Space Hulk by Full Control
Published: July 30. 2013
The classic Space Hulk board game returns—this time in digital form, thanks to Full Control and Games Workshop
Despite its popularity, Space Hulk—originally a board game, set in the Warhammer 40K universe—has gotten precious little attention from game developers. EA managed two titles in the early 1990s when it had the license, but after taking it over THQ managed zero in the decades that followed. Now with the license back in its hands, Games Workshop has hired developer Full Control to make a digital version of the original board game (third edition, for those keeping score at home), and it’s looking every bit the part.
“Space Hulk has always been the dream project,” says Thomas Lund, CEO of Full Control. “Many years ago when we created our first Unity prototype for a turn-based strategy game, it was mimicking Space Hulk. Suddenly, having the ability to actually make that game for real is a dream come true.” The team is currently 12 developers strong, ten of whom sit together in an office in Copenhagen (the sound and VFX folks work remotely from the UK and US).
The game is a turn-based strategy affair, with the player controlling a squad of Terminator Space Marines as they explore an abandoned spaceship. Each level is essentially a puzzle, whereby the player must determine the best configuration for his squad to get through the game’s tight corridors. The campaign is based on the third edition of the board game, and will include both multiplayer and co-op play, allowing players to take control of either genestealers or Terminators.
To make the game he envisioned, Lund and his team turned to Unity. “We’ve been using Unity as a development environment for many years, and have multiple shipped titles with it,” he says, referring to such titles as Smack Hockey, Monster Ball, Tactical Soldier and Frontline Tactics, which have been released across a variety of platforms. “It’s simply the obvious choice for a smaller independent studio. The main selling point is really the ability to deploy to multiple platforms and the artist-friendly approach to the editor.”
Things got rolling quickly for the project, and Lund says that the first prototype with the game’s core mechanics took only a few weeks of coding. “We already had a large amount of existing code that could be reused from our previous games,” he says. “It has primarily been art production that has taken the [most] time and resources.” Some key workflow improvements helped move things along. “On the Unity side, we have been very happy with the easy-to-use LOD system,” he says. “It took the artists an hour of playing with it, and then we suddenly increased the performance many fold. The editor as such is just a great way to build games—so many things in there that just kick ass, and very few negatives.”
With Space Hulk, Full Control has proven to itself that it’s possible to make high quality games using Unity with a small team. “It does require some thinking outside the box and also some smart thinking,” says Lund, citing some internal rules of thumb. Namely: “We reuse a lot of core technology from previous games, so that we mostly concentrate on art production and rule implementation for that specific game.” He says it’s very difficult to find good tech artists that can utilize shaders and get workflow optimized fully for the artists and designers. They’re very few and far between, and for a smaller team it is hard to attract that kind of profile.”
For Lund, it’s an interesting time to be a small/medium-sized development house. “I see several independent studios now moving out of the shadow of the ‘artsy indie’ on one side, and the AAA, multi-million dollar [studio] on the other side, to carve out a good niche in the market again, with genres long-forgotten,” he says. “From RPGs to adventures and turn-based strategy [titles], there’s still a market for these games, and several independents have found ways to fund those styles of games.”
Lund believes that Full Control has one of those games of its own, in the form of Space Hulk. “In many ways, it’s a niche game that we can deliver in very high quality on a fairly low budget,” he says. “The break-even unit sales are very reachable, and they would assure that more of the same would be made by us.” The more difficult parts are a matter of Full Control, as a smaller developer, releasing a game with a major IP attached. “We’re the first studio that releases a Warhammer 40K game after THQ and Relic, so we’re up against massive expectations on a smaller team and budget,” he says. “But I really think we did it, and we are proud of the game as-is.”
Space Hulk will be arriving first on Windows, Mac and iOS. “Those are the platforms we believe most in, commercially, and they fit nicely with our strategy,” says Lund. “When we see the performance on those, we’ll evaluate where to go next, both to maximize potential of the game as well as get it into the hands of as many fans as possible. At the end of the day, Lund says that game development is also a business, and the return has to be there to make it worth supporting a given platform. “The technical part of the port is the least of our problems, running an engine like Unity.”
“I’m extremely proud of how the game looks and plays,” says Lund of the near-finished product, who points to perhaps the truest measure of the game’s success: “It’s simply gorgeous, and our studio’s board game version of Space Hulk is not even getting played anymore. We all simply play our video game instead to get the Space Hulk/Warhammer 40K kick.”
“Besides our own codebase, we’ve had great success using different assets from the Unity Asset Store,” says Full Control CEO Thomas Lund. “Especially NGUI—it’s a great replacement for the internal Unity GUI. We’re also using different Prime31 plugins, a Steam integration [tool], and several smaller shader and tool packs. It’s a great place to find solutions to ‘don’t reinvent the wheel’-type problems.”
Flashback to the Future
Next up for Full Control is Jagged Alliance: Flashback, a game which the studio Kickstarted earlier this year to the tune of $369,000. It will once again be using Unity to develop, and will get a nice head start due to its iterative development style. “It’s still in the very early phases of development,” says CEO Thomas Lund, pointing out that the game is built upon the same code base as Space Hulk. “It will again be mostly a matter of estimating art production and level design.”
Flashback to the Future
As with any title, Full Control had a number of “wish list” features for Space Hulk that didn’t make the cut. “One of the features I would have liked—but that didn’t fit the board game mold—was to add more RPG elements like character progression and a deeper story campaign,” says CEO Thomas Lund. “At some [point], though, you need to wrap it up and release the game. And we’re approaching that point fast! But in these days of digital distribution, it’s fortunately easy to add new features and additional content easily over the lifetime of a game. So that’s what we plan to do, as long as players support the game.”