Creative Assembly Art Director Kevin McDowell Talks Total War: Warhammer

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23 Sep 16

This weekend in Birmingham, it is the annual EGX Gaming Event, where you can see a multitude of triple A titles (be prepared to queue), indie games, and see developers discuss their latest offerings. One such developer taking a panel at the show was the masterminds behind the Total War franchise, Creative Assembly. For the last 16 years they have produces some of the PC’s best strategy battle games, spanning across history from feudal Japan with Shogun, to the Roman Republic, to the Napoleonic Wars.

Their most recent venture stepped away from history, and saw the developer team up with Games Workshop, to bring their first non-historical, high fantasy strategy title – Total War: Warhammer. I had a chance to sit down with Creative Assembly’s Art Director Kevin McDowell and ask him a few questions about the series.

Kevin has been at CA pretty much from the beginning of the Total War journey, joining just 3 months before the launch of Total War: Shogun. Firstly I explained, although I have been a huge fan of the series and playing the game since that first release, I’m not what you’d call a ‘hardcore’ Total War player. So to help out with the questions, I approached the lovely folk on the Total War subreddit, as I suspected they’d ask far more interesting things than I could come up with! Thankful, “Right On!” was his reply. Happy this revelation hadn’t send him screaming from the room, we delved into the first question:

GT: What were Creative Assembly’s initial expectations for Total War: Warhammer, and did you meet them?

K McD: We wanted to make a great fantasy game, and I think we met that expectation. And we wanted to sell the most copies ever of a Total War game, and so far we’ve met those expectations! That’s it man! Two expectations, simple question, simple answer!

GT: Great! What’s your favourite title out of the series, and favourite time period?

K McD: It was Shogun 2… because of the simplicity. It’s not as overwhelmingly huge as some of our games. It’s quite contained. I don’t have a massive amount of time to play games, so I need something more contained. Plus I love the Samurai, and the Samurai armour and the art style… I mean the Japanese art style, not just ours. (GT: That would be a bit bias). Exactly [laughs]. Now… and I don’t want to sound like a typical dev, but… that has been superseded by Warhammer. So Warhammer is now my favourite. It’s just got the fun factor and the immersiveness that I love, and a huge amount of atmosphere.

GT: How did the deal for Total War: Warhammer come about in the first place?

K McD: At CA we had a few people that knew some of the guys at Games Workshop, so we had an easy route to dialogue with them. On the one hand, we at CA were already thinking of doing a fantasy game, because we’d been doing the historical games and wanted to expand the audience… but our hesitation was that we weren’t sure if we could pull it off. Taking on that kind of, very creative, new world creation ‘stuff’ was not something that we’d done before, so there was a risk involved in that. Part of the risk was that we had lots of devs with lots of ideas, so there was a risk that we’d pull in different directions. Whilst we were talking about all this, we got a call from GW to see if we wanted to have a chat about doing a Warhammer game. So we went up to Nottingham and spent a couple of days up there chatting with them. We came away thinking, in principle, it was a great idea, so we moved from there. At that point we got SEGA and the contract lawyers involved to sort something out.

GT: Were you a fan of the tabletop Warhammer game?

K McD: I played Warhammer Fantasy Battles when I was a teenager in the 1980s… But I was not that wealthy a teenager, so I was usually playing with my friends miniatures [laughs]. I used Greenskins mostly. Then in the 90’s, I played quite a bit of the Warhammer RPG game, which I think is a great RPG system. So I was, like, a casual Warhammer player, I wouldn’t say a ‘hardcore’ player, but casually played it over the years.

GT: What’s your feeling about mods, and frequently do team members play the games with community mods?

K McD: I think mods are great… mostly! I think the community’s ability to change the game, and change it in ways they want to change it is fantastic. As far as devs playing with mods, it’s mostly designers play with mods. Where as the rest of us are maybe… a bit too… lazy or inept to download the mods and go through the hassle of getting them installed etc… [laughs]. But definitely our designers do keep a close eye on whats going on with the mods.

GT: And a follow up to that, is there a chance of getting some better modding tools? E.g. Currently the modders can’t mess the animations in TW:W like they could in earlier titles.

K McD: Humm…. [turns to ‘Other CA Guy’ in the room – sorry, I didn’t catch his name!] I’ll have to defer… [to OCAG] Is there anything we can say about additional modding tools?…

OCAG: MMmm…. No….

K McD: Sooo… yeh… we’re not yet prepared to say anything about that [laughs]

GT: So that sounds like it could be a yes, maybe?

K McD/OCAG: [laughs]

GT: Okay, so lets move on. In terms of the races, obviously you’re adding more and more via DLC. Are you looking to make changes/improvements to the ‘vanilla’ classes as you add in more DLC races?

K McD: I would say yes. Our ultimate goal, I don’t know if we’ll ever achieve it or not, but our ultimate goal would be to do all the units from Warhammer Fantasy. So that would include filling out all the remaining units. That’s not a promise though, that’s just something we would want to do and are aiming towards.

OCAG: It’s worth noting that, with every piece of DLC, we release more units for previous factions, often for free.

GT: When it came to the races, the one question that seemed to come up repeatedly on Reddit…

K McD: Uh oh… [laughs]

GT: ‘Where are my Wood Elves’?

K McD: Well… I would say again, ultimately we want to do everything [laughs]…

GT: Yeh, I kinda didn’t think I’d get a solid answer to that [laughs]

K McD: [laughs]

GT: But I’m going to as the follow up question anyway [laughs]. Where is Krell? Do you have any plans regarding Legendary Heroes, as it was always something we wanted due to Krell, but now we also have Vlad who has a stronger tie with Isabella than Kemmler-Krell. I know they are unlikely to reveal specific plans on new content, but it shouldn’t hurt to pry a little… [laughs]

K McD: [laughs] I would answer that by saying, I think that Reddit user submitted a very great question, but I can’t answer it [laughs].

GT: Well I tried! Moving on… any chance of a Warhammer 40k game?

K McD: Well… That one’s quite interesting. You know… It’s like… Would we do that? Then, you know, Relic do 40k stuff. We’ve not spoken to Relic particularly, but… personally…

GT: Would that be something you would like?

K McD: I would love to do Total War: Warhammer 40k. I’d love it!

GT: And looking beyond Warhammer, where do you see things going for Total War, now you’ve branched out from historical settings?

K McD: This is not something I’d want to stop. You know… Pushing the limits of Total War

GT: So… more modern time period maybe, or more fantasy?

K McD: As far as modern stuff goes, there is kind of a line which would be difficult for us to cross. Say if we did something like 1970’s Cold War, then it might not really be a Total War game, because there’s not those big groups of guys in formations. So I really think our limit might be WW1-ish in terms of what would feel like a Total War game.

GT: And one final question. The ‘Time Commanders’ tv show, which CA provided the tech for, is being brought back by the BBC after a 10yr break. Are you involved with the new version?

K McD: [Laughs] Well… I’m not involved… But some of my team members might be…

GT: So you’re providing them software and tech again?

OCAG: We can’t really say…

GT: So yes [laughs]

OCAG: [Laughs] Well… We did share the announcement of about ‘Time Commanders’ on our Facebook page… more than that we can’t say.

And with that my time was up! Just wanted to say thank you to the Total War subreddit for their help, and sorry I didn’t manage to get all your questions in!

You can find out more about the Total War franchise, including Total War: Warhammer by visiting totalwar.com. You can also buy Total War: Warhammer here on Steam.