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« on: October 26, 2014, 11:03:38 PM »

Original DO Developer insight story - posted on a forum discussing Creative Assembly (Total War) with Warhammer Licence



" Hi everyone,

 I was one of the two first designers on Dark Omen and thought I would add a little here.

 As a sequel to Shadow of the Horned Rat we were very much constrained by the original framework in making Dark Omen which clearly limited what we could do. We had also compiled a thorough product post mortem of SotHR (which was definitely the more rogue-like of the 2 games).

 I think one of the reasons Dark Omen is still held fondly in some peoples memories is that we really made an attempt to tell a story that a warhammer fantasy fan (and also a warhammer fantasy roleplay RPG fan) would appreciate and sprinkle nods to this throughout the story mode. I came from a pen and paper RPG background myself and wanted the campiagn game to capture some of the feel of what Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay had been like.

 Things like: Kramer & Krell, Bogenhafen, von Liebowtiz etc. We were also very lucky to have a very good working relationship with Games Workshop who essentially took the time to just kick around ideas and most importantly actually enjoy the creative process with us. Thus is many ways Dark Omen was a tour of old favourites and inclusion of as much varied content as we could cram into the story itself, every twist and turn was approved by GW and having such a good working knowledge of the Warhammer Fantasy background helped us greatly.

 We felt SotHR was a bit dry (fighting dwarves again? etc) so we brought as much variety to the battlefield as we could.

 We also tried to create some non-linearity into the campaign game allowing the choice of the 3 middle chapters to be played in any order with decision trees branching further within them. Not all of that made it into the final cut due to the usual management feature cutting that goes on, but I think a little of that flavour remains. The idea was that if you consistently made the wrong decisions then when you got to the final battle you would very little chance of success. However there were also non-critical decisions where you could forego a little time (making the end battle force stronger) in order to gather up some extra units or reinforcements.

 The dialog scenes (also a little cut from original plans) were also there to provide some fun moments rather than the usual clickthru kind of stuff (again intended to be with more options). Although fairly a simple mechanic it did alot to raise the game from SotHR and were generally well received especially the differences that were included via decision options. We had a hard time getting these approved by mgt because so much would effectively be unseen by the player on a single playthrough.

 The video sequences were also pretty drastically cut down by management due to the usual time saving etc (I think we took a 40% hit) but we really wanted them to assist the storytelling with the 'talking heads' mode.

 Anyway I just thought I would add my thoughts about it, GW told us for a long time afterwards that Dark Omen remained their most successful game (I think that was probably pre-Dawn of War 'Dark' Crusade though). The One thing we could never decide on was the name for Dark Omen as we had about 20 short listed, eventually we ran round every department (Marketing etc) to get a vote and Dark Omen won.

 Sadly Marketing turned down our deal of getting Christopher Lee to narrate the game as when presented with this replied to us 'Who is Christopher Lee?'

 I believe that despite the cuts to the game features that enough of the fun we had in the design of the game shines through in enough places to be remembered fondly by those that played it. Of course very much a product of its time and restricted by SotHR technologically. I personally look back at those design meetings and GW approval sessions (where we even snuck a few things past them) with a big smile on my face.

 Going forward I hope the new game will be more than 'Total Warhammer' - CA relationship with GW will be key of course and I can only say it really pays to get an excellent working dynamic together with designers and GW liaison. I am a firm believer with regards to the computer games biz 'if it's fun making the game, it's fun playing the game'.

Sadly the cuts to Dark Omen came during a difficult time for the first publisher and then moved to another and that mgt philosophy of cutting out about 40% out of any game design is still with us today (for the worst).

 I would like to add that I think the modding community did some great work on Dawn of War series I (particularly Dark Crusade) - when I mentioned some of these mods to GW they were totally unaware of them. Theres an historical reluctance to go too full on with computer gaming due to the potential detraction to their own sales - hence GW computer games not sold in their own stores etc. I would think though that the combined modding community enthusiasm from both franchises should be something to embrace.

 Although I found the DoW series II games quite fun, they werent what I was expecting at all and lost the sense of epic.

 I think we all saw the trailer for Mark of Chaos and went 'wow' but that's where it ended.

 And I wont even mention Space Marine.

