The Grim Dark Future
Director Anders De Geer and writer Dan Abnett reveal how developer Fatshark breaks new ground for the franchise.
Warhammer 40,000 is heading to the homefront.
Games Workshop’s tabletop strategy game has been adapted to countless other mediums: books, animated films, and yes — even video games. With all the ways fans have been able to indulge in their 40K obsessions over the last 25 years, one would think that there’d been no stone left unturned. Darktide, the upcoming video game from Fatshark that’s spun out of the developer’s Warhammer: Vermintide titles, will introduce players to new, unturned stones. It was a formidable challenge for director Anders De Geer and writer Dan Abnett.
“For the first time, we’ve had to really think about things that we’ve never seen before, we’ve had to work out how everyday things literally work,” Abnett tells Inverse.
Ahead of Darktide’s release later this year, De Geer and Abnett reveal how the game will uncover uncharted 40K territory and how it drastically differs from Vermintide.
How did Dan come aboard to write Darktide?
Anders De Geer: Dan was a dream candidate for that position. We actually reached out and asked if he was interested and pitched the project, our ideas, and our approach. And then he agreed to join willingly. We didn’t have to force him or anything!
Dan Abnett: I eagerly said yes. Even though I spend so much of my time in the 40K universe, it’s like, do you want to do something else that’s set there? To me, one of the really appealing things was the opportunity of playing with ideas and concepts that I think about a lot. It was an opportunity to join in on the fun, but also to play with toys that I’m very familiar with in different ways. It’s doing things that we’ve not done before.
Can you speak to these new elements?
Abnett: First of all, the game is very 40K in a really, really good way. It will profoundly appeal to people who know the universe and want to immerse themselves in that sort of environment. This game is not one where you armor yourself in ceramite and are an unstoppable force of nature, lacking personality as you plow through things in an indomitable way, as a space marine.
This is a story in which you are playing essentially a human character, certainly a vulnerable mortal character. The idea is that as a player, you are being forcibly recruited into the war band of an Inquisitor. You start off with sort of nothing at all and very little prospects going on.
We created this hive city, which is this enormous structure, the size of a continent, in which there is a wealth of things to discover. But somewhere deep inside the evil lurks — [there are] rumors that there is a kind of taint of Chaos in there.
My job from day one was to design the specifics of this city. What is the cultural history? What is the local geography of the nearby star systems? What are the names of things? Even just thinking about names for things that are going to sound better spoken out loud, because that’s not something you necessarily worry about in a book.
For the first time, we’ve had to really think about things that we’ve never seen before, we’ve had to work out how everyday things literally work. If a player wants to go and look at something that’s lying around, we need one of those things in this room, because it would be in a place where people live. In a novel, I can steer readers away from those things.
De Geer: Hive cities are well established within the IP and they’ve been around forever. And then when you start scratching that surface, it’s like, “This is not defined. How does this actually look?” Like Dan said, if you walk through an apartment, how does the kitchen look? Everything like that.
Was the plan always to do a 40K game after Vermintide, and how do you translate its close-quarters combat to the gunplay of Warhammer 40,000?
De Geer: During pre-production of Vermintide 1, we discussed the possibilities of doing a 40k game from time to time. And we didn’t feel that we were ready. We still wanted to explore that fantasy universe of base Warhammer, so we made Vermintide 2.
Then, after Vermintide 2, Games Workshop brought it up as well. We discussed it for a long time internally, because it is scary! It’s new ground. As you said, one of the major things gameplay wise is of course, shooting mechanics — making sure that we can portray iconic weapons in a good way. When we started pre production on Darktide, that was actually our number-one risk. It needed a lot of work. We’re still working on it, but it’s definitely super fun now.
Going from Vermintide to Darktide, it was definitely not, unfortunately, a simple copy and paste. Some features do work, but they are very, very few.
Dan, you’ve worked on a bunch of different franchises. If you could bring any of them to life in a game, which would it be? And Anders, what franchise would Fatshark like to bring the Vermintide formula to if it had the opportunity?
Abnett: For many years now I’ve worked for Britain’s 2000 AD, which is the weekly home of comics. You know, Judge Dredd. Been published since the late 70s. One of the ones that I created over 25 years ago now, and I’ve written ever since is this thing called Sinister Dexter, which is basically a story set in a sort of near future European city.
It’s about two hitmen, one named Sinister and the other Dexter, who operate together. It’s not so much about what they do, it’s about their relationship, their friendship, and the conversations they have. I’ve always wanted to see that happen — developed somewhere in a place that isn’t just the comics. It would make a great game, because obviously there is a lot of shooting involved, but it’s also cooperative because it’s about a partnership. And that would be an amazing environment to bring to life because it’s eclectic. It’s full of visual jokes and all sorts of different things like that.
De Geer: My brain started working on it right now! I actually have to give you a really boring answer. I have to pinch my arm every morning for Darktide. It is very much a dream project.
WARHAMMER 40,000: DARKTIDE WILL BE RELEASED FOR PC AND XBOX SERIES X|S IN 2021.
The Grim Dark Future