WhiteMoon Dreams Talk Warmachine Tactics

Earlier this week I spoke to the formidably surnamed Jay Koottarappallil from WhiteMoon Dreams, the company responsible for turning Privateer Press’ tabletop steampunk wargame, Warmachine, into a turn-based title for Windows and OSX. At the time of writing the target for their Kickstarter target had already been smashed, and with over two weeks left on the clock it was approaching a million dollars…

RPS: So you must be feeling fairly pleased…

Koottarappallil: I cannot believe it, man. Matt and I were putting this Kickstarter together for a couple of months, and initially we started out super-optimistic, “oh yeah, people are going to jump all over this!” We were looking at other Kickstarters and we felt like we had a popular IP, but then it’s hardly as popular as the folks over at Obsidian. And then as we looked closer at other Kickstarters we got so afraid. We were looking at ways to go lower and lower with our target, but really we had to stop at $550k. I think the day before we launched Matt and I, and a lot at people at both studios, we just didn’t sleep. We were so nervous! Then it started skyrocketing. We were funded in less than 35 hours. I was in the comments sections the whole time, and when we hit that target the effect of not sleeping slammed into me and I feel asleep on my keyboard.

RPS: Can you explain exactly what’s going on with Warmachine Tactics, then – who you guys are and so on? A lot of our readers won’t be familiar with the IP or the players involved in this project.

Koottarappallil: Okay, well my company is Whitemoon Dreams, we’re a small developer in downtown Los Angeles. We’ve been around for about six years now, and we’re put together from a bunch of different industry vets who had the same vision of what they wanted to do with a studio. Privateer Press, which are the other studio in this, they’re a physical games company which has been around since 2003. This year is the tenth anniversary of their game, Warmachine, and they began initially as a pen and paper RPG. They grew that into a miniatures game. Around 2009 we were introduced to Matt Wilson who runs Privateer, and at the time he was looking for developers to work with Privateer and take Warmachine to the next level. One of the co-founders of our company is Scott Campbell, who was one of the original designers on Fallout, and I sat him down with Matt. It was really cool. I could see Scott on the phone in our conference room getting super excited, so I knew magic was happening.

RPS: So why this Kickstarter?

Koottarappallil: We originally started another Warmachine game, actually. One of the big things with Warmachine is story, so we wanted to tell this big epic tale, but we were taking it to publishers and so on, and people were just saying “we don’t know about the fanbase”, stuff like that. We got totally stonewalled. So Matt and I sat down and talked about how we’d like to make a strategy game. We love tactics games, XCOM, and early on we built a prototype of something like that. We said: what if we just did the Kickstarter thing? If was a weird thing. If it was a flop it could damage the Warmachine IP and make us look awful. If it didn’t work we’d be back to the drawing board. But we realised we weren’t getting anywhere with traditional funding methods, and everyone was ready to rake a risk. I mean, there it is, and it’s so cool.

RPS: Can you talk us around your plans for Tactics then – how has that defined the pitch you’ve put in Kickstarter?

Koottarappallil: The Warmachine tabletop game centres around about seven factions that are fighting for control of this world. I mean the game /is/ called Warmachine! We’re bringing that situation and story into a videogame format. Our vision is a turn-based tactics game. XCOM and Final Fantasy Tactics are the inspirations for us – the more sophisticated versions of chess, you might say. In Warmachine the characters themselves are unique, they are individuals, and that’s really important for how the game plays out, and the mechanics in there. You have this concept of the warcaster, and these are the main guys. They are expert melee combatant and a spellcaster, but they can also communicate with these giant steam-powered machines called Warjacks. So what you are doing is building a squad out of a warcaster, some warjacks, and a number of troop units. These all have different abilities themselves, from spell casting to close combat. They’re all being brought from the tabletop to the videogame space, of course, but so there’s a lot of existing ideas. What we’re doing with the stretch goals is related to that. Our base goal was two factions, and the first stretch goal took us to four factions. One of the things we’re doing after that is adding in key characters from Warmachine that could play across any faction. Once we hit a later stretch goal, I think $1.35m, all those individual characters become their own factions. We’re working on adding all that as we go. All this is playable in multiplayer of course, but at the same time we’re building a single player story, so you can get a better taste of the lore that the game entails.

RPS: Can you go into a bit more detail on how the game works as a turn-based tactics experience?

