The kind people at Sub Rosa have gratiously allowed us to publish their exclusive (and fantastic!) interview with Andy Hoare. Many thanks to our friend Slaw and everyone at Sub Rosa!
Sub Rosa: From the Black Library Author Index we know you came to work for Games Workshop in 2001. Looking back at these six years – don’t you miss those mysterious “proper jobs” sometimes? How did work for GW meet your previous expectations?
Andy: I definitely prefer games design to pensions administration! In terms of expectations, there’s certainly a big divide between what we do and what people think we do – it’s actually a lot of hard work 😉
SR: Is Games Workshop run by professionals or hobbyists? Or are they just professional hobbyists/ hobby professionals? 😉
Andy: Both – there are hobbyists at every level. Some start out that way, others come in from elsewhere and develop a love for the hobby once here. You can be a good accountant and a good hobbyist remember, as many people with jobs outside the industry will know.
SR: What part of your work for GW do you like the most?
Andy: There’s nothing like starting work on a new army list, but talking to people about a brand new book is always extremely cool.
SR: You’re an author or co-author of many games supplements and articles, too numerous to mention them all here (our Top Three: Kroot Mercenaries List, Codex: Witch Hunters, Cities of Death, in no particular order). Which one would you choose as your favourite one, or the one you are most proud of – and why?
Andy: Well, the Kroot Mercs do hold a special place in my heart, as they were the very first project I was given on starting work here. It was a case of “here’s the new Tau codex, they have these friends called Kroot, make a variant list for them!”
SR: The latest WH40k release is Codex: Dark Angels, with an army list built in different way compared to generic Space Marines list and even to Black Templars. What was the idea behind the final version of the DA list?
Andy: I think by now Jervis has explained his reasoning for the layout of the list, but I can certainly reiterate it. The list structure is an evolution, an attempt to rationalise the list within the bigger picture of the game as a whole. In the case of the Dark Angels it’s fairly strict, as they are a chapter with very specific background. The overall plan is to rationalise all the lists, so each sits comfortably within the system.
SR: What is the chance that next WH40k marines codices (BA, SW, rumoured SM Redux) will follow the pattern (e.g. simplifying wargear, Combat Squad rule etc.) of C:Dark Angels? Or was it only a “DA special” design?
Andy: I’m sure it will, though perhaps not quite so strictly as the list would have to cover all ‘codex’ chapters.
SR: There’s quite a large discussion over many hobby message boards after Jervis Johnson’s seminars on this year’s Adepticon. According to what JJ said, the GW philosophy of supporting three main games changes significantly. What worries the most players, is the possible lack of support for variant armies without their own army book or codex. Let’s take Kroot Mercenaries as an example – they have full list, now available as pdf from GW site. But as such they would not get an update, unless they get their own codex, which is unlikely. Do you guys at the Studio have any idea how to deal with these flavour-adding lists? We must admit that it would be a great loss for both WH40k and WFB to allow playing only “vanilla” lists.
Andy: We have a solid plan for them, which you’ll hear about over the next few months 😉
SR: How do you see the problem of balancing army lists? Is that some kind of Holy Grail for games developers? What does “balanced army list” mean to you?
Andy: It all depends on what you want out of a game, and as every gamer wants something different you’ll never achieve something everyone considers balanced. For some, the game is a simulation, to others it’s all about gameplay. Some prefer the narrative element and others just like to have fun with crazy army builds. Somewhere amongst all that, we have to find a point we consider balanced. To be honest, the fewer variables, the more balanced the system, but you have to be careful not to strip out all the fun!
SR: What’s the story behind developing a codex/army book? Is it more like collective brainstorm or lone wolf’s work? How do Studio members are assigned to particular tasks?
