Warhammer 40,000: Regicide

So another Warhammer 40,000 game is in production. This time it’s 40k Chess. To be honest I have no feelings one way or the other on how good or not it will be. Or even how advisable it is to make a 40k version of the original strategy game when Games Workshop spend a lot of energy telling everyone theirs is the best. However the teaser and the animations look epic so for now I don’t really care.

And pay special attention to the bolters and heavy bolters when they fire. Because you can actually see the contrail of the bolt round’s rocket igniting. Which is pretty badass.

Space Hulk Gameplay

So here’s a video of some game play (plus an interview) from Feat the Flames, of Space Hulk from Full Control. Since the video from March the graphics have been tidied up loads, the light sourcing and over environments look ace and the terminators walk now. And the shoulder cam is extremely cool. I think there’s still a little work to be done mind. Watching the video it kinda looks like each action performed by the terminators are independent of each other rather than a fluid series of motions. Otherwise, the game is shaping up quite nicely.

Could this be the first good Space Hulk video game?

The Tragedy of Sanguinius

I finished reading Fear to Tread by James Swallow Friday night. As I powered through the book something dawned on me. Sanguinius was just as doomed as those of his brothers who embraced the ruinous powers.

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I say this because the flaw that plagues the Blood Angels in the 41st Millennium not only plagued them in the 31st Millennium but pulled at their father’s will also. There’s also a profound psychic bond between him and his sons which explains an awful lot.

We know that the Emperor deliberately experimented with different types of genetics to produce profoundly different results. The wulfen qualities of the Space Wolves was not an accident. There’s also a mention of vampiric genetic markers which can only belong to Sanguinius. Which indicates the red thirst was intentional. The black rage, however, seems more uncertain, but the potency of the red thirst seems connected with it. The Blood Angels were all psychically in tune with Sanguinius. He felt their pain and vice versa which is why his death at the hands of Horus doomed the Legion (and later the chapter/s) to a long and degenerating end.

But Sanguinius’ death and the mental decay of his sons isn’t the tragedy. Nor is their capacity of unchained blood letting that would rival Angron’s dogs. Angron was abused and he, in turn, abused his sons. The Space Wolves were made to be loyal and ruthless and do what must be done. But the Sanguinius was created flawed by his father. On purpose. The fury within him and all his sons was put there. The black rage may have been an accident or a byproduct of Sanguinius’ journey through the warp, could be the psychic bond but I doubt it. It’s too neat and tidy to be an accident.

So this all points towards the intention to create a rapid assault fighting force that was utterly brutal whilst still retaining martial prowess, clarity of thought and the ability to follow the chain of command and stick to the plan. And only if they failed were the likes of the Space Wolves brought in. But the Blood Angels were only kept in check by the strictest discipline but even that couldn’t last forever…

It seems immensely cruel of the Emperor to create a Primarch so fundamentally flawed from the outset as to crave blood as inevitably it would only end in one way. Although it’s important to point out that (a) he bred the Primarchs for war and (b) although he was their father he was never a parent. Theirs was never intended to be a loving, nurturing  relationship although that’s not to say the Emperor didn’t love his sons. In his own way he most certainly did. But had Sanguinius not been killed by Horus, although thanks to his farsight he always knew it was a possibility, then there’s every chance he and his legion would have been brought to account eventually for the conduct of a Blood Angel who succumbed to The Flaw. Such a genetic instability would no doubt be scrutinised and possibly deemed too high a risk to be allowed to live. I suspect Sanguinius always knew that which is why he did his best to be beyond reproach amongst the High Lords of Terra, his brothers and his father.

And what of the legion post crusade, had the heresy not erupted? It would be interesting to determine if the Blood Angels could have coped without the continual promise of war to keep their minds focussed. And what place could Sanguinius have in Imperial society? Especially with so many of his brothers suiting the obvious and vital roles with Vulkan – it has been very strongly suggested – to take the Throne should the Emperor choose to step down.

