Polish Journalist Versus Relic Bloodbath

By Kieron Gillen on March 12th, 2008 at 9:02 pm.

Honestly, if it went on for another five minutes, it'd have ended up like this.

I exaggerate only slightly.

Since Soulstorm is out and it looks like Dawn of War 2’s announcement may be imminent, I thought it time to transcribe a passably memorable event that I had on tape. It occurred when Alec and I toddled over to visit Relic when they first debuted Soulstorm. To be precise, when Executive Producer Jonathan Dowdeswell stopped the video, and asked if there were any questions. And a Polish Journalist showed that, yes, he had.

This lead to fifteen minutes of intense wincing and turning “Your game is nothing compared to Starcraft 2! Nothing!” into a games journalist running joke.

The origin of which I now share.

To be fair, in a Play-it-again-Sam-esque fashion, that immortal line wasn’t actually uttered. But much else was. I’ve only transcribed the exchanges which our nameless journalist friend was actually involved with, and tidied up his somewhat curt syntax a little (Though I wish I could have found a way of writing his contemptuous tone of voice, which added a lot). Of course, some of what he asks is perfectly reasonable. Some of it is even completely true. And Dowdeswell is playing the PR role demanded of him – in fact, that he openly avoids telling the journalist to fuck right off is actually testament to his diplomacy. But as the fanboyism rises, you can hear the recording punctuated by the sound of me clicking my pen tip in and out with a frequency in direct relation to how much I hope he shuts up.

Nothing compared to Starcraft 2.

[The scene. A relic board room. Present are about thirty Relic, Iron Lore and THQ staff, PRs and assorted journalists. The first public footage of the game stops, revealing that the first of Soulstorm’s two races are Dark Eldar. And…]

Dowdeswell: So… Any questions?

Polish Journalist: Second Race?

Dowdeswell:[laughs] We’re not talking about that.

PJ: We are all waiting for Genestealers!

[Some boring questions]


PJ: How do you balance the units since you have nine races right now? How do you balance new races? Do you just take a basic race which you balance the others? Or…

Dowdeswell: Um… I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking.

PJ: Do you have more people who do it? How do you, you as a company do it? You have seven races and it’s kind of hard to balance them if there’s seven different races.

Dowdeswell: First thing is we have a balance team – which I don’t know if were mentioned but…

PJ: Then!

Dowdeswell: They’re all pro players, or have been pro players, and they have an intuitive awareness of a game being exploitable. They get in a room and work with each other and they isolate the problems. They spend all their time doing that. They have different ways to fix it. They can buff a unit. They can remove exploits by changing the time it takes to build or the strength on the battlefield, the money it takes from your economy. They isolate a problem , and go “Let’s try this, this and this” and see if it fixes it. They tend to start balancing against each other, by focusing against the first five minutes of play, then working on tier one. If they can get all nine races balanced against each other on tier one, they’ll move onto the second tier, knowing the first is okay. In terms of the intent behind the balance, they focus no the original gameplay intent of the race, and make sure they’re being true to its spirit. It wouldn’t make sense to take the Orks and turn them into a fast, jumping race. Really, it’s about building up bunches of guys and rolling in. They work a lot with the designers – both current ones and ones in the past – to make sure they understand the spirit of the race… and by that, they understand the spirit of the units. They also aim to create interesting ways for pockets of units that are really good for taking out heavy infantry or vehicles or jumping or whatever it is. Isolating and heightening the strengths and weaknesses of those races. One of the comparisons you get into when you get into games with more than four races… most of them aren’t very unique races. There’s RTS which have thirty units, and there’s a colour change on 15 of the units and one of them has ten percent faster resourcing and this one has ten percent better armour. They’re variations. The reason they can have so many races is because they don’t make them that distinct. Dawn of War and 40K is so distinct we always try to keep pushing that uniqueness right down through all of the units.

Nothing compared to Starcraft 2.

[Which is a reasonable answer and question, and things wander until we head back. Dowdeswell is talking about how much they listen to the vocal core fans versus the millions of ones who aren’t the forum…]

Dowdeswell: We try and listen and take as much of the feedback. Most of them when we were doing a closed beta with this game were the most outspoken advocates or anti-advocates in the community… but we had to take it all with a grain of salt. What we try to do, and why we try to have a balance team is to create gameplay that we think is excellent and cross our fingers and hope people agree.

PJ: How many people are playing Dawn of War now? Generally.