Andy: It’s a complex process, and it starts with long-term strategy. Contrary to popular belief, the developers don’t decide what’s being released next – it’s decided according to the needs of the business, the systems and the resources available. We generally hear that a book is coming up about two years out, and take part in the early stages of the longest part of the process, which is the planning of the plastics. The actual writing time is around three months, with a whole load of playtesting, re-writing, editing and text going up and down the chain and being seen by a lot of people whose opinions really count. We spend most of our time planning, whether its taking part in project, art, graphics, layout, miniatures meetings and a whole lot more.
SR: How do you calculate point costs? Is there any mathematical formula?
Andy: There are too many variables in a system as open and potentially complex as 40k for any formula to stand up to much scrutiny. Far better is to assign the value that feels right and playtest it in as many different situations against as many different armies as possible, and to keep refining it that way.
SR: What is your opinion on tournament style of play and so called “comp scores”?
Andy: It’s not the style of play I personally favour, but it’s a very important part of the hobby. If the organisers feel they need comp scores to cater to the particular tastes of their players, then that’s their prerogative.
SR: Tom Kirby, chairman of GW wrote in preamble to 2006 Financial Results: “(…) out there in the world is the gene that makes certain people (usually male) want to own hundreds of miniatures. We simply fill that need – it’s not new (we didn’t create it). What we do is make wonderful miniatures in a timeless and culturally independent way and sell them at a profit. Everything else we make and do is geared around that end. The games and stories provide the context for the miniatures (…).” Does it mean that games and background developing is always one step behind the miniatures, so that you are given a bunch of new models and are told: “Write some rules and fluff for them”?
Andy: Don’t confuse the business model with the practicalities of development. In the big picture, the miniatures are the most important element, but when it comes to actually producing a codex and associated range, the designers, artists and writers all work together.
SR: Writing new background: is it all from your head or do you search for inspirations? Where may these come from?
Andy: We tend to zero in on an archetype, and then build it up from there. The inspiration can come from anywhere, and that’s one of the strengths of 40k and Warhammer – different factions can take inspiration from all over the place, and the setting is broad enough to accommodate it, meaning everyone can find something they identify with.
SR: The latest rumours about upcoming Blood Angels WD release say that “the new fluff will emphasize the BA’s progressing descent into madness and the degenerative effects of their gene flaw” (source: Warseer rumour thread). How are changes and new entries into the Dark Millenium background decided?
Andy: I wouldn’t believe everything you read on the ‘net 😉 As far as changes go, anything that gets changed has to come from, or be approved by, our head IP guy, who has been doing what he does since the beginning, so its never done lightly (if at all).
SR: In our opinion, background books like Imperial Armour vol. III: Taros Campaign or Tactica Imperialis present that in-depth look so much-desired
especially by many hobby veterans. Is it hard to put such a level of details into so dense background? Can we expect more releases like this?
Andy: One of the things that Forge World and Black Library do is to fill-out the area the Studio can’t, simply because they’re too niche. To answer your question on whether it’s hard to write, in some ways it’s easier, as you’re really concentrating on something you feel inspired by. In many ways writing the big picture stuff is harder, as you have to explain such a lot.
SR: During the last few years we could see some radical changes in the White Dwarf contents. Now it seems to be designed more for beginners and therefore less for experienced hobbyists. This makes veterans feel a little bit unsupported. What’s the GW’s look on this?
Andy: White Dwarf had to go back to basics, but is broadening out a bit now the core mission is sorted. Don’t forget though that most people in the hobby right now have been playing for less than a year or two, so we need to make sure they have a good grounding so they too can become veterans. Expansions such as Cities of Death and models such as the Vostroyans have been created especially with the veterans in mind, and there’s plenty more of the same planned.
SR: Summer Campaigns: there’s been quite a few since Armageddon, with colossal 2003 Eye of Terror and its WFB counterpart, 2004 Storm of Chaos as a milestones. I must say last year’s Fall of Medusa V can be viewed as slightly disappointing, mainly due to foreseeable ending, smaller space for player’s activity and lack of real background impact, compared to EoT (although it brought many great releases like Vostroyans, Eldar Rangers, Ork Kommandos, Cities of Death buildings and the CoD book itself). What is the planned direction for developing campaigns (especially fluffwise)?