Koottarappallil: So I can talk through this from the point of view of multiplayer, because single-player is very similar, but with much more story! We’re still figuring out some of the flow of this, but you’ll start choosing the server you want to play on, then there will be a match-making layer based on difficulty, and from there you can choose who you are going to fight, choose which squad you are going to use. There are three squad layouts you can have pre-planned, and once you jump in your can see the other guys three layouts. You can’t see what he’s going to choose, of course. This layout stuff is crucial of course – in the process before you play you can go in and customise your squad. You can say you want this warcaster, these warjacks, and then set colours and so on. You can create bonds between warjacks and their warcasters, which enhances them. There are a bunch of other customisations you can attach to your squad, too. You can obviously set your colours and all that from there. That’s a big part of the experience, and something you do outside of play. Once you’re in the game on one of the multiplayer maps, the match begins in turn-based fashion, deploying them in stage-setting. Cover is a big thing – characters have stealth for example. There are a lot of ways to hide. Because the characters are all so unique, there’s a lot of mechanics that they can employ. A lot of things we are going to see in this game that aren’t in typical games, and they come from how characters interact with each other. The way we handle melee combat is part of that. A lot of games don’t handle that well, you hit that guy, they hit you when it’s their turn. One of the things we’re doing is putting in the concept of striking the guy and moving on, so it’s a quick, glancing attack. One of the big emphases we have, cover and stealth aside, is making close combat dynamic. We want to move away from that thing where two characters are just pounding away on each other in the middle of the battlefield until one falls.

RPS: How much does that stuff lean on the design of the tabletop game?

Koottarappallil: Initially we thought we would be leaning on it a lot, we though we’d be to some extent cribbing its design. But we wanted to do something different, so we really just started with the design and letting it grow naturally into a videogame. A lot of the stats from the tabletop game, well it’s not a one to one translation, but you can expect the characters to have similar functionality. If a character is strong on the tabletop, he’s similar strong in game. But there are a lot of differences, like what I was saying about dynamism in melee, that’s only really true of the videogame. But there are things we’ve had to lose to make the videogame work, too, like damage to the warjacks. You can blow off parts of them in the tabletop game, but handling damage like that didn’t really work for the videogame version. There are other things too, like trying to hone it to be a genuinely competitive videogame, that changes how it plays, and has done since the start of this project.

RPS: Why do you think the Kickstarter has been so wildly successful? Obviously you’re not leaning on any real big PC gaming name nostalgia, so what is it?

Koottarappallil: I’ve been reading our comments section religiously, and we’re on Greenlight too, and I think those showed us that it was the fans of the tabletop game who carried us across the baseline for the Kickstarter goal. It was mostly down to those guys. Once something starts moving fast on Kickstarter it starts showing up on Kickstarter front page, and on news outlets. But because we also launched on Greenlight, we are also getting a lot of exposure from more traditional hardcore PC gaming communities: people are coming in because they are just excited about tactics games. I am a big consumer of tactics games myself, and I know there are not enough of these games. I play every single one I can get my hands on. Fire Emblem is the only game I own on my DS! We’re sating this need for PC gamers who like these kinds of games. And of course the IP is so cool, right? Magic soldiers, ninja nuns, big robots, it’s a perfect storm of cool stuff. But really the success has come down to the Warmachine fans, they’ve done incredible promotion for us, and I could never have expected that to mean so much, or for them to be so excited.

RPS: So what happens next?

Koottarappallil: One thing we have always wanted to do as a development studio is to stay close to the people who are fans of the game. Doing this via Kickstarter we’ve had loads of fan interaction, and we want to keep that going. Of course we’re heads down in development – everyone can see that we’re going to make it – but at the same time we’re not only going to have backer updates, we’re also going to build a proper development diary: the ugly stuff, the cool stuff. We want to show the guts of development, from making those levels to creating and testing the AI. We’re developing a format for that now, and it’s going to be a big thing for us. Anyone who is interested in game development will get something out of that. Of course the other side of all this is the normal business development stuff: sorting servers and so on. But also seeing what opportunities are out there for tactics-based games. We can take this to the world now.

RPS: And you’ll be finished by August 2014?