Dowdeswell: I don’t know. We tend to have… well, in Company of Heroes we have better statistics. We know how many players are logged and active. In Dawn of War, as soon as a game starts, the players aren’t online anymore. They’re in a game. We’ve never had fully accurate numbers. I’ve ne…

PJ: I think that you can monitor how many people download the patch. How many people downloaded last patch for Dark Crusade.

Dowdeswell: [laughs] I don’t know those things anymore.

PJ: I think it’s useful to know how many people are playing the game if you’re releasing another part.

[Silence]

PJ: Yet you don’t.

Dowdeswell: As I said, I don’t tend to check that stuff myself anymore. The balance teams and lead designers do…

PJ: In terms of story, would it be like Dark Crusade? The storyline, would be developed like that?

Dowdeswell: Yes, it’ll play out like…

PJ: [Interrupting] I think – I’m sorry – but the thing I really loved about the first Dawn of War was the storyline and how it was developed throughout the game. In Dark Crusade, it’s really about playing the game and shooting monsters and getting new terrain. The storyline was kind of… Secondary.

Dowdeswell: Well, what we were trying to do was make a distributed narrative. Try to create gameplay which distributes choices in the campaign which are more interesting to the player, so they feel more involved and it’s not just being dragged along by the nose. In Dawn of War and Winter Assault – I like the stories as well – but they were sort of bookends at the end of the chapter. You start, get this sort of interesting talk of head, then you destroy a bunch of shit – did I say that?

[General Laughter. Polish Journalist interrupts]

PJ: The thing about Warhammer is the story. From my point of view, it really lacked. Dark Crusade lacked a storyline. A solid storyline. As you say, it was a distributed narrative. And Warhammer generally, the world, is created around the story. Don’t you think it would be cool if there was another installment with a storyline? Like a movie? A movielike storyline, like the first?

Dowdeswell: Erm… again, it’s a different kind of gameplay we’re going for with the Metagame. You wait, you wait for the future… but this time we’re advancing [Dark Crusade’s metagame]. There are more details. It has… well, it has a similar starting point. Somehow you have to get nine races and have them all fighting each other – which is where the title comes from – the souls refer to the Dark Eldar ability. And the storm is a warpstorm which has hidden this one system off from the rest of the universe, and all nine races are behind the gates and now fight for survival. It’s really important for us to achieve a strong narrative, but the gameplay addition on the metagame has been a really compelling thing – probably the thing we received the best feedback on from Dark Crusade.

Nothing compared to Starcraft 2.

Alec Meer: Any changes in the tech? The engine?

Dowdeswell: No, we haven’t. Going back to the beginning, as we kept going, and the gameplay has matured, we’d like more and more people be able to play it. The nice thing about releasing this game now is a lot of the hardware has caught up with us – the hardware which can play Dawn of War now is just a lot more ubiquitous. Hopefully lots more people can enjoy it.

Alec Meer: It certainly worked for Starcraft, I guess.

Dowdeswell: I was stunned when SC got back in the top 10. Amazing.

PJ: But Starcraft is a different thing. Starcraft is Starcraft! Don’t you think that in 2008 you are going to make a game that’s 3 years old. Its engine is 3 years old. Compared to Company of Heroes, for example. When playing Dark Crusade, for example, I had this feeling there’s something lacking. Company of Heroes with all these ideas like hiding and deformation of terrain and destructible terrain… Dark Crusade lacked. I missed it. I wanted it. Don’t you think…

Dowdeswell: It’s interesting… when SC2 released their videos… Blizzard make these choices. They’ve always made choices. They’ve released every single game on a very low target spec. Including Starcraft 2. Starcraft 2 has a unique set of challenges as a product, because it’s a sport that entrenched in Korea. For them to change the gameplay significantly causes problems. Also, they choose to not include lots of technological advances, so they can hit low hardware. Which goes back to the Value proposition – it’s a gameplay orientated advancement. It’s not a technology advancement. The reason why people are attracted to Starcraft is because the gameplay is pure and the gameplay is fine. That’s exactly what we are trying to discover.

PJ: I understand that, but Starcraft 2 looks way better than Dawn of War! From what we could have seen on what you’ve shown us. Still, it’s the same gameplay – and I understand that the core gameplay is the idea. I get it. But they’ve upped the graphics, and you are not doing it. You have the same engine, which is three years old. I like how the units move, but the terrain looks awful.

Dowdeswell: Yeah… but that’s a test map though. The first thing I said when I saw it, is that everyone always chooses….

