For the first time in over 17 years, Space Hulk is returning to the realm of video games, courtesy of the Copenhagen-based developer Full Control. I sat down to chat with the developer’s CEO Thomas Lund to get the latest details on the game and its development cycle, as well as its origins and its future.
How did the team first get interested in bringing such a highly regarded board game back into video games?
It’s one of those things, where it goes back to the childhood dream of being able to make one of those games that you played when you were younger. One of my buddies had Space Hulk, in the good old days when I was still young. We played that, and all the EA games for DOS and Amiga. Finally when they release the 3rd edition here in 2009, I managed to grab a copy of the Limited Edition board game.
It’s always been one of those fantastic games. The rules are not that complicated, but it’s just this nice, really cool package where it’s easy to get started but it’s really, really hard to beat. It has a lot of these cool classic elements, and it’s always been a game I’ve wanted to do. Some of the very first prototypes we did in the company here were Space Hulk, but in a different package.
Suddenly, I was standing at GDC last year chatting with [Games Workshop co-founder] Ian Livingston, without knowing it was him. I proceeded to pitch Space Hulk to him without knowing it. Then he gives me his business card, introduces me to the Games Workshop licensing boss, and here we are.
I’m thinking, “Oh, man. That doesn’t happen to gamers like me, right? It doesn’t just happen.” So, getting the chance of making Space Hulk has been a dream for me, and for the team. These licenses don’t float around. Especially not for small independents like us.
Games Workshop isn’t known for its liberal approach to its IPs. Did you guys have any licensing issues over the course of the project?
Actually, no. Initially and all the way through the project, they’ve been fantastic to work with. They’ve been very supportive. We have gotten pretty free hands on issues where I just think, “Oh, what do we do here?”
They say, “Come up with how the interiors of spaceships would look like. We haven’t defined it. So give it a go. If it looks 40k, it’s 40k.” That’s really great. As a fanboy myself, the team as well, it’s absurdly great, being able to put stuff back into the lore. We’re happy.
Can you talk, as much as you can, about what new elements of the lore you guys have brought to the table for this time around the Space Hulk?
We stuck very closely to the 3rd edition board game. On the rules side, we haven’t done too much. It’s mainly the visuals. When we started out on the project, we basically looked at the board games and the old EA games and said, “Well, we could get away with just making the tiles and making some kind of top down game. But, what we really wanted to do was get that narrow claustrophobic feeling of running around in the corridors.
Looking at the old EA games, it was all pixelated graphics. For the time, it was fantastic; but for now, it looks boring, and not too 40k. So, we made corridors and ceilings and small altars. How does it look inside a derelict spaceship? I don’t know. We took a lot of elements from the material we could find in 40k. Parchments, purity seals, the entire gothic style, and looking at how churches are built inside. We tried to put that into a 3D environment. Those are essentially the bigger parts that we’re working with. A modern, 3D look at the interiors of spaceships in the 40k universe.
What elements from the board game have been left out? What new elements have been included that weren’t from the board game?
We set out with a basic idea of not wanting to do a 1:1 translation of the board game. We wanted to get as close as possible, but we didn’t want to go in and just mimic the dice rolls, and go down and have sections. We wanted to build it like a 3D game. When got the license and started real production, XCOM [Enemy Unknown] was just coming out and it showed how smooth and beautiful you could make turn-based games. That was the bar we wanted to beat.
On the board game side, we sat down with the rulebook and looked at each rule and asked if that worked in a computer game, or is it a board game only thing. Every time we came up with the answer that it looked good in a computer game, we didn’t change it. But, if there was anything for bookkeeping sake, then it was up for discussion. An example of that is the Heavy Flamer. In the board game rules, it works by sections so the tiles that you built your level with are very clearly defined as cardboard pieces. In the rules, it says when you’re shooting the Heavy Flamer, the entire section is lit up. That works perfectly fine in a board game, because it’s easy to see that it’s this cardboard piece over here. But, in a video game where there are no real sections and the seams are invisible, it doesn’t really make sense that when you’re shooting a Heavy Flamer that sometimes it hits one tile, other times it flames an entire room. How do you explain that? We changed that into a template based system so that the area would be an average of what a section might have in terms of tiles.
