Friday, 8 June 2018

Interview with Membraine Studios Developers

Today, we have the privilege of getting to interview Mark and Glenn of Membraine Studios, the creators behind Adeptus Titanicus: Dominus. We'll be picking their brains  on how the game came to be, what went into it, the inspiration, and more.

TOC: It's a pleasure to have you guys in the hotseat today, gentlemen.
Mark: Thank you. Happy to be here.

Glenn: Thank you.

TOC: Dominus didn't start out as Dominus. Two years ago, a very early alpha footage of the game was shown off at Warhammer Fest 2016. It generated a lot of buzz since there are no dedicated Titan games for the Warhammer 40,000 setting. Back then, the game was previewed as Titan Legions. What have you guys been up to in these last two years?

Mark: The short answer is A LOT.
Back in 2016, we showed off the build we had in development at that time. We had developed that prototype to a playable level and GW invited us to Warhammer Fest to let their fans have a go. It was only ever intended as a "just for the fans" thing, though, which is why we then went silent again until recently.

We've essentially used the intervening years to solidify the gameplay. Doing a true-to-source translation is perhaps harder than you might expect. There's a fine balance between paying respect to the source and being a slave to it.
And, of course, there's been a HUGE amount of art that Glenn has had to develop. As a two-person team, it means Glenn had to do ALL of it.

TOC: And for those that aren't aware, what is the source of Dominus's core?

Mark: The source is GW's 4th Edition 6mm tabletop rules [for those not familiar with the 6mm EPIC rules, the 4th edition was called EPIC: Armageddon – TOC], which really started with Adeptus Titanicus.

TOC: Is the game a direct translation of those rules, or have you evolved it to reflect "age" and what computer technology allows you to do?

Mark: Yes and no. We've definitely tried to capture as much of the substance of the ruleset as we can.  This is in part because of the inherent balance in that system—the 4th edition was developed as a tournament system, and it is widely regarded as GW's most balanced system yet.  However, we have allowed ourselves to diverge where it felt right to do so in the computer game medium.

For example, the tabletop game has a concept of failing the activation test, so you can fail and not be able to execute the order you want to.  In the computer game, that didn't feel right, so we haven't implemented that test in Dominus.  In general, we're avoiding any rules that take control away from the player.

The big thing that the computer medium brings is, of course, the action.  We’ve made good use of that to bring the battlefields of the 41st Millennium to life.
TOC: How did you approach bringing those battlefields to life? The 40k lore is quite rich and the artwork that GW has established is very extensive; showing a wide range of architecture, gothic styles, and plenty of skulls.

Glenn: Like the rules, the battlefields took their inspiration from the tabletop system. The tactical opportunities, LOS (line of sight – TOC) blocking features that make the tabletop work was translated to digital, but unlike tabletop, we have an opportunity to do things like destructible terrain that really bring the game to life. The buildings, initially, are very broad brush stroke Imperial architecture, but as we add more battlefields the scope of structures will increase with it. We tried to maintain the sense of scale you get with 6mm games, which differs a lot from other 40k games as we are at a Titan level, not an infantry level.
Games Workshop provided us with some awesome examples of large-scale architecture that have me excited for future updates. These one-offs take a fair bit of time to put together, but they will bring more of the grand 40k scale and character that Titans deserve.

TOC: Were the buildings directly inspired by any of GW's terrain (such as the Sector Imperialis), or did you use your own designs?

Glenn: We started with the Administorum and Relicos sections. We have the majority of the Sector Imperialis kit built for the game now. I wanted to start with these as, to me, they epitomize the 40k aesthetic. Gothic arches, many skulls, mechanical traces of activity, and of course skulls.

We recreated the wall sections as close to the models as we could. Then it became a challenge to assemble a building from them large enough to block a Titan’s LOS. This was a bit of a mission in itself, but once we began going down the avenue of destructable terrain, we started making a modular system, just as you might for a table top scenery collection.

Each building was designed from a selection of about 12 modules that all fit together in (most) configurations you place them in. This kind of reuse is critical when you are trying to produce a suitable set of large-scale buildings as one person. We then added a roof section for some extra height in the same style.  Each of the 12 building modules had to work within the architecture of the 40k universe and also fit with the other components.

TOC: And how did you guys approach creating the Titans? They look very real, almost like the Titan models produced by Forge World.

Glenn: The Titans were recreated from the Forge World models. I started with the Warhound, as it is the smallest of the three, and built an exact replica of the Titans. The Titans were partially assembled, photographed from six angles, and this “rig” was set up in our modeling software. I then set about modeling each piece in the same fashion as the models themselves.

I used a caliper to check my dimensions during the modeling, cross-checking it as I went. The Reaver was probably the most difficult due to the hull’s curvature. When it came time to animate the Titans we had to go back and remodel some sections that on the physical models were never intended to move.  This was done so that some of the sections could pivot or rotate to move the Titans more appropriately.

TOC: That is a lot of work to be done. And a lot of people don't realize that your studio is literally just the two of you. That means a great deal of challenges, one can imagine. What sort of challenges have you faced to get Dominus ready for the wider world?

Glenn: The biggest challenge is the significance of what we are working with. We are making a game based on arguably the coolest units in the 40k universe. Trying to make a game that truly reflects the awesome nature of the Titans and their setting has probably been the biggest thought that has played through my head over the past few years.

We are both massive 40k fans, so the universe is as precious to us as it is to everyone else.  The biggest challenge for me has probably been trying to create something that meets our expectations, and hopefully many others as well. As a gamer, I want my contribution to the 40k world to be meaningful and positive, as I know how dear the world is to gamers and 40k fans.