Koottarappallil: We think so. We’ve had a leg up in that we’ve had a few months of development, we have character models, and we’re also intimately familiar with the engine we’re using (Unreal). That was a big advantage for us. The year schedule sounds short, and it is, so we’re going to be busting a lot of ass to make that deadline, but it’s not unreasonable. We’ll get there, and it will have been worth it.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Warmachine Tactics is on Kickstarter.


  1. mwoody says:

    I can’t help but wonder what percentage of backers – myself included, at first – signed on thinking this was just a literal, digital transliteration of the tabletop game. I don’t like hearing about things like mech damage being removed; a computer version should be MORE complex, not less, since you don’t need to do the math yourself.

    • XhomeB says:

      Complain about it! They don’t have our money yet, we’re in a great position to make demands!

      • bstard says:

        These guys should rename to KoottarappallilSoft, that’s instant success. The game looks interesting, one to keep an eye on.

        • DanMan says:

          Yeah. The name. It looks like their grand parents thought “it’s still too short” – “then let’s just duplicate letters until it’s long enough”.

      • Branthog says:

        Agreed! I’ve given these guys $25 via Kickstarter and I want a drawing of a well-armored Corgi puppy from their development team NOW!

    • Zelos says:

      Absolutely, reading this made me a little worried :(

      I understand why it wouldn’t be a direct translation(impact on minis sales) but it shouldn’t be dumbed down. Make it deeper!

    • CletusVanDamme says:

      Have to agree.

      I don’t want a total translation of the tabletop game here, videogames let you do SO MUCH more mechanically than you can do on the table without the game becoming cumbersome. Why jack damage has been removed I have no idea, but yep, more complex as opposed to dumbed down is where I really want this to go, especially with the smaller “armies”.

    • squareking says:

      This is why I’m a little wary about backing this one. I mean, the XCOM reboot was great for what it was — a TBS game that needed to make money from today’s gamer (ugh) — but as a labor of love, these guys have the opportunity to make a deep title similar to JA2, or X-COM, or indeed the tabletop game. I was less wary to back the new Jagged Alliance, by comparison, because the guys made sure to talk up certain points I felt were important, like 1.13.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      I was thinking the same thing.

    • frightlever says:

      I wonder was the decision made based on the hassle of modelling damage to the 3D models, rather than any complexity.

      • Bull0 says:

        I think you might’ve hit on the answer there – they mentioned that they’re re-using assets from an older dev cycle. P’raps the jack models don’t lend themselves well to transformation, and they don’t want the expense of redeveloping them. Fun speculation, anyway. Funulation.

    • mrcalhou says:

      I backed this because I like tactics games, not because I had any knowledge of the IP; however, I really hope they don’t dumb the game down relative to the tabletop version. With regards to damaged parts, I recall other games have used that mechanic before, so I think the developers should clarify that point a bit more.

      • Reapy says:

        Definitely. What drove me to back it was love of tactics games as well (fe is the only game on my ds too!). I did not know warmachines but knew of it as an established tabletop game so assumed this would come pre packaged with a tested game design.

        I always wanted to play a tabletop war game but spending the money, fucking up the paint job, crafting a badass table, measuring out movement by the millimeter, rolling huge numbers of die, and learning several rule books are all barriers I do not want to overcome.

        A computer game lets me pick color schemes, have all my factions units to build as I will, keeps track of my points spent on my army, drops me in a detailed environment, shows me movement ranges accurately, and has tool tips and automatic rule enforcement…and finds me opponents 24×7.

        That is the dream of a tabletop to video game for me and the reason I’m in on the kickstarter. I don’t know if tabletop are supposed to be about the painting and finding of obscure game shops and going bankrupt, but I would like to see the purity of the game brought forward and the barriers torn down.

        • Zelos says:

          If you’ve got a DS for nothing but FE, I’d suggest trying out SMT: Devil Survivor. It’s an excellent TBS game. There’s a 3ds update/port of the first game called “devil survivor: overclocked” and a updateof the second is coming out soon.

          If you don’t have a 3ds, the original games are both on the standard DS.

          • Reapy says:

            Will take a look at it, thanks for the reference! I am not as into portable gaming so didn’t really shop around too much, just such a huge fan of fe I decided to dump all the money into the 3ds, which is also a very nice handheld. Plan to hand it off to my son when he is a touch older if it is still relevant.

