"We've got to look fantastic, certainly as good as any other MMOG. Stability, because it's the life and death of the business. And 'not crap' is a good thing to aim for. Most games are crap, let's be honest. Let people get pissed, let them beat the shit out of things - that's where we want to go. Narrow, but deep." So says the very British team behind the online incarnation of one the UK gaming world's oldest franchises - Warhammer Online.
"It's a very European take on a fantasy world," says producer Robin Dews. "It doesn't have that high-sorcery, chainmail-bikini, bimbo look. It's very gritty and grubby and medieval. We wanted a very innovative take on gameplay mechanics, so we've dropped gameplay levels and class/race matrixes. We looked at loads of other MMOGs and said: 'That's good - we'll nick that,' and 'we don't like that - it's rubbish.'"
Players of the decades-old (and still thriving) tabletop Warhammer will be familiar with the setting of orcs, goblins, mud, spikes and mass violence. What won't be so familiar - to anyone - is the way the team is handling the gameplay.
"There's a what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach. For instance, almost every online game has a 'monster con' system. I'll click on a monster and get a little green bar or something that tells me whether it's hard or not. We thought that was rubbish and so threw that concept away. If I'm walking down the street and see a bloke built like a brick shithouse with tattoos and a shaven head, you know if you go up to him a say, 'Hey fatty!' you'll get the crap beaten out of you."
The emphasis is very much on combat. Weapons are sharp, dangerous and almost never sheathed. Magic is less concerned with producing pretty light shows than it is with taking a target's head off in messy ways. And as for crafting...
"Bollocks to that," is the team's no-nonsense reply. "Who wants to sit around making pants? OK, that's a bit of a lie. The rules we were given were that players can make anything, as long as it's to do with killing people. You can make swords and shields 'cos that's to do with killing. You can be a bard 'cos that's to do with getting drunk. You can brew beer 'cos if you drink good beer, you ultimately want to kill people."
As of yet the beta is still awaiting a public opening and there's no release date in mind, but the smart money is on early 2005. We'll be visiting the Nottingham-based team to get the drinks in and crack a few heads in a couple of months. Stay tuned.