Stood in a large hall, surrounded by empty tables where hundreds of undersized battles have been decided with hundreds of handfuls of dice, I ask Games Workshop's licensing manager Erik Mogensen a question that I know is a stupid one, but I feel I should ask. Is the Warhammer Online game in any way an attempt to be a translation of the table-top war game?
"Not at all. It's not about the table-top game, it's about the IP". Such easy use of legal abbreviations for 'intellectual property' could seem off-putting, but Mogensen isn't being evil and lawyerly. The 'IP' at Games Workshop isn't something as scabby as the Coca-Cola's Dynamic Ribbon Device, or the words 'I'm Lovin' It'. It's Warhammer, in all its fluid, high concept glory. This IP isn't just a jealously maintained business asset - although it obviously is that, as copyright infringers will discover - it's the reason there's such a low turnover of staff, and why so many employees have been there close to 20 years. Paul Barnett, Mythic's lead designer and cheerful gushing man from the lobby, gives an insight. "There was a job application from a guy and he gave a web address on his CV. There were space marines all over his site, so that was a good start."
There's already been one attempt at a Warhammer MMO, a combined effort between Games Workshop and Climax. GW decided, after some time in development, that they didn't like the way the game was going, or this whole joint venture style of making computer games, and pulled out. Far better to license it out, and do what they do best - communicate 'the IP' to someone more equipped to forge it into an MMO.
MAKING HIS MARK
So the once bitten, twice shy rule of - well, getting bitten and then being shy as a result - was avoided, thanks to Mythic Entertainment's CEO, Mark Jacobs. A game-making veteran from the MUD days, Jacobs knew the Games Workshop people long before getting the Warhammer licence. Having enlisted Paul Barnett into his multiple role as Mythic's lead designer, Warhammer enthusiast and video-diarykeeping evangelist, Jacobs had little trouble convincing Games Workshop of his ability to faithfully recreate the Warhammer world in an MMO environment.
So what makes this Warhammer universe, this IP, distinct from the Tolkien world it uses as a springboard? Barnett steps in. "On the face of it, it's goblins, dwarves, the same as everything else. But that's like saying Shakespeare's just words and books. It's different, it's joyous." Goblins and chain mail are just the tools and a part of the result, not the essence. How you use them is important.
In Warhammer, dwarves are dour Yorkshireman, while the isolationist and superior dark elves have a fairly solid whiff of Americana. And orcs? Well, they're English football hooligans. There may be fun to be wrung from their stupidity, but they're savage
bastards. Tolkien's taped-down world feels like weedy escapism in comparison; Warhammer has more of a fun sense of brutal allegory.
Just look at the maps. No meticulous cartography here, giving readers the chance to put their finger where Frodo is at the moment. Warhammer's maps are made by people with priorities. Orc maps feature useless gloats, like "we killd dis dragon", or they may note a "gud smell here". An elven map will be more idealistic, showing the world how it should be - under their control, obviously. "People sometimes ask us why this tower is further north than it used to be - and it isn't," points out Mogensen. "We don't know where the tower is." It's obviously an excellent excuse to be forgetful, too.