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Bringing the Human to the Superhuman - Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine II Interview

We sat down with Space Marine II's Creative Director Oliver Hollis-Leick to discuss multiplayer, the return of Titus, and how the team got the blessing of the Space Marine's creator.

Audio transcription

"I have seen the trailer, by this point people will have seen the trailer.
Multiplayer is coming to Space Marine 2, not just in the PvP that we remember from Space Marine 1, but we're also getting these PvE operations."

"Could you sort of explain a bit about the multiplayer modes and what they offer in Space Marine 2?
Yes, sure. So, the good thing about Space Marine is every single mode is multiplayer.
So, you have the co-op campaign, which can be played solo or with up to three players.
Then you have the PvE operations mode, which is, again, three-player co-op, but it's more like an extension of the story."

"So, in the campaign, you will begin to, as Titus has the rank of lieutenant, technically he has command of additional squads, and so as more and more shit hits the fan in the game, he is able to command some of these squads.
And so, he assigns them objectives and then they go off and we don't see what they're doing, apart from regular check-ins over the Vox, the radio."

"And so, we'll hear those conversations, but then we will get to go around the other side and actually play as those teams who are fulfilling Titus's orders and see what was going on for them.
So, we've got these multiple viewpoints on the same battlefield, so to speak.
So, it's still a continuation of the story, it's very connected, but has a bit more freedom about how you go about it."

"So, in the campaign, because in Space Marine, in Warhammer, the type of armor that Space Marine has dictates quite heavily what weapons they can use and what equipment they can have and skills they have.
So, in the PvE mode, we offer players six different classes to choose from, which they can then progress with and develop, and it gives them a bit more freedom about play styles and all that kind of stuff."

"That mode is also very replayable, because it's no longer directly tied to the story.
We can vary the enemy types, it has life after the end of the campaign, it's very good for replayability.
So, that's the PvE operations, and then there's the PvP mode, which is a hotly requested feature, so you'll be able to have 6v6 goodies versus baddies, if there are any goodies or baddies in Warhammer."

"Something that I was wondering is how, because as you said, it's all multiplayer, you can grab two friends and go through the entire campaign together.
How do those main missions differ from the operation missions?
Would the main missions be more cinematic and the operation missions more objective-focused, or is it a mix of both?
The campaign is a story campaign, so everything you do is contributing towards that story."

"So, we have cinematics, we have a lot of VO, we have specific events that are taking place that can't be changed without changing the story.
In terms of its journey, it's more linear, because it's a story.
With the PvE operations mode, we still have characters, every single Space Marine class is a character, fully voiced by an actor, they have their own personalities, but the dialogue is more varied and more responsive to changing situations, it's less locked into the story, so there's more freedom there."

"Cool.
We were talking about the classes just then, and how they're going to offer different kinds of ways to play as Space Marines, we saw the scouts and heavier kinds of Marines in armour."

"Are you encouraged as a player to try out a lot of them differently, or is it more get the class that feels right for you and keep going with that, as in, say, in a PvE operation mission, could you maybe swap out between different missions, or swap out even within a mission, or are you more locked into what you want to play and what fits your style?
So, as far as I know, as far as I remember, though we are making changes in response to focus groups that we're running and test groups, but as you progress through the campaign, you unlock more of these different classes, you meet them on the..."

"So, our hub in the game is the Battle Barge, it's this huge, miles-long flying fortress filled with all kinds of crazy stuff, and...
Exactly."

"Yeah.
A giant flying killer city, basically.
So, we get to go...
As we go on our missions, we go down to the hangar, we see these giant Thunderhawks taking off and flying out towards the planets below, and we see Space Marines moving around, and we'll meet these characters and interact with them, and Captain Akaran will assign these characters to us as we go along and improve our abilities."

"So, we're unlocking these different classes as we go, which means that, yes, by definition, the player will have to play around with a few of them to see what feels right, but ultimately, it's going to be a case of whatever feels best."

"And you might have a few that you like, depending on the mission that you want to switch between, but we offer a lot of customization as well, so you can change the kind of helmets, armor, somewhat, to some degree.
You can really kind of make them your own, so to speak."

"With the single player, how does that work with, say, bringing in two friends who you want to play the campaign with?
Are you all Titus in your own games, or will you have two different friends who get to take on two different Space Marine characters?
I think of it like Gears of War."

"You've got these four characters, and you take on one of them each.
So, it's very much the same.
You'll drop in, you'll be assigned your characters, and it'll be Titus, Chiron, and Gadriel, and you'll be distributed on them."

