Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister Developer Interview

Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister Developer Interview

Last week we brought you a few updates on anticipated upcoming VR shooter, Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister. This week we bring you plenty more.

We sat down with Creative Director James Horn to talk about the upcoming title, which hopes to land on Oculus Quest this December. We’ve already covered the game’s projected December release and plans for multiplayer support, but in the rest of this interview we talk about the meat of the experience itself. Horn touches on the weapons you’ll be wielding in the single-player campaign, how much content to expect and plenty more. Dig in!

UploadVR: So just starting out, obviously you guys are familiar with the series anyway. You’ve, you’ve been working in Warhammer for a long time. I’d love to know how the transition to VR for a new entry came about.


James Horn: Sso it partly came from a sort of shared thing really, which is that we Done Dead on Gear VR and on Quest. And obviously, the Quest version did well and is still doing well and obviously seeing a nice little pickup at the moment as well in terms of sales with Quest 2 as well.

So we’ve done that. The company obviously had done Warhammer: Freeblade back in the day. And then we did Age of Sigma: Realm War, which I was involved with as well, which was a mobile game. They still sell out at the moment. And those two things came together.

We started talking to Oculus about how we’d like to do another game. We looked at the various options and obviously we were chatting with Games Workshop as well. And Games Workshop mentioned they were doing a revamp of the Battle Sisters. They did a new plastic set last Christmas. And at that point we’re like that, that really fits.

The thing with the Battle Sisters, they’re actually really quite interesting in terms of within the lore, because they’re a bit more human than the Space Marines. So whereas Space Marines are — y’know, a Space Marine is as a Space Marine. They’re quite binary in terms of how they work.

Whereas the Battle Sisters, because they’re more human with human scale as well, they have doubts and things like that as well. If you have too many doubts you get burnt or stuck in a Penitent Engine or things like that. But one thing we thought was that they would make a really interesting game because we wanted to make a narrative shooter.

So when I joined Pixel Toys a few years ago to work on Drop Dead I actually wasn’t that interested in zombie games. But what got me interested in it was doing, motion captured story and putting narrative within that. And I was like, wow, you can tell this amazing story, in this really intimate way where, in VR, you have this sort of connection with other characters, if you’re telling a story that way.

And so we wanted to do that. So we wanted to tell a story. We wanted to make an amazing VR shooter as well. And that’s the main thing. It was about how can we do justice to Warhammer 40,000? How can we get that sort of feel of firing a Bolter and seeing the size of a Space Marine next to you and things like that.

So that’s, that’s kind of where it came from.

UploadVR: I’m glad you touched upon the feeling because that’s something that’s very unique to Warhammer, like you say. I’ve always described it as this big kind of chunky shooter. And that’s not what you get in a lot of VR games at the moment, because cause it’s hard, right? Because the controller doesn’t weigh the same as an actual gun and then you put Warhammer in it and the guns aren’t actual guns, they’re these giant things. So that must’ve been a really, really difficult balance for you guys.

James Horn: Yeah, and it’s an ongoing challenge as well. I mean, I think it’s, as I’m sure you’ve probably seen from many of the comments online, actually everybody’s got a different view on what a Bolter should sound like, what a Melter looks like, how it should feel.

And we’ve had that internally as well when we’ve been making the game. Obviously we’ve got a lot of Warhammer fans in the studio and we did find that everyone’s like, “Oh yeah, I think Bolters should sound like this and should look like that and should sound like that”.

And one problem with the Bolter were actually is that if you take the lore really strictly, it’s just so unbelievably overpowered as a weapon, but actually it’s very hard to do that balance. And likewise, the same with the game as well.

You’ve got the Battle Sisters now. Actually a single Battle Sister up against a Chaos Space Marine? There shouldn’t really be a contest, actually. The Chaos Space Marine, according to the lore should absolutely hammer the Battle Sister. So we have to take a little bit of artistic license there.

But also we’ve got the NPCs who were with you alongside. So there’s sister Rosalina, who’s got a massive, great heavy Bolter. So that helps. And you also got brother Julius as well. He’s a Primaris Space Marine. The idea behind that was a little bit to balance that out so that people could suspend their disbelief of the fact that you as a Battle Sister — I mean, obviously you are a superhero Battle Sister because that’s the player, we want to, we want to give that feeling to the player. But ultimately it’s trying to give them that feeling that I can take on a Space Marine with my Bolter.