Andy: The ending was indeed predictable – we said from the beginning the world would die! The question was how it would happen and who would earn glory along the way. We’re actually trying to get ourselves into a position where we can run worldwide campaigns every year without having to explain in background terms why every army is fighting in the same place at the same time. The worldwide campaigns really stretch the background, unless we limit them to just a few races (and exclude half the players) so we’d rather not do that. So, to answer your question, we’re refining the format, making it better each time, but the emphasis won’t be on moving the background forward.
SR: Privateer Press, Rackham, Moongoose Publishing – world of tabletop games is not only Games Workshop anymore. How carefully do you watch their actions, do you take a closer look at their own solutions?
Andy: As Games Workshop has grown, the hobby as a whole has grown, so everyone has a larger chunk of the pie. I’d be working for the wrong company if I said I didn’t think our stuff was the best, but I’m really happy to see other companies do their own thing and appealing to the people that want that thing. In terms of keeping an eye on them, of course we look, we work in the same industry and know some of the people involved, but we still have to have the courage of our convictions and confidence in what we do.
SR: Do you still enjoy gaming in your spare time, after six years of working games for life?
Andy: I don’t seem to get as much time as I’d like, but yes, and my Imperial Guard army has recently passed 8000 points!
SR: What are your favourite armies in WH40k and WFB? Do you also play LOTR?
Andy: In 40k I’m focussed on Imperial Guard, but also love the Sisters of Battle, the Iron Warriors and several others. In Warhammer I favour Lizardmen and Beasts of Chaos, though I’ve been tempted by both Ogre Kingdoms and Wood Elves. I play LotR, but don’t have my own force, though I really like the Warg Riders…
SR: Could you pick your most favourite miniature, the one for the no-man’s island? My opinion on converted Kroot Tracker riding Cold One you know already…
Andy: That’s asking a lot! Probably Saint Celestine, as Jes did an amazing job on the miniature, which came from a John Blanch concept, and it was the first Special Character I wrote the background and rules for.
SR: Some personal questions, if you don’t mind: what kind of music do you listen to? Your favourite – if any – book, car, sport team, alcohol? What place on Earth would you call yours? Are you going to visit Poland during 2012 European Football Championship? We invite you wholeheartedly 🙂
Andy: Music is Johnny Cash, as well as psychobilly and horror punk bands like The Meteors, Psycho Charger, Zombina and the Sketetones, the Horrorpops etc, but also some industrial stuff like KMFDM. Books, I read a lot of military history but also Robery E Howard, Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin and Black Library novels of course. Car – I’d love one of the Chrysler ZZ Top style ones, but can’t afford it! Alcohol is Tequila. Place: Brighton beach in summer as the sun comes up 🙂 Sport, I don’t really follow any one sport, but thanks for the invite!
SR: What do you think about, looking at the Daemonette Models? 😉
Andy: How on earth did Juan sculpt the chains so finely 😉
SR: Lastly, onward to questions you surely can’t answer, but we have no choice but to ask or else we’ll be eaten alive by our readers: How many 40k codices can we see released this year? Are they Orkses and Chaos? Is there a plan to include Lost and the Damned list into Codex: Chaos? Codex for each Chaos God and Undivided as the fifth: true or false? One Assault Cannon for Termies squad: true for every future SM release? What about Codex: Apocalypse? Will we really see plastic Baneblade and Stompa? Will there be stand-alone Codex: Alien Hunters or one monstrous Codex: Inquisition?
Andy: All will become clear in the fullness of time 🙂
SR: Thanks for your time and effort! We are very happy that you’ve agreed to talk to us. We hope to repeat it someday. Best wishes from all Sub Rosa staff!
Andy: Many thanks to you too!
For the complete interview check out the article on Sub Rosa (a fantastic Polish 40K site).