30 July 2016

Weapons of Sci-Fi: The Boltgun from Warhammer 40,000

When you live in a hostile weird galaxy filled with crazed Orcs, zombie-demon possessed Space Marines, dark gods, killer space elves, and gene-stealing nightmare fueled creatures; you need a big fraking slug thrower to kill the enemies of man...and that gun is the Bolter, the Holy Bolter! The super-soldier warrior-monks protectors of the Imperium of Man use the .75 caliber (19.05mm) and the .998 (25.35mm) Boltguns, and it has become the very symbol of the Imperium and the God-Emperor's promise to defend the species from the hostile aliens and dark gods. Only in the deliciously insane universe of Warhammer 40,000 does the massive boltgun make any kind of sense. So, in this installment in the Weapons of Sci-Fi FWS will be FINALLY examining the Boltgun of the Adeptus Astartes and its legendary status in the science fiction community.

What is the Bolter and Its Classification?
Since the 31st millennium, around the same time as the Horus Heresy, the primary weapon-of-choice of the Imperium of Mankind is the Boltgun. It has become the primary tool of war for the Adeptus Astartes, the Imperium, and even the Chaos Space Marines...but, what exactly is the Boltgun? At its heart, all Boltguns are kinetic energy weapons that fire rocket-propelled .75 caliber or .998 caliber shells in various munitions types, and they are mostly constructed by the Adeptus Mechanicus and mostly fed from a box magazine. While used primarily by the Astartes, there are "lighter" variants seen within the Imperial Guard, the Sisters of Battle, other Imperium agencies, and the Imperial Navy.

Across the Imperium and her colonies, the Botguns can be seen taken on many forms: from pistols, sniper rifles, heavy machine guns, and even a PDW (more on that.) The 10,000 year old technology has been applied to many common military firearms types seen on the battlefield, but the standard issue Boltgun is a bit of a mystery: the current  issued (and most common) Boltgun among the Astartes chapters is the MK Vb Godwyn Pattern. When it comes to the classification of the standard form of the (Rifle? PDW?) Bolter...that's the hard part.
The most classical representation of the Bolters used by the Space Marines is a stockless, short-barreled, adjustable-fire, kinetic weapon that fires grenade-sized shells of massive power and impact...but is it an assault rifle pistol? An carbine? An oddball SMG? An weird PDW? Some fans have called the common pattern Boltgun a "Space Uzi"...and they may be the best descriptor of the weapon. Why the standard MK Vb Godwyn Pattern Boltgun is stockless is due to the bulky powered armor worn by the Astartes making it difficult to raise the weapon to their shoulder in standard shooting position. Helping this normally unwise firing stance is the targeting software inside the helmets of the Space Marines. All of these factors make applying the standard firearms classification to standard Bolter to be useless. The standard Bolter seen in the hands of the Astartes is an unqiue future firearm onto itself.

What Do Those Bolter's Fire?
One of the most unusual and incredible features of the Space Marine Bolter is the ammunition itself. It fires on average either a massive .75 caliber (19.05mm) or an .998 (25.35mm) multi-stage rocket-propelled projectiles of various ammunition types for various missions and threats types. For example, there are shell types developed specifically to counter to the devilish Tyranids. This "hellfire" shell is packed with needles tipped with acid. Nasty. Those shell sizes jump when we make the leap to the heavy machine gun and heaviest boltgun systems mounted to vehicles.