But, of course, the heresy did happen and it set the Blood Angels on a journey that would lead to them treading the red path. However, because of the bond Sanguinius had with all his sons, I believe they were on a dark and dangerous path already which would have only got worse as betrayals were revealed and Sanguinius witnessed and felt his sons being killed by those they once called brother. This anguish and rage would equally be felt by his sons essentially created a psychic feedback loop that would only increase in time. Had Sanguinius not perished the Blood Angels would be so hate filled their path would almost be identical.

But the tragedy of all this is that Sanguinius knew it all. He’d seen it. He knew every outcome. His death, his survival but at the head of a legion driven mad by treachery, or an existence without the driving focus of war. All ended in the demise of the Blood Angels one way or another be it madness or at the point of a gun. Yet Sanguinius continued to fight in the name of an Emperor that had, potentially, only ever created him and his sons as a short-term measure – one that had no place in the Imperium the Blood Angels was helping to forge.

But he did so for love and loyalty. Perhaps he thought that by pushing his Legion as hard as he did he was not only buying time to discover a cure but also hoped to prove the Blood Angels worthy to be a part of the Imperium. I think in reality it’s because Sanguinius was a good and dutiful son who loved his father and would do whatever was asked of him, even if it was at the cost of his Legion. And in the fires of war he gave his sons focus all the while slowly edging them towards the very fate they would daily try to avoid.

Space Hulk the Video Game

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Yes, that’s right; yet another shit looking Space Hulk video game. I seem to remember the first one coming out back when I had a Commodore 64. It was gritty, intense and scary. Everything since has been an unmitigated dirge of toss that focussed far too much on copying the board game into a first person format rather than making a game based on Space Hulk. There is nothing fun about playing a game in which your storm bolter jams every third shot. This time round it’s Full Control’s turn. A Danish company that seems to have produced a raft of crap looking games. Which makes me ask this question: is the licensing team at Games Workshop fucking high?

Here’s the announcement trailer…

Last Days of Angels

It’s been brought to my attention that a plucky group of gamers are attempting to build the largest diorama ever depicting the last days of the Blood Angels chapter at the hands of the Tyranids centuries from now, entitled Last Days of the Angels. Personally I think they should drop ‘the’ from the title because it’s more poetic but that’s just me. Now never let it be said that I’m one to discourage the killing Blood Angels I thought I’d tell you all about it. Below is a trailer of the first part of this epic endeavour but to see it come to fruition they need the community’s help so they’ve set up an Indiegogo crowd funding page. Go here for more information.

You can find out more of what the guys have in store over on Ramblings from the Trenches.

Shell Case Shorts 6 – Winner

I really struggled with June’s entries as this was the first time I’d opened it up to include comic books too which was down to the awesome prize donated by our resident cartoon mentalist Curis of Ninjabread. In the end I settled on a short story by a previous winner, Mr Dave Bartley (@Mephistonag). His story, Rage, once again gets beneath the surface of the 40k fluff and creates a gripping tale.

So without any further flapping of gums, I give you…

Rage

Pre-drop battle prep, a ritual Captain Albus had followed for the past 200 years. The weapons he tended had changed with his rise through the ranks, but the process remained. A solid touchstone to hold to, controlling the battle lust building within.

The armoury buzzed with activity, his retinue working on their weapons and armour, but he paid them no attention, external input closed to him. Mind focused on the preparation for war. The process began with his combat knife, the weapon of last resort save his armoured body itself, the true final weapon of any Astartes. Focus. He returned his mind to the routine.

He examined the blade, searching for imperfections from his recent sparing, seeking out the one he would never remove. The permanent blemish on the blade came from a battle with his most hated foe, one he may have called brother an age ago. Freshly inducted to the assault unit, his company were tasked to eradicate a raiding party of traitor Astartes. For 2 months they chased them form planet to planet, a trail of destruction left in their wake. They finally cornered the last few heretics; both sides aware the chase had ended. The battle rapidly degenerated into a whirling frenzy of close quarters fighting. Bolter and chainsword clashing in a storm of noise, oblivion awaited those whose concentration slipped for just a moment.

