Key player in the modern wargaming scene, Andy Chambers have a strong record in rulebooks development and games universes creation. Unhappy to be a major contributor for Games Workshop until 2004 (and generally for the action figure’s industry), he turned to video games…To the point of being the Creative Director of Blizzard Entertainment (with which he has worked on Starcraft 2), but he never left his first loves.
Confessions of a dilletante whom Lady Luck smiled on him…
Hi Andy Chambers.
>So … GW, Mongoose, Red Star, Relics Entertainment, Blizzard, Dust, FFG, the Black Library … looks like you’ve been everywhere ! If we list all the legendary games you’ve been working on, does that make you a patron saint of gamers ?
I’m more of a sinner than a saint but I have been blessed with a lot of luck in my career so maybe?
>If we consider the projects you’ve been working on, I’d say you’re far more interested in SF than Heroic Fantasy. Is there a reason behind this ?
I do love fantasy a lot more than is probably apparent from the majority of the projects I work on – I still play in a weekly roleplaying group that’s been running for over 20 years, for example. I love fantasy games, movies and books (whether they’re good or bad) and I’ve collected almost as many fantasy armies as I have sci fi ones.
However sci fi does appeal to me more for creating games for some reason. I’m not sure why exactly, I think it might be the films and TV shows I saw when I was growing up had a lot of Sci fi and not much fantasy. Sci fi is always an exciting universe of possibilities for me, while fantasy always tends to stay in the same mould of being semi-historical because that’s ultimately where it comes from.
>I found several references to this Asgard circle you belonged to as a youngster. Of course, they were virtually unknown in France, so could you tell us a bit more about their activities ? Would you say what was at work there was decisive for the future of miniature gaming ?
Asgard are virtually unknown in the UK too, I think. It was a very small figure manufacturer run by literally three or four guys than made fantasy and sci fi miniatures at a time (late 70’s early 80’s) when not many did so.
I think what set Asgard apart is that by luck or judgement they managed to get miniatures made by two very talented sculptors – Nick Bibby and the now very famous Jes Goodwin. Both Nick and Jes actually made ranges of figures in a coherent way we take totally for granted now and the quality of their sculpting was miles ahead of what had gone before.
For example Jes did a gorgeous range of Lord of the Rings-style fantasy orcs which had everything from tracker orcs and slave orcs up to wolf-riders, soldiers and big uruks. No one else really seemed to be thinking in those terms, four or five vaguely similar figures was considered a ‘range’ for fantasy and sci fi at the time. In short while some of the miniatures makers at the time had started doing figures suitable for playing D&D or playing small skirmishes Jes and Nick made ranges you really wanted to build armies out of.
>About half of us here in gangeek are frantic miniature collectors. Am I right to suppose you’re more interested in game systems than in miniatures ? Yet, you allegedly still own your old Skaven army. You’re still collecting ?
I absolutely love miniatures, probably more than games to be honest. Games are like a movie script for me while miniatures are the actors, so the rules are necessary and of some intellectual interest but its the combination of the two that makes exciting action.I think I can honestly say I’ve never thrown away a miniature in my life. I do still have my old Skaven army although it has not seen battle for many years now.
Seeing the wonderful new miniatures available today sometimes gives me an urge to recreate it in plastic. God I love plastic.
My collecting has slowed down these days but I do still collect and paint, right now I’m building up forces from Paolo Parente’s Dust universe because WW2 mixed with weird science is like catnip for me.
If I were a cat, of course, which I’m not.
>You started your full time job at GW in 1989. Did you arrive in time to be part of the Space Hulk craze this year, or was it over when you took office ? Were you close to its creator, the “eccentric Richard Halliwell” ? (as he’s often described).
I actually started at GW in March 1990. Studios are always curious places because a game that’s big news outside of them is often something that was finished anywhere up to a year beforehand inside the studio. I shared an office with Jervis Johnson a couple of offices down from Richard Halliwell, ‘Hal’ as we called him. He was working on a couple of new games –an early version of BFG and something a bit like what Warmaster would become much, much later. He was eccentric, it’s true, I used to talk to him a lot and playstest his games with him. I think on some levels he was a bit terrified by the success of Space Hulk because he felt he had to create something even bigger and better for the next game.