The ammunition appears to be linked to the unsuccessful concept of "Gyrojet" ammunition and the weaponry developed around it from the 1960's. This concept was popular with some sci-fi creators in the 1980's, as seen BattleTech and this one. Soon, Yoel will be examining Rocket Guns in his next Armory blogpost! When firing the standard Bolter shell, the weapon operates more or less like a normal firearm, with the shell casing ejecting, and the kick-charge propelling the shell out of the barrel. Once it leaves the barrel, four micro-rocket ports activate and launch the round, spinning to its target at ever building velocity.
When it strikes it target, the diamantine tip and depleted uranium core punch through the target's armor and/or skin, just after the shell enters the body of the target, the main explosive charge unleashes hell as the shell deeply penetrates. This causes horrific damage and shocking traumatic violence on the target, resulting in one or two rounds being enough to transform most of the enemies of humanity into ground hamburger meat. The ammunition and its mode of propulsion is one of the factors confusing the classification of the Boltgun itself. The size and abilities of the shells blurs the lines between grenade launcher, anti-material rifle, and hand cannon; the while the standard Bolter is used as a normal infantry weapon in the Astartes and Imperial Guard.
Then there is the matter of the recoil. For years, Games Workshop has attempted to use the massive recoil of the Boltgun to illustrate how badass their enhanced superhuman Astartes are. However, real-world Gyrojet weapons actually lacks much in the way of  any recoil and normal human soldiers are seen using Boltguns without any type of armor or assistance...eroding the case of the "rip the arm out of the socket" recoil. This could be explained by the difference between the Bolter shell and the Gyrojet ammunition. Production Gyrojet ammunition by MBA used micro-rockets to propel the round downrange. The bullets would exit the barrel at very low velocity, to the point that you could stop the round leaving the barrel with your hand and not suffer major trauma. That is not true, seemingly, of the Bolter. It uses an kick charge to propel the projectile out of the barrel, and then the rocket lights up after exiting the barrel. Recoil could result from the kick charge...all of this is theoretical without a real Boltgun to test...FWS doesn't have the R&D budget for that.

The History of the Boltgun
During the Golden Age of Technology (or Dark Age), when humanity had a vast more peaceful and technological superior empire, directed energy weaponry was the standard armament; as seen with the Graviton and the Disintegration weapons. By the Age of Strife, the original Space Marines were wielding powerful thermal ray directed energy weaponry known as Volkite weapons. Given the weapon's level of technology and its complexity, it could not be maintained or produced in the numbers needed by Adeptus Astartes for the Great Crusade in the late 30th millennium. This is when the Space Marines turned to the Terran Bolter to fulfill the needs of the Astartes. While mechanically simpler than the Volkite and with ammunition being able to be produced onboard the ships of the crusader fleet, it was none the less powerful. Over the next ten centuries, the Boltgun was improved, refined, and expanded on with various "patterns" of Boltguns. Despite all of the wars, invasions, uprisings, and cullings; the Boltgun is still the weapon-of-choice for the Astartes and will be for the foreseeable future.

Boltgun Variants
Please note that I will not be discussing the dozens of "Patterns" that exist for each major variant of the Imperial Boltgun unless they are important to the topic. There are just too many for the scope of this blogpost.

The Standard Bolter
For the last 10,000 years, since the Horus Heresy, the Space Marine Chapters and other groups in the Imperium of Man have used the standard form of the Bolter. Classically, the standard Boltgun is an stockless, box magazine-fed, .75 caliber, short-barreled carbine-like weapon that can put shells down range in various firing modes. Unlike current issue military small arms, the standard Bolter is only fitted with the most basic and utilitarian iron-sights. While this would be an issue with most current soldiers, it does not seem an issue to be for the Astarte. As demonstrated by the Space Marines in combat, they often do not lift the standard Boltgun up to their eyes to fire accurately. Instead, they unleash a torrent of shells onto their target(s) in massive battle formations during assault operations. The battlefield and the enemies of the 41st millennium are far different than the enemies we see today. What allows the standard bolter to be effectively utilized by the Astartes is their super human strenght and their powered armor. Their armor in a way acts as the stabilizer for the weapon, enabling the Space Marine to fight the .75 caliber shells on full-auto while one-handed...don't try this at home.

The Bolter Pistol
One of the most common Boltguns in service across the Imperium is the Bolt Pistol. Seen in the hands of the Sisters of Battle, the Commissars in the Imperial Guard, and in the hands of naval personnel. There is conflicting information on the nature of what the Bolt Pistol fires. Some sources say that the standard issue Bolt Pistol, the Godwyn-De'az Pattern, fires .75 caliber shells from an limited magazine of 6-10 rounds. It can also fire in single or burst fire modes. Other sources claim that the Bolt Pistol chambers several different calibers based on the user.
We know that the Astartes Chapter received the full-caffeinated .75 version, while the non-augmented, may have receive a smaller caliber to reduce the recoil. Either way, the Bolt Pistol is an favor over the more conventional Laspistol seen in the Imperial Guard. In its design, the Bolt Pistol is not what we would think of as an "pistol" given its magazine being mounted under the barrel and not loading via the handle, as per standard pistol of today. This makes the Bolt Pistol an hybrid of the machine pistol and the combat pistol. The Bolt Pistol is more rare outside of the WH40K boardgames, but was featured as a starting weapon in THQ's 2011 Space Marine 3rd person shooter.