 GW / Warhammer is a tricky license to work with for sure which is why I mention that getting the relationship right there is essential. Certainly the Creative Assembly Warhammer game has every reason to be something amazing that fans of both franchises will love. So long as it's not knocked out quick and Sega dont let anyone 'do a Gearbox' on them again."


and back in Nuln, the ageing Graf Berhardt smiled his secret smile of pride whenever he heard the latest tales of his eldest son's ever growing chain of glorious victories -(sothr manual)
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« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2014, 12:11:41 AM »

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« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2014, 10:10:00 AM »

Interesting. Cheesy
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« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2014, 11:22:49 AM »


For me, Dark Omen was my first real time strategy game and this really sounds interesting Smiley

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« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2015, 12:07:51 PM »

I do hope CA give us a quality Warhammer game.

something like Dark Omen story wise, just with next gen graphics and physics.

I think thats all we want, is someone to do the Warhammer license justice.
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« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2016, 12:07:26 AM »

PC Zone Magazine Issue 060 1998 ->

DARK OMEN. YOU MAY RECALL. IS A 3D-a-licious real-time military strategy game based on Games Workshop's ever-popular Warhammer tabletop series. And it's from Mindscape. Er, not. No, the entire project (complete with programming team) is now under the wing of the gargantuan Electronic Arts. Just to confuse the matter further, it's actually being worked on at the Bullfrog building in Guildford. With a spinning head and growing sense of confused disorientation, your faithful correspondent arrived in said sunny location, met project leader Nick Goldsworthy, and sat down for a bit of a natter and that...

PC Zone: So what's going on then? Dark Omen used to be a Mindscape project. What's it doing here? Nick Goldsworthy: Well, we [Electronic Arts] had a new director of development joining us - he'd previously been head of R&D at Mindscape. He came over here and took over UK development. We were looking for a new project, when we got an offer from Mindscape to sign up Dark Omen and publish it as an EA game. We were also given the chance to buy their development team from them. They were on a strict deadline to get the game out, so we thought, 'let's buy the project and the team, then we can bring them here and give them more lime to get the game finished'. We've got a strong publishing record here, a better distribution network, we've got in-house audio and video artists, so we can put a lot more polish on this product.

PCZ: Sounds a bit like a football transfer really. Were the team relieved to suddenly find themselves with more time to complete the game?

NG: Well, yeah. They were pleased about it. Mindscape were looking to close down some areas, so I think the team was quite happy to still have jobs.

For the uninitiated, a brief history lesson: Dark Omen is actually the second game to be based on the Games WorkshopWarhammer licence. The first release, Shadow of the Homed Rat, was extremely faithful - some might say too faithful - to the official Warhommer rulebook. Many elements - such as cannons which randomly backfire, killing half your troops - work well in a tabletop battle involving painted figurines, dice, rulers and a couple of your most bearded mates, yet simply serve as an irritant in the context of a fast-moving computer game. For Dark Omen, the team have been given permission to bend the rules in the interests of smooth, immediate and much more satisfying gameplay.

And when Nick mentions polish, he isn't kidding. Since PCZone last had a gander at the game, Dark Omen has been
given a full-on presentational makeover. The result: a once good-looking title now looks absolutely great, as you can see. Aside from some truly incredible FMV sequences (which for once actually hold the attention of the viewer rather than have them reaching for the 'skip' button), the game oozes quality from every pore. Even the menus are pretty The game itself is even better.

What we have here is a very slick-looking piece of Tolkien-esque armed conflict, with immense battles played out on a sumptuous 3D landscape (there's a wide variety of different terrain) which the player can zoom and rotate throughout the game. The troops are faithful recreations of the original Warhammer figurines, there are plenty of pyrotechnics (courtesy of an unusual particle effect system) and more nail-biting strategic manoeuvres than you'll find in the back row of a cinema during a weekend midnight performance. All in real-time.

