Interview: Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade's Miguel Caron Shares His Vision for a Next-Gen MMORPG

By Giuseppe Nelva

June 14, 2013

Many Warhammer 40,000 fans were appalled to hear about the shift of Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millenium Online away from the MMORPG genre.Then the game was completely lost in the warp with the implosion of THQ.

We gave up hope to ever see an actual MMORPG based on the beloved franchise until a few days ago, when the Canadian developer Behaviour interactive announced Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade, an extremely interesting action MMORPG set in a massive conflict between Space Marines, Eldar, Chaos and Orks for the control of a whole planet.

Two days ago I had the chance to have a long heart to heart chat with Miguel Caron, Head of Behaviour’s Online Studio. I have to say that I haven’t seen many developers as passionate for their projects as he is in a long time.

What did he tell me? Read on…

Disclaimer: most of the artwork featured in this article does not belong to the game in development, as there simply isn’t enough available yet. It belongs to Warhammer 40,000’s publisher Games Workshop. 

Giuseppe: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Would you like to introduce yourself and your studio?

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Miguel Caron: Sure, My name is Miguel Caron. I’m the Head of Behaviour’s Online Studio and I joined the company about three months ago. I used to be the CEO of Funcom Games Canada in Montréal. I’m fourty years old and I’ve been a CEO for the past fifteen years. My first business was the second largest IT contracting firm in Canada.

This shows my evolution: I’ve always been a very hardcore gamer and I always dreamt to work in the industry. With Funcom and now with Behaviour…it’s not even work for me. I would do this for free. It’s not even about money anymore. It’s about making great games that not only the fans would love, but that I would love and my kids would love as well. This is very important to me.

G: Warhammer 40,000 isn’t really an IP for kids, though…

M: Well, i’m fourty, so my kids are teenagers now.

G: Ah, ok, then it’s the perfect time to start for them.

M: Exactly! My kids are big fans of the Warhammer 40k license, even if they’re more into the tabletop aspect of it.

G: What are the challenges and opportunities of working with such an established and complex IP as Warhammer 40,000?

M: You know, when people say that the IP is complex, I respond that actually it’s very simple. It’s very deep and very rich, but the actual IP itself as we’re representing it in our game is very simple. There’s only one rule: “There’s only war.”

There are no good guys, everyone is a bad guy, and ultimately we know that the baddest of them all — the forces of Chaos — will win in one way or another, but they’ll win an universe that’s completely taken over by the Tyranids anyway. There’s really no hope in the Warhammer 40k universe. The only reason why humanity still exists is because of the Space Marines, but we know that they’re ultimately going to fail, because each time they try to fight either other races or Chaos itself they need to use warp technology and powers, and that helps Chaos to come into the physical world. It’s really a vicious circle and there’s no way humanity is going to survive. That’s why I say that the IP is actually simple. It’s just survival of the fittest…

G: …As long as possible. 

M: Exactly, as long as possible. And that’s exactly what I’m representing in the game. There’s only war. It’s about your war effort. It’s about how you will survive. It’s about winning one battle at a time to to win the campaign and conquer the planet.

G: With Eternal Crusade you’re going toe-to-toe with both next generation platforms. Have you been working on the devkits already?

M: We will actually launch the game on PC first, but we acquired the rights from Games Workshop to release the game on PS4 and Xbox One as well. We know that our game will work on these platforms’ technologically-speaking, but we don’t yet know what kind of business model Sony and Microsoft will impose on those consoles, so I can’t yet promise that the game will be on either one of these consoles.

We do have the license, we can make it work, but will it make sense business-wise? That’s the only thing I’m waiting to see from Sony and Microsoft.

G: When Mythic developed Warhammer Online, they created a non-canon alternate storyline named “Age of Reckoning”, in order to have more freedom in developing their storyline and characters. Are you going the same route, or you’re going to strictly adhere to the Warhammer 40,000 canon?

M: That’s a tough question. My team is made of true, true, true hardcore fans of the license, but the license is made for tabletop games, so there are some slight adjustments that we have to make to the rules from the books of the tabletop game. That said, each time the team has to make those changes in order to make the game fun and playable, they hate it, because they want to stay true to the IP.