But from a gameplay point of view obviously that’s a challenge because we’re trying to balance this Bolter where we want it to absolutely rip apart Chaos cultists. So it’s always trying to get that balance. And so obviously that’s been going up and down. I mean, I think you’ve played the demo version. We’ve obviously rebalanced it a lot from that point.

So the Bolter is a lot more powerful. We went away did a complete pass on the audio of the Bolter because I think none of us were particularly happy with how that, where we got to with that for that, for that demo in the summer.

UploadVR: What we want to do is allow people to do those sort of fantasy things that they want to do, which is hard. “Imagine if you had two Bolters!” But we need to make sure that gameplay-wise there’s, there’s a cost to that in terms of accuracy and things like that.

James Horn: So, yes we worked on synergies particularly as well with the sacred rights, which are some of the abilities, which are gesture-based abilities. So we’ve got things like, the best way to describe it is a force push type of act which you can use within gameplay, but also again as an offensive.

But also to do things like put a Chaos Marine off guard slightly to make them stumble. So then you can then come in close, fire your Bolter into their face, but also swinging with your Power Sword, to finish them off. That’s the sort of synergies we’re trying to go with. We want the dual bolt pistols to feel like a good combo as well.

UploadVR: Were all the weapons in the demo what you’ll get in the game or are there more as you go through?

James Horn: So there’s more than the demo. The game’s changed quite a lot since then. So some things we’ve got taken out those early levels and something’s come back in.

So the things like the chainsword that wasn’t in the demo. Obviously a chainsword is an iconic weapon. We’re trying to make sure that has obviously plenty of blood splatter and sufficient amounts of heads being lopped off. There’s one bit I’m particularly proud of actually when you first get the Lasgun.

The Lasgun, in the lore, is always considered to be a little bit not the best gun. It’s the one that Imperial guard use. It’s not as good as the Bolter. But we have a situation later on in the game where you find yourself with no weapons. And so you’re having to sort of find what weapons you can find.

And there’s one bit where you open a cabinet and it’s a Lasgun, oh no. And we actually have a line that goes “Hey, yeah. I’ve found… a Lasgun.” And it’s like, okay, well do the best you can. It’s actually quite good. It seems quite accurate, but it’s not the most powerful weapon in the game.


There’s a Plasma Pistol too. So that has an overcharge mechanic so obviously it heats up as you’re firing it, and then you can actually use it as a grenade, but obviously you lose the gun.

UploadVR: It sounds like your ideas for levels and design are evolving from Drop Dead.

James Horn: Yeah. So part of it comes from, from 6DOF. So Drop Dead was obviously on rails. And so when we looked at that, that obviously brings up a whole load of extra challenges from both the environment point of view, but also from, gameplay and AI point of view.

Because in Drop Dead, the enemies are pretty dumb. They, basically walk towards you, you know. Whereas in our game, we’ve had to write an AI system from scratch with cover and with enraged states and that kind of thing and panic states and stuff like that. And so, that in itself gives a different challenge.

I think there was early on in the year there was a lot of discussion, I think, within the team about how, you know, what sort of game did we want to make actually? What suits that brand best? Is it something like a Doom-type shooter where things are rushing at you or is it something more considered?

I think it is something more considered than Doom. We initially tried that and it just didn’t feel quite right in terms of that sort of rush at you. It was a little bit like Vermintide, which is obviously a good thing. So there was definitely stuff we liked about that. And so that’s why some of our enemies are quite fast.

UploadVR: What kind of scope can people expect how in terms of hours, different levels, different types of environments?

James Horn: For different types of environments that we’ve got, there’s quite a range from what you’ve seen on the demo. So you begin out in the sort of trenches of a planet. What we wanted to have with that sort of dropped into the middle of a Warhammer 40,000 moment, really. So that was why we had the Imperial Knights fighting in the background and the Rhinos trembling, overhead.

So that’s the first area, then we go on ahead to the Cathedrum which is one of the orbiting cathedrals and some stuff kicks off. Then we head down onto a sort of dead ash planet and there’s a whole sort of thing through ruins there. Then we’ve got some spaceship action a little bit later on.

So yeah, the experiences is — we talk about it being around about five to six hours. I think it’s probably a bit more than that actually, for people who are coming to it fresh, but certainly, it sits around five to six hours, I’d say.

Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister comes to Quest this December.

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