Zone sat and watched as Nick and a colleague indulged in a brief two-player skirmish to demonstrate some of the game's finer points. It's clear that besides using a complex strategy title. Dark Omen is also refreshingly bizarre. Aside from hulking great Tree-men (they don't live in the trees - they are trees) and loopy magical spells (one of which features a decidedly Monty Python-esque gigantic green foot, which suddenly looms into view and stomps upon all and sundry), there are laughs-a-plenty to be had with the living dead (entire armies of rotting corpses scrambling out of the ground then lining up in formation to do your bidding), a magic sword which causes an enemy's brain to explode, and the occasional innocent civilian running round on fire. There's also true line-of-sight (a la Total Annihilation] an unfolding storyline in single-player mode. Yum! Yum!.

Smack my pitch up

PC Zone: Let's say our readers have the attention span of a gnat, and are flipping through the magazine with an air of slack-jawed detachment. What soundbite could you give in order to convince them to pay attention to Dark Omen?

NG: Well, for one thing, we're all real games players here. When we took on this project we said: 'Okay, we've got an
extra six months - let's not rush it, let's play-test all the levels and make sure we get it right'. A good sign is that even though they've been working on it for a while, people here are playing it in their lunchbreaks and in the evening. The
Bullfrog testers came down and asked for a copy so they could play too. You know you're onto a good thing if you've got people actually wanting to play it in their spare time.

PCZ: That's it? Come on, give us a real
sales pitch.

NG: A sales pitch from a development person? Okay... If you want something that looks beautiful, with great graphics and audio, and that's also extremely addictive, then Dark Omen is for you. Developers always say that sort of thing. Except this time it's, you know, true. I don't think there's anything else quite like this. You've got the adventure in there, it's very easy to pick up and play We spent three months fine-tuning the control interface, trying out different combinations until we got it just right. We're trying to focus not just on the hobbyists, we want the game to have a wide appeal. We've put a lot of effort into it. It's good.

Release Date: February 98

« Last Edit: February 05, 2016, 12:21:21 AM by olly » Logged

and back in Nuln, the ageing Graf Berhardt smiled his secret smile of pride whenever he heard the latest tales of his eldest son's ever growing chain of glorious victories -(sothr manual)
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« Reply #6 on: August 27, 2023, 09:55:47 PM »

Nick Tresadern original Dark Omen artist who then worked on Shogun Total War.


"Warhammer: Dark Omen" (1998) - sprites
On "Warhammer: Dark Omen" I created all the unit/monster sprites for the game, of which many of them are shown in this image. They were created in 3DS Max (v1.0!), animated in 3DS MAX too, then rendered out as sprites, compositing their shadows underneath the characters.
I also wrote a tool (on the office's old Amiga) that played back the sprites' looping animations whilst allowing the user to edit them in real-time, so that if the animated sprites revealed that some pixels were flashing on and off in a distracting way, the user could paint them out and confirm immediately that the edits fixed the glitch without having to check them in-game.

* nick-tresadern-do-sprites.jpg (121.7 KB. 500x603 - viewed 121 times.)

Warhammer: Dark Omen was mostly developed at Mindscape UK, then when Mindscape folded the game was picked up by EA and finished off there.

« Last Edit: September 17, 2023, 08:23:05 PM by olly » Logged

and back in Nuln, the ageing Graf Berhardt smiled his secret smile of pride whenever he heard the latest tales of his eldest son's ever growing chain of glorious victories -(sothr manual)
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« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2023, 10:09:40 PM »

Great interview with Richard Leinfellner


TRANSKRIPT: Dark Omen / Shadow of the Horned Rat: A Conversation with Richard Leinfellner

This interview was conducted by Gunnar Lott in June 2020 over VoIP. It was edited by Christian Schmidt and transcribed by Anym, a member of the Stay Forever community.

Stay Forever: Hello, I am Gunnar Lott of Stay Forever. My interview partner today is Richard Leinfellner, a veteran of the British games industry. He worked for Palace Software and Mindscape and Bullfrog and Electronic Arts as a programmer, producer and in management. Later, he ran Babel Media, a giant outsourcing provider for the games industry. Many thanks for agreeing to be on the show, Richard!

Richard Leinfellner: Happy to be here!

Stay Forever: So, let’s talk about Shadow of the Horned Rat. That game was published in 1996. Take me back to that time! What was your job like at Mindscape? What was the world like?