>We marvelled at the 2nd edition of 40k … this is still hands down the best version of the game to many of us. Then came the 3rd edition … not everyone was happy with that change. Could you tell us if this was a decision from the developers, or if you received specific instructions to reinvent the game that way ?
The impetus for the admittedly radical change in 3rd ed came from Rick Priestely, although how much his arm was twisted by the powers that be I don’t know. I do remember being horrified when I played Rick’s draft ruleset for the first time, no hit location for vehicles particularly upset me as I recall.
As I played some more I came to appreciate the elegance of it all – 2nd ed games were really cumbersome by that time and you simply couldn’t use more than 20-30 models in a game or your head would explode. Simplicity became very appealing to me and I started wondering how I could design games that didn’t have players having to keep their noses in books or looking at cards 80% of the time.
>I’ll get back to Blizzard later, but what was the studio’s reaction back then when you first saw Starcraft 1 ?
We laughed and told ourselves that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, we also knew that GW designs were all inspired from other places so it didn’t exactly seem like a big deal. Working on Starcraft later made me appreciate that it was as much different as it was the same. Some things, like the Protoss for example, were actually far more daring and original than the GW rendition of ‘space elves’ in the oh-so-standard ‘ancient and mystical race with high technology’ slot .
>you left GW in 2003, I think. Can I ask you the reasons for this departure, after working 14 years there ?
Did you keep in touch with some colleagues ?
Actually 2004 and you must forgive me, but I’m not going to talk about that. I do keep in touch with a lot of my old colleagues, Jes Goodwin in particular, because we are bonded by blood and iron forged in some truly dark days.
>How did Red Star work for you ? So basically, anyone with enough money could contact you and ask for your help to develop a new gaming system ? Would you say developing rules as a freelancer was a successful experiment ?
It didn’t work really, I have had far more success simply trading on my own name as a designer this second time around (i.e. after working at Blizzard) than I did the first time with Red Star. I really had absolutely no idea what I was doing at the time, honestly I don‘t have much more of an idea now, but I have experience of being inexperienced at least.
>After writing Starship troopers for Mongoose publishing, you started working for videogame companies … not unlike other GW alumnus Mark Gibbons. Did it start with Relic entertainment ? How did this transition go ? Dawn of War is often seen as “the first completely successful 40k videogame” … what was you role in the development of Winter assault ? Did you already have some knowledge or skills about videogame making at this point ?
My only role in relation to Dawn of War was meeting up with Jay Wilson and his team to consult about it while I was still at GW. Ironically we met up again at Blizzard many years later. Great guy and he did a fantastic job with Dawn of War. Videogames are very like tabletop games on some levels, and totally different on others. I had literally zero experience of them when I went to Blizzard and learned one hell of a lot in the four years I was there working on Starcraft 2 and other projects. We used to say at GW that a game was tripod ahd the three legs were art, words and miniatures. Video games are more like a Swiss watch with hundreds of intricate, interconnected elements where failure of just one piece brings the whole mechanism grinding to a halt. I’ve learned the greatest respect for creatives working in that environment, it’s a very, very hard one to achieve good results in and the bar keeps being raised higher with each new generation.
>So videogames have to belong to your personal interests, I suppose. What are your favourite genres, studios and titles ? Is there a game in particular you’d have loved to work on ?
As you may have seen, many of our members are also avid retrogamers. Do you sometimes play some old favourite videogames, or are the current gen enough for you ?
Too many games to list comfortably, both on console and PC. Some standout games in the last year for me have been: X-Com Enemy Within from Firaxis, FTL by Subset Games, Rome Total War 2 from Creative Assembly, replaying Freelancer from Microsoft studios (an old favourite), The Last of Us from Naughty Dog, GTA 5 and Max Payne 3 from Rockstar, Drox operative from Soldak Entertainment, inFamous 2 from Suckerpunch, Sword of the Stars 2 from Kerberos. I liked Bioshock Infinite, but it didn’t truly rock my world like Bioshock did. I’m particularly looking forward to Tropico 5 and Elite: Dangerous.
As to working on games, anything with spaceships or robots basically – not many of those in the list above unfortunately.
>Then creative director for Blizzard from 2005 to 2009 ! How did you get in touch with them ?