PJ: And I think as you said it’s the same engine, the Dark Crusade Engine, I don’t think it would look way better than terrain in Dark Crusade…

THQ PR: I’d take it with a grain of salt. This really is very early code you’re showing, the whole point of a first look…

PJ: Still! I’m not talking about this particular footage. I know it’s just a preview, and a preview preview, but you told us it’ll be the same engine. It’s still the same problem. It’s not a new game. It’s the same game.

Another Polish Journalist: How can you attract new players that didn’t know Dawn of War? They just want bigger, faster game of Dawn of War. What’s for them?

Dowdeswell: I think it’s a significant attraction actually. One of the bad bits of not advancing the technology and not spending millions of dollars increasing the cost of development means we can put the game out for thirty bucks. It doesn’t require any of the original games, and you get a complete game experience. You don’t have to go and spend full PC premier titles prices. That’s thirty day one. It’s twenty after six months. It keeps dropping.

PJ: It’s a low budget game.

Dowdeswell: It’s not low budget. It’s high value.

[A big laugh]

PJ: Yes, but the…

THQ PR: [Cutting in] We’re going to cut it off there, so the guys can do one on ones…

[Ten minutes later, I almost coughed up half my digestion system and had to leave the room with tears in my eyes when I saw a fellow journalist had named the Company of Heroes game he’d just set up “YOU ARE NOTHING COMPARED TO STARCRAFT 2!”. And then the Polish gent joined it. Of course, one thing I hadn’t remembered at the time, which I transcribed – Soulstorm was originally planned to be a thirty dollar game. Upon release, it was actually forty.

Hmm.]

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71 Comments »

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  1. Leeks! says:

    Reading that was like watching The Office.

    Marvelous.

  2. STiger says:

    Outstanding, laughed my arse, quite literally, off.

    NCTS2, though.

  3. Jim Rossignol says:

    Nothing Compared To Starcraft 2!

  4. Miles says:

    This was very funny. Good work, (robo)crazy journos.

  5. Aimless says:

    Don’t worry, Mr. Gillen. We all know that, consummate professional that you are, you were actually pointing out that it should be ‘NCTSC2′ so as to be in line with the official spelling of StarCraft.

    Are there any other RPS stories of presentation trolling? I want to vicariously live the sexy, danger-filled life of a videogames journalist.

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    Well, there’s the one of the Civ3 announcement at E3 one year. They’re going on and on about how they decided to get the band together, and do it to give back the love they got from the fans and all that.

    At which point, at the back, an Editor said clearly “Bollocks! You’re doing it for the money”.

    KG

  7. Reptil3 says:

    On behalf of all Poles, I have to apologize. Not everyone here is stupid.

  8. James T says:

    I bet Dowdeswell wanted to smoke that Pole!

  9. Richard says:

    “Are there any other RPS stories of presentation trolling?”

    Don’t forget the laughed-off-the-stage premiere of Cryo’s Hellboy game. That was pretty legendary for a long while.

  10. Acosta says:

    I was there, one of my last travels for PC Gamer Spain before it closed and I passed to semi-unemployed state (yes, I have the honor of having shared a bus with Kieron and a taxi with Alec, you can be jealous). The transcription does not justice to the moment, it was so hilarious… I had to make a real effort trying to not laugh, but looking at everyone’s face at that moment was too much.

  11. King Pod says:

    How come you didn’t just stick up the recording? That way you wouldn’t have had to transcribe his contemptuous polish voice. Or does that break all sorts of HM Secret’s Acts and so on?

  12. dartt says:

    NCTSC2 is my new favourite acronym!

  13. Nick says:

    He did have something of a good point under all that..

  14. TychoCelchuuu says:

    What’s funny is that you fast forward to today, where we have Soulstorm which is released with a gamebreaking bug that lets Sisters of Battle win every game they play no matter what. Among other issues. Many other issues.

  15. Solrax says:

    Yeah, agree with Nick, he sounded like someone who really loved the WH40K games and wanted them truly updated. I kind of agree, so I’m hoping the Dawn of War 2 rumors are true!

    But I bought Soulstorm anyway because it’s still better than nothing!

  16. Alec Meer says:

    His argument, such as it is, comes over a little better in text than in snarling, desk-thumping speech.

    “I wanted to rip his larynx out” is the kind of thing I say about a lot of people. But in this case, I genuinely worried I was going to do it.

  17. James Lyon says:

    Was that this New Games Journalism everybody’s talking about, then?