The agreement we have with Games Workshop works like this: right now the planet and the solar system they gave us to use does not appear anywhere in the lore. Before Games Workshop makes us part of the actual canon and lore, our game needs to be launched and successful. Only after that Games Workshop might add our gameplay and story to the canon, but first we need to deliver.

G: Where’s your focus for the game? More centered on PvP, more PvE-oriented, or balanced between the two?

M: Oh my god… (Editor’s Note: Yes, I know, that was an obvious question…) The game is 90-95% PvP, but it’s massive PvP. I’ll tell you the difference: let’s say you’re not a PvP player, but you play in a PvP battleground in an MMO. You go through the group finder and you’re matched with four other people you don’t know, and these four people are very good players and start screaming at you because you’re not doing it right. That’s the part of PvP that PvE players don’t like.

But when you talk about massive PvP, it’s quite different. When you have hundreds or even thousands of players on the same battlefield dishing it out on each other, for you as a PvE player, you don’t really care, because you’re part of thousands of people just killing each other. These people could very well be AI and you wouldn’t notice much difference, because no one is going to single out your mistakes between those thousands of people. So PvP is 90% of the game, but there’s a lot of stuff that you can do that is very different from the usual PvP battleground.

To let you understand, I studied war strategy in university and worked for the Canadian army when I was younger, so we are really applying real military strategy to the game and to the Warhammer 40K lore. For instance I’m not too keen about going into the big battles, I’m more of a sneaky guy, so I would create my squad of five to ten people and I would go through the enemy lines covertly, and I would try to destroy all the outposts around the main fortress, because they’ll represent the logistics feeding the fortress itself. I would also kill all the weapon manufacturers providing the enemy with equipment.

It’s still PvP, because I’m still fighting to defeat the other races, but I’m sabotaging their logistics instead of going to a larger front and just fighting hundreds of people.

The other way you can do it is by exploring the world, finding new resources, building outposts there to be able to extract them and help your friends in the war effort. Again, you’re not actually fighting, but you’re helping your race. There’s going to be tons of content to enjoy for people that actually don’t want to take part in your usual PvP. Even for people that want to try PvP, it’s going to be very different than the normal five versus five you find in other games, because it’s going to be hundreds of people fighting to push the frontline closer and closer to the enemy fortress and eating their territory one meter at a time, one kill at a time.

G: It sounds a lot like Dark Age of Camelot‘s Realm vs Realm, but with four factions…

M: It is indeed one of the games that my team plays and that we really like. We do take inspiration from things that have been done before, but in terms of massive PvP, we’re doing tests right now and while my team doesn’t want to tell numbers, we are able to have twice as many players on a single battlefield as the number one massive PvP game out there. It’s going to be huge.

G: What engine are you using?

M: That’s what they don’t want me to talk about yet. It’s part of the reveal that we’ll do in the upcoming weeks. We haven’t signed with the engine developer yet. We’re now testing the technology together. In the next few weeks we’ll have signed the deal and we’ll be able to announce it.

G: So it’s a third party engine…

M: Yes, but it’s a very, very cool third party engine. We will be the first ones to maximize its features.

G: Is it a sandbox or theme park game, are there going to be quests at all? Any single player-focused storyline?

M: There’s a very small and general storyline. The types of quests…I don’t want to call them quests…The types of objectives in the game will be the same you have in an army.

Think about it: if I’m a general on a battlefield, do I tell some of my soldiers “Can you get this package and bring it to Mrs. Flowers that lives in this place?” or “Could you go in the woods and kill…” No, no. The way we’re going to do this is more similar to realistic military objectives. For instance there may be a Tyranid incursion on your southern border, and you’re sent to protect the outpost. That’s an example. Another may be that the Orks are getting close to find an artifact in a certain mine, and you have to make sure to get it first.

Most of the objectives you’ll receive will be coming from other players that have moved up the hierarchy in your race and have become squad leaders, chapter leaders or are part of the war council. The War council is ten players that basically set up all the main objectives for their race. These players have grown through the ranks and have been voted by other players to lead the war effort for the whole race. They will give the objectives to each squad leader. It works like a real war.