Another example: in the board game, once you move a character, you’re not allowed to go back to it. That’s another bookkeeping thing. If you have 20+ Genestealers on board, you don’t want to keep track of each individual and how many action points he has. In a video game, you can have the computer keep track of who has action points left, and you can always go back to him and make more moves. It’s more natural. Those kinds of things, we went in and made them more streamlined as a computer game.
How did the map editor develop around the game? What unique or special features are going to be included?
We had a level editor already from the beginning of the project, from one of our earlier games. What we did was look at the board game and how that is built up. These section pieces are like LEGO bricks; you can chunk them together and suddenly, within five minutes, you’ve built a basic level. These internal tools are something we want to polish up for end users. You can click on this corridor and say, “I want this type of tile, with this lighting scheme.”
Click, click, click, and you can very easily build levels and share them with your friends. You can upload them into the server, and everybody else around can see it in an iTunes style Top 10 Most Played or Highest Rated kind of system. You can download them all freely for any game.
Additionally, we have a logic editor which is still something we’re working on. More or less, it lets you drag and drop logic into the level. You can say, “If a Terminator with Heavy Flamers steps on this tile, then that door opens.” Right now, it’s an internal tool that we’re coding into .xml files. We want to polish it up so everybody can do what we did.
Moving further on down the road, it will hopefully keep Space Hulk alive for many years for people creating content, and supplying them with additional types of tiles and color schemes.
Have you guys made any particular accommodations for modders? Steam Workshop?
We’re going to look into Steam Workshop and how we can integrate it as much as possible where it still makes sense. But also, at the same time, we want to enable the cross-platform-ness of this game so that whatever technology we’ve built into this for sharing or modded games or levels or logic is also something that works down on the iPad, or if we later come to the Android versions. It’s all integrated. If we hook it too closely to Steam Workshop, suddenly that’s the only place people will be able to share content, and we want people to be able to play the game wherever they are.
The other side of the coin, with this being a Games Workshop licensed title, is that there is also going to have to be some kind of thing that keeps people from throwing a fluffy bunny into the game. Something has to be regulated in some kind of way, but we haven’t had time to sit down and look at how we’re going to do that part.
What kind of variety can we expect to see in terms of unit armaments, chapter affiliations, different levels and tile sets, etc.?
For the initial release, it’s going to contain a Blood Angel campaign (two, actually, including the tutorial campaign that leads up to the Sin of Damnation, which is the 12th mission in the 3rd edition board game). You have named heroes that have a different variety of weaponry. You have your classic powerful Storm Bolter guys, you have a Lightning Claw, a Heavy Flamer, a Chain Fist, a Power Sword, a Thunder Hammer and Storm Shield, and an Assault Cannon.
On top of that [SPOILERS], Calistarius, the librarian who later turns into Mephiston, [/SPOILERS] is also in the game, and he has some psyker powers. He has a Psyking Storm that can take out an entire area, a deployable Force Shield that can drop onto a tile and block it for a turn. As long as he has psychic power left, he’s unbeatable in close combat, but once he runs out, he’s just a regular guy.
That’s what we’re gonna ship with. We’re already working on additional campaigns to expand it. We want to supply bigger Space Hulks, Chapter packs (for example, Space Wolf chapters that come with its own Wolf Guard campaign). Same goes for Dark Angels with a Deathwing campaign. We want to take chapters and make a small campaign that comes with it that brings lore into it. We will also have bigger campaigns that any chapter can play.
The Terminators that we’re creating are most likely the most accurately represented in a 40k video game, with every little detail in there. We’re really trying to play up to the lore and make it correct.
In terms of customization, that has the effect that, dissimilar to other games like Dawn of War, we’re not coming with an army painter. We really want to do this the right way instead of taking Blood Angel and just coloring him blue. That doesn’t make him an Ultramarine. You have all the different insignia, you have the different weaponry and adornments. So, what we’re going to come out with once we get the first chapter pack out is a customizer so you can say, “For the Blood Angels, I’ll customize my own and name them. Then, as I go through the game I unlock different things for him.” The same will go for the Ultramarine pack. You can customize that Ultramarine, but you can’t just paint him in rainbow colors. We want to do it right.