  18. Kieron Gillen says:

    I might put a snippet up tomorrow, if I can work out how to do it.

    Oh – the Hellboy Premier:

    Cryo, ECTS. We’re being shown around the Cryo stand by their long suffering and lovely PR. They show us Hellboy. At which point Gamer’s editor has a laughing fit at the that-looks-like-Peter’s-liter-isms, and has to excuse himself.

    “Yes – we’ve been very disappointed in Hellboy,” says the PR, forlornly.

    KG

  19. Alex says:

    The bit that made me laugh the most was that sudden (it seems sudden when you read it) outburst of “Then!”..

    PJ: Do you have more people who do it? How do you, you as a company do it? You have seven races and it’s kind of hard to balance them if there’s seven different races.

    Dowdeswell: First thing is we have a balance team – which I don’t know if were mentioned but…

    PJ: Then!

  20. drunkymonkey says:

    “Yet you don’t” and “It’s a low budget game” had me chucking at the cheek of it.

  21. Alex says:

    How dare they make a sequel without knowing exactly how many people are still playing the original games..!

    The logical next question is ofcourse how we can best monetize this new internet meme of the NCTS2.

  22. Garth says:

    I agree with a lot of what the guy says, though. And frankly, the game has nothing on Starcraft 2. It doesn’t look better, or play better, or have better balance (I’m making a supposition, but it is a blizzard RTS, which means ridiculous balance.)

    I liked the first Dawn of War a bit. After that though, it’s the exact same thing for almost every single race: build a scout to cap, build a builder, build a scout to cap, build a builder. Cap cap cap, build next units, attack.

    Hell, the Orks were only different from other races in the original in that they weren’t as good.

  23. Cruz says:

    Funny stuff. Thanks for the read.
    I feel that I should buy Soulstorm just to spite the Pole (I’m actually buying it anyway).

  24. Andrew Armstrong says:

    What a cool producer, really kept his head through the rather funny questions :) a bit full of himself, that journalist. I suppose that’s what NGJ is right? :D

    I liked the Civ3 ministory too actually, ahaha :D

  25. James Lyon says:

    I bet he still helped himself to the buffet, though.

  26. Alex says:

    Personally, I just love the W40K universe.

    A lot more than I love Starcraft‘s.

  27. Leeks! says:

    Uh oh, it seems a WH4K/SC hurley-burley bubbles just beneath the tranquil facade of the RPS comment threads.

  28. Alex says:

    .. this thread IS the DAWN OF WAR!!

  29. Fuggles says:

    Lol. This game has nothing on starcraft 2? Well, it’s out and I’m playing it.

    Take that ethereal game!

  30. nihohit says:

    But seriously – a game with nine diffrent races simply can’t offer the same storytelling expirience like a game with three races (unless the campaign follows only one race, as in the original DoW) – so why bother with more than just saying “y’all fellahs are here, duke it out to find who’ll git out”? why not say out front that this game is not about the story and WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP NOW, thankyouverymuch?

  31. sigma83 says:

    40K has a great universe, no doubt, and obviously some starcraft elements have been taken from the pages thereof. There’s no crime in preferring one or the other tho; Imperium of Man > Terrans, but Protoss > Eldar/Tau/whatever. That’s just me of course.

    p.s. in before ‘Zerg totally ripped off Tyranids wtf blizzzz’

  32. Tim Stone says:

    In the interests of solidarnosc, I feel duty-bound to point out that most of us have messed-up in press conferences and interviews at some point or another.

    I still wince remembering an interview I conducted with Novalogic’s musical maestro many years ago. At the end of a gruelling day I was shown into his instrument-strewn office. We shook hands and I got the ball rolling with…

    “Is it possible to turn the music off in the game?”

  33. Staff Sergeant XO says:

    I’m with the Polish camp.

    It makes me wonder about what these journalism demos are really like. Are they just stroke fests? Yeah, the dev kept his head, but that’s his job– that’s what they stuck him out there for. PJ at least wasn’t asking, “What’s your favorite flavor of Mountain Dew?”

    I can imagine the next press conference with George Bush: “Will the next war be in FMV, or will it be an interactive cutscene? Will there be bump-mapping?”

  34. Babs says:

    I don’t know, but it’ll definitely have Quick-Time Events!

  35. Acosta says:

    I think some people are not having the proper background of the situation.

    The matter is, press was not there for Soulstorm, was there for Company of Heroes expansion, which is the game we played and the one we had the facts, enough for throwing hard balls if desired.