The Stalker Pattern Bolter 
This is the DMR/Sniper variant of the standard Bolter, and it even has specialized Bolt shells, "the Stalker ammunition" that allow this weapon to be more or less silent in firing, quite a feat for the Bolter, but not for an Gyrojet weapon. The Stalker Silent shell is powered by a gas cartridge instead of the normal dual kick and propellant charges for more silent propulsion, but at a lower velocity. The weapon itself is very similar to a standard Bolter, but fitted with an longer barrel and scope, which makes the Stalker Boltgun closer to an DMR than an out-and-out sniper rifle. However, like the standard Bolter, this DMR variant lacks a stock, relaying on the Space Marine armor to stabilize the weapon.

Storm-Bolter
One of the more interesting variants of the standard Bolter is the Storm Bolter that is mostly seen with the Tactical Dreadnought Terminator units of an Astartes Chapter. To me, the Storm Bolter is close to the PDW concept, given the nature of the Terminator's natural habitat, the hulk, and has a high rate of fire for a Bolter due to its dual-barrels and each barrel is fed from an individual magazine or a box magazine feeding both. It forms one half of the standard close quarters warfare load-out for sweep-&-clear hulk operations.
 Due to the popularity of Space Hulk boardgames and video games, there is some confusion across the various appearances of the Storm Bolter and for some of us (like me), the Storm Bolter was how we got introduced to the weaponry of 40K. Some sources have shown or explained that the Storm Bolter firing both barrels at the same time, dealing galactic levels of damage and death upon their target. Other sources show the barrels firing after one another, allowing for rapid fire of a different kind than the single barreled variety. However, anyone with experience with Space Hulk knows that the Storm Bolter jams due to the fire rate. Most modern Storm Bolters are different from the original dual-linked Boltgun weapon from the time of the Horus Heresy, which can still be seen in the hand of Traitor Legion Marines. One of the more general users of the Storm Bolter is the Grey Knights Space Marine Chapter (AKA the Space Paladins AKA the Magical Matt Ward Chapter ). They have gauntlet mounted Storm Bolters fed from from an ammo pack in the rear of their Aegis armor. This allows the Grey Knights to wield their Nemesis Force weapons more freely. As the Youtube Channel Arch Warhammer said about the Storm-Bolter: "this is what would happen if an Saiga-12 (shotgun) fucked a Mark-19 (automatic grenade launcher). Highly inaccurate, exceptionally ugly, and  heavy on the boom-boom."

The Chaos Boltgun
During the pivotal conflict known as the Horus Heresy saw 9 out of the 20 half of Adeptus Astartes Chapters sided with Warmaster Horus against the Emperor. After Horus was slain, the Traitor Legions and some of the rebels treated to the Eye of Terror, and they took their Bolters with them. In the 41st millennium, forces of the Imperium encounter Chaos Space Marines wielding their ancient Bolters while similar to the modern Bolters, are altered after the exposure to the forces of Chaos. These older Boltguns of all configurations are highly decorated with more gore and horror than a Halloween pop-up super store. The majority of them fire the more-or-less standard .75 caliber, and the weight is greater than an current Bolter that prevents of wielding of these 10 century vintage by "normal" soldiers. Chaos Armies are popular among fans for their customization and freedom. Often, one player's Chaos Army will differ from another's due to the artistic freedom.

Combi-Bolters
Combi-Bolter is a simple concept: it is two weapon systems combined into a single, more portable unit, similar to the M16 Masterkey and the M203 grenade launcher. Often, the Combi-Bolter is an normal Bolter combined with another common weapon, like an plasma gun or even an Meltagun. At times, the Boltgun is the attachment rather than the primary weapon. One of these Combi-Bolters are seen in the hands of Azrael, the supreme grand master, the Lion's Wrath. This variant of the Boltgun has not been seen in a 40K video game.

The Heavy Bolter
There really is no light machine gun in the WH40K universe relatively speaking. However, the Heavy Bolter is the LMG to the Astartes and an heavy machine gun to the Imperial Guard. In the hands of the Astartes, this belt-fed Boltgun becomes a two-handed portable dealer of death to all that stand before it. Like all Boltguns, the Heavy Bolter can fire various shell types, just at a greater rate of fire, but at a cost of maneuverability and extra heat. One of the elements that separates the standard Bolter from the Heavy Bolter is the .998 caliber shell versus the .75 caliber. Given its offensive and defensive abilities, this is a solid choice for online multiplayer matches.

