Best-selling 40K novelist Dan Abnett has been announced as co-writer of Fatshark's forthcoming co-op game Warhammer 40,000: Darktide. It's not the author's first time writing a videogame, however. He co-wrote Alien: Isolation, and wrote showdowns and death taunts for the orcs on Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and their character bios in its sequel Shadow of War.
"Both games I was recruited specifically to write that dialogue [in Shadow of Mordor] and create those characters," he recalls. "I can't remember, I think the first time around it was 60 [orcs], there was more the second time." Thanks to the Nemesis system, each orc would remember what happened in your previous encounter with them and have bespoke responses that suited their personality. "I have to say, once you get past about 30 orcs you're really struggling to think about, 'What can a different orc be? How can I do this in a different way?' But it was fun."
I have fond memories of the orc who sarcastically pretended to care about my health when we met, saying things like, "You look sickly! Need a cup of broth before I slit your throat?" And the one who began a battle by saying, "Your threats have no feathers! They do not fly." That's a hell of a thing to hear before a fight to the death. I had to think about it for a while and it threw me right off my game. The fact they say all these things in Cockney accents only makes them more memorable.
"The decision was made, not by me, but the decision was made to make them all sound like Cockney gangsters from a Ray Winston film," Abnett says. "So I ended up saying all the lines to myself in that kind of Bob Hoskins voice, which is great, because it made the whole process very efficient. I was very good at doing it. I could turn out a surprising number of lines a day. But I get to the end of the day, and I wouldn't be able to stop TALKIN' LIKE THA', WOULD I?" he says, sounding like Michael Caine in The Italian Job. "My wife would come in and say what do you want for dinner? 'I DUNNO, LUV!'"
You'd think someone who has spent a couple of decades writing books for the grim Warhammer 40,000 universe would be immune to having his work rub off on him, but as Abnett's ability to slip into fluent Cockney bellowing to this day shows, writing Mordor's orcs had a lasting effect.
"It was weird," he says. "I usually try and spread jobs out and mix them up so that you don't stay somewhere too long. But that was almost like some kind of bizarre indoctrination that I've never recovered from."
Correction: This story has been amended to reflect that Dan Abnett specifically contributed showdowns and death taunts for Shadow of Mordor, and did not provide dialogue for Shadow of War.