Lab Rats: Designing the Doom-Machines of The Prophet & The Warlock DLC

By Sean Martin 17 Apr 2019 0

Clan Skryre are one of Warhammer Fantasy’s craziest factions — a group of warpstone-addled, lab rats gone wrong, fusing technology with dark magic to create the craziest killing-machines possible. Clan Moulder may have monsters and Clan Pestilens may have plagues, but Skryre are responsible for all of Skaven technology, a role which has given these mad scientists great power in ratmen society. And chief among these mad scientists is Ikit Claw, Warlock Engineer, a rat, who even by Skaven standards, is a bit crazy.

 “All Ikit wants is destruction, and he’s going to make it happen no matter the cost” Designer, Balint Marczin explains “He creates these doomsday devices that are far too powerful to exist but he’s doing it anyway because he doesn’t care.” Ikit did almost destroy the world once, placing his famous bomb, the Doomsphere, on a fault-line beneath the Dwarfhold of Karak Azul. The Dwarfs stopped him in time, but it was a detonation that would’ve effectively caused a world-ending earthquake. “Ikit doesn’t know limits. He’ll destroy the world if he can” Marczin says. But how did Creative Assembly work to represent this mad obsession in the game?

Ikit Claw Concept

Lead Character Artist Baj Singh says “It’s all about the way he moves and acts. He has a jitteriness about him like he drank too much caffeine and can’t keep still. We also took the claw and made it look like it’s slightly malfunctioning so it would tie into the character.” But Singh admits “It’s not just in Ikit’s movements but also the armour”. Ikit’s armour the ‘Iron Frame’ says a lot about his character — in a world where armour is given florid names like ‘The Cloak of Mist and Shadows’ or ‘The Dragon Armour of Aenarion’, Ikit’s ‘Iron Frame’ suggests a cold functionality. Ikit is effectively a cyborg rat, the word ‘frame’ implying his reliance on the exoskeleton, but it also suggests an almost machine-like pursuit of purpose — in this case: destruction. And nowhere can that better be seen than in the killing-machines he maniacally crafts.

The Prophet and the Warlock DLC adapts three classic Clan Skryre doom-machines from the table-top: The Warplock Jezzails, The Doomflayers and of course, fan favourite the Ratling Gun. “We really took a lot of liberties” Singh says, describing the process of adapting The Doomflayers, “On tabletop, they were conceived as one of the units pushing another. In the scope of our game, we had to make sure it could move quite quickly so we worked with Games Workshop to give it a more motorized look.” Marczin describes how “It behaves like a chariot, but has this rev up mechanic where it starts spinning and creates an absolute bloodbath. Chariots can’t do that.”

Chariot Thing

Chariot Thing 2

Animation is also especially important for Skaven units, as a race that has a lot of personality, but units such as the Warplock Jezzails can present unique challenges. “It’s a two-team weapons unit with each member acting independently” Singh says, reflecting on their approach, “The animators have them playfully fighting with each other. If one of them is firing in the front, the other is in the back, egging him on. It gives them a really gleeful look like two children who have just found a new toy to play with.” If you look closely, it’s easy to see such funny moments within the weapons teams — watch the Ratling Guns and you’ll see the gunner snap back at the rat carrying the ammo, as he obviously gets too involved in the action.

The Ratling gun is also an iconic unit for the dastardly ratmen, and Singh describes process of adapting it: “We worked closely with the animation team, taking the weapon type and doing some crazy things with it – lots of emissive effects when the gun starts firing its bullets, the rotation in the gun itself, and then a digital animation on top of the units to help them pop.” This can really be appreciated when watching the Ratlings fire — a hail of glowing green bullets, that while inaccurate at times, can literally slow approaching enemies with their intensity. 

Skaven TWW2

While all of the Skaven units in The Prophet and the Warlock have been well adapted, the crowning achievement, with jetpack, flamethrower and insanity to boot, has to be Ikit Claw. The true brilliance of the Skaven lies in their ability to twist our own cultural depictions of rats, turning them into the insidious creatures we merely imagine them to be. Clan Pestilens play on our association between rats and plague, Clan Eshin, upon the idea that rats are sneaky, and Skryre, upon the idea of lab rats.

I love that the reason Ikit Claw is a white rat, is because he is literally a lab rat. In our world, Ikit is a breed of rat commonly used as a test-subject, but in Warhammer, he and Clan Skryre are the ones manning the labs, inventing their killing-machines, and using humans as test-subjects instead. It’s a strangely fitting revenge, and CA has done a wonderful job bringing these devices of death to life, adapting and re-inventing such beloved table-top classics.

The Prophet & the Warlock DLC for Total War: Warhammer 2 is due out later today, stay tuned for our review!

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