He’d found himself locked in combat with a hideous parody of the noble countenance of a Space Marine. Its armour was festooned with dark imagery and icons that hurt the eyes and turned the stomach. The armour’s surface squirmed and shifted, morphing with every thrust. Sword clashed with sword, the traitor had lost an arm; a mass of writhing tentacles sprouted from the sucking wound, lashing out to pull Albus closer. The faces on its armour seeming to reach for him before he broke free, severing tentacles in a shower of foul-smelling ichor, the toxic fluid mixing with the churned ground beneath their feet.

A large explosion tore through the line, the blast causing Albus to stagger, his feet slipping in the blood soaked earth. His suits internal stabilisation systems strained as they attempted to right him before he crashed onto his back, momentarily stunned. The servant of Chaos moved with unnatural speed, leaping onto Albus, pinning him to the ground. Its tentacles ripped his chainsword from his grasp, hurling it aside. With an inhuman wail its helmet split open to reveal an impossibly wide maw lined with row upon row of razor sharp teeth. Its shriek pierced deep into Albus’ soul, tugging at the core of his humanity. The monster’s tentacles began to slither around his neck, tightening steadily, ceramite creaking beneath the tremendous pressure. The traitor continued to stare down at him, his armour starting to crack, unable to withstand the attack.

The weight pressing down on him shifted, the beast was moving, preparing for its killing blow. Albus saw his opening. With a triumphant bellow he smashed an armoured fist into the heretics face, the shriek dying as Albus’ fist broke teeth and shattered bone. Snatching for his combat knife he thrust it deep into the eye socket of the thing’s helmet before it could recover. It rolled off him, its cry now a mix of pain and outrage, any trace of arrogance lost. Its good hand pulled at the hilt, desperate to remove the blade imbedded in its skull. Albus rolled, his hand closing over the hilt of his chainsword. Righting himself he took the traitors head from his shoulders with a single stroke.

That tear in the blade, lodging the knife in the heretic’s eye, had saved his life. The blood pulsed rapidly through Albus’ twin hearts. How had such treachery come to pass those millennia ago? What foul promise had torn the twice damned Horus from the path of righteousness? No matter, he would be stopped, the insurrection ended.

Albus sheaved the knife; turning to his next weapon, the power sword gifted him on his induction into the first company. Appearing to be a standard blade, dull and uninspiring, in its unpowered state. He checked the hilt, marvelling at the minute cables that fed the sword, allowing it to cleave through ceramite like flesh. He inspected the blade closer, words intricately engraved into its surface, his personal requiem. Many of his chapter maintained decorated banners listing their honours; Albus painstakingly etched them into the surface of his sword, the history of his devotion to the emperor blazing on his blade in battle. The intricate task a counter point to the wanton destruction it wrought.

Hefting the sword he marvelled at its balance, light despite its size, seemingly impotent. He let the blade spin in his hand, slicing arcs in the air, satisfied all was in order he returned his inspection to the blade, eye’s blurring, reading the names of the battles on the blade, remembering. Two centuries of slaughter, humans, xenos and heretic. Heretics, the followers of chaos, his mortal enemy, those battles burnt brightest in his memory. What lead his brothers to fall from the light? What perverse mistruth had they been fed? Thrusting his sword into its scabbard, Albus clenched both fists; he wouldn’t stop while the followers of the Warmaster took breath. The rebellion would end, here and now.

His hand reached for his final weapon, a bolt pistol, ornately decorated, master crafted. Passed from company commander to commander, his retinue oath-bound to ensure it was returned to the chapter should he fall. The bone forming the pistol grip was from some forgotten alien race, its surface as firm as the day it had been turned to fit an Astartes hand. With practised ease Albus set the block in the breach, the oiled parts mating perfectly. Hefting the pistol he felt the imbalance caused by the lack of a magazine. He moved to the practise range in the armoury, ramming home a magazine, readying the weapon as he approached the firing line.

The gun heavy without his power armour augmented muscles. He aimed, squeezing the trigger, savouring the explosion that sent the round accelerating towards the target, impacting precisely where he had intended. These practise rounds lacked the explosive tips that ripped targets apart from the inside out. He fired until the clip was spent; satisfied that all was in order, ready to slay the enemy once they made planetfall.