Richard Leinfellner: Yeah, basically I was running the software development department in the UK for a large US company called Mindscape. The whole department starts off doing conversions, so we used to take American software like Wing Commander and convert it to British systems or we’d do localisation, but we also started doing our own projects and the team really wants to work on their own projects, not just other people’s work. So it really came out of the team wanting to do their own things. And originally we were working on SNES and SEGA Genesis, but PC really started taking off, especially as DirectX started. So, we had a bunch of real Warhammer freaks working at the studio. Jeff Gamon was a massive Warhammer player and he ended up being the lead programmer, really, really good guy. And there’s also Steve Leney who was our lead artist and he was a massive Warhammer fan and I knew nothing about Warhammer at all. I was the producer and we just started talking about what we wanted to do next and they said: “Oh, we’d love to do a Warhammer game.” Then I set about the logistics of actually getting a license. They are quite a protective company. I was very lucky that I met two top guys there. I mean “top” not just in terms of seniority, they’re such nice people, a guy called Andy Jones and another guy called Phil Gallagher. And Phil was in charge of licensing and Andy was kind of the – it’s hard to put – he was kind of the go-to person for everything where you didn’t know where to go to and we went up to see them and we pitched them and we said: “Hey, we want to do this game.” And that was really it!

Stay Forever: Ah, it can’t have been that easy!

Richard Leinfellner: Well, it wasn’t easy, because the initial reaction was: “Well, we’ve never done this; we only ever do our own stuff! We are wary of video games.” Because they saw video games as – if people are playing a video game, they are not playing their game. So there was a little bit of apprehension, because to them it’s not just a game, to them they refer to it as “the hobby”. It’s an entire hobby. So, everything from playing the game to painting the pieces and it was just a totally holistic experience for them. So they couldn’t quite see how a game that would just focus on the game would fit into that. But we had quite a few meetings with them. I think we gradually put their fears to rest. One of the stipulations of the deal was, we all had to spend a day at their headquarters in Nottingham and we basically had to play their games, so everyone that was going to be on the team had to play the game, including the management, including me. They walked us through the different characters. They showed us how the models are made. We got a really full-on becoming-part-of–extended-family experience with them, which was really nice. You know, a lot of licensors just want to see the money, really. And they were really wanting us to do a good job, if you know what I mean. So it was easy, because very few people approached them, but it was also difficult, because the biggest difficulty was convincing the US company to do it. So, actually my biggest difficulties wasn’t really Games Workshop, my biggest difficulties was the management back over in California, Novato.

Stay Forever: Was Warhammer at that time a British thing?

Richard Leinfellner: Entirely, entirely. I think they had a couple of licensed outlets in the States. This is before the Internet, so you can’t just google it! So, we’d have to say: “There’s this store in San Francisco, this place, you can go and have a look at it.” That was it! They physically had to go there, you couldn’t just google it! So, a lot of persuading had to be done that this was really a thing, because they were used to doing big licenses. So, it was seen as a quaint British thing for them.

Stay Forever: So, they were essentially humouring you.

Richard Leinfellner: Well, there is a degree of that, because having worked for American companies pretty much my working life, there’s very much a not-made-here syndrome, if it’s not made in America, it always seen as being second class. They think we don’t understand the market, we don’t understand the culture, we don’t understand the football and it’s the same pretty much in Japan as well! But we persevered and we got it through.

Stay Forever: Was this part of a grander plan, so of a multiple games license or was it just tipping the toes in the water?

Richard Leinfellner: I think we had to option to do a sequel, so there was always the possibility of doing a sequel.

Stay Forever: Andy Jones, whom you already mentioned, was involved. Was he a liaison from Games Workshop?

Richard Leinfellner: He was, largely. So, I dealt with Phil on the commercial side, so the licensing agreement and the deals and Andy was the day-to-day approvals person. We had to get everything approved by them. Every single graphic had to be approved. They gave us loads of reference. There were so good! They wanted us to do a really good job, so we got loads of kits and we got all the models we needed. They were fantastic to work with, really generous with their time, especially Andy! So, he played the game. He wasn’t just sitting back, but for a large part, they let us get on with it, really. I think they accepted we knew what we were doing.

Stay Forever: Mindscape and Mindscape as a developer had no experience with that type of game.

