I blame Tolkien. He wrote Orcs like football hooligans and so Games Workshop's idea of them actually playing football – albeit a version of American football where mutilations are encouraged – makes some sort of sense. The judgemental timer of Steam says I’ve played Blood Bowl more than a lot of other games in my library, more than plenty of games I play without having to complain about the interface, or the AI, or the fact you can’t turn the commentators off and turning their volume down banishes them only until you score a touchdown and then suddenly they’re back in your headphones and GRRR GORBAG SO CRANKY.
Blood Bowl is a game I love in spite of its flaws but find hard to recommend. Will Blood Bowl 2 remedy that? I spoke to Sylvain Sechi, project manager on Cyanide Studio’s Blood Bowl 2, to try to find out.
RPS: How far back does your personal history with Blood Bowl go? Did you play the board game?
Sylvain Sechi: I played it on I think the third or fourth edition with my cousin. Actually that was the very first miniature game I played from Games Workshop. We used to play it with my cousins and we were not really faithful to the rules back then because we were a bit young. When I got into Cyanide eight years ago it was as game designer on Blood Bowl 1. It was a small team. It was a really passionate project because Cyanide had already done Chaos League before. I don’t know if you heard about this game?
RPS: It was... very similar to Blood Bowl.
Sylvain Sechi: [laughs] Actually, the little story is we did not manage to get the IP from Games Workshop. They did not want at that time to share their licences with us. Since we were really eager to make the game we decided to do it even though we didn’t have the licence, so we created a new licence which was very similar to theirs.
When we shipped the game we had a really good success, and they were a bit unhappy because it was so close to Blood Bowl that they felt like we cheated their IP. We managed to find a deal where we said, “We’ll stop exploiting the Chaos League licence and we start exploiting the Blood Bowl licence with you.” Since Chaos League was very fun and did well, they were more than happy to work with us at this point. Since then we’ve been working with all their IPs in this manner. Now we’re working on more major IPs like Warhammer 40K: Space Hulk and this kind of stuff.
RPS: It comes with eight teams right out of the box, Blood Bowl 2? [Humans, Orcs, Dwarfs, High Elves, Dark Elves, Skaven, Chaos, and Bretonnians.]
Sylvain Sechi: Yes, that’s the idea. We still have not decided what will be the distribution for the next races. That’s also a big topic. Only eight races at ship, just like Blood Bowl 1. It’s a pity for players that have experienced Blood Bowl 1 because they bought the extension and with the extension they got up to 24 races, yet we wanted to improve a lot the quality of the races – much more detailed characters, and make sure we integrate more fully each skill for the races we have to add at some point.
I personally don’t like to milk players, I’m not keen on the extension package retail model, so we are discussing a lot about trying to sell players races individually, which will eventually I think cost much less for players because you don’t play with all races. Each of us we have two, three, four favourite races, some of which will already be in the Blood Bowl 2 original content. We’re still discussing it at this point, I hope we manage to do this one-purchase-per-race stuff.
RPS: Of those teams that come with the game there’s going to be a new team, the Bretonnians?
Sylvain Sechi: Yes. The Blood Bowl universe was shipped with a defined number of races, number of teams, and it took some time and some discussion with Games Workshop – you know we really use the licence. If you look at the miniatures they’re ’80s, they’re a bit old-school, and with Blood Bowl 1 we reworked the art direction of the IP and with Blood Bowl 2 we went even further.
RPS: The Bretonnians in Warhammer, they’re Arthurian knights but they’re also quite French. You’re French developers, was that an influence on the decision to include Bretonnians?
Sylvain Sechi: [laughs] There might be a bit of unconscious decision but no, it’s not on purpose.
RPS: Will Blood Bowl 2 be purely turn-based?
Sylvain Sechi: Yes! That also was a big decision for the team when we started the project. It’s actually two games [if] you want a cool real-time experience and a cool board game experience, that’s basically developing two games and it takes lots of resources and time and money to do that. We wanted for Blood Bowl 2 to really up the quality level of the game, we wanted a really finished, polished product, technically nice. We had to make some cuts and we eventually decided to cut the real-time mode only to focus on – I think that even though it’s the ‘hardcorest’ part of the game it’s also a much more fun part of the game and since we could not sacrifice this part, we did not want to sacrifice the turn-based, we had to make a choice: we either go full turn-based or full real-time. We decided to keep the full turn-based because we knew it was where Blood Bowl shines the most.
