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A Renaissance Of Rats: Fatshark Talks Vermintide 2’s Inspirations, Success, and Future

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Vermintide 2 was released just a couple of weeks ago and, much like the eponymous horde of Skaven, has rolled onto Steam to quickly become a massive success. Within its first week of availability, the game had already sold over half a million copies, and two of the top ten spots on the Steam charts were taken up by different versions of the title. The sequel to the original cult hit is already a breakout success, becoming a game that Warhammer fans and co-op enthusiasts have flocked to.

Vermintide 2 and its predecessor focus on teamwork, communication, and grueling challenge, making them a rarity in this console generation. OnlySP had the chance to pick the brain of Vermintide 2‘s producer Victor Magnuson about the inspiration behind the original game, the success of the sequel, and the future of the series.

Vermintide 2’s foundation is firmly built from the concepts that Left 4 Dead popularized so many years ago, and, while that seminal game’s DNA still runs through Vermintide‘s blood, Fatshark’s title has plenty of tricks up its sleeve. Vermintide fills a gap left by Valve long ago and only adds to previously established systems. However, the series is no carbon copy, and the developer flips the script with a focus on brutal melee combat and a medieval-fantasy setting.

On top of the unique, melee-focused gameplay, the Warhammer license adds personality and flair to an already bombastic title, making for a truly unique co-op experience. Fatshark took a huge leap tackling Warhammer and the likes of a Left 4 Dead-style experience in one game; Magnuson and the rest of the team were not blind to the ambition of the task, knowing “with any game, there is always trepidation.” Magnuson refers to development as a “roller coaster,” but, about Vermintide, he states “we were always pretty confident that we had a good idea. […] We are all big fans of both Warhammer and Left 4 Dead, and marrying the two felt like a match made in heaven.” Fatshark knew it had a winning formula, and, thanks to constant support and communication with the community, the original Vermintide continued to see success up until the sequel’s release earlier this month.

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Victor Magnuson, Producer of Vermintide 2.

Games Workshop’s Warhammer license is storied and sacred to many, inspiring developers such as Blizzard and enchanting fantasy fans for decades. Tackling such a well-known IP would be a dream come true for many developers, and Fatshark is no exception. With Vermintide, the team pursued the idea of making a Warhammer game. “Games Workshop liked our take on what we wanted to do. And our pedigree of making melee-focused games married really well with the Warhammer universe.” Magnuson states that Games Workshop “review and approve everything we put into the game,” and, while that process may sound tedious, he says Fatshark’s “longtime love of Warhammer makes sure that we naturally stay within the boundaries of the IP.”

The development team worked closely with Warhammer writers, with Vermintide even gaining the highest form of blessing from the fantasy icon by becoming part of the official lexicon. “This close relationship has led to the events that took place in Vermintide [becoming]  canon in the Universe, which is something we are extremely proud and happy about.” The original game was marketed specifically as part of Warhammer’s End Times run, which focused on the end of the universe from a narrative standpoint. Vermintide followed five characters from different factions who set out to rescue a city under siege from a horde of Skaven, a race of humanoid rat-men who appeared from underground. Fatshark’s focus on authenticity runs through every vein of the game’s design, leading to a true Warhammer experience, from the characters to the colloquialisms.  

Unsurprisingly, Magnuson informs OnlySP that “many in the team are hardcore Warhammer fans and have been so for decades. Anders De Geer, our game director, for instance, has been painting armies since the ‘80s and sits on a vast tome of knowledge and know-how. Even our accountant can talk for hours about the intricacies of the different Dwarven factions.” Despite the team being largely entrenched in the universe of Warhammer, a few newcomers in the staff ultimately helped the game become “a good starting ground for anyone interested in Warhammer and [appeal] to an audience that, perhaps, didn’t know that much about it coming in.”

As with any great sequel, Vermintide 2 expands upon the original in many ways but retains the soul of what made it hit with Warhammer and co-op fans alike. When confronted by the idea of a sequel, Magnuson says that “it was a pretty easy decision to make,” and that, although the team had “expanded on the original game quite a bit[, …] there were things we wanted to do, which meant redoing things from the base on up.”