The Vulcan Mega-Bolter
Let me be clear...the Vulcan Mega-Bolter is pure 100% Mothman-flying-over-you insanity, the kind of insane that defies logic and the laws of physics...but, damn! That is a nice cannon! This rotary cannon that spews 10.00 caliber (254mm) kinetic projectiles is only mounted on the heaviest of Imperium weapons platforms, like Titans. Not one, but two of these mega-damage weapons are mounted on the Titans to inflict extinction level event trauma to enemy formations, armored vehicles, and large Tyranid combat forms. Since the Bolt shell is an Gyrojet and uses an conventional kick charge to exit the barrel and not the rocket motor, the cannon machinery can survive, in theory, the punishing stress of pumping out of 254mm projectiles.
I say "in theory" because the largest artillery in modern military service is the 203mm artillery round and while is not the German Schwerer Gustav railroad cannon, the Mega-Bolter is nearly unbelievable even by 40K standards. Think about the Vulcan firing 360 rounds-per-minute of 254mm shells...as Mac said to Dutch in Predator: Nothing on Earth could've lived. Not at that range. Cities, demonic forces, starships, hordes of godless Orks, and shit-in-your-pants Tyranid could stand up to that kind of fire. It is the hand of god and is beyond engineering that we know today. Why? The mere weight of the shells coupled with the force of the cannon barrels rotating and the recoil would violently rattle the mech to shrapnel and most likely create an minor earthquake at the site of firing.
 
The Bolter: The Symbol of the Adeptus Astartes...Or Not?
Given the weight of the Bolter, the massive size of the projectile being fired, and it lacking a stock coupled with the recoil; it is easy to see that this weapon would be solely used by the Adeptus Astartes. Logically, because they are the only ones that could use the damn thing. An normal human soldier, if they pick up the Bolter, could not accurate fire it after a single .75 or .998 projectile left the barrel. Or could they? Boltguns are also issued and seen in the ranks of the Imperial Guard, other normal human factions, and this believed symbol of the Space Marines is muddled because of the mishandling of the Bolter by Games Workshop itself.
Weapons are symbols of the warriors who wielded them, and if you are going to have super-soldier humans with massive fully automatic rocket-guns blazing away at aliens and demons, don't have the norma punyl human soldiers use them as well! Okay, some of the normal human versions of the Boltgun are not the fully caffeinated version used by the Space Marines, and the Imperial Guard do use the Heavy Bolter machine gun, and rightly/logically so. Some of the ammunition types are also only used by the Space Marine Chapters as well, like the .998 Bolter that is not the Heavy Bolter machine gun. One of the more common variants of the Bolter in the hands of  the Imperial Guard and Imperial Navy is the Bolt Pistol, as seen in the hands of the Imperial Guard officer core. It is likely that this is because of these Bolt Pistols are of a lesser caliber than the standard Astartes Bolt Pistol. Another Boltgun user that does not fall under the Space Marine Chapters is the Adepta Soroitas, the Sisters of Battle, who are not enhanced like the Astartes, but use armor and Bolters, but their first love is flamethrowers (burn them with fire!). All of this adds up to one major conclusion: the Boltgun is more of a symbol of the Imperium of Man, not the Astartes.

What Does the Bolter Say About the Imperium of Man?
A lot, actually. Unlike the Federation from Star Trek, the grimdark world of the 41st millennium is a terrifying future where war rages constantly, threats are omnipresent, and your own government is oppressive in every way. Certainly, the normal people living in the Imperium do not live in a bright, happy, future world as do the citizens of the Federation, rather a brutal high-tech regression back to the Medieval era. Which is the point of the space-fantasy theme of 40K. These threats that surround the Imperium of Man are composed of murderous demons, dark hungry gods (Blood for the Blood God!), bands of Orks, twisted traitors to humanity, and killer robots. Yep, really damn shiny, and you need a realy damn big shiny gun to end those threats in spectacular fashion. That means the .75 Boltgun. While everything with WH40K is over-the-top, and the Boltgun is a symbol of that, the threats that mankind faces would dictate an platform to deal out the lethality needed. One of these .75 caliber explosive round spinning towards you like a football would offer enough kinetic damage to put down most threats in one or two hits. In the dark world of the 41st millennium, that may be all you get against a Chaos demon.

