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Sanya Thomas, Community Manager

Dana Massey Posted:
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We chat with the Director of Community Relations about the coming war...

Ever since it was first announced, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning has developed a rabid fan-base. From the folks behind Dark Age of Camelot and now with the publishing might of Electronic Arts, WAR has everything behind it possible to be a success. Find out more in this new interview.

MMORPG.com: When Warhammer was announced, it immediately became the most anticipated game on our list by a country mile. The EA deal obviously somewhat deepened enthusiasm. What has the deal meant to the development of Warhammer Online so far?
Sanya Thomas:

To be perfectly honest, not much has changed. We are still working hand in glove with the great people at Games Workshop. We are still completely responsible for development, testing, and making good progress. We're still exactly on track. We're still partnered with GOA for the European launch.

The differences have been psychological - as an independent studio, we had the freedom to do anything, including starve. Also along those lines, EA has resources, and that means EA Mythic has resources to hire whomever we need to get the job done.

I expect the most visible differences will come into play after we launch, in terms of distribution, worldwide partners in Asia, advertising, and really great shelf placement at the different retail stores. Mythic used to lose arguments with big retailers. EA doesn't even have to argue.

MMORPG.com: You made the decision to develop in three racial pairings. First, you showed us the Dwarves and Greenskins. Can you tell us why you chose to start there and what the timeline for the next three pairings?
Sanya Thomas:

It was the right decision for a million reasons, but first and foremost, Dwarfs (not Dwarves, ask GW) and Greenskins are the most iconic races of the Warhammer world. The elves and humans are just as unique in their way, but if you're looking to grab people from the beginning and say "look, this is what we're about," you gotta start with the orcs, goblins, and angry dwarfs.

* Humans are next, because there's so much anticipation for the races that most people will wind up playing in release. We also wanted to focus on what are really unique takes on the humans - as well as the hotly anticipated Chaos humans, who won't look like anything anyone in the fantasy genre has seen before. Finally, we have the elves. It just worked out that way. But who doesn't like elves?

The exact timeline is going to depend on when the devs finish it. Then marketing can talk about it. Then I can explain it.

MMORPG.com: Obviously, you've heard rumblings about how the game looks like World of WarCraft. Bluntly, did you intentionally mimic World of WarCraft with your visual style? If not, can you explain how it evolved the way it did and why you believe people should not view it that way?
Sanya Thomas:

I hate answering this question in print, because you really have to see my face to understand my tone. You must pretend, as you read this, that I have thrown my head back and laughed, and then I rolled my eyes at you. That is the exact tone my voice has when I answer this question. Also, since it is you, Lepidus, and I have known you for many years, it is highly possible that in person, I would have thrown some sort of soft toy at you for asking questions to which you know the answer.

The answer is no, we did not mimic that other game. We are developing WAR in the exact style of Games Workshop, the style Games Workshop developed back in the 1980s.

There was never a chance that we would throw out more than twenty years of development and design just because another company found that look and style so inspirational.

I don't know why things have evolved the way they have evolved. Perhaps that would be a good question for a clever journalist to ask GW and Blizzard. But I don't have a dog in that fight. My company is proud and happy to work with GW, the original designers of the look - an assertion easily proved by pulling up any number of gaming books from the eighties. We are making their world come to life.

MMORPG.com: Warhammer takes itself a lot less seriously than most fantasy properties out there. Can you give us some concrete examples of how this humor has translated into an MMORPG?
Sanya Thomas:

1) Paul Barnett.
2) The in-game content.

The latter is currently covered by NDA. The former is all over the internet and totally uncontrollable, bless him. But he's really got the whole spirit of the game wrapped up in every freakish interview and video.

MMORPG.com: The last time we spoke, you had a rather concrete vision for the evolution of RvR throughout the course of character's career. Have there been any changes or innovations to PvP in the game since then?
Sanya Thomas:

"Concrete vision?" That smacks of a certain inflexibility, and "inflexible" is something that a product in closed beta can't afford. We have a design framework that has not changed in a big way since the last time you interviewed the developers. The execution has in many cases dramatically changed, as we try things and decide that they don't work - or implement things and realize that those things limit us unnecessarily. I can't be specific here, because anything I say today is subject to change before the next demonstration. And at the next demonstration, you can play and write about it yourself.

Sorry, that's a terrible answer.

MMORPG.com: Squig Herders were the most original and humorous class we heard about when we met you earlier this year. Can you tell everyone about how this Greenskin class should work?
Sanya Thomas:

Rein your expectations in, a smidgen. What you were told remains true, all in all. But you won't get everything you heard about in the same moment that you create the character. There will be plenty of humor and fun as you rise through the Herder ranks, and at this time, we still intend that you will be able to hop into the battle squig as a veteran herder even if you can't start that way. But the specifics are subject to change based on testing, GW's approval, and our ability to make it fun.