"And just the Space Marines in general, something that I really liked is how you guys really captured the feel of them.
They are like walking tanks.
I was just wondering if you could explain a bit the sort of process, creatively and design-wise, that went into making them move and feel the way they do."

"Yeah. So, when we very first began creating the game, we met with Games Workshop, sort of introduced us to a guy called Jez Goodwin, who is the creator of the Space Marine.
And he's a great guy, and he brought along this black notebook, and he opened it up, and there are all these sketches of his in there."

"Sketches of things you'll never see on the tabletop miniatures, nor in the games.
How every little piece of armor works, what this does, what that does.
He knew everything. It was all a very functional design process.
And so, he explained what a Space Marine should move like, how the armor affects them, what the kind of weight distribution is like."

"So, we took that information, took our model, our rigged model of a Space Marine, and then started to do animation tests to find out where the best borderline was for each of these things.
Like, what's not too fast, not too slow, but just right."

"What's kind of not too light, but not too heavy.
Like, we were finding the Goldilocks zone of Space Marine movement over there.
So, it was just months and months of testing.
And, of course, all the sound effects that go in there as well enhanced it so much."

"So, yeah, it was a long process.
The punchiness of the guns, or even just walking around, is something I've noticed a lot.
It just feels really, really good."

"Comparing it slightly, I guess, in something that I've also enjoyed, another Warhammer game was Boltgun, which got that nostalgic sort of 80s, 90s shooter vibe about it.
Bringing that to a more modern audience, I thought, was really impressive."

"We also, when we did the motion capture for all of the cinematics, we used these big NFL football pads.
Because it restricts the arms, because the Space Marine armor, it doesn't have a full range of movement."

"So, we had that, and we used giant military boots on these guys as well, and we had big, heavy weapons.
So, we tried, wherever possible, to get the actors to feel like Space Marines.
I think, unfortunately, they got used to it."

"It sounds like a workout as well.
Great cardio, though, for running around with extreme ankle weights.
We've talked about Titus a bit.
Titus is back, and I always thought that was an interesting choice, considering how the first game ends."

"Was there ever a point where you thought, maybe we'll focus on a different Space Marine?
Because there's a million of them out there in the galaxy.
There's probably a hundred million interesting stories to tell with them."

"What drew you back to Titus?
Well, Titus' story was unfinished.
We never learned why he was resistant to the war.
We never knew what happened to him afterwards."

"We know he was taken away by the Black Templars, but we don't know what they did with him.
And so, it was a cliffhanger.
And I'm sure that, had they had the opportunity, that Relic would have finished that story."

"And so, just as we were beginning, and we were looking online and researching the first game, there was a lot of desire from the fans to know what happened.
And I think if we'd have just gone away from that, a lot of people would have been unhappy, but we'd have left something unfinished."

"And I think what we wanted to do is continue that story, but also do some of what you're talking about, which is to create new characters and to meet characters.
Like Captain Acheron, who is a real character from the lore, who we can now introduce."

"So, we're trying to do a little bit of both.
How do you balance with the expansive lore?
I don't think there's probably, even though there's millions and millions of Warhammer fans out there, I would call anyone who's claimed to have read every book a liar, because it just is so expansive."

"It's one of the biggest sci-fi universes to date.
How do you approach that with making a game like Space Marine 2?
Do you try and pick from all corners of the galaxy, or do you focus in, maybe just stick with the Ultramarines, just stick with Tidus' story, really hone in on that?
It's very tempting to try and include as much as possible."

"So, from the very beginning, I started with the Ultramarines, and I read No No Fear by Dana.
That was an amazing, gripping book.
I remember I just couldn't put it down."

"So, I went from there, and then I read Dark Imperium, because a lot has changed since No No Fear in 10,000 years.
But No No Fear gave me an insight into the Ultramarine mentality, how Gilliam thinks, what he wanted Ultramarines to be."

"I read some stuff about Cadians, Cadian Blood, I think, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden.
I tried to read as many novels as I reasonably could.
But then, from that point, a lot of it was just general lore digging, like how does this book work together, who's involved in what, what does this do, can they do that, no, they can't."

"How do we connect these different elements together?
We had the whole, you know, the Psychatrix maledictum to deal with, this kind of rift through space and how that affects things.
So, it was like, spread everything out on the table, and then clear away the inessential so that we could get a really clear story."

"Because one of the difficulties here is that Warhammer fans will just grab this thing and understand it straight away.
It'll be endless for them.
But we want this game to be accessible to all audiences, because it's a great introduction into what is an amazing universe."