And I won’t be there to make sure that it’s balanced. I’m not there to tell each race how to wage their war. I’m just giving them the tools. This is a game we’re making for the players, so the players will decide how to wage war. That’s the reason why we’ll have campaigns up to three months long. We want to have a winner at the end of the day. I hate massive PvP where you fight and fight and fight but there’s never a real winner.

I say up to three months, because if a bunch of Navy Seals decide to form a guild or a chapter and play our game, most likely they will defeat everyone else very fast because they know military strategy, and our game will be a realistic representation of military strategy. If this happens, and it happens too fast, in order to keep the game somehow balanced we have the Tyranid. They will be a race that we at Behaviour will control in addition to the dynamic weather system that can affect territories and performance.

If near the beginning of a new campaign we find out that the Space Marines are about to wipe out the whole planet in a week, they will suddenly attract a lot more interest from the Tyranid and will need to protect their borders a bit more and allow the other races to gather their strength and provide a real challenge. We’ll intervene to keep it moderately balanced, without too much influence, just enough to make a campaign last at least over two weeks…

G: To give people time to have fun…

M: Exactly. In between two weeks and three months a real winner will be determined. In the next campaign, all the people that participated in the previous one will receive a medal to put on their armor to show that they’re veterans of campaign #1. After a few years, if you meet someone on the battlefield, and he has six or seven medals, then you know that you shouldn’t fu*k with that guy, because he’s a veteran of six or seven campaigns. That’s how the gameplay is going to be.

I’m not there to dictate how the players will play our game. I’m there to give them an open playfield with some rules of engagement, but they will decide what to do with it. It could very well happen that the war council of the Eldar decides to contact the war council of Chaos to team up and wipe everyone else off the planet and then duke it out between themselves. That could happen. We don’t know, and I’m not trying to make it perfect all the time, because war is not perfect. It’s about survival, and that’s what the game is going to be.

G: Can you tell us more about combat, and on how it’ll work? How important will cover mechanics be?

M: One of the things I really did not like in my other experiences in MMOs and MOBAs is that people always say not to expect visceral combat like on single player console games, because in MMOs it can’t happen. I say that’s bulls*it. We will have the best combat ever. I don’t mind poeople comparing the combat we’ll feature in our game with what you can find on consoles.

Our combat will be visceral, dirty, you’ll be able to duck behind obstacles, shoot from behind them, the obstacles will be destructable as well, we’re going to have dodging and rolling and melee mixed with ranged combat. It will not just be in sequence. A Space Marine will shoot you in the face with his gun at very close range and then slash you with his sword, and then shoot again. It’s going to be a mix between Gears of War and THQ’s Space Marine,  from a third person over-the-shoulder point of view. 

Depending on which class you’ll choose in the game, it’s going to be exactly the same as the tabletop, some classes are more sensitive to ranged attacks, while some will be more sensitive to melee. The same concept will be in our game, so you’ll have to build your army with other players in a way that will maximize both melee and ranged in the same way you’d do in the tabletop.

G: Did you choose the business model you’ll use with Eternal Crusade? Pay to Play of Free to Play?

M: That’s a very important point. One of the things I don’t like in the industry is that I feel that there’s always conflict between free players and committed players. These two types of players are both important to the industry, but they’re always conflicting with each other. Those that spend money feel that they’re being screwed over by the company because free players are able to play without having to pay a penny. They also feel that free players are disrespectful of other players and of the rules of the game, creating noise in the game. Do you see this?

G: I can definitely see that a conflict exists, and when a game goes free to play, paying players always complain about the deterioration of the community.

M: Exactly. My idea, and what I’m going to implement is very true to the lore. The game is free to play, but we have four races controlled by the player, while one is controlled by us. Only one of the playable races will be free to play, while the other three will be buy to play like Guild Wars 2.

Actually, all four playable races are buy to play, but the Orks have an option  which is free to play: the Ork boyz. If you want to play our game and you don’t want to spend a single cent, you can still access the whole game and do whatever you want without restriction, but you can only be an Ork Boy. You can’t be an Ork Nob or above…Those are buy to play as well even if we’ll have very affordable pricing, definitely cheaper than Guild Wars 2.