MMORPG.com: The hardcore Warhammer audience is divided between role-players, painters and war gamers. How have you set out to capture each of these audiences on top of the regular MMO gamers?
Sanya Thomas:

This question is mind-boggling in its scope, and the answer I'm about to give is overly simplistic.

We are appealing to the figure painters, among many other ways, with all the detail and color. I have had several people with really extraordinary army collections tell me that seeing the NPCs is exactly like seeing their figures move. That was one of the finest compliments I have accepted on behalf of the team.

Roleplayers will love the rich backstory and lore. Twenty years of novels, stories, tabletop books, and more has given us this amazingly layered world. Because there has been so much history written, roleplayers have a foundation they can start from with their own characters, guilds, and adventures. This bit sounds like complete and utter marketing slop, doesn't it? I swear it's not. Talk to established Warhammer fans who have been roleplaying in live campaigns since Reagan was President.

If by war gamers, you mean the guys who enjoy virtual fighting, bloodshed, and general mayhem, we're designing the entire game for them.

If by war gamers, you mean the guys that do the tabletop environments with the miniatures, the answer is a little more complicated. Gameplay will not be like that. They shouldn't expect it. But there is an ongoing tabletop campaign here, involving artists and designers and content people. The guys love the game; they play every week. That love, and that devotion, is definitely informing the work on the MMO. So I believe the spirit of the war gamer is part of the game that we're building, and that the war gamers in the community will be able to see it. But only beta testing will prove my belief.

MMORPG.com: Warhammer is built off the same core engine as Dark Age of Camelot. Can you talk about some of the technical improvements and innovations made to that engine specifically for Warhammer?
Sanya Thomas:

Some things can't be discussed yet. This industry is just a mite competitive, and talking about some innovations a year from launch just means that someone else will miraculously launch an expansion pack with our features. This has happened to nearly every MMO ever launched.

But if the technical types reading this have been going "they must be doing XYZ, it's a no-brainer," well, chances are we're doing those things. Obviously we're doing a lot of modifications related to graphics. People say they don't care about eye candy, but eye candy is what they buy. Besides, we owe it to GW to make their world as awesome looking as possible.

And let me get my notes, the programmer with whom I spoke phrased it so nicely... ah, yes: "We are obviously leveraging multi-core processor technology."

MMORPG.com: Chaos is easily the most foreign of the six armies you have planned. Can you talk about some of the challenges in translating these monsters to an MMP and how your team has handled them so far?
Sanya Thomas:

Well, remember that we are not discussing Chaos this early, not in detail. But certainly I've touched on the topic in the Grab Bag already, so I can say what I said there. Chaos is extremely exciting because it's so different from all the playable things out there, with the mutations and the humor and the tentacles. And visually, this army is a dream come true. But we're making a game. It should be fun to play for both those facing Chaos and those who are Chaos. There are things we can do with NPCs in terms of abilities and appearances that, were we to attempt with player characters, would suck. Check out September Grab Bag.

So one of the biggest challenges is meeting player expectations with the look and feel of Chaos, while keeping the game balanced (and frankly, doable.)

MMORPG.com: Your website already has several zones listed. Can you talk specifically about one zone and why a player will want to go there from a gameplay (rather than fictional) perspective?
Sanya Thomas:

Each zone will offer the same opportunities, actually. I should say "each zone outside the capital cities," shouldn't I, since the cities are so specialized and intended for a specific type of warfare.

The zones outside the cities have little towns to get quests, meet other people, buy supplies, and immerse oneself in the culture of that zone. There will be places to explore, and to discover out of the way quests and encounters not spoon-fed to the player with NPCs and flashing things on the maps. There will be instances, and dungeons. There will be regular old monsters to hunt and kill and track in the Bestiary. There will be places to indulge in some quick and dirty free-for-all killing without having to leave the zone or even cross a zone line. There will be elements of territory control playing to the endgame of city raiding.

In other words, EVERY zone is designed to have something to do for every sort of player, with varying amounts of time to play, and all of it integrated into a larger purpose. The differences between the zones are really about the fiction, the history, and the culture. Or, put another way: We are designing all the zones to have multiple gameplay reasons attracting us players. I can't really answer your question specifically, because the specific answer would still apply to all the other zones.

MMORPG.com: Finally, the question we always must ask. When is beta? When is release? :)
Sanya Thomas:

You apparently haven't checked http://www.warhammerherald.com lately. ;)

* Editor's Note: The second paragraph of the second answer was changed a few minutes after we first published this when Thomas noted a factual mistake in her original answer.


Dana Massey