Richard Leinfellner: No, but one of the companies that Mindscape acquired quite early on was a company called SSI. They used to do things like Panzer General. They had an understanding of the RTS market. SSI was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mindscape and actually what happened really was the management of SSI running the development of Mindscape.

Stay Forever: So, you had somebody to go to for technology or for design or for just a general feel for a strategy game?

Richard Leinfellner: Not really. To be honest, my methodology in those days was just not to get on the radar, so we don’t get cancelled. A lot of times, we showed them what we had to show and tried to just get through the day without getting cancelled. If you’re an executive at a video game company, your biggest threat is always… a lot of people think the threat is external competition, but if the company is big enough, your biggest threat is the person in the next office or the person across the water, who wants your budget.

Stay Forever: Especially when you’re in a faraway land and the management is in the US.

Richard Leinfellner: Exactly and it’s not seen as their baby. Say for example it is very successful; they don’t get credit for it. So, there’s a degree of that.

Stay Forever: What was your role exactly? So, you were the head of the team and the producer, but you are also credited for programming?

Richard Leinfellner: Yeah, so my background is programming, but it turns out I was quite good at management and the reason I was credited with programming is that I was probably the best bug fixer inside Mindscape in the UK, so when there was a nasty bug, they’d come to me and went: “Richard, this keeps crashing…” And then I’d sit down and figure it out, so I introduced some systems like memory management and stuff like that. This is the biggest thing we ever built. So, if you build something really big, you have to think differently. It is not just a cartridge which is 8K or 16 whatever. It is a massive thing with loads of assets. So, I did some of the systems, did a lot of the bug fixing, but it’s also the time, actually, I sat in an office one day after just fixing a really nasty bug and feeling really good with myself and I said to myself: “I have to stop doing this.” Because if I’m programming, it’s just me having a reserve parachute in case I fail at producing, because I can always go back to programming, if I’m a failed producer. So, that day I actually deleted my C compiler and I stopped programming and I no longer fixed bugs for people, so that’s when I decided to become a business person, really.

Stay Forever: A business person, yeah. But that’s hard to let go, the skills that brought you there!

Richard Leinfellner: Guess what I’m doing now, I’m back to my hobby: programming! Right? What goes around comes around. It’s in the blood.
« Last Edit: September 17, 2023, 06:24:48 PM by olly » Logged

and back in Nuln, the ageing Graf Berhardt smiled his secret smile of pride whenever he heard the latest tales of his eldest son's ever growing chain of glorious victories -(sothr manual)
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« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2023, 06:16:23 PM »

Stay Forever: How did you go about the technology? I read things about Silicon Graphics.

Richard Leinfellner: To be honest, everything was home-built. We built everything directly onto the GDI graphics subsystem. Silicon Graphics, that was the Nintendo 64 days, when they told you to program on Nintendo 64, you needed to have a Silicon Graphics machine. Do we spend 250K on two of them? No! One of them was 250K. And literally within a year it was propping open a door. It was totally the worst money we ever spent. But no, we didn’t use those. We didn’t use them for that. We just used the usual tools. I think it was Microsoft C or something.

Stay Forever: I feel it’s a strong difference if you play this game having played Warhammer before or not. You see this in the reviews from the time, where you had editors reviewing it who had never played Warhammer before and were totally confused by: “Wut, my unit’s gonna run?! What is this psychology thing?!”

Richard Leinfellner: Yeah, I know: the routing thing! That was actually one of the things we had major meetings over, about the routing behaviour, because in the game you have to show that actually happening. And the player is going: “Don’t run away! Don’t run away! What can I do to stop you running away?” Well, no, you can’t do anything about it. I think one of my reviews started off with: “I really don’t like this sort of game!” And I way like: “Why are you reviewing it? Find somebody who does!” It’s like me saying: “I’m going to have a cheeseburger, but I don’t like cheeseburgers.” You know, reviews are reviews. But we did try to make it. So, the biggest conversations with Games Workshop were we wanted to make it more like a video game and they wanted to make it more like a tabletop game.

Stay Forever: I feel many decisions feel to have fallen on the tabletop side. I feel it’s very faithful and it feels very realistic because Warhammer in a way, even if it’s tabletop game, feels realistic, but it doesn’t feel that video-game-y and I feel that has hurt its reception.