You started there as lead writer for WOW. I can’t really thank you for this one, as we lost countless friends (not to mention clients) to this MMORPG (or “MEUPORG”, as we sometimes grotesquely call them in France). What part did you take in this ?
And eventually the dream job : creative director on Starcraft. What exactly did you do as such on this licence ?This is sort of funny … It’s like, you couldn’t get enough of Space Marines, Eldars & Tyranids, and went on working on their computerized counterparts.
My wife is American and by 2005, after three years over here in the UK, she desperately wanted to move back to the USA from stinky little Britain. I wrote letters to Blizzard and Relic to ask if they would be interested in hiring me and to my surprise after some interviews both of them said yes. I took a job with Blizzard because it meant working in California and being paid an unfeasibly large sum of money for doing so. I can’t claim any real hand in WoW, I played it a lot (everyone at Blizzard did) and made some suggestions at various times, came up with a few ideas but that was about all. Starcraft was a pretty natural fit for my experience and I have to confess I’d been secretly wishing to work on a computer game for a long time just to see what it was like. The idea of seeing troops and machines coming to life, moving and fighting , was very appealing to me.
>I realize that possibly makes you the most qualified person in the world to answer the Big Question : what exactly happened between GW and Blizzard regarding Starcraft 1‘s development ?
Was it indeed supposed to be a videogame port of 40k ?
You could talk to different people and hear different versions of whether Warcraft had or had not been intended as Warhammer game back in the day. I know this is a popular rumour but I don’t think it was ever all that clear cut. As far as I know Starcraft development was a separate thing and it was never meant to be any kind of version of 40K. The guys at Blizzard were certainly big fans of GW stuff and I know the two companies talked to each other to head off any infringement of IP in either direction. Caveat – this is all to the best of my knowledge so I might be lying.
>Also, maybe you can tell us more about Starcraft Ghost‘s cancellation.
Here’s a title we were eagerly expecting. Do you think there’s any hope to see such a game (i.e. : an action game based on Starcraft IP) released in the future ?
I actually worked on Ghost a little and met the team, all good guys but the project itself was fairly obviously not going well. It was trying to be a shooter, stealth game, multi-player have driveable vehicles etc etc and it was doing none of these things very well. It was a bold move on Blizzard’s part to shut it down but I think it was the right one. Blizzard loves quality and polish but Ghost was still a long way from having either.
As to future projects like Ghost I find it unlikely it’ll happen, maybe through the Activision/Infinity Ward side of things but Blizzard likes to keep stuff in-house and their experience of military man-shooter type games is limited – also that genre is somewhat in decline these days so potentially very expensive and wouldn’t necessarily sell all that well.
>we’re now in 2010, and you work for FFG as a freelance writer. Unsurprisingly, you do some writings on the long awaited 40k RPG.
It was fun to go back and do some work set in the 40K universe after some time away from it and I was really knocked out by the love the 40K rpg had for the universe (I had a similar reaction when playing DoW2) so much of it was just spot-on in my opinion.
>Back to miniatures, you also write the rule of DUST warfare for our friend Paolo Parente. Did you know him before, or was it the first time you got in touch ?
Working on Dust Warfare for FFG was my first contact with Paolo Parente although I’d seen his work and admired it from afar. He’s an absolute treasure to work with, very encouraging and supportive. I really fell in love with the Dust miniatures and background so I’ve really enjoyed being able to contribute to the universe.
>where do you usually draw your inspiration when creating background for new universes ?
History mainly, I’m a big ‘ole history nerd and like to read so I’ve stuffed my head with all kinds of events and environments that inspire me for background in new universes. The second world war and ancient Rome are particular passions of mine, although over time learning about those things has led to other things that had led to other things…That being said I’m also influenced by other fiction in other places a lot too; games, movies or books I’ve seen that appeal to me. I’m constantly filled with admiration for the things coming out today, the world was a much blander place when I was young.
>Truth is, our band of nostalgic players often considers replaying some of the older titles you’ve worked on. 40K V2, Necromunda , … How would you describe the game systems you create ? Do they share common mechanisms ?
I’ve been learning as I go, really, so if there’s a theme running throughout it’s this one: ‘Don’t make the same mistake twice!’ I mentioned earlier that I fell in love with simplicity when working on 40K 3rd edition and that has never really gone away since then. Elegance is a better word than simplicity, I believe that any fool can make a game more complex but it takes skill to make it elegant so that’s what I strive for.