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An example of the rebuilding process is Vermintide 2‘s new career system, which adds three new subclasses to each of the game’s protagonists. Originally, Vermintide had five playable characters who acted as different classes, and each was from a different faction from the Warhammer universe. Players could select from a dwarf-tank, a melee soldier, a fire-mage, an elven archer, and an inquisitor. After talk of possibly adding new playable characters, the team decided “that we had more stories to tell with the characters from the first game and decided to add a career system instead.” This concept allowed Fatshark “to have the cake and eat it too, so to speak; a win/win situation and that solution felt like the best one for us.”

Magnuson’s favorite characters are Kruber, the melee-focused empire soldier, and Bardin, the dwarf-tank, as Magnuson has an “aggressive playstyle” and usually tends “towards the more melee-focused careers,” such as the new slayer and foot knight. When asked about which class was the hardest to balance, Magnuson said that “Sienna [the ranged fire mage] is always a little more difficult to balance since her overcharge mechanic makes her quite unique in the group,” but the game has already received multiple updates, and Fatshark is dedicated to constantly tweaking the systems. Magnuson states that the team “will keep rebalancing the careers as the game lives on, sometimes due to some build being over powerful or some other being considered not viable by the meta.”  

Another smart addition is the “Bridge Of Shadows,” which transports players to new and exotic locations while still making sense within the lore. Despite being a simple solution to something as small as how the party escapes and enters a level, the mechanic shows Fatshark’s dedication to the lore and universe of Warhammer. Magnuson specified, “One of the reasons we decided to replace the escape wagon from the first game and replace it with the ‘Bridge Of Shadows’ is to be able to go places that would not feel realistic […] to go to with a horse and carriage”. On top of fixing issues with the logic and lore of the original method of transportation, the use of this magical teleportation system allows Fatshark to go to more exotic places with upcoming downloadable content, although it is “very much on the drawing table and subject to change.”

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Vermintide 2 effectively doubles the original roster of foes through the addition of the forces of Chaos. Joining the returning Skaven army are the forces of Nurgle, adding an even more disgusting feel to the already putrid cast. Fatshark realizes with the scope of Warhammer that the options are limitless, and the developer wishes to push the new enemy factions further. OnlySP asked about possible future bosses and additions to the enemy cast, and Magnuson confirmed that “some more awesome Nurgle units [such as Great Unclean Ones and Nurglings]would be one of those options, and, as you say, there’s quite a lot to take from, so the problem is rather what do we want to do first?” Although the team has plans to possibly add more factions or units, the current focus is on polishing the game post-release; Magnuson and Fatshark have “plans to do more stuff in this fantastic universe.”  

Warhammer has exploded in popularity amongst PC players; between Total War: Warhammer and the subsequent success of Vermintide has come a renaissance for the fantasy stalwart. Fatshark loves that Warhammer “has lately found a new audience through all of these fantastic games that are coming out and getting people either introduced to the universe or bringing them back in again,” and it has “been in contact with a lot of the other developers and have done some crossover stuff with some of them.”

Looking forward, Magnuson and the team at Fatshark are planning on “supporting Vermintide 2 for as long as there is interest out there for more content. […] Right now we are 100% focused on Vermintide and making it the best game it can be for the foreseeable future.” Luckily for Fatshark, its success has only led to a desire for more from the fans. As the team ponders the possibility of expanding to the realm of sci-fi, Magnuson teases “when it comes to 40K that would be a really tantalizing setting to go.” For Fatshark, in the grim darkness of the far future lies only the possibility of more successes in the vein of Vermintide 2.

Interview

Fantasy Hawaiian Shooter Ashes of Oahu Gets a Second Wind – Exclusive Interview

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Ashes of Oahu

Early last year, one open-world RPG promised to do things a little differently from the norm. A post-apocalyptic setting, various factions, and dialogue options all seemed standard, but Nightmarchers stood out because of its setting.

The game would take place on Oahu, with its story steeped in local folklore and mythology. However, an ambitious crowdfunding campaign fell short and the team behind the project, Wyrmbyte, fell silent.

Fast forward almost eighteen months, and the team stepped out of the shadows with a revitalised project, featuring a more contained world and a rebranding to Ashes of Oahu. In the wake of the comeback, OnlySP got in touch with Wyrmbyte president Scott Brown to find out about why those changes took place and what the game looks like now.