TOC: It sounds like you've both been in the hobby for a long time. How long have you been a part of it/playing? And what prompted you guys to look at Titans?

While many see them as the pinnacle of the hobby, they are cost prohibitive, and a very niche part of the community. It's why Adeptus Titanicus was previously the only game GW put out for them, and now we have Dominus and an AT reboot.

Glenn:  Well, they were never too cost prohibitive when they were in 6mm. I got into the hobby when Necromunda was released around 1996 I think.

Mark: I'm the old man of the team. I've been playing since 1987 with Rogue Trader. I read that rulebook until the pages fell out...and then I read it some more. I bought the first plastic "beaky" marines. I still have a couple of squads of them in my Ultramarines army.

I played Adeptus Titanicus when it was released, and then moved on to Space Marine/Titan Legions in the 90’s. Glenn and I met playing WH40K, and we both re-discovered 6mm through a mate at our then-local club.

TOC: It sounds like Dominus was a project born of passion for the hobby. What prompted you guys to walk up to GW, or them reach out to you, and say, 'Hey, let's do this!’

Mark: We went to them. We had a plan, and a deep love of the large-scale combat that the 6mm tabletop game enabled. We showed GW what we had in mind, talked about who we were and where we were coming from, and they were very supportive. We also had previous projects that we could use to demonstrate our ability to deliver. In the end, I think GW was happy with how passionate we were for the subject matter: we love us our Titans.

TOC: The passion has come across in seeing the early alpha footage vs the early access footage you've been able to show off. You've both been hard at work on this game. What can players expect of the experience? Epic music? Massive Titan duels? Boarding actions?

Mark: Players can look forward to a true-to-source translation of the 6mm tabletop experience, or as close as we can give them anyway. It's a great fun, turn-based strategy game, like the tabletop game was.  However, it has much better special effects than you get on your typical tabletop!

Glenn: We were lucky enough to find an amazing composer in Evan Rogers who has done close to an hour of music for us so far.

TOC: What kind of modes will the game have for Titan fans to explore?

Mark: At present, we have two modes: Take and Hold and Combined Arms. Both are objective-based modes, where you must capture objectives to score victory points. Combined Arms is closer to the Grand Tournament scenario from the tabletop, as it brings in other ways to score points, such as capturing the enemy's Forward Operating Base or destroying their most expensive (points-wise) Titan. Downstream, we'll be adding in new modes, but we haven't announced exactly what these are yet.

TOC: Some players prefer the PvE aspect of gaming, while others are hardcore PVP. What does the game's multiplayer offer them?

Mark: Multiplayer is really geared around the tournament-style game, where two players select a force, not knowing what their opponent will bring to the battle. They also don't know what mode they'll be playing. Once the battle starts, it's all about using the forces they have selected to their best advantage. In this way, multiplayer is a lot like the tabletop gaming experience, which is exactly what we set out to achieve.

It's worth mentioning that the game also has a Skirmish mode that emulates multiplayer, but lets you play against an AI. Skirmish is also intended to give players somewhere to practice without the intensity of an online game, but the AI is no slouch and is good fun even for those more solo-inclined players not interested in going online.

Looking into the future, we will be releasing a branching narrative campaign with the Full Release version, once we've completed our Early Access journey. We can't share more details about the campaign yet.

TOC: That's great that a campaign is coming. What factions will Dominus feature? And is there anything that can be said about future factions?

Mark: Dominus currently features four Imperium Legios: Astorum (Warp Runners), Gryphonicus (War Griffons), Crucius (Warmongers), and Osedax (The Cockatrices.)  It also features four Chaos Legios: Mortis (Death Heads), Vulcanum (Dark Fire), Damnosus (Lords of Ruin), and Fureans (Tiger Eyes).

We have not yet announced our plans beyond those.
TOC: What do you hope that Dominus will achieve for the hobby and the Titan community?

Mark: We hope Dominus will bring Titans to the attention of a whole rafter of gamers who might not have gotten into Titans before, or even into 40K. Steam is a vast marketplace, and a game like Dominus, which is offering a very tabletop-like experience, is not something many of the PC strategy fans will have seen before.

There are no grids or hexes here, just the free-flowing maneuver warfare seen in tabletop games. By the same token, we're hoping that existing 40K players who might not have the means to get a Titan for their army will get to know the Legios and their Titans through Dominus.  We hope it might give them the nudge they need to get one for their tabletop games.

Glenn: Hopefully, it grows the hobby and builds even more interest in the universe. I would love to see it inspire people to, paint, play, and get involved both in the hobby and also the digital community. Hopefully it bridges between tabletop gamers and PC gamers, bringing people together to have a bit of fun blowing each other up with massive Titans

TOC: There's only one thing left to ask then: a fun tradition for any TOC interview. Any shoutouts, advice, or bellowing challenges?

Glenn: Shoutouts to anyone who has completed a 28mm Titan. I hope the studio’s Titans will grace TOC one day as the mighty Gryphonicus. And I challenge you to a game Shadow [Shadow conducted this interview, but the entire TOC staff has been in on the Dominus testing – TOC].  A live stream once we release. The gauntlet is down.

Mark: A big shout-out to all our community testers, who have been playing the Alpha for weeks now, helping us identify and fix issues! Their help has been invaluable to a tiny [Oh, the irony! – TOC] studio like ours.

TOC: Glenn, I accept your challenge. Thank you so much for your time today, gentlemen. It's been a pleasure and a treat.

1 comment:

  1. I’m glad to see this is born from hobbyists, I too have two squads of RTB01 Beakies in my Army. I look forward to recreating my Maniple in digital.