Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution Postmortem Interview

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution Postmortem Interview

Written by Charles Husemann on 5/9/2011 for PC  

It's no secret that a few of us at Gaming Nexus are big fans of Relic's recent run of Dawn of War II games.   With that in mind we reached out to Relic to see if we could get their perspective on the games that they've released as well as what the future holds for the franchise.  Luckily we were able to talk to lead producer Jeff Lydell who answered the following questions.

Relic is now three games into the Dawn of War II series, looking back at the games what do you think was the best design decision you made? Are there any that you think are a little cringe worthy that have been fixed?
Adding progression elements to the RTS formula has definitely been a major success. When I read through the forums there is a ton of discussion on the configuration players have been using, and best of all, arguments about which is best. That reflects the depth of options available to the players in the campaign.

Most cringe-worthy would have been the lack of multiplayer content at launch of DOW2. Two expansions later we have corrected those problems, but we likely disappointed a number of our fans out of the gate.


The original Dawn of War II took a step back from the more strategic "base-building" style of RTS, and then with Retribution it seems to tiptoe forward to a more army-centric game. Do you feel you've found the "sweet spot" between squad-scale tactical management and higher-level strategic play?
We are always looking at ways we could do things better, but I’d say that DOW2 found a good balance for the game it was trying to be, especially with the Space Marine army. When it came to adding the other five races to the campaign, we felt the need to make changes.

Regarding base-building, the lack of higher level strategic gameplay, and specifically the lack of escalation into bigger fights is missed by many players, and I don’t think we are done tweaking the formula.

One of the cool things about Retribution is the ability to play all six races in the series. Why did you wait until this point to do that? What kind of challenges each race present in allowing the user to create them?
We only had four races to work with for DOW2 ;) Seriously though, with making a brand new game like Dawn of War II, it’s important to focus on the core experience. Once you lock that down, the expansions are a lot easier to get ambitious with, since at that point we are simply cranking out new content.

As for the challenges of each race, I can give a few examples. It was necessary to tweak the gameplay in Retribution to fit the swarmy races, like Tyranids, Orks, and Imperial Guard. Having multiple heroes didn’t match the Tyranids at all, so we changed that up. Last, we had to make sure the stories made sense for everyone, due to the shared nature of the campaign. Our intent was to make it so you could play your favorite race through Retribution and have a good experience, and I think we succeeded.


Outside of the obvious Warhammer 40K canon lessons, what things did you learn from these games that you are using in the development of Space Marine? Any chance you’ll be going back to the Dawn of War series in the future?
Disclaimer, I don’t work on Space Marine. I will say the best lesson we got from Dawn of War was to deliver the fantasy as best you can. If you go back to the original Dawn of War, it did a great job of delivering the fantasy of controlling your favorite Warhammer 40,000 army. Space Marine is focusing on delivering a more specific fantasy, which is the super-human ability of the Space Marine.

As for Relic, and myself specifically, we are staying on the Dawn of War series, we aren’t taking any breaks. :)

Looking back over all the games what was the hardest unit to design and balance?
Most recently it was the Baneblade. It was a massive tank with a huge number of guns, and it was hard to give it a focused role. In the end we solved it by making two of its primary weapons into abilities, which let them feel powerful without being too powerful.
I know the world of copyrights is tangled and complex, but any chance of a DoW-style game set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe?
We already have enough to work on with 40k, and I think someone else might own those rights. I don’t think we are going to run out of ideas or work with the license we have any time soon.

Has there ever been any serious thought to taking any of the games to a major console or iPad? Obviously controls are the biggest issue but are there other things holding it back that prevent the migration?
I do think the iPad could become a platform for RTS games, but I would advocate for a new title other than Dawn of War. We aren’t in favor of bending our PC-centric titles to accommodate new control schemes.

Consoles are less interesting. Many have tried, nothing has been very compelling.


What are some of the more challenging tasks involved in successfully translating a real-time strategy from a wildly-popular tabletop miniatures game, which is by its very nature turn-based and fully of heavy, crunchy rules.
I’d say this is the easy part of working with the IP. GW provides a huge grab bag of content to pull from, and computers make all that heavy crunch math happen automatically. Our main focus with adapting units is to capture the feel of a given unit, not the stats. We don’t dwell on the number of attacks or wounds a given unit has when we pull it over, we just try to make it feel right in context with our game.

Considering the entire Dawn of War (I and II) collection of games, you must have some favorite "just right" moments throughout the various titles. What are some of your most memorable high points?
Going right back to Dawn of War, I had a multiplayer match I turned to my favor by force meleeing a group of Sluggas with my scout squad. They didn’t last long but it was enough of a delay to let my flamers break their morale, and I won the match quickly after that.

<spoiler alert> 

More recently, I was very happy with our treatment of the Exterminatus of Typhon. I thought the video, Paul Dobson’s narration as Gabrial Angelos, and the writing of the scene came together perfectly. It was also a chance to visualize an exciting concept in the fiction.

I'll just bet there's an army or two painstakingly painted and deployed on the tabletop fields of battle somewhere at the Relic offices. Care to let us know which factions see the most table time? And which team member is the greatest Relic commander? Any chance we could get a picture?
I’m not sure who the greatest commander is, but we have some fine painted armies around here. One of our testers has a collection of Space Wolves he’s painted up rather well.


From a software development perspective, what was the biggest improvement you’ve made since you started working on the games?
From a customer PoV, I think the switch to Steamworks bought a lot. We have been able to make many small updates to the game, and be a lot more ambitious with the available DLC thanks to the ease of distribution Valve provides.

Internally our tools have improved quite a bit. It used to take a long time to load a game when I first started on the team, now we have load times close to the final product. That saves years of effort when you add it all up at the end of a project.


We'd like to thanks Jeff for answering our questions as well as Neal for coordinating the interview.  Tyler Sager also contributed questions to this interview.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution Postmortem Interview Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution Postmortem Interview Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution Postmortem Interview Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution Postmortem Interview Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution Postmortem Interview Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution Postmortem Interview

About Author

Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom.   I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.
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