Their target had ceased to pay its tithe some 3 months previous, and astropathic communication had ceased shortly after that. The local system governor had dispatched local troops, but after a brief and garbled message they too had stopped reporting. In desperation the governor had turned to the Inquisition, and shortly after a team from the mysterious Deathwatch had been inserted onto the planet. Their report had been chilling. The existence of a wide-spread cult throughout the planet was grave news. Their last report had indicated that they were set to infiltrate into the heart of the cult. After that only a single word was received; Chaos.

Albus felt his choler rising, his hand gripping the pistol hard, flesh appearing the same white as the bone of the handle. Once again those foul believers of false gods would be his prey. Another stain on the honour of the chapter’s would be eradicated by this strike. He would lead his company into battle with the zeal of a true believer, the deliverer of the Imperial truth.

Though no reports indicated their presence, Albus yearned for the insurrection to be attended by heretical marines. To have another chance to battle against his fallen brothers, bring them to the justice they deserved for the aeons of war their folly had unleashed on the Imperium was a fire that burnt deep in his soul. They would be made to pay.

He hunched down, the noise of battle reverberated throughout the ship, klaxons blaring, barely heard beneath the staccato burst of bolter fire, battle cries echoing as brother battled brother. They had been separated. His hand gripped hard on his pistol, sword blazing its sheaf of blue death bright in the gloom, the lustre of his golden armour dimmed. He must find his father before his brother did, he must linger here no longer.

A cold metallic hand appeared on his shoulder, Albus whirled round, pistol at the ready, the sword mysteriously missing.

“Brother Captain Albus, return to us” Chaplain Ezekius stared placidly into Albus’ eyes, looking deep into his soul. Sergeant Spes stood next to him, his crimson armour bright compared to the flat black of the Chaplains.

“Yes, Brother Chaplain. I was contemplating the battle to come. Focusing my mind” Albus stood firm, letting his arm lower the bolt pistol to his side. He felt himself chill, the fire of his anger cooling in the face of the Chaplain’s stare, taking strength from his stoic demeanour.

“Some wars are not meant for us Albus, fight the battles before you,” Ezekius nodded, seemingly satisfied with what he read in Albus’ eyes, “Time to don your armour Captain, we drop on the hour.” He turned and left the armoury, Spes following a few steps behind. Albus was alone in the armour.

He sat, bolt pistol on his lap. Had he let his control slip? Had he been on the edge of madness? His hatred of the heretics pushing him to a fury from which there was not return? He looked at his ornate battle plate, polished and prepared, ready for him to lead his company into battle, white wings on his shoulders, blood in flight. Battle. Albus retained utterly sure in his skill, and the prowess of his brothers, to carry them before any enemy. Yet one universal truth no longer rang true for Albus.

He knew fear.

An Interview with James Swallow

They say never meet your heroes because you’ll only be disappointed. To those people I say poppycock and balderdash! I met the sci-fi legend that is James Swallow at Salute and was fortunate enough to have a good old natter with him about, amongst other things, Primarchs having Daddy issues and the Emperor never really being able to replace the adoptive fathers that raised them. It was, for me, an utterly awesome few minutes.

And if that weren’t enough, James being a thoroughly nice chap, kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions for The Shell Case. The mad fool.

TSC: James, thanks for taking the time. Now, you’re quite the sci-fi household name with huge success working across a variety of IPs including 2000AD, Stargate, Doctor Who, the latest instalment of the Deus Ex video game series and you’re the only British writer to have worked on Star Trek, specifically Voyager. So the question I have to ask is; did you get to meet Jeri Ryan?

JS: Nope, although Jeri was very complimentary about one of the stories I wrote for her character (a story called “One”)… I have met a fair few Star Trek actors in my time on the show and hung out on the sets of Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, which was fun. I guess I’ve been pretty lucky to work on IPs from fictional worlds that have given me a lot of enjoyment over the years.

TSC: The temptation to bellow Get off my bridge would be too much for me, I think. As I say, you’ve got a huge number of projects to your name including the all new Blake 7 stuff, the Blood Angels novels, the Horus Heresy, Stargate, Star Trek, what’s been your favourite to work on a why?