"And so, if we were to make this kind of opaque, thick, kind of faithful dialogue, filled with Warhammer terms, the average person would have gone, I can't play this, I don't understand, what are they talking about?
We had to walk this line and find how do we tell this story, how do we create characters that are faithful to their true selves, but also being accessible."

"So, then that was about selecting, not overloading the player with lore and information.
I did notice that a lot.
The first game, I think, got a lot of people into Warhammer on its own, and I've noticed that in the response to the trailers for this game, is that people see Titus chopping a Tyranid in half with a chainsword, and any action game lover is instantly going to be like, I want to be a part of that."

"Outside of Titus and Space Marines, something that I've liked a lot in the things I've seen so far is how you've used the Imperial Guard as helpful AI.
How did that come about, bringing in more of a..."

"I've always loved the Imperial Guard because they bring a human focus into this universe where there's aliens and superhuman steroid people and whatever not.
What was the decision-making behind bringing the Imperial Guard in, and how useful can we expect them to be?
You actually highlighted a couple of really important points in the question."

"So, one of the great reasons to include Imperial Guard is because they give context to the size and scale of a Space Marine.
So, when you're walking past Acadians and they're dropping to one knee and saluting, you appreciate, wow, I'm actually massive."

"That's a human.
So, that was a great reason to do it because it makes the Space Marines feel more powerful.
Another reason to do it is because the Imperium wage war with multiple different military groups, and we wanted to portray an epic 40K war, not just Space Marines on a mission."

"So, the more we could include, in terms of Acadians, there's Adeptus Mechanicus, they have their own different vehicles.
The more we could do that, the better.
And it is, I like the phrase, it's like a complete war, like a planetary total conflict."

"Multi-planetary.
Multi-planetary, yeah.
Because there's just so many Tyranids on screen at once, and it's something that just feels impossible, but it also reflects their scale quite well."

"But something else that I like is they're not just a horde, there's also individuals amongst that horde that could easily take down a Space Marine, as we've seen in a couple of trailers now.
There's some boss-looking Tyranids as well."

"How does the combat change versus the horde, versus a major giant bug beast, basically?
So, you have to be able to adapt to every situation.
So, the Space Marines are, of course, equipped for everything, but choosing how you go about things, and with a swarm, it might be a kind of hack and slash thing, when they're all hormogants, and then when a warrior shows up, you have to switch tactics, you can't be as general as before."

"You have to always think about what equipment is in your arsenal, and because it's three-player co-op, of course you can play solo, and the AI will do their thing, but if you're playing three-player, the system is automatically going to up the difficulty a bit."

"So, you have to then think about how do you manage these different enemies.
So, there is a lot of variability in how you approach each task.
In the operations, I imagine we're doing sort of similar, sort of fighting similar enemies."

"Does this run, we talked a bit about how it does, you know, Titus is sort of sending these squads on these missions, as you said, shit hits the fan a bit more so.
Yeah."

"Does this run parallel to the story then, and therefore, does it have a sort of end point that also meets the story, or is it a more replayable type of game mode for players to just keep going after they complete the story?
It's both."

"So, rarely does a war with the Tyranids end with a final shot.
You know, it's even when the back of the enemy is broken that there's a lot of cleanup to do, you know.
And so, just as our story terminates, the war goes on."

"And so, the PV operations mode covers both things you mentioned.
On one side, and at one point, it is parallel to the story, and you're literally hearing the same radio chatter from both sides.
You'll play Titus and hear your teammates, then you'll switch and you'll hear Titus over the radio."

"But then once the story of the campaign is complete, that continues, I believe we call it, there is only war mode, unless that's checked, which is where it's on and the enemy types… Yes."

"That's right. Thanks, Jan.
So, the enemy types can be much more varied.
We can introduce multiple different factions.
You've seen chaos appear in this game."

"So, there'll be levels that were only Tyranids before, and then we can introduce chaos into those, and we can really start to mix things up.
I think Warhammer has always sort of found this, well, especially in sort of the last 10 years or so, has really found this strength in PVE multiplayer."

"We've seen it with like Vermintide and Darktide, especially.
Did you guys take a look at sort of the success over at Fatshark and see how you can change what they've done, but also sort of stick with the formula that works for a lot of players?
So, Space Marine 1 really kind of was the blueprint for this game."

"So, we know we had a third-person action shooter, and if we strayed too far in the direction of something like Rogue Trader or Vermintide, we would be in danger of not being faithful to the original game anymore.
So, when we were thinking about making it multiplayer co-op, fortunately, our previous game, World War Z, or World War Zed, as you and I would say, was a much better template for how that kind of thing works."