Richard Leinfellner: Well, yes, and the reality is that I don’t think the US company got behind it. I don’t think they spent any marketing money on it. I think we did respectably. We did well enough to commission the sequel.

Stay Forever: Can you give a concrete example of this design process, this back and forth between video game and tabletop?

Richard Leinfellner: Well, one specific example comes to mind. This is kind of a weird thing, we had this discussion: How do you go around things? Because you don’t have this problem in the tabletop game, because you don’t have to worry about the physical space as much and of course in a video game, you have to go around things, you have to follow things, so these little units have to make their own decisions, because you can’t control everything! So a lot of it was really to do with how do we control this and how do you issue orders. This is probably the bit where we spent the most time thinking: Tabletop isn’t going to work! This just isn’t going to work! We need a different way of doing this! I think the navigation was a specific example, because you never have navigation in the tabletop version. And of course, when you’re doing a quasi-3D game, it’s all about navigation. If your units are milling around doing stupid things, it looks rubbish! They have got to move with purpose!

Stay Forever: Why the decision to make it real-time?

Richard Leinfellner: Well, it’s quasi-real-time. It’s actually turn-based under the hood. And it was purely commercial. It’s a real-time strategy game, RTS. There was a feeling if this wasn’t real-time it would bomb in the States.
Stay Forever: The tabletop game is about resources in terms of points. By losing a unit, I lost 500 of my 2000 points, whatever. But the computer game is essentially about time, because it’s my time as the decision maker. I cannot give every unit the perfect orders, because I’m so pressed for time, switching around everything. I cannot guide this unit carefully around this ravine or this pass, because I have to help with another fight. This makes the strongest departure from the tabletop.
Richard Leinfellner: Yeah, I think that was really deliberate, because at the end of the day, it is a computer game. We set out to make a fun computer game, not necessarily to make the world’s most faithful Warhammer game.

Stay Forever: It was pretty faithful for that.

Richard Leinfellner: It was, but we are skirting this, because we wanted it to feel real-time. Under the hood, it is still turn-based. It’s just we hide that.

Stay Forever: The German press called it a “battle simulator”, which I feel is a very fair description. Who was the target audience in your mind? Was it existing Warhammer fans?

Richard Leinfellner: Yeah, it was pretty much existing Warhammer fans. If I’m going to target somebody else, then don’t buy the license. The license cost money, you know. Yeah, we were targeting Warhammer fans.

Stay Forever: But sometimes licenses provide nice background material.

Richard Leinfellner: Nyah, here with my commercial hat on: Yes, but for the amount of money the license cost, I could employ lots of good artists. The license is what we call “pre-sold”. What it means is you have name recognition when you go in the store. Obviously the content is really good and they had loads of content and we used a lot of it, but the real license is really name recognition, because otherwise it could just become another RTS from a studio you’ve never heard of.

Stay Forever: And there were many RTSes coming at that time.

Richard Leinfellner: Exactly, there was a lot of RTSes.

Stay Forever: We touched this briefly when talking about the reviews. The game felt unforgiving to many of them.

Richard Leinfellner: Yeah, it was seen as very hard.

Stay Forever: I feel part of it is that people were unfamiliar with the routing and the psychology and everything, but part of it is it is really hard. The game doesn’t give you much replenishing of resources.

Richard Leinfellner: It doesn’t and that’s a common problem when you don’t have enough time to test a game. The reality is, when you’re building a game, you never play the whole game. You play the bits you’ve just coded or the bits you’ve just worked on. So, you’re basically playing the game in these little chunks and you think: “Oh, that little chunk is OK, that’s not too difficult.” The only time you can really play the whole game is at the end which is of course when you have major pressure to ship it. To be honest, if you really want a beautifully balanced game, you need to sit on it for two or three months. So, yeah, I’d say any game like that, unless you have a lot of experience, you are going to make it too hard.

Stay Forever: Was this toned down, the difficulty, in a subsequent patch or another version?

Richard Leinfellner: If we did a patch, it wouldn’t have been how we would have done that, because there wasn’t really any way of patching things. I think you’ll probably find the community patched it.

Stay Forever: I have something in the back of my head that was like the last battle was described as unwinnable and I felt it pretty easy and I feel I read something like: “Oh, this was because you played the other version.”

