THQ’s Haugaard on reclaiming the Space Marine

By Nathan Grayson, Wednesday, 22 June 2011 11:48 GMT

Space Marine’s name isn’t doing it any favors, but is it more than meets the eye? Honestly, not really. But believe us: that’s a good thing. After a short demo, Relic’s Morten Haugaard told us why.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Third-person action shooter where you kill the shit out of bad people.

Made by Relic.

That’s pretty much it.


Coming to PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 in September of 2011.

Space Marine won’t convince Ebert that games can be art. It won’t inspire Smart People to go off and do Smart Things. It’s not a revolution – nor does it try to be. And that’s key, because heartbreaking works of staggering genius are nice and all, but after a long day at the office, you don’t want to contemplate the nature of humanity presented metaphorically as a platformer starring bunnies. You want to shoot dudes. Mean dudes. Mean dudes who were born – nay, spawned into existence – for the sole purpose of playing Greedo to your Han Solo .

That’s pretty much Space Marine in a nutshell, except it also has a chainsaw sword that is absolutely delightful. It just feels… right. During our short demo, we piloted our man tank ever forward, shooting and hacking and slashing and eviscerating everything that moved – and that was the game. It was a bloodbath plain and simple, but oddly refreshing in its straightforwardness. Afterward, we sat down for a quick chat with global brand director Morten Haugaard. He even let us keep our entrails, which is something we’re fairly happy about.

VG247: Given the number of games that all but knock it unconscious and steal its space pants, Warhammer 40k’s still a bit of a fringe videogame franchise. Do you think Space Marine has the potential to help the license shed its “geeks-only” label?

Morten Haugaard: We’ve always had the Dawn of War RTS franchise on PC, which is pretty niche. Space Marine is our attempt to bring the Warhammer 40k series to the console games – to the PS3 and Xbox 360 guys. To really get them excited about this rich, deep universe they might not have seen before.

Are you of the opinion that an RTS like Dawn of War simply wouldn’t work on consoles?

I mean, it’s a whole different control scheme. RTSes are traditionally keyboard-and-mouse, and that seems to work better on PC. But you never know; there could be an RTS that works really well on console. But with Space Marine, we’re going for that mix of ranged combat you see in third-person action shooters and melee combat that you might see in brawlers like Darksiders.

So basically, you’re all about killing mountains of dudes with weapons that do everything short of firing mountains. Which is great. It seems like every other shooter these days feels the need to incorporate some fun-incinerating gimmick. Motion controls, squad commands, etc. Do you think gamers are starved for a shooter that’s quick and simple?

Gamers are looking for cool gameplay experiences. Whether that’s an RPG mechanic or if it’s something like Space Marine – where it’s all about shooting guys and hacking them with your chainsword, watching the blood fly – it’s all about that cool gameplay experience.

I mean, with Space Marine, we looked at motion control, but decided not to go that route because we wanted to get a more traditional sort of gameplay experience. But I mean, you look at controllers: they used to have just one button on them. You look at the old Atari 2600 one-button four-way directional, and now you’ve got dual analog sticks and six-to-eight buttons. So who knows what the future’s going to hold for motion control games?

“We really want to take back and own what a space marine really means.”

But with Space Marine, we wanted to get a great shooting and melee system, and we felt the controller interface worked better for that. You really get that sense of momentum – like you’re a seven-foot-tall, two-ton power armor guy just charging into combat.

So are you even aiming to have much of a plot here?

Yeah, I mean, you’re controlling Captain Titus of the Ultramarines. The Ultramarines are the flagship chapter. They wrote the book on how combat works in the 40k universe. So we’re really trying to tell a cinematic story with this. Mark Strong’s doing the voice of our main character. He’s also in the Green Lantern movie. We’re really trying to get a blockbuster Hollywood feel to the campaign.

Space Marine’s obviously a big step outside Relic’s normal box. Now that you’re past most of the rough spots and about to launch, is this something you hope to continue doing? Is Relic done being “just” an RTS studio?

I mean, we hired up people with experience in action-shooters – Modern Warfare, God of War. So looking at getting animators and designers who have worked on these different types of titles before. You know, obviously, Dawn of War’s been really great for us, so we want to keep going forward with that. But we want to bring the 40k IP to more people, and the way to do that is get it out on consoles and do more action games.

We definitely want to keep going with Space Marine, but we’re also not going to leave the PC RTS Dawn of War fans behind.

Ok, so I have to put it out there: Space Marine. That name. It, uh, has some connotations around these parts. And I know it has lore significance within the Warhammer 40k universe, but couldn’t you have gone with something that inspires less rotten vegetable-flinging from the peanut gallery?

I mean, Warhammer 40k has been around for 25 years. We were the original space marine. Lots of other games have drawn inspiration from us. In terms of the aesthetics and the weapons… I mean, you look at the chainsword and you look at some other games. I mean, the chainsword was first.

The E3 2011 trailer.

We really want to take back and own what a space marine really means. They’re hulking badasses who aren’t afraid. They don’t hide behind cover. They don’t crouch in the weeds. They run into combat and just wreck people – just destroy them.

On that note, gamers have been cutting down gruff, manly man games with something far worse than bullets lately: words. Hurtful, hurtful words. Do you think we’re reaching a saturation point with this style of game? Is there a danger here?

I mean, there can be, but it’s all about getting a good story – getting a compelling single-player character and character progression in an arc. I think, if the story’s there, gamers aren’t going to feel off because he’s a gruff manly man. I mean, all of us want to be the hero. That’s why we play videogames, right? And if I’m a gruff manly man but I’m still playing a hero with a great story, I’m going to be immersed in that story.

Speaking of men with stories and wives and arms that make muscle cars have mid-life crises, Gears of War 3. Its definitely taken a few pages out of Warhammer 40k’s book, but it’s a gigantic name in the videogame space. And you’re going toe-to-toe with it. Is it at all intimidating?

Gears is a great title. It’s a strong franchise. It’s done a great job with third-person combat. I think we have a unique take on that with our melee system – the seamless shift between ranged combat and pulling out your chainsword. As opposed to Gears, which is a lot more third-person combat cover-based. We want to get you into the action and always keep the combat moving forward – getting you up-close and in the enemy’s face.

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