JS: I can’t really pick a favourite; I like each of them for different reasons. Each story presents a different set of challenges, each fictional world a different tone and texture to write.

TSC: Fair comment. So, what’s the one project you’ve not worked on yet that you’d love to take a crack at?

JS: If we’re talking about tie-ins, I’d love to do something for Star Wars, Halo or Marvel comics. I’m a big fan of all those universes. Beyond that, maybe write an action movie or a modern-day thriller novel.

TSC: I vote for Halo. Maybe a tie-in between Halo’s 3 & 4. Working with so many different IPs and Universes, do you ever get muddled up? Do you start off on Baal and end up on a Battlestar?

JS: No, the tones of each fictional world are very different. What works in a Star Trek story would not feel right in a Stargate tale, or vice-versa. It’s an important part of the tie-in writer’s job to maintain the correct texture and “feel” of a universe, otherwise what you’re writing doesn’t fit.

TSC: The Blood Angels series is now available in two anthologies. What drew you them to write about over the other Chapters?

JS: They’re cool! At the start, when Black Library asked me to write for the Warhammer 40,000 universe, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do, and I considered all the factions. The Blood Angels stood out to me because they were a first founding chapter that no-one had really written very much about at the time – and they have a great dramatic concept at their core. The thing about the Blood Angels is, their greatest gift – the noble bloodline of Sanguinius – is also their greatest curse. That’s a dynamic spur for character conflict and good drama, and when I saw that I knew that I wanted to write about them.

TSC: Deus Encarmine & Deus Sanguinius were awesome and incredibly bold considering you basically plunged the Blood Angels into a civil war. Aside from being hugely fun to write you must have felt a great deal of responsibility in writing what I think is a very brave story. Were the any anxieties from the Black Library?

JS: Exactly the opposite, actually. Right at the start I pitched two Blood Angel stories; one was a more conventional action story (kinda ‘Black Hawk Down’ with Space Marines) and the other was called ‘Sacred Blood’, the civil war story which eventually became the Deus duology. I honestly thought Black Library would pick the conventional idea, but they went straight for the more contentious one and suggested I make it two books instead of one. It was very rewarding to have that level of trust from the editors, and it seems to have been the right choice, as the Blood Angels books have sold very well and readers keep asking for more!

TSC: They are way cool. I even wrote a prototype army list around the loyalist faction. Flight of the Eisenstein is one of my favourite Horus Heresy novels and introduced us to Nathaniel Garro who is, without question, one of the coolest characters ever made. Possibly even more so than Ravenor (sorry Dan). You’ve had the awesome task of writing the Garro audio books which introduce us to the fledgling days of the Grey Knights. How did you go about tackling such an important story and were there any details you had to be especially careful of?

JS: Everyone assumes there is a connection between Garro and the Grey Knights, but I have to say it’s not as clear-cut as people think it is! Things are not exactly as they appear; but we’ll reveal more as the Horus Heresy saga goes on. Garro is a great character, and I really enjoy writing him. I’m pleased people have latched on to him; after I wrote Flight I didn’t intend to return to him for a while, but the reader response was so strong I couldn’t let him fade away! Obviously, ever story we tell in the Heresy era is important to a greater or lesser extent – even those that may not seem important right now may take on greater meaning as the series continues. Garro is cool because he is a viewpoint figure, someone who had his own story but who can also observe other major events in the Heresy era. We have a strong arc for him across the whole of the narrative that will play out as things progress. How that may or may not connect to the origins of the Grey Knights…I can’t say.

TSC: Ooh you tease! Am I right in saying there’s another Garro instalment out at the end of the year? What are you able to tell us about the plot?

JS: The next Garro story is an audio drama – a two-disc tale this time – called Sword of Truth. Originally, my idea for the story was to make it a prose tale for a future Horus Heresy anthology, but Black Library wanted to make it an audio instead. Sword of Truth takes place between the events of Oath of Moment and Legion of One and it shows the introduction of the character of Macer Varren to Garro’s band of brothers. And there are plans for more Garro stories beyond those.