"So, they crossed over very nicely.
So, we were able to take a lot of the systems that we'd developed and all the groundwork we'd laid in World War Zed and sort of beef it up and modify it for this game."

"So, that's kind of where we got.
And, of course, we looked across the board at what people were enjoying and what they liked and put that in wherever possible, but we just had to make sure that we stayed true to the Space Marine blueprint."

"Switching over a bit to PvP, what are you taking from the original with that?
We've said that the Space Marine 1 was sort of the blueprint, and so is there sort of a lot of inspiration in the PvP that we see in Space Marine 2?
So, our PvP is 6v6."

"You're able to be Imperial Force, Imperial Space Marines, the good guys.
Exactly.
Or multiple different factions of Chaos."

"So, you've got this range of, you're not just Chaos, there's the World Eaters, there's the whatever.
So, you can really choose your factions there.
A lot of customization available."

"I would say we've just taken it.
We've just really juiced it up.
We've done all the things.
When we were at Gamescom last year, one of the original developers from Space Marine 1 dropped by the booth and played the game and gave a great compliment."

"He said, you've done everything we wished we could have done.
Isn't that great?
Yeah, exactly.
He said, you've really remained faithful, but you've taken it where we wished we could have taken it."

"And so, that's the general theme of everything we do.
We're taking it to the next level.
Something you touched upon there was the customization.
And in the trailer, we can already see that you can also, not only just change whatever Chaos sort of chapter that you want to be, but you can also be Loyalist chapters from the Salamanders and other Loyalist chapters that don't necessarily appear in the main campaign."

"What level of customization is there?
You spoke a bit before about the creator of the original Space Marine coming in and going through different armors.
Do we have that level of detail, and what can we expect?
So, in terms of, we're limited by certain things like armor types, whether it's Kravitz armor or tactical armor, and we're limited by the types of weapons that Space Marines use."

"But just as when you're making a miniature, in your Ballista Pack, you've got all the different options that you could possibly put with them, and there's modifications you can make."

"Is it scoped? Is it unscoped?
So, we allow for all of that kind of thing in there.
And then, of course, we allow for lots of small changes, like what kind of crest you have on your helmet, and how you display your..."

"I can't remember what this shield is called that goes on the pauldron there, but things like that.
Sigilosi.
That sounds about right."

"Something like that.
And so, all of that kind of stuff's in there.
So, the aesthetic stuff is very customizable.
Of course, you can really vary things up with the paint job that you go for."

"And then the weapon modifications, I think some of them are cosmetic, and some of them are actually functional.
They'll change the way that you play.
So, we try to give players as much freedom as we could, but in terms of getting in there with screwdrivers, that's probably a little..."

"Maybe not the 14th elbow pad that goes underneath the armor, but you'll never see stuff like that.
Exactly. Yeah, yeah.
The tightness of the belt straps."

"The eye contact or anything like that.
How much can players expect to unlock from a cosmetic standpoint just by playing the game?
There's going to be some additional cosmetics that you'll get with pre-orders and things like that, but how much will be available just from deciding to take each other on in multiplayer?
That's a good question, and I may need to defer to Jan for some of that."

"I know that in terms of the weapon modifications, in a very traditional way, those are usually earned.
So, the more you play, the more you can unlock and access.
I would expect the same of the armor, and then in terms of paint jobs and things, I'm not sure."

"Jan, do you know more about that than me?
About the numbers of it?
About whether you unlock cosmetic and functional modifications to PvE and PvP marines as you progress."

"Yeah, simply by...
The more you play, the more you earn XP points, and in-game currencies.
And those will help you to, for example, spend mastery points to give new perks to your weapons, or a new currency to buy, I don't know, a pauldron or a new helmet."

"But the thing is, of course, there is no paywall to earn those cosmetics.
It was very important for us.
It's by playing and by progressing through the XP ranks."

"Cool.
Speaking of playing, speaking of getting to some close-quarters combat or some faraway combat with Space Marines, how difficult will it be to deal with your enemies in PvP?
Was it sort of an approach of more quick combat, or is it going to be sort of like taking down a Space Marine is going to be a tough task for both sides?
Well, Space Marines are incredibly tough, but some of the weapons that are made to fight Space Marines are also incredibly powerful."

"So it's going to depend on your approach, and it's going to depend on each scenario.
If you're a Reaver, you're not going to be able to go head-to-head effortlessly with a Hulk-type character."

"So it will depend.
The idea is to make it as variable as possible so that every second as it's unfolding, you have to switch up your tactics.
But there will be advantages and disadvantages to each character."