I do use common mechanisms a lot. 14 years of working in a framework of resolving situations with multiple six-sided dice rolls, for example, means its a style I am so comfortable with I have to consciously work to avoid it. I tend to think it doesn’t matter much – D10s, D6s, cards, coinflipping, whatever, it’s randomised resolution that will be tweaked to achieve the result you want anyway. The biggest thing for me is having some sort of mechanic in place that gives the game a ‘feel’ that’s relevant to the subject matter. The best example of this is blast markers in BFG and Epic, an idea that’s been carried in to a lot of other games so it must be good.
>A good one for you. Is there something you’re not proud of in your career ? Some kind of a haunting mistake that still bothers you years after it was made ?
I feel as if I helped to kill off EPIC by making Epic 40,000 too much of a departure from Space Marine/Titan legions and I regret that a lot. Fortunately Jervis went back and did Epic: Armageddon which melded together the best of both games and NetEpic has remained popular as well.
Making 40K Ork choppas reduce terminator saves to 4+ in 3rd ed was stupid as well, I was just so totally against dice roll modifiers at the time I preferred the solution of flat target numbers, which is just dumb in retrospect. There a hundred others but fortunately it’s mostly small things, nothing too hideous.
>Your opinion on the emergence of younger companies ?
Privateer Press ? Studio McVey ? Guillotine Games ? amongst others …
About the kickstarter phenomenon ?
I think we’re living in a golden age for gaming and creativity in general. There’s so much talent out there now, creating things and getting them out to people is easier than ever before because of technology. It’s hard for me to even explain what a giant leap has been made in publishing and toy soldier making since I started out. As such I see these youngling companies as a very positive thing (many of whom are no longer quite so young) because diversity is beautiful. Kickstarter is the latest expression of this, it is a wonderful way to float ideas and test responses to them. Back in the day you had to make something, pay for manufacturing it and basically guess how many people would want it. Naturally that forced a conservative attitude. Right now anything goes and that’s great, great thing we all, as gamers, benefit from.
>Can you tell us what you’re currently working on ?
Right now I am working on a spaceships game provisionally titled ‘Dropfleet’ for Hawk games who make Dropzone Commander. They’re great guys who are truly passionate about their work. I’m also writing a supplement for Warlord Games’ Bolt Action 28mm WW2 rules with the help of Alessio Cavatore and Paul Sawyer, old colleagues from the GW days. I’m also doing some consulting work on some mobile/tablet games that I can’t mention as yet. I’m hoping to start work on another Dust novel in the near future once the Bolt Action supplement is finished, and I have a Kickstarter project for a dogfight game called ‘Blood Red Skies’ that’s slowly coming together after about two years of chasing around and four years of development.
>Any important question you’d like us to ask you ? Ha! I think you just did by asking what I’m working on. You never asked me what thing I’m proudest of, which is good because I’m proud of everything I’ve helped to create, just because I got to help create it. If I had to pick just one thing I would say the Battlefleet Gothic game, because it was an amazingly cool thing to properly take 40K into space.
> I quote you from a previous interview :”I can never let anything go”. Well, this is something we have in common. Does that compulsion make you a hoarder ?
From collector to hoarder is very small step I suspect. I am a dreadful hoarder with my one redeeming feature being that I acquire slowly so it hasn’t got out of hand. I have scraps of paper and notebooks from 20 years ago, though, even after moving across the Atlantic twice and living in eight different homes in the last ten years so I think yes, I am the textbook definition of a hoarder.
>Any interesting talents or fields of expertise we don’t know of about you ?
I can ride a motorcycle and still do, I’m trained in fighting with metal weapons with a speciality in long axe. I’ve got a talent for remembering things that has led to me being nicknamed ‘The Rememberer’ before now, although that talent is curiously selective and not very useful for remembering useful things like what you need at the store, birthdays and things like that. Total invasion strength of the Axis at the start of Operation Barbarossa? No problem (3.7 million btw) Mum’s birthday? Uhhhh
>I heard you were nicknamed “the Shroom”. Nothing to see with mushrooms, I hope ?
Just someone’s little joke I believe, I have been known to eat mushrooms but only of the edible kind. Although there was that one time….