What kind of major gameplay changes will the players experience when they take on the role of the Genestealers in multiplayer PvP games?
In the multiplayer matches, it’s going to be very similar to the board game. Space Hulk, as such, is very much a Terminator game. The Genestealers will have a different UI that you can play. Get some blip counters, go in and deploy them on the board and see if he can kill the Terminators in any way possible. The player will have the exact same game, basically. He will be the cannon fodder, but a much more intelligent enemy than the AI will ever be. It’s still cool, but it’s definitely a Terminator game if you ask me (I always liked playing the Terminators better).
Speaking of multiplayer, there are different ways that you can play in multiplayer. We come out in the first version with two different ways you can play hot seat against each other. You can take a computer or iPad and play just like the board game, doing pass-n-play. Space Hulk has always been a board game where you might own it, but finding somebody to play with can be hard. So, we added online multiplayer versus mode to let you play against random people or friends. You can have multiple games going on, up to five at the same time. Take your turn, a notification pops up saying its your turn against Joel, so I click on it and do my turn there, and the go back to the game with Michael.
You can start a game on the PC, and then get on the bus and continue the exact same game on your iPad, then finish the game on the PC at home or a friend’s house. The really cool thing that gets me most as a fan, is that we’re working very hard on a co-op pack that we’re going to release out for free so you can play with multiple friends against the AI. We’re almost done with some brand new levels. Every player will control one squad of Terminators and you’ll have work together to get through the levels. It might be the case that one squad has to go attack and take over the engine room to turn on the engines that open up some blast doors so the other teams can escape and finish off the Brood Lords.
The original board game and every iteration of it since has been pretty strictly Imperial Space Marines vs. Genestealers. Have you guys entertained the idea of including any other Imperial or Tyranid forces? Even Eldar, Orks or Daemons?
It’s one of those places where you hit against what is Space Hulk. Games Workshop’s definition of it, and what the license contains, is Imperial Terminators versus Genestealers. Those are the boundaries that we’re inside. Once you do Grey Knights vs. Daemons, that would be super cool and basically look the same. But it’s not Space Hulk. That’s a different game, and maybe one day we will take a shot at that. But, when you’re looking at Space Hulk as a package and a license, it’s set. That still has some room for different chapters, even different weaponry that might not have been there before. It even opens up for looking a little closer at the Tyranid codex and seeing the different variants of Genestealers. Further down the line, we’re looking into introducing different types of Genestealers.
What do you guys have planned in terms of future DLC?
As much as possible, and for as long as possible. We’re not going to shoot this one off and turn our backs on it. It’s our chance for us to actually make a game that we love and extend it as far as possible and have fans play it in different ways. After this first launch, we’re adding for free the level editor and co-op functionality. We’re then going into making these campaigns with larger space hulks in them. We’re going to add several chapters that we want to get in. Which ones, and in which order, hasn’t been decided yet, but we definitely want to see if we can do the Space Wolves, Dark Angels and Ultramarines as the big ones, and see what happens after that. We’re focused on getting the game onto different platforms so that everybody can play it on the devices they have: Android tablets, digital downloads on consoles. Definitely more weapons and psykers.
What’s that, Michael? Oh yeah, Cyclone Launchers.
As a Space Hulk fanboy yourself, what are you most proud of in this new version?
Tough question. There’s so much I’m proud of. The entire team has been able to pull this off in a way that it just looks fantastic. There’s no doubt that we’re a small independent studio and it’s been an uphill battle against expectations, but I really think that we nailed it. It reeks of 40k. I’m really, really, really proud that it’s turned out this great. Getting the opportunity to make this as a fanboy is just absurdly awesome. Just getting it out to fans who haven’t had the chance to play Space Hulk as a turn-based video game, sticking so closely to the board game but still making it into a video game that plays great. You immediately know its Space Hulk. All our testers are ecstatic.
Any last comments?
Thanks. Just thank you, for any and all support. We’re specialized in turn-based games, and there have been so few turn-based 40k games. The last one was Chaos Gate and that was, what, 15 years ago? Any support that players give to this project will definitely go into an argument for us and Games Workshop that turn-based 40k is viable and we should do more.