"So, yeah, it depends.
It's a pretty fast and furious mode, though, right, Jan?
Would you agree?
It's not like a slow burn through as you're trying to knock him down."

"It's pretty ferocious and rapid.
Yeah, absolutely.
We've got three modes announced so far with PvP.
How extensive is the support going to be for PvP going forward past release, and can we expect maybe more modes, maps, et cetera?
And is the same true for PvE?
So we're not, Jan, correct me if I'm wrong, but we're not really talking about post-launch type stuff yet."

"I would say anybody with a brain would be thinking about that.
But in terms of talking about it, I certainly can't go there yet.
But we're creating an incredibly solid base, which we'll be able to grow from."

"And in this sort of PvE stuff, are we expecting any sort of mini-narratives, I guess, sometimes?
You see in PvE modes, they'll be like, you know, Chaos is taking control of this."

"It's up to the... I'm going to call them slightly better guys rather than good guys.
Slightly better guys are going to be trying to take something from the bad guys.
Are we going to get that?
Or is it just sort of, these guys are here, we're slightly better guys, let's take them down now?
No, definitely, you'll have specific objectives."

"The PvE mode that's tied to the story, you'll have very specific objectives.
Your efforts are critical to progressing the Space Marines' objectives.
And like I said, you'll be speaking over Vox with Titus and his team as you go.
It'll be very, very tense."

"And then once we get into the replayable modes, it'll be probably more typical objectives, less specific, less story-oriented, but all of the PvE characters are fully voiced by actors."

"They each have their own personalities.
They each relate to each other in different ways.
So depending on the dialogue system that works, it's like every character has a line for every situation."

"So if you choose three different characters, depending on the combination you put together, that will greatly affect how the conversations play out.
And will they have conversations with each other as well?
Yeah, they'll be banter."

"When someone blows up the wrong thing or whatever, there'll be a lot of banter as well.
Similar in a way to what we were talking about before with the sort of Darktide characteristics."

"You get your guy and someone will be ragging on him within about five minutes as soon as he does.
Exactly.
And you've got Captain Acheron up in the battle barge keeping a close eye on things and sending updates."

"It's meant to feel like an interconnected military group, not just three guys on a mission alone on a faraway planet.
Behind enemy lines.
Exactly."

"So we were talking before about how you started getting into the Warhammer lore to prepare for this game.
Did you ever get to...
How much stuff did you read to feel like there was a grasp of what you..."

"To feel like you had a grasp of, OK, we've got the idea of who these guys are, what we need to do.
This is where we go from here."

"Or is it always learning?
I mean, it was always learning from beginning to end.
And I even made changes at times because of...
The hardest thing was where to begin."

"Because it's easy to create a story where Space Marines versus Tyranids.
You can fight a lot of people in Warhammer.
But to choose..."

"Because the core of the story is Titus' journey.
It was thinking about where he's been and why is he coming back?
What's gone on?
And of course he's had to go across the Rubicon and become a Primaris Marine."

"And the question was why and how do we do that?
And so it was the kind of decoration, the enemy types and all that, it was important."

"But it was more important to know where do we begin and where do we need to end?
A lot of that was about understanding the Ultramarines.
Because that's the core of Titus' belief system."

"What it means to be an Ultramarine.
And then looking at the challenges of...
The obvious things like...
How does it feel to come home after all that time?
How does it feel to enter a world that's vastly changed from the one that you knew with all new faces, new approaches, new armour, all this sort of stuff."

"New implants in your body.
So that took a lot of reading about the Ultramarines.
And how do you keep the human in the superhuman?
Sorry, are we out of time?
Just follow the last question."

"Sorry, time's gone by really quickly.
Yeah, sorry about that.
Just going off from that point, how do you keep the human within Titus for adaptability?
Because it's quite easy to lose that with something like a Space Marine."

"As you said before, they're nine foot tall.
They have stuff in their bodies to stop them from feeling like we do.
How do you keep that character being relatable?
So every character has their own challenges."

"And as long as those challenges are relatable, we can get on board with them.
And so even Titus, who is immortal unless you kill him, who is a superhuman by any measure, to him, brotherhood is still at the core."

"Why is he doing this?
He's not a Terminator.
He was once a boy who has transitioned to be a Space Marine, who's had all of these things done and now fights for a cause."

"What is his value systems?
Where does his honour come from?
And what matters to him?
A lot of his challenges are very, very relatable."

"So no matter how big or small or powerful or weak they are, we can get on board with that because he's struggling.
And we understand that."

"So that's how to do it, is to find the struggle at the heart of his character.
Perfect.
Thanks so much."

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