Games Day 2010 report

Our spies were at the Games Workshop and Black Library annual event, checking out the latest from the world of Warhammer and WH40K

“Bewildering” and “terrifying” aren’t two adjectives you’d expect an attendee at Games Workshop’s annual bash at the NEC to use to describe the event. But then author Aaron Dembski-Bowden, there to promote his first entry in the million-selling Horus Heresy series of novels, was viewing it from a unique perspective. Namely from behind a desk, facing hundreds of eager fans all waiting for a chance to meet him and get his signature in their recently-purchased copy of The First Heretic , one of several Black Library books available ahead of general release on Sunday.

SFX managed to grab a few minutes of Aaron’s time as he faced down the advancing hordes, and the scribe balanced his awe with enthusiasm. “This must be what it’s like to be a rock star, I guess,” he admitted, before we got him to talk about writing within the (admittedly broad) confines of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. “You can be so free with the intellectual property, you can write practically anything. You just need to be careful and have respect for the canon.”

Writing - and specifically writing for Black Library - was one of the recurring themes at Games Day 2010, including the announcement of a new open submissions window for short stories about the legendary Chaos Marines (expect to see more at www.blacklibrary.com/Blog in the coming days). The numerous author signings taking place around the two massive halls of the LG Arena were suitably popular, infringing upon all other events taking place, including the screenings of the brand new second trailer for the Ultramarines movie, previews of THQ’s new W40k video games and just about everything else.

Of course, it was the announcements being made about the Ultramarines movie and games that were of the most interest - especially given that the two were kept hidden from prying eyes behind curtained doorways and heavy steel barriers. Entry was so tight that not even we could get in without queuing for upwards of an hour, and as more accessible sights were more forthcoming, we moved on. But the cheers and the fevered gabble of the lucky few who were able to see it promise good things. The trailer should be online at the official site in 10 days or so, we were told.

THQ were far more welcoming and had a couple of guys on hand from Relic, the development studio behind the epic Dawn Of War video games. They’d launched an expedition to Birmingham to show off their latest work on Space Marine and Dawn of War II expansion Retribution . We were shown a live playable level of Space Marine , a game that seems to have been in the works forever (at least if you’re a nutcase for the armour-clad superhuman warriors of the Imperium), and is now pencilled in for a summer 2011 release. While we couldn’t get our hands on the controls, Relic developer Quinn Duffy took us on a 10-minute trek through the Ork-infested sewers of a Forge World under attack by the ugly brutes. Viewed from just above and behind your Ultramarine protagonist, the easiest way of describing what Space Marine is all about is to picture yourself down on the ground amongst the bloody melee combat that the Dawn Of War games have become renowned for.

Indeed, the family lineage is clearly evident in the balletic moves of Captain Titus, who spins, hacks and stomps on his greenskin foes. The visual cues are unmistakable if you’ve seen Dawn Of War : richly textured landscapes and detailed characters, if the Orks do appear a mite repetitive. But to criticise at this point would be churlish - what we were privileged to be seeing was pre-alpha software ("first draft" in common parlance) for the Xbox 360 version, which was being emulated on a Windows PC ( Space Marine will be available on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3), and things look immensely promising. Smoke curls from the muzzle of your bolter after firing; grunts, screams and guttural Orkish utterances swirl around you courtesy of the raw, atmospheric soundtrack; non-playable squad mates provide covering fire as you move forward. While Space Marine is reminiscent of Gears Of War , Quinn is keen to point out one difference. “There’s no cover mechanic here, no snap-to-cover. There’s just the line of sight and, after all, there’s all the armour you’re wearing. Cover is for pussies.” Just don’t tell Marcus Fenix.

Dawn Of War II: Retribution was almost low-key in comparison. The expansion, which introduces Ork Freebooterz to the squad-based real-time strategy game, will also add two other races to the game: the Eldar (revealed for the first time at Games Day) and one yet-to-be-announced race that we’ll hear about in the months before the March 2011 release.

It’s fitting to close this report with the Black Library, which, it’s fair to say, seemed to own Games Day 2010. What with the roll out of their writing talent, the announcement of the new open submissions period and their sales booth in prime position in the centre of the mail hall, it’s easy to see that the success of Games Workshop’s publishing arm has seen it grow in stature. Sunday’s announcement of Black Library’s new digital books was well-received and will bring the battlefields of both Warhammer worlds to iPads everywhere when they launch later this autumn. Delivering the full range of the publisher’s books - both those currently in print and those which sold out years ago - will delight many who remember the early releases, including Ian Watson’s iconic Space Marine , so fondly.

And that, for another 12 months, was that. Games Workshop brass reckoned that around 5,000 folk came by, a figure that anyone who saw some of the queues can attest to, and fan feedback was, by and large, positive. “Awesome, awesome, awesome,” in the words of one Australian chap who was weighed down by several GW carrier bags. “I come every year and it just gets better and better.” There you have it.

This report was written by wargamer and journalist Michael Abolins, who attended on behalf of SFX . Were you there too? Did you have a good time? Share your thoughts on the event below, and if you've got any photos from the event, why not upload them to our Facebook page ?