Taking into account Relic’s seven years or so of previous experience with Warhammer 40K and the Dawn of War series, working with Games Workshop was hardly a new experience for them. The shift from strategy to action wasn’t as fluid as the shared universe might have suggested, however.
“It’s hard to translate from one game to another; the styles of gameplay are so radically different. Everything is almost at odds, the camera, the animations, the combat etc… Other than your knowledge of the universe and your relationship with the IP holder you have to start pretty fresh.”
Starting afresh would bring with it its own set of distinctive challenges, not least of which was not only bringing the iconic Space Marines themselves to life, but convincingly so. Matthew Berger spoke candidly about the difficulty in finding a balance for the character, who they wanted to feel both heavily armoured and also nimble.
Relic filmed each other in violent poses to better understand character movements
"This is a character that was designed for static positions and the shoulder pads and backpack posed a lot of problems to the animators. They filmed one another a lot in various movements and positions; they would use proxies for weapons and then basically pretend firing them or dying or falling etc… and then of course they watched a slew of movies and the like.”
Considering the strict control they exert over how the 40K universe is portrayed, it wouldn’t be a huge leap of logic to assume that Games Workshop would have requirements for the game’s content. The reality of this, however, is surprising:
“We don’t really have anything we’re obligated to implement by GW," says Berger. "The closest we came concerned which chapter we would use in the game. We decided early on to avoid using the Blood Ravens, who we developed for our RTS games, as we wanted to keep that separate.
Again: A different haircut
"Games Workshop really wanted us to use the Ultramarines, as they are the flagship chapter for the Space Marines. After many discussions, we agreed with that recommendation."
If it had been one of the other, less conventional chapters of Space Marines chosen, it might have led to some interesting quirks, like Blood Angels regenerating health by drinking blood or Space Wolves tracking prey by scent. As it was though, Relic felt that getting a powerful mix of ranged and melee combat into the game was more important than smaller novelties.
Of course, it’s easy to see why this path wasn’t taken; the requisite novelties would have required Relic to capture a particular chapter’s eccentricities would have diluted or muddled the underlying motif of Space Marine. That is, being a superhuman warrior monk, rather than a superhuman warrior monk who is also a vampire or werewolf.