Ubisoft’s AAA shooter Tom Clancy’s The Division is making a big splash in the industry, and this article from Gamasutra caught my eye.
It’s a question that becomes more significant as games become more photo-realistic: how to justify the gore and high body counts that are part and parcel of a high-end shooter. Another question, asked less often, is how to develop additional and alternative ways to create tension and challenge the player so that body count is not the only leg on the stool.
It reminds me of a crossroads that tabletop games faced in the mid-80s.
D&D was all about kicking in doors, slaying monsters, and collecting treasure, and then Call of Cthulhu came out, in which combat was almost never a good idea and the focus was on investigation, uncovering a backstory, and figuring out the best way to resolve a situation.
For a while, the tabletop RPG hobby was split into “irvings” (a British term of the time, equivalent to today’s “munchkin”) who loved to boast about their best kills and the obscenely high level of their character, and “rolegamers” who loved to boast about how they gamed for an entire weekend and never touched the dice once.
One of the things we tried to do with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and the Enemy Within campaign in particular, was to take the best of both worlds. The deadliness of the combat system was a major tool in achieving this goal, since it forced players to think of more creative solutions to problems. The other vital components were a game system (range of skills, character types, spells, and equipment) and a design mindset (communicated through scenario design and, in our case, advice to GMs) that gave players a wide range of potential actions to choose from in any given situation.
Now I know that there are some fundamental differences between tabletop games and electronic games, but it is very interesting to see AAA shooters facing a choice, as a genre, that tabletop games encountered 30-odd years ago. Maybe there are some useful ideas from that time that can be used now, and maybe there will be some new solutions that leave everyone stunned. I can’t wait to see.
Dark Future was released in 1988, the same year as Adeptus Titanicus. At least part of Games Workshop’s strategy was to get better at plastics before introducing them as a major part of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 product lines. It has been claimed that Bryan Ansell was also testing the competition’s tolerance by producing games that were very similar to two major titles of the day: Steve Jackson Games’ Car Wars and FASA Corporation’s BattleTech. I don’t know if that is true, but no lawsuits resulted.
The title Dark Future came before the game. After reading William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, Jervis Johnson became very excited about the potential of a cyberpunk RPG. Cyberpunk was a very new sub-genre at the time, and no cyberpunk games existed. Marc Gascoigne and Jervis developed a whole setting for the proposed game, but the tide in Games Workshop had already turned against new RPGs and so far as I know the project never received an official green light.
Dark Future was developed by Richard Halliwell at the same time as Jervis was working on Adeptus Titanicus, and the work done for the cyberpunk RPG was grafted onto the car combat game. The spaces between Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay products were growing longer and longer, so I was drafted in as an editor/developer on both games.
Initially, no link was planned between the Dark Future setting and the Warhammer/WH40K mythos. This changed around 1990 when the first Dark Future novels appeared, with some stories featuring demons based on Realm of Chaos.
Another departure from the GW norm was the scale. This was so that players could adapt commercially-available toy cars for use in the game. The boxed set came with two types of cars: the Interceptor used by the Sanctioned Ops (the good guys), and the Renegade used by wasteland gangs such as the Mad Max style Maniax. GW never released any other cars for the game, but the line of metal miniatures included accessories for adapting other toy cars.
Dark Future was a modest success initially. A supplement, White Line Fever, was released later in 1988, and another was planned under the title Dead Man’s Curve. When sales plateaued, the Dead Man’s Curve material was published in White Dwarf 124-125. After that, the novels puttered on as a minor GW fiction line, but nothing was done with the game until 2015, when Auroch Digital announced an electronic version subtitled Blood Red States. It remains to be seen whether this will help revive the IP.
There are still Dark Future fans out there. I recently discovered the Oldhammer: Dark Future Facebook group, with over 500 members who are still modeling and converting vehicles and playing the game. There is also a fan-made wiki.
My involvement with Dark Future was brief and peripheral, but I’m still happy with it. It was a fun setting to play with during that time when cyberpunk was still new and cutting-edge, and I enjoyed writing a lot of the flash fiction and text vignettes that went into the two supplements. Here’s what I did:
Dark Future (1988) – developer, color text
White Line Fever (1988) – developer, color text
“The Sand Cats,” Challenge #52, 1991 – author Buy it here
“Dead Man’s Curve” White Dwarf # 124-125, June-July 1990 – developer, color text
“Saint Louis Blues,” White Dwarf #112, May 1989 – developer, color text
“Redd Harvest,” White Dwarf #104, Sep 1988 – author
Other Bibliography Posts
My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography (Warhammer, WFRP, HeroQuest, AHQ)
My Complete and Utter Warhammer 40,000 Bibliography (WH40K, Adeptus Titanicus/Epic Scale)
The Slann are long gone from Warhammer: I think the last time they were seen was in 3rd edition, back in the 80s. Still, this may be of interest to any Oldhammer fans who have a Slann army.
I’ve known about the Central American atlatl, or spear-thrower, for some time. Basically it’s a stick that slots into the base of a spear-sized, feathered dart and gives the throwing action more force. Just recently, though, I found out a little more thanks to an SCA demonstration, and I was impressed by what this very simple weapon can do. As far as I’ve been able to find out, Citadel never released any Slann atlatl troops, and that’s a shame: from what I’ve learned, they could be quite effective on the battlefield, as well as adding to the Mesoamerican look and feel of a Slann force.
Here are the notes I took at the time, slightly tidied up. I haven’t attempted to derive game stats for Warhammer or WFRP, preferring to leave that to those who are better at such things. Still, I hope you Oldhammer gamers and modelers find this information inspiring, or at least interesting.
In Aztec society, the atlatl was considered a “weapon of the gods.” The troops who used it, called Cuachicque or “shorn ones” (presumably from a distinctive haircut?) were elite warriors who had already captured at least six enemies on the battlefield.
Atlatl darts look like oversized arrows, 4-7 feet long and fletched. The atlatl gives these darts surprising range and hitting power. According to the World Atlatl Association forums, effective range is 10-15 yards/meters but a missile thrown in a high arc can reach as far as 50 yards. This may not sound like much considering that the current Olympic javelin record is almost 100 meters, but the atlatl only needs a one-step run-up and the Olympic javelin is thrown for distance without much regard for accuracy. Experiments have shown that an atlatl dart has significant range and hitting power. Though it cannot pierce a steel breastplate, it could wreak havoc on lightly-armored troops. Here’s a link to an actual test.
Has anyone converted or used Slann atlatl troops in a game? How did they work out? If you have rules for them, please add a link in the comments section. Or maybe we can crowdsource some workable rules right here.