That said, Ork Boyz are going to be free, and they will be able to progress horizontally with skills and everything, but vertically, if you want to become an Ork Nob, you’ll have to buy it. The reason for that is because in order to be responsible to give orders and objectives to other players, we want you to be a committed player. In order to become a leader in our game, you’ll need to pay.

Otherwise, if you’re ok with being a grunt and experience everything, then you can be an Ork Boy, and the reason for that is that you need at least three to five Ork Boyz in the Warhammer 40k universe to kill a Space Marine. If we made Ork Boyz as powerful as Space Marines, everyone would hate us, because it would fly in the face of the lore.

One of the strengths of Orks is numbers. You never talk about one Ork. You talk about hordes of Orks. Thousands of them. To represent that in our game we need our Ork Boyz to be way more numerous than the other races. Having them as free to play allows us to achieve that.

The other reason is because the difference in personality between committed players and free players is exactly the same difference between the culture of Space Marines and Orks.

G: I see, you expect many free players to be undisciplined like Orks.

M: Exactly! You expect them to be less disciplined. You expect them to be rude. You expect them to defy orders. You expect them to ignore objectives, and to insult you all the time, exactly like Orks would do. We’re taking something that is seen as bad, and we’re transforming it into something true to the IP.

On top of that, just imagine that you love Orks, and you bought the Ork Nob premium option, so now you’re an Ork general and you’re preparing to attack an objective. You’re going to have five times as many soldiers as the other races under your command, but once you give the order 30-40% of them might obey, while 60-70% will tell you “fu*k you!” and they’ll start running left and right and do whatever they want. And that’s exactly what true Orks would do. 

When you die on the battlefield, you don’t really die immediately. You’re hurt on the ground and cannot move until one of your friends comes and heals you. Though, like in a real battlefield, you have a chance to be executed by the enemy as well. We have that feature and we’re going to provide players with a lot of lore-friendly race-specific executions for free, but we’ll also have hundreds of different microtransaction-based executions.

Just imagine: you spent two hundred dollars on the game. You won four campaigns, and you’re one of the top Space Marine players in your chapter in a huge battle, and suddenly you fail to pay attention and you end up wounded on the ground, and then you see a puny free to play Ork that just started playing the game running towards you and he executes you in a very humiliating way (because Orks are like that), for instance by choking you by sitting with his butt in your face with the teabagging execution he purchased for $1.

He also records it, because we have an API to post things like these on Facebook and Youtube, humiliating you in front of everyone. So all the free players that see that video will want to buy all kinds of humiliating executions to troll the space marines as much as they can. With this we’ll even be able to monetize trolling.

In response you’ll be so pissed, and I promise you, you’ll remember that Ork’s name and you’ll make it one of the next objectives of your chapter to obliterate that guy. He’s going to hide, because your whole squad is going to run all over the place to find him. Those free players that like to piss off other players and grief their gameplay will be trying to avoid contact and just wait for someone else to fall on the ground in order to run to them and execute them with another humiliating animation. And that’s what Orks would do in the Warhammer 40k universe. They would kill you while you’re defenseless, and then sit on your face and dance around you. This will be our approach to monetization.

G: Will therebe any titans?

M: My team doesn’t want me to talk about that yet, but we’re going to have tons of different vehicles and artillery pieces.

G: Your game will include procedurally generated content. Will all dungeons be procedurally generated, or we’ll also find hand-crafted ones as an alternative?

M: That’s another part that they don’t want me to talk about. They know me and they know me and they briefed me on what I can say…I already broke a few of those rules.

G: Can you tell me more about the Customizable shared space in orbit? It sounds like some sort of guild housing. Will there also be any sort of personal housing?

M: When you start playing the game you’ll be automatically attached to a chapter. You don’t really need to follow orders or work with the team, but if you do that you’re going to miss on some of the fun provided by the game, as war isn’t done by yourself. If you really want to do that, though, you’ll have your own spaceship.