RPS: One of the things that made Blood Bowl 1 feel inaccessible was the interface. How have you gone about changing that?
Sylvain Sechi: I think that was a topic that we had the most changes on. Interface, where do I start? In-match, we wanted to have a more clean experience. Blood Bowl 1, through all the extensions and abilities that was added, we had a very clunky interface with lots of things that were around the screen. Lots of buttons, lots of feedback, lots of messages, lots of stuff. We decided to revamp everything from scratch.
One of the first things was that one of the most important [pieces of] information that you want in Blood Bowl is your player information. We created this player card, a bit like when we used to be trading soccer or American football cards, where you can find the skills, statistics, wounds you develop, all the information on your player on a little card that spawns when you click on a player. And when you confront a player you have these two cards that come together on the side of the screen so you can compare their stats. Lots of the interface goes through this card stuff, which I think is very friendly and it lightens the interface and yet gives you all the information you want. Also I think it really fits American football, from the IP point of view.
Something else we did is add lots of information and feedback on the pitch. Now when you want to move the player from one point and make a tackle and then pick the ball [up] and do a pass, you now get - at every point where you take a risk - a little feedback on the ground that shows you that you’re going to have a roll at this point, and at this point, and you’re going to make your last roll here.
RPS: They’ll be able to see step-by-step what’s going to happen and what’s likely to go wrong?
Sylvain Sechi: Yeah, more clearly. I think that’s important. On this aspect, in Blood Bowl 2 we have a campaign, a solo campaign that is divided into 15 matches. It’s story-based so you’re playing one team of Humans, the Reikland Reavers, and there is storytelling but basically we bring in rules. The tutorial is integrated into the campaign. As you play, rules appear one by one. You don’t get confused with all the rules at the beginning, so it might be a bit confusing for experienced players because they start the game and they say, “Why is there not Wounds?” We removed the Wounds on the first match and then it gets [introduced] on the second match, and then another gameplay rule gets inserted. For the seven first matches of the campaign we add rule after rule.
Hardcore players, they go very fast on these first matches and new players, they will really take time to learn the game rule by rule because – I mean, you know Blood Bowl. You know that if you look at the living rulebook where the rules are from, the one we are very faithful to, it’s a 60-page book. That’s kind of the failure we had in number one: we were expecting the player to learn this massive rulebook in a couple matches. It takes a bit more time.
RPS: What other features are new to Blood Bowl 2?
Sylvain Sechi: One of the biggest things we focused on was the league management. That was a very important part of the game for us because that’s what makes the community live and once again that’s the essence of Blood Bowl. And so we added lots of features regarding league management. You know, in Blood Bowl 1 some players were managing their own leagues out of the game. They had their own web application or whatever to create a league and say, “You’re going to play against him and you meet both at 11 o’clock the next day,” and they would bring all this stuff out of the game.
We thought it was a shame. We should, as the developer, provide the player the tools to do everything in the game, to have the rewards automatically given in-game, to give the players the ability to set entry fees for their league or give free tickets to players and so we did all this stuff. We added lots of league management options, like leagues can have boards of managers and they can share the management. I won’t say that we are the EVE Online of sport management because that would be a bit too much, but basically that’s the idea behind it.
RPS: Do you have a release date yet, can you talk about that?
Sylvain Sechi: I can talk about that all day but it will change in the end! The game has been put back because we wanted to add some more polish to the game. We had some bugs that we wanted to fix, some minor new features we wanted to add to the game before it ships, and so we had to push back the game and I think it will be around, let’s say, Q2 of next year, so between March and June of 2015.
RPS: Some fans of the previous version of Blood Bowl were put off by the different editions that were released. What would you say to those players about Blood Bowl 2 and why they should care about this new version?
Sylvain Sechi: We’re not aiming for this model. Like I said earlier, it’s not set. We might have another extension model, we might have a more simple extension model, like only one extension, and we might have some – I don’t like this word, but ‘downloadable content’ even though it won’t be just like that, it will be purchasing the races one by one. We’ll try to keep it one Blood Bowl 2 experience and not make the same mistake we made [by having] several Blood Bowl 1 experiences.
RPS: Thank you very much for talking to me.