Richard Leinfellner: OK, it is possible, because don’t forget: This is really before the Internet came. If we patched it, we would have just issued new masters and then you would have had maybe 10,000 units go out with one level and the next 10,000 would be the next level.

Stay Forever: How successful was the game in the end? Do you know numbers?

Richard Leinfellner: It wasn’t a runaway hit. We had a good amount of critical acclaim. Reviews were mixed, but the good reviews were very good and it was seen as we’ve learned what we’re going to do with the first one, now let’s really do the proper job on the second one, Dark Omen. So to get anything green-lit for a sequel, you have to be successful, so we definitely hit the minimum bar. Also, don’t forget, Games Workshop love it! They absolutely loved it! So at this point, suddenly, a lot of the things we were saying to make it more game-y, they were saying: “Yes, we agree with you, you were right!” The relationship just really grew and then the US kind of got on board a bit, so we thought we were really going to nail it with Dark Omen.

Stay Forever: Dark Omen, ❤. What did you have to do with the game? You went to EA/Bullfrog?

Richard Leinfellner: Oh, no, no, no, no. I started Dark Omen with Mindscape and I left about a year into development, about half-way through development. I was headhunted by EA and I went to EA. When I was at EA, they had a problem with Bullfrog. So I took over running half of Bullfrog, so I took over Populous III for example. At that point, EA needed a hit, sorry, Bullfrog needed a hit, because they bought the company on the premise of that it’s going to be a hit factory and they hadn’t shipped anything. So I was talking to Les Edgar who was Peter’s business partner and Peter had left by then, Peter Molyneux had left by then. And we talked about how to make hits and I said: “Well, what’s your most successful game?” And he said: “Well, Theme Park!” I said: “It’s really obvious, just do a sequel to Theme Park.” And Les said: “Well, that’s a really good idea, Richard, a bit obvious, but nobody wants to work on this.” So I said: “I tell you what, Les, if I find a team to do that game, could I hire the team?” And Les said: “Yeah, if you find a team to do a Theme Park, absolutely, you can hire the entire team.” So I went to E3 and I was walking down the corridor and you know a guy called Kevin Bachus? Kevin is a friend of mine. So, I was chatting to Kevin and I said to Kevin: “I’d love to get my old team back, because they would do this for me.” They would actually do this game for me. I wanted them to do Theme Park World or a Theme Park sequel. So Kevin just says: „Go and talk to Chuck at SSI!” He was now running development, so now all of the studios reported to him and he was still at Mindscape obviously, so I just went to the SSI booth, and I left Mindscape on good terms so I said to Chuck: “I don’t suppose you got ten minutes for a chat?” And Chuck said: “Yeah, I’ve got ten minutes.” So I sat down with him and I literally made this up on the spot, I had no plan, I said to him: “What about, Chuck, here’s the deal, you let me out of my ‘no hire, no compete’ clause in my contract, so I can hire my old team, so I will take the whole team from the UK to EA, I will take Dark Omen over to EA, so we’ll buy Dark Omen from you and we’ll cut you a check next week, we’ll just give you cash.” I should point out I had no authority to do this deal, at all. Schnapsidee, right? So Chuck goes: “That’s interesting, let’s talk some more.” Because I knew at that point they were thinking of closing the UK office down anyway, because they couldn’t manage it, they didn’t have anyone really running it. So, I phoned Les and said: “Hey, Les, you know you said I could hire a whole team?” He goes: “Yeah?” I said: “Well, what if I just bought a game, but it comes with my entire team from Mindscape and we get to publish the game and we get the team that makes us Theme Park World.” He goes: “Well, that’s OK.” “Can I have two million dollars please, next week?” “Yeah, that’s doable.” So, basically, I stayed over a bit longer, did the deal with SSI. Part of this would be that we would transition the whole team to EA, they would finish Dark Omen, EA would ship Dark Omen and they would become EA employees or Bullfrog employees. So that’s why Dark Omen ended up at EA, because I bought it.

Stay Forever: That’s a nice story.

Richard Leinfellner: But it gets funnier. About a year later, I got a phone call from SSI and they said: “You know Dark Omen?” “Yeah?” “We’d like license it back, to put on a compilation,” because they were doing very well with these compilation packs, “we’d like Dark Omen on the compilation.” “Yeah, that will cost you two million dollars.” So I got my money back as well.