OnlySP: For any of our readers who may not remember Ashes of Oahu, what’s the elevator pitch?

Brown: An open-world, post-apocalyptic RPG shooter where you tap into the power of the spirit world to liberate the Hawaiian island of Oahu from the army that occupies it.

OnlySP: When we caught up with you last year, Ashes of Oahu was known as Nightmarchers. What prompted that rebranding?

Brown: Feedback from Native Hawaiians asked us to not use the name so we changed it.

OnlySP: What has the response been like since you brought the game back into the public spotlight?

Brown: People seem to like our story and are usually wowed when we talk about the small team and how big the world is and how much dialog is in the game.

OnlySP: Do you have any insight into why you might have struggled to garner the funding you required when you took the game to Fig last year? 

Brown: We are so small and larger funding raises require strong marketing efforts, something we could not afford. We stayed with development, it has just taken much longer since the team never had the chance to grow.

OnlySP: One of the changes that stands out the most has been the shrinking of the map from a 1:1 recreation of the island of Oahu to a much more modest 25km2 area. Why have you done this, and what have you focused on in doing so?

Brown: It really came down to two issues. Scope and fun. First the scope of making an interesting world that large was just way beyond what we could pull off with our team size and budget. Second fun, there needs to be variety in experience as you travel around the world or it can become just more of the same. The game is still huge, just not the insane size of the actual island of Oahu would have been.

OnlySP: Are you at all concerned that maybe you’ve compressed things too much?

Brown: Not at all, this is still a very large world and there is a ton to discover. We have several modes of travel to help deal with the size of the game, horse, bird form, shark form and fast travel for example.

OnlySP: From the descriptions you’ve provided, the storyline seems largely unchanged, though you’ve moved away from a claim of authenticity to Hawaiian myths. Why is that?

Brown: Again based on feedback from Native Hawaiians who asked us not to.

OnlySP: This change in perspective also has me wondering what you’ve learned from the feedback you’ve received? Do you think there’s a difference between representing living and ‘dead’ mythologies (like those of the Ancient Greeks)? What advice would you give to other teams that are interested in exploring the cultures of marginalised communities?

Brown: Work with those communities as much as you are able. Listen to their concerns and be flexible in your design to accommodate those concerns.

OnlySP: Aside from the aforementioned differences, the focus on taking over outposts, the presence of multiple factions, and the combination of magic and gunplay for combat all seem largely unchanged. Have you made any other major changes to the overall structure and style of the game in the last year and a half?

Brown: It is more minor iteration in details like how the game controls, AI behaviors, balance,  performance optimization. The reason for the extended time is honestly production. Building out this massive story with multiple paths you can take is a ton of work.

OnlySP: A recent blog post for the game talks about how player choices can have far-reaching consequences. Will many side-quests interact with the central narrative at all, or are they self-contained stories?

Brown: They can influence both faction rating, which unlocks skills from those factions or change your pono (karma basically) which also can change how you are perceived by NPCs.

OnlySP: You mention that Ashes of Oahu will have over 100 endings. How different will those be, and what sort of decisions will players have to influence them? Also, will players be made aware when they’ve made a choice that impacts the storyline going forward?

Brown: Whenever you are making a decision that will impact faction rating or pono you are alerted to the impact before you make the decision. However, all possible decisions are not always spelled out for you. For example, if someone asks you to steal an item from another faction there may be other ways to get the item or even convince them they don’t need the item they want you to steal. The endings all come down to the combination of how you worked with each faction as well as some significant side stories you may or may not have completed.

OnlySP: When last we spoke, you were confident about a Q3 2018 release. The reasons why you missed that seem straightforward, but how far away do you think you are from pinning down a new launch date?

Brown: Right now we are in testing and fixing issues as they are found. We want to have a solid release so it will take as long as it takes to get through the feedback. We are close however, all the mission chains are in, the major points of interest on the island all exist, and we have found and improved a number of bugs and balance based feedback already. I am confident in a summer release at this point.

OnlySP: Finally, do you have anything else that you would like to say to our readers?

Brown: We love any and all feedback and I would invite people to join us on our discord server if you have any questions or just want to talk about the game more.  https://discord.gg/KhW7uSj


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