    • Panzeh says:

      I think, as someone who plays the game(I presume you don’t play the tabletop game), that you have some degree of concern about how WMD might be interpreting the game, but the warjack crippling rules are not particularly important in skilled play. It’s basically a matter of luck of the draw whether something gets crippled(do the right boxes on the damage grid get ticked?), and one of the reasons warjacks are not particularly good buys in the tabletop game.

      I have a feeling that the game is scaled down to facilitate quicker games in online multiplayer, though I don’t know if it’ll take away from the depth. Full units on the tabletop tend to give a list way more margin for error, and perhaps with troopers being taken like solos, it’ll push the balance toward warjacks again, as in the tabletop, infantry is mathematically the best way to give and receive attacks due to the ability to get everyone boosted damage on charges and the model count advantage. Warjacks are more utilitarian in nature, and not often used in great numbers.

      • GM says:

        Appreciate the input, but that’s just an example.
        The broader point: they are NOT making a tactical game that people play and enjoy. The game people were interested in.

        They’re making a game inspired by it, but does not borrow the mechanics. Which is nice, but I have no reason to assume that random videogame designer will make a game that interests me.

        And almost every experience with past reimaginings of neat tabletop games has resulted in … well *really* mediocre games. (e.g. warhammer mark of chaos *cringe* )

        • Panzeh says:

          Warhammer fantasy was a really mediocre game itself so i guess the reimagining was right on target.

          Also the old dawn of war game(DoW1, anyway) was actually far superior to 40k at the time in depth in all respects.

          If you’re going to try to find mistranslated tabletop games, the reason people don’t copy 40k is because 40k/fantasy are awful games. I don’t think warmachine is an awful game but it doesn’t translate to a computer environment very well.

          • jadefalcon777 says:

            Agreed. I actually like the Dawn of War games a lot more than the tabletop version – most of the time the only annoyance I have is “Man, I wish so and so unit was in this…” But from what they’ve said on the kickstarter and website, they really want to add as many units and such as they can over time. And I can get behind that!

    • GM says:

      I just wanted to play the tabletop game on my PC.
      There is ZERO reason that they can’t do a 1-to-1 translation. Zero.
      I don’t want a Warmachine game for the fluff, I want the GAME.

      I’m going to go cancel my Kickstarter backing. Good luck to them, but I’m completely uninterested in another terrible videogame “reimagining” of a good tabletop game.

      (I registered just to leave this note. :/ )

      • Panzeh says:

        You can’t make a 1-1 translation because of pre-measuring, anyway, which you’d have to allow on the computer version, and it would change a lot of things knowing exactly what a unit’s threat range is.

        • GM says:

          1) You could remove pre measuring. That’s actually really easy to do. You just have a 3D rep of a field.
          2) You could add a small amount of variability to threat ranges. (less nice, but a direct compensation)

          • Panzeh says:

            Making a UI for the game that didn’t allow pre-measuring would be a nightmare and I think anybody who didn’t play tabletop games would probably get turned off right away. Besides, you could still just set the camera perfectly vertical and literally put a ruler up to your monitor.

          • GM says:

            This discussion is interesting, but the larger point isn’t that they are changing a few things to make the game fit the PC. They are making another game with unit analogues. There’s no pretense of recreating the tabletop game.

            That’s fine. But it’s not what I was interested in and it’s not what most people thought they were signing up for I bet.

          • Panzeh says:

            I don’t think anyone could have read the KS and believed that this was a 1:1 tabletop game, and even if they said that, any concessions would have made it not a 1:1 tabletop game. A change to the pre-measuring rules would make it not a 1:1 tabletop game. Such a change would do a lot to the game, which any player of the tabletop game would no doubt know.

            That is, unless they never played the tabletop game in the first place.

          • jadefalcon777 says:

            The back and forth here is interesting, but I’m inclined to agree with Panzeh. Also, I don’t honestly think PP would want a one-to-one version of the tabletop game. It would kind of compete with their core profit earning. They’d have to do some nonsense like charge for virtual models the way MTG’s online version does.

            I also haven’t seen anything in the information or press releases so far that makes me think “man, this is gonna suck.” Mind you, that’s not an indicator quality, but I think they can do a bang up job of it one way or the other. Regardless, you wanna cancel your kickstarter go ahead – it’s your prerogative. I just don’t think that a game designer stating that they changed some stuff in the transition from tabletop to videogame is enough to get all gloom and doomy.

