy game built on Unreal Engine 4 technology, Clavier explains how scale is conveyed. "The camera allows you to zoom quite close to your ships in order to understand the true scale of the game. The smallest ship in Battlefleet Gothic measures one kilometre in length, and the biggest ?about ten. Our artists did an amazing job to reflect this aspect of the game, the level of details on the ships is just amazing."
Not content with mere greeble, Clavier promises epic fleet engagements. Seemingly like the original Homeworld, players start with a small clutch of vessels, but build a considerable fleet over the course of a campaign. Much like the tabletop game, Armada won't take place in 3D space, opting for a single plane and playing out like a traditional naval game. Map design becomes crucial, on which Clavier elaborates.
"We're implementing a lot of environmental effects. Dangerous asteroid fields and wrecks offer as many benefits as they do hazards. Gas clouds allow you to mask your drive signatures from the enemy. Radiation waves disrupt scanners, with solar flares causing catastrophic damage against unshielded vessels." He goes on to mention other elements, like the inclusion of space stations, outposts and defense platforms.
For all the grit and service towards Battlefleet Gothic fans, Tindalos hopes to appeal beyond the periphery. Newcomers won't need to know Imperial Dauntless variants, nor will there be a test on the four Chaos marks and how they shake up a warp fleet. "We are doing our best in order to make the game accessible." assures Clavier, "That being said, Armada remains a demanding RTS with a lot of pretty exciting mechanics. Of course it will be easier if you are familiar with the tabletop game, but this game is not only made for them. If you like Battlefleet Gothic, the Warhammer 40K universe, space battles, naval battles, RTS, or even MOBA, you may be interested in Armada."
Releasing with Imperial, Ork, Eldar and Chaos factions to choose from, variety shouldn't be an issue. Long post-launch support is promised, with the pre-order bonus of the Space Marine faction provided gratis for early birds. Clavier is quick to point out that the free expansion is also on offer for people who buy within a short window after the game releases in March. "We plan to add a lot of content after release," he adds. "More game modes, more factions, more upgrades, more skills, more ships, ?new environments and the like."
It seems like a fair deal. As it stands, Tindalos Interactive look to be doing the right thing by the property. Graphically, Armada looks every bit the baroque frisson I'd want in shunting the miniatures game into Celestia Digitalus. The fleets look appropriately ornate, and my fear of space being an uncomfortable patchwork of scale-breaking detritus is somewhat abated. But we'll have to wait and see where tabletop translation ends and adaptation begins, the fidelity of combat and what makes this decidedly 'Battlefleet Gothic' over simply Stellar Impact with a grimdark facade. The preorder beta begins a few weeks before launch, so presumably towards the end of February, whereby worries will either be ameliorated or, by Nurgle's pus, realised.
Something does give me hope. In a quasi-Voight-Kampff test, from a future where there is only way, I asked Clavier which side he placed his allegiance; The Imperial Navy, or the apostasy of Chaos. He left me with the following:
I've got a good feeling about this one.