The Boltgun as a Real-World Firearm
There is no weapon on the face of Earth like the Bolter, but could it exist in the real-world? How would the Bolter behave in the real-world? One of the central issues withe the Bolter is its massive round coupled with its lack of a stock. These factors alone would rule it out from being a practical firearm without an exo-suit and some technological magic. The only 20mm traditional firearm in military service are anti-material rifles, like the Anzio 20mm sniper rifle, the South African Denel NTW-20 rifle, and the prototype Barrett XM109 25mm anti-materiel rifle. Another similar weapon platform is the H&K XM25 CDTE 25x40mm magazine-fed smart grenade launcher that was an outgrowth of the XM29 OICW 20mm grenade launcher. Both of these fed some of the similarly sized .75 caliber ammo, but they are not used in the manner as the standard Astartes Bolter.
To put the size of the standard Bolter cartridges in some context for real-world evaluation, the largest handgun in production is the .600 (28mm) Nitro Express Revolver designed by Austrian Pfeifer Zeliska. Each bullet fired out of this mega-revolver is $40. During the 19th century, black powder and early cartridge rifles chambered massive bullets, like .54, .58, and the .577 round for the British Martini-Henry rifle. Today, the standard military and civilian assault rifle cartridges are in the 5mm-7mm range not 19mm. In addition, the standard Bolter is far too bulky and unwieldy in design when compared to modern military small arms. In the final assessment, the Bolter is best in its own unique universe and time being used by the Astartes.

The Major Issues with the Design and Function of the Boltguns
Okay, the world of 40K is a dark science fiction universe that is fully fused with mythological and fantasy elements, and it is in no way presented as an hard science universe. Also, I love and respect Warhammer 40,000, so what I am about to say is from a place of love and respect. Taken as a whole, the Boltgun is one of the most poorly designed and poorly explained popular sci-fi weapons....along with the Lightsaber, of course. I love the imagery associated with it and using an massive KEW system to take down the enemies (and friends) presented in 40K makes sense, but it needs to be more developed and constant....especially on the side of Games Workshop.
The size of the shells is not constant nor does it match the art, the damage, the magazines, or the physical dimension presented. In a great thread on BolterandChainsword.com, +Frater Domus+ explained the distorted and disconnected relationship between the size of the Bolter shell and the size of the weapon itself. He believes that the standard Bolter is too small in size and that all of the Boltgun family weapons, presented in official GW 40K art and gaming, actually reflects the use of numerous Boltguns firing numerous sized cartridges depending on who wields them. For example, he contends that the Heavy Bolter fires 2inch shells while the Astartes standard Bolter chambers an .998 long (seen in the Space Marine THQ game Bolter), while their Bolt Pistol is .998 short. Lastly, the familiar .75 caliber that has been presented for years in canonized sources is for the normal human handheld Bolters and Bolt Pistol.

Other Appearances of the Boltgun

The Classic 1987 40K Rouge Trader Game
The original Warhammer 40,000 was more insane than the current version, and its art was something glorious that reminds me of being in a world fueled by awesome British heavy metal music and Medieval art. I recently reread the original, founding document of WH40K, the 1987 Rogue Trader, and this is what it said about the Boltgun: "The Boltgun, also known as the Bolter or Blaster, fires small bolts or shells having explosive or armour piercing tips. Boltguns are popular with pirates and criminals because they make a loud, violent and suitably satisfying noise. For the same reason they are most popular with Orks - and represent the most common weapon used by those loathsome creatures. "
As depicted in the original art work with the European "Pig face" or the Houndskull Bascinet type Space Marine helmets, the Umbra Pattern Boltgun was always an stockless firearm with the original art linking the 1987 Boltgun to either an Uzi or MP5 type style with an curved nearly AK47 or M16 style magazine. At the time, sub-guns were all the rage, and even some have said that the M41A1 Pulse Rifle from ALIENS was an inspiration. Much of the original Bolter that appeared in the first pieces of Warhammer 40,000 material and models is close to the Bolter of today's 40K. These also seem less like the mega-damage hand weapon that fires 20mm shells in the original art and more akin to an modern automatic weapon. You also see less shell casings flying around. It is interesting to reread the original rules and introduction material to such an iconic military science fiction franchise.