    Soulstorm was a surprise and we had absolutely nothing to judge it, it was too early and we just watched some models of Dark Eldars and a brief description of what to expect. So hardballs were a bit off the situation. Then we have the fact is an expansion based on the same engine, comparing it (again, with no real element to judge anything) with Company of Heroes or Starcraft 2 (both new games with new engines) was absurd and unpolite.

    You are allowed to throw hardballs, with a minimum sense of courtesy and respect, and many people do it if they feel they have elements, but saying “new game not released looks better than your 4 year old game” is not tough journalism.

    I don’t remember any epic mess up from my part, maybe in a interview years ago with a guy from Jaleco as I had no experience at that time doing personal interviews and I had nothing prepared or a recorder or notepad, so I felt pretty lost and the interview was far from great (since then I always remember to have all that stuff with me and to prepare some safe question for safety net).

    But hey, now that you say, “biggest gaming journalist mess up” would make an excellent feature (and probably generate some bad blood between collegues).

  36. Alec Meer says:

    Perhaps my most humiliating cock-up (apart from ones in print) was at a press event for some hardware company. At the end of chatting to the PR, I put my notepad down on the table to pick my bag up off the floor and head home. When I looked up again, I saw the PR was holding the notepad, so I smiled and took it from her hands.

    It wasn’t my notepad.

    I suspect I’ll take the expression on her face, the sheer disbelief that a journo would try to steal her briefing notes about speakers and keyboards, to my grave.

    Oh, and hi Acosta – hadn’t realised you were you. Quite a press trip that, eh?

  37. Kieron Gillen says:

    Staff: It’s more the fanboyish angle than the content, really (There was far less openly contemptuous ways of asking the stuff). And the extent. He’s interviewing 1 on 1 the Devs later – as expressed by the end of the transcript – and dragging out his personal bugbears in public was wasting everyone’s time. Anyone with a brain knew the answers to his questions already.

    EDIT: Biggest journalist fuck up strikes me as a great idea. I know mine already.

    KG

  38. Nallen says:

    Lets hear it.

  39. Grill says:

    I’m with PJ here, I have to say. His conversational style reminds me vaguely of that German journalist who looked like Mr Bean, but he does have a good point – it’s fecking cheeky of Relic to keep drip-feeding genericised versions of our fave 40k races in these expansions to generate “high value” profits.

    (Also, controversially, I never thought DoW was all that – worse than the original Space Hulk video game anyway – and the deadly dull plot was a travesty, as were the flat lazily-designed levels. We’ll forgive anything for 40K though, won’t we?)

    Big mess-ups I remember: Sitting waiting for an Atari press-conference about Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure to start, laughing with three fellow hacks about crap Mark Ecko was, how rubbish the game looked and how terrible his clothing was. Then a little lady say right in front of us turns around and says “Don’t you have any respect?”, and we notice the chubby, over-dressed chap himself is sat next to her…

  40. Kieron Gillen says:

    Gril: But you’re a famous sociopath!

    KG

  41. Grill says:

    KG: I’m a troll, apparently. :P Just like you’re an emo-whore…

  42. Kieron Gillen says:

    I’m a camwhore!

    (Did you finish Forumwarz, btw?)

    We should take this to MSN.

    KG

  43. Grill says:

    No, not finished it – didn’t know you could :-o. Troll you in a minute…

  44. LongFred says:

    No really, why do Poles apologize for that guy. As a German, I can really relate to his insensitive rudeness xD

    No really, I just spent 30€ on Soulstorm and it was kind of a letdown. While the new races are ok, I totally agree with that reporter when he says that the metagame is just an excuse for lining up skirmishes. There is also a distinct lack of polish and one or two game breaking bugs. I’m a big fan of the DoW franchise, aaaand that guy pretty much nailed the flaws of the DoW distribution model.

  45. Darius K. says:

    Ugh. Yes, I’ve been in meetings like that before. How awkward.

  46. Alex says:

    While the new races are ok, I totally agree with that reporter when he says that the metagame is just an excuse for lining up skirmishes.

    You say that as if it’s a bad thing.

    If I want a good story, I tend not to think “RTS!”.

  47. terry says:

    Next time someone says something that I do not like to hear I will shriek “Then!” at them until they say something preferable.

  48. TheDiscordian says:

    terry, I tried that, and my boss still didn’t give me my raise.

    Or 6 new playable races.

    Bastard.