Stay Forever: Oh, they paid two million dollars to put Dark Omen on compilations?

Richard Leinfellner: Yeah, we got a royalty from it as well. So, it was really quite a sweet deal. There you go, that’s the scoop!

Stay Forever: That’s nice! Do you have any opinion on how Dark Omen turned out? To frame it from my side, I feel it’s the game that Shadow of the Horned Rat wanted to be and I would so have liked to see Shadow of the Horned Rat with the Dark Omen engine because I feel Shadow of the Horned Rat is the more mature game in storytelling, but the systems are sometimes not as well thought out or tested out as Dark Omen’s.

Richard Leinfellner: Yeah, every time we do the second one, we get better. You’ve learned from the first one, right? So the team was better. The other thing is EA had really good resources. I mean, they spent a lot of money on development. If we needed stuff, it was like: “OK, what do you need?” So, we suddenly had a lot more resources and we had a really good marketing team as well. They got behind it, so it was just really quite a different experience. We thought about doing another one, because we got quite good at this, but then Bullfrog had so many IPs and we were now EA/Bullfrog people. So, it seemed silly paying for an IP when you’ve got a stable of IPs you can just have for free.

Stay Forever: Who did the main game design for both games? Who conceived this game as a series of battles of a mercenary force? That’s unusual!

Richard Leinfellner: I would say it’s probably Jeff Gamon and Steve Leney. They were the real drivers behind this. I will totally put up my hands: I’m not a Warhammer fan. Design was their baby.

Stay Forever: So the main design ideas of how this game was structured and so came from the source material, essentially, by fans.

Richard Leinfellner: Yes, it did. They were massive, massive fans. I never felt like I could tell them anything about how to make a Warhammer game. They knew far more than I ever did.

Stay Forever: But they were not game designers. You handed game design to a programmer and an artist.

Richard Leinfellner: I come from a time when there were no game designers, there were just programmers. The evolution of video games: In the beginning there were programmers, then along came art, then came – I suppose – production and then very later on in life came designers. It’s one of those evolution things. To be honest, to have somebody come in with the title designer, people go: “Who the hell is that person?” We all design the game, there’s not just one designer.

Stay Forever: Very nice. Do you know how successful this game was?

Richard Leinfellner: Yeah, it did pretty well. EA was very happy with it. I can’t remember the exact numbers. And what was really amazing about this, is of course now they knew they had a team that could deliver. And that meant I got the budget to do Theme Park World and Theme Park World did spectacularly well.

Stay Forever: And that worked out for you. So, the team went straight over with no losses, no people quitting?

Richard Leinfellner: No, no, I told them exactly what the plan was. I’ve known these people for almost my entire life. I made it absolutely clear there’s a real purpose to you being here. Stage one is ship Dark Omen, stage two is doing Theme Park.

Stay Forever: I believe I visited the studio, because we did a preview for a games magazine on Theme Park World.

Richard Leinfellner: It looked like the cooling towers in Aliens, right?

Stay Forever: Yeah! That was very nice! Thank you very much! I won’t take up more of your time. If you have a parting anecdote to share… ?

Richard Leinfellner: I tell you what’s most amazing is, people still remember these games and that’s always just amazing to me. I even talk to people who are still running Populous III. I was playing a Populous III game online with people like six months ago! It got totally annihilated by the way. And you think: “God, this has been such a long time ago and it’s just amazing, people still love it.” You suddenly feel it’s not just about money. You’ve really touched people’s lives. And that’s really heart-warming, actually.

Stay Forever: I feel people who love Dark Omen, loved it very much, very, very much. Like I did! I played it dozens of times. And as you told, it’s still running. People are making mods for it and everything. It’s really well loved.

Richard Leinfellner: It is good, it is good. It is kind of a form of art. It’s nice to be appreciated like that.

and back in Nuln, the ageing Graf Berhardt smiled his secret smile of pride whenever he heard the latest tales of his eldest son's ever growing chain of glorious victories -(sothr manual)
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« Reply #9 on: November 05, 2023, 10:24:39 PM »

Great read, thanks for sharing!
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