You’ll be able to customize it, make it look however you want, and through different campaigns at one point you’ll be able to equip it with artillery pieces to call orbital bombardment when you’re on the battlefield. Of course that’s very far along in the game.

G: And of course if you’re by yourself it’ll get more time to get there. 

M: Of course. If you’re alone and even more so if you don’t follow the orders of the war council, then it’ll take a long time to get it. On the other hand if you join forces with a team of friends, you’ll have the option to combine all your vessels into a very big strike cruiser. Within the strike cruiser you’re going to have your own quarters. So if you’re a team of five people there’re going to be five personal rooms in your cruiser.

There won’t be a lot of gameplay within this personal space, it’s more about planning, displaying your medals and showcasing the “best moments” from your best campaigns… The only gameplay feature that my team is allowing me to mention for now is the orbital strike capability that you’ll acquire when you’ll be very high level.

G: Let’s talk about psionic powers. Will they be included in the game? How powerful will they be compared to firearms and melee weapons? 

M: Again, I can’t talk about this yet, but something that we’re not trying to do is having a balanced game. War is not balanced. War is war, and balancing the game in advance would kill the whole fun of it. We are keeping the equilibrium between different powers and races as close as possible to the real rules of Warhammer 40k. The only time we’ll tweak it is when it’ll risk to kill the gameplay.

As an example we won’t have the Sisters of Battle at launch. We love them, but the reason why they won’t be playable at launch is because it’s almost impossible to make the kind of power they have fit the lore and make it fun at the same time. They always end up being killed by their own team because their pure blood is useful to defeat demons. It’s very difficult to implement that kind of sacrifice in the gameplay and still make  it fun to play as a character.

There are different ways in which we can adapt this, but for now, since the team wants to stay as close as possible to the IP, the races we have are those that we don’t need to modify too much from their rulebook originals.

G: This ties perfectly to the next question: other Warhammer 40,000 video games disappointed some fans by forcing conflict between Imperial factions. For now you dodged the issue by keeping Imperial Guard and Sisters of Battle unplayable. Have you ever thought about a solution for the problem if they were to be introduced down the line?

M: It’s your game. It’s not my game. If you are part of the Eldar war council, nothing stops you from communicating with the Chaos war council and either team up with them or dare them to attack you. I’m not going to force anything, because I’m not involved in the game. You decide what you want to do. Remember: there’s only war and there are no rules in war. If you want to ally with the Orks to kill the Eldar, fine, just do it. Every single race at one point or another in the Warhammer 40k lore has fought every single one of the others.

G: Is this a confirmation that different factions will be able to communicate with each other?

M: Of course! A lot of developers try to stop side deals between factions, but this would go against everything the Warhammer 40k lore represents.

G: Besides, people would just talk in skype if you don’t allow them to do so in game…

M: Exactly, so who am I to stop them? I’m actually going to encourage them to discuss, create partnerships, insult each other, bckstab each other, even bet money on their fights if they want…outside of the game of course.

G: So there will be an alliance system between the races? If I ally with another faction, can I activate a feature to prevent friendly fire?

M: I can’t yet disclose the exact technical mechanic. I’d also prefer my creative director to respond to a question like this, because the mechanic itself is really true to the IP, but it’s very complex in the way you join alliances so that they aren’t made lightly.

G: But there is one, right?

M: I’m not supposed to say it!

G: Warhammer 40,000 miniatures are normally very unique in their decorations and insignia. What kind of visual customization can we expect for our characters besides the campaign medals you spoke about?

M: Unlimited.

G: Unlimited? That’s a tall promise…

M: We’re going to give you the tools to paint your armor the way you want it to be. Some parts of the armor are set in stone, as you’ll need to be recognizable, while others will be left to your creativity. With most of your looks you’ll be able to express yourself in the same way you can express yourself with miniatures.

G: Thanks for answering my questions during your busy E3 time. is there anything else you’d like our readers to know before we conclude the interview? 

M: There’s only war! I’ll be playing the game myself when it’ll launch in two years, and my name and title will be above my character. I dare every single one of your readers to come and try to kill me.

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Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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