Sunday, July 15, 2012

Games Workshop Studio Open Day

It was a bit of an odyssey getting there, but yesterday was the GW Studio Open Day. Well, it was initally advertised as such, but at some point that got changed to Warhammer 40,000 Open Day. Still, a good time was had by most.

Having arrived ridiculously early, I found this in the car park:

Naff colour scheme
Apparently the thing is street legal but is immobilized while on display. Yeah, I tweeted a bad joke about rolling a one. Anyway, if you plan on stealing it, bring your own battery.

The doors rolled open on time, at 10am, and in we all trooped.

The whole gaming hall of Warhammer World (or are we supposed to call it GW:HQ now?) had been put to use, with a fenced enclosure full of display cabinets, demo game tables, and, most importantly, Design Studio staff waiting to answer questions and tell us how they make the magic happen. Wait, wrong company? Well, tell us how they do that voodoo dey do do. Or something.

This was a great opportunity to learn from the masters, as it were, and I got a great little tutorial from Edgar Ramos on sculpting cloaks. There was a genuine 'Eureka!' moment, where I realised the trick, that little simple piece of magic that makes these things work, as well as a great look at how a master works, tips on tools to buy, and he even wrote down the name of a good book for further reading. Thanks, Edgar!

Nerds ahoy!
As well as hands on demos, there were also a lot scheduled demos and seminars. These were ticket only events - one had to choose which ones to attend before entering the hall - but, really, once you were in a seminar room the policy is pretty easy going. Its quite possible to stay in the same seat all day and just enjoy talk after talk.

So, what did I see and what did I learn?

First up was a talk on the latest edition of 40k, with Jervis Johnson, Matt Ward, and Jeremy Vettock. Matt was there to talk rules, Jeremy because he was in charge of background, and Jervis because, well, he's Jervis Johnson, man!

We started with some pre-written questions, supposedly based on FAQ's from the community. To be fair, some of these were fairly pointed - why have you added Allies and Fortifications to the rules, for example. The real answer is, of course, because we are a miniatures company that wants to sell more miniatures so we have broadened the amount of stuff you can play in your armies hoping you will therefore buy more of it. Questions such as this were met with fairly professional PR-style answers though - '40k fiction has often featured great alliances but the game has not. We wanted to bring that back to the game and also we want you to be able to play with a cool model if you see it and like it'. Both answers are true of course.

A couple of other titbits - Jervis said 'fantastic new buildings models coming into the range', in reference to the fortifications question. So yes, new buildings are on the way.

Matt Ward said random charge were in the game now as a response to the new wound allocation system. As you lose the closest models during shooting/overwatch, the designers wanted you to still have the chance of pulling off a charge afterwards.

He also said challenges in combat were designed to redress issues typified by the marine sergeant. If he has a power fist, he is essentially a 10-wound model who tends to hide at the back of the combat until the last second when he steps forward and wipes out the enemy squad. Alternately, if he is a Devastator sergeant, he dies first. With challenges, the idea is  you might have one model holding off a particularly powerful enemy, such as a daemon prince, until his squad could finish off the rest and come to his aid. 

The issue of not being able to charge after arriving from reserves was also tackled. The guys said they wanted to remove 'mugging' from the game. The idea of players being able to pull off some hammer-smash, wipeout manouevre, without their opponent being able to react or resist in any way, was unpopular with the designers. Genestealers outflanking and then assaulting you to death was mentioned (although Jervis pointed out to Matt Ward that could still happen) but, more specifically, Vanguard Veterans and Heroic Intervention was singled out as a tactic that will be removed from the game in future.

Jervis also said future codexes will rely less on codex-specific special rules and abilities and more on the core rulebook's USRs. The idea is that by making the core rules more robust, there will be less possibilities of imbalance in future releases. I'm not sure how well this sits with Matt Ward, being infamous as he is for writing codexes with game-shattering rules within. But apparently thats the way we're going.

After that talk I got to go to a sculpting demo with Martin Footit (very good), one on painting Space Marine chapter markings on shoulder pads with Simon Adams (not so good), and a further demo of painting and weathering an Ork Bomma with Stuart Williamson of Forge World (very very good). 

After that it was pretty much time to go. Despite taking place in a fairly small venue, its still a lot to take in and can be quite tiring. 

Its a bomma! Its a bomma, yeah, yeah, yeah!

It is still very inspiring though. Seeing dozens of fellow hobbyists, meeting and watching some of the best painters and modelers in the world and hearing from some of the creators who made all this stuff happened in the first place is very inspiring. These events make me believe in 40k and want to build my own little part of its universe. 

GW does well to put these kind of events together. Frankly, it makes you forget all the awful marketing decisions, all the price rises, and the insulting memos from senior staff and just love the hobby. It could be better though.

Apart from Jervis, none of the GW staff seemed comfortable with or happy to be talking to the public. In the first talk, for example, all three speakers made a big deal out of not wanting to handle the microphone or handle the questions being asked. This is a big deal - why have a public-facing, PR event like this if you are going to put people in front of the public who make it clear they don't want to be there? 

Building this is easy. Talking to people about it, however...

Its a shame in two ways. Firstly, for the guys giving the talks/demonstrations. These guys could be, should be, like rock stars. You're in a room with a hundred or more people who have paid to come and see you because you are bloody good at your job. Should this not be something you enjoy and get a kick out of? Shouldn't it be fun, talking to fans and sharing your knowledge and expertise? Secondly, the fans, the punters, paid to see their idols/role models. Shouldn't we fell welcome and wanted? Shouldn't we feel these guys are approachable, warm, happy to be there? Its not nice to pay for an event and see people who make it obvious they would rather be at home in front of the TV.

Its true that public speaking is a major fear for a lot of people. But it is also true most of these people could be coached and trained to get past that fear and actually enjoy the experience. I know because I married a Vocal Coach. Seb Perbet mentioned he had recently attended a four-day course on anatomy and physiology, paid for by GW, just so he could be a better sculptor. If meeting the public is going to be part of the job, shouldn't GW stump up for some speaking training too?

Still, it was a great day out. You needed to go to the talks to make the day complete - the demo area in the gaming hall is not that big - and it helps that there is a great bar on hand too. But it was still an excellent opportunity to to geek-out, learn from the best, and go home with more toys to play with and more ideas to make them great.

Thanks, GW :)

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