      • belgand says:

        It is not nearly as nice, but you can always play via VASSL or the like. No rules enforcement (so as to require ownership of the rules), but it does solve a number of other problems and makes it easier to find opponents.

        While Privateer isn’t always the best, they generally do try to do right by their fans. Back when v2 came out they released a big file with all of the updated stats for all the existing figures for free on their site. No art or lore and the new units and such all needed to be purchased in faction books (as opposed to originally when they eschewed such GW-style nonsense and just had it all there in the manual), but at least you get full stats when you buy minis so the faction stats are more for planning purposes. Not to mention releasing a full version of the rules as well (again, no art or diagrams). It meant that if you wanted to you could proxy pretty much any unit released without paying them a cent. They were making some questionable choices elsewhere, but they also gave away far more than is common in the industry and without needing to be pressured into it.

  2. XhomeB says:

    “We love tactics games, XCOM…”

    Oh. None likes X-COM anymore? Everyone forgot about it all of a sudden? :(

    Aaanyway, the upcoming Space Hulk and the success of this Kickstarter is what we desperately needed for years. Great news.
    Honestly, someone please kickstart a sequel to Incubation already, boy, would that be glorious.

    … And WH40K Chaos Gate 2, Final Liberation 2 as well while you’re at it.

    • Zorn says:

      The only way to get over my Incubation addiction may be a kickstarter for an Incubation sequel.

  3. amateurviking says:

    SO hey I was just walking by here and I happened to catch a glimpse of the header image and, well damn if my pant elastic hasn’t vapourised just a little bit.

    I must have this game.

  4. wodin says:

    I backed it ..But it isn’t exactly what I would have liked it to be. I’d have preferred a bigger scale game with lots of units.

    Sill could be fun..I’ve been banging on now for two years about tabletop games being converted to the PC..but using the PC to enhance them..so lets see.

    Edit: WOW thats a big disappointment..sounds like no damage model for the warjacks..not sure why that can’t be done on a PC game??

  5. jadefalcon777 says:

    I kind of like the look of this – and I’m saying that as a tabletop player. Losing the ‘jack damage locations isn’t something I’m super happy about, but from the brief videos they’ve shown it seems like the important stuff (throwing ‘jacks about, lots of attack options) are still there. And it’s geared for lower-end systems, AND I can get my friends into the setting without making them spend ‘jillions of dollars on expensive metal models.

    I do like the sound of making melee combat fun and tying stealth into it – both of these are a big deal on the tabletop. I am curious to see how they translate Tabletop Units into Game Units – it looks like they’ll be using just the captain/lieutenant/etc. But the developers sound like they want to add tons of units and such through free updates, and I’m okay with that. It’ll give me a chance to play factions I couldn’t afford!

    All in all, I backed it and I’m hopeful. I like Privateer Press as a company on the whole, and it seems like they’re pretty involved with this.

  6. deadcatt says:

    Love Kickstarter. For years I have been looking for great turn based or NON RTS games to play, like the games I played while growing up. Good times to be a PC Gamer.
    Love to see a Kickstarter for Dark Sun or Ravenloft. That would be awesome.

  7. jadefalcon777 says:

    It’s also worth mentioning that the devs have been posting in the kickstarter comments. It’s worth a look to see how they’re responding to everything.

  8. bill says:

    I don;t know anything about the tabletop game. But decades of Warhammer games NOT following the tabletop rules has made me rather grumpy. So i’m not sure it’s a great idea for them to follow that path.

  9. Yosharian says:

    These guys put together a pretty amazing kickstarter video, I didn’t back this myself but I was very impressed with it.

  10. Mattrex says:

    WhiteMoon Dreams was originally designing a Warmachine game starting around 2009 that was a third-person God-of-War-looking action game with AI companions (the warjacks) that could be swapped to for direct control. In this game (featured in an E3 trailer in 2011, shown here: link to youtube.com), only one unit could be controlled at a time and it was all pretty generic real-time action game business. Incredibly disappointing.

    While the new Warmachine: Tactics being a bona fide turn-based strategy game, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but given that WhiteMoon Dreams’ first instinct was to design their game as one of the most generic and unimaginative genres, I have very little faith in their capacity as developers. They appear to lack boldness, ingenuity, and the courage of their convictions, and just as a God of War clone was chasing the fads in 2009, so too is creating a slimline “old-school” tactics game via Kickstarter chasing the fads in 2013.