TSC: Sounds awesome. I’ll be getting it, that’s for sure. Now, Nemesis made it into the New York Times bestseller list, which is an incredible achievement. It was a real change of pace compared to some of the other Horus Heresy novels. How did you go about constructing, what I think is, a very elegant and atypical 40k novel whilst still keeping it, well, 40k?

JS: The concept for Nemesis came from a couple of places. The core idea spun out of one of our regular Horus Heresy writer meetings, when Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill and I were discussing the Thousand Sons/Prospero Burns books. The subject of assassins came up and I immediately knew it would be a cool area of story to examine. Once I decided to write it, I realised that Nemesis could be a vehicle to show that the Heresy isn’t all about Space Marines – ordinary people and different factions are also affected by it. I really liked the idea of being able to show how a normal person  – someone like you or I – would be affected by living on a world under the shadow of Horus’s rebellion. I wanted Nemesis to be a Robert Ludlum-style thriller in the 30K era, and I feel like I hit that mark. It’s also an interesting story, because it shows how one small event could have totally changed the course of the Heresy, if things had gone a different way.

TSC: I think you did it very well. Like Legion, by Dan, it was a very clever story that forced you to look beyond the war, and, as you say, the Space Marines knocking seven bells out of each other. Fear to Tread, out in September, is a Horus Heresy novel, surprisingly, about the Blood Angels. What can you tell us about it without giving the game away?

JS: The short answer is: the Blood Angels go to the Signus Cluster, and all hell (quite literally) breaks loose. As part of his plan to rebel against the Emperor, Horus sends Sanguinius and his legion to a remote star system on a fake mission – but it’s actually a trap for the Blood Angels. A huge army of daemonic creatures is waiting to destroy them. Of course, Chaos being Chaos, there are plans within plans and internal conflicts on both sides. By the end of the story, the Blood Angels will be changed by their experiences and set on the road toward the Siege of Terra and that final reckoning between Sanguinius and Horus. Fear to Tread is the biggest book I’ve ever written for Black Library, and there’s a lot going on in there. It’s been very challenging, but I feel it’s all up there on the page.

TSC: The buzz on the interwebs surrounding the novel has been very positive and excited so far so I think you may have another hit on your hands. And, finally, because I ask this of all the writers I’ve interviewed; what advice would you give to those budding writers, be they novelists or script writers?

JS: The advice I always give is two words: Finish It. Lots of budding writers start and stop, dropping out of a project when things get tough or when a better idea comes along – but that never advances your craft and your skills. I’ve lost count of the number of wannabes who say “I have great ideas but I can never finish writing them”; those people will never be writers. You have to stick with it and finish the job. It’s important to be able to see a piece of work through to the end, because no matter what you think of it when you are done, you will have become a better writer for it and earned yourself some XP.

TSC: James it’s a been a real pleasure, thank you very much and I look forward to all the new releases.

Games Day Miniature Goes Old School

I’m sure a few of you would have seen this floating around but I thought I’d share it anyway. It would appear that this year’s Games Day model is a homage to the second edition 40k cover artwork of the Blood Angel captain by John Blanche.

The Captain

The Box Art

All things considered it’s a nice sculpt. And it’ll be the first Games Day model to be produced in Finecast which, I’m sure, will have all the eBay sellers tight in the pants department thinking about all the extra money they’ll make out of the poor bastards that buy from them.

It’s quite nice to see the Games Workshop paying homage to its routes as, although it was second edition, it was this version of the game that really started to define the 40k Universe and inspired everything that followed. I know many people would argue that point with me but I always felt like Rogue Trader was just a bit of fun or somewhat of an experiment rather than a serious, focussed, effort. I think the Games Workshop was genuinely surprised that the game was successful, and thus they were doomed to live with the Dark Angels = gay marines joke forever. If you don’t get the reference look up the poet Lionel (Lion’el) Johnson and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s pretty unlikely I’ll be going this year as some friends of mine have rather selfishly decided to get married in September so I imagine my meagre funds will be spent on booze and an expensive gift, so I’ll need someone to pick me one up. Maybe.

That said, a part of me would love to have seen an updated mini diorama based on the Rogue Trader cover art because it was that image that first drew me to 40k, even though I didn’t actually start playing it until the second edition.