The "Realm of Chaos" Cover Art for the British Band Bolt Thrower (1989)
The 1980's were the apex of popularity for all forms of Heavy Metal music, even gaining Top 40 acceptance as well as being an cultural touchstone of the era. There has always been a connection between art and Heavy Metal music (just look at Iron Maiden album covers), and that translated to the oddball cover-art for this more obscure British Death Metal. To us Old-School 40K gamers and Metal Heads, the connection between the two was strong; to the point that Heavy Metal music was the background music to many 40K games in homes and gaming stores. It also known that some Heavy Metal musicians were fans of 40K as Games Workshop were fans of Heavy Metal music. The two intersected with this 1989 cover art, making this a very rare example of the Boltgun outside of the 40K universe. When Bolt Thrower was recording in 1988 for their second album, Games Workshop learned of the band, due to their name, and offered to "gift" the band with the cover art from the 1987 Rouge Trader manual. Some of the band were fans of Games Workshop and wrote songs to the theme of 40K. This was mutually beneficial relationship as it would advise for both properties at the same time.

Space Crusade PC Game (1992)
The original Space Crusade was an board game set in the 40K universe and released by Milton Bradley in 1990. This board game was similar in concept to D&D HeroQuest, and both served  as introductions (gateway drugs) to the wider gaming world. Space Crusade is set in an space hulk search-and-clear operation against various enemies of the Imperium and using various Chapters of Space Marines. Unlike the Space Hulk video games, Space Crusade was a more or less faithful adaption of the board game for the home computer market. The "combat" is rudimentary and the focus is on strategy. The Boltgun is seen in the gameplay and it resumes the ones seen in art for 40K and the Space Crusade board game, but fitted with massive bayonet...which would be handy in the close quarters combat environment of the hulk.

Space Hulk PC Game (1993)
Man, this game takes me back to the era when I mainly played computer games. The original Space Hulk PC game was a product of its time and level of computer technology, making this game more simple than the followup Vengeance of the Blood Angels. For the most part, the Storm Bolter seen in the gameplay is little more than crosshairs on the screen and some explosions on the low-res windows. It has a nice heavy sound effect with one or two ball-like projectiles impacts to end the threat from the Genestealers. 


Space Hulk:Vengeance of the Blood Angels 3DO/PSOne/Sega Saturn/PC Game (1996)
Getting into 40K can be overwhelming and fucking expensive. When you watch seasoned veteran players in the comic book store with their tabletop terrain, dozens of well-painted models, and accents; it is clear the consequences of this hobby. To help this, Games Workshop give us virgin fans of the 41st millennium a "gateway drug": the Space Hulk boardgame first released in 1989 (when I played it). This was a fun game that could be easily modified for custom games with house rules, and it give us a taste of the wider (and more expensive) 40K universe. The natural setup of the Space Hulk game allowed for development into computer/console games. While the 1993 computer game was not ported to any home system, the follow-up, 1996's Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels was ported to the 3DO, the original Playstation, MS-DOS, Windows, and the Sega Saturn...if you were one of the ten people that owned that system in 1996.
I owned it on the original Playstation, buying it in Wichita and played the game off-and-on for years after, even on the PS2. Blood Angels is an dense game with shooter and RTS elements that was stuffed with the dark world of 40K triggering the curiosity of gamers. This cause me to go out and buy the Blood Angels Codex. In the game, you command a Terminator armor wearing squad from the Blood Angels Astartes chapter tasked with sweeping-and-clearing space hulk. In the hands of many of the Terminator Space Marines is the Storm Bolter, the double-barreled variant of the standard weapon.
In the game, you have unlimited ammunition for your bolter, the only element limiting your spray-and-prey impulse is the boltgun does jam (Azrael! My Bolter is Jammed!). When fired, the bolt round is a pinkish ball and impacts with a yellow explosion that often takes down Genestealer assholes in one or two rounds in a glorious shower of blood and body parts...tasty...while Chaos Marines and other enemies take more. Inhabiting the Terminator armor, you are limited to semi-auto fire, the other Blood Angels seem to fire off a burst of .75 caliber rounds, which causes their Bolters to jam. The Bolter in this game was my mental image of the Boltgun very since, and while it is not the single best representation of the Bolter, it is better than most.

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate for PC (1998)
Real-Time Strategy computer games seem to be the natural and most organic translation of the Warhammer 40,000 wargame. In 1998, the Chaos Gate RTS was released, and it was pretty standard fair, and it featured Boltguns on both sides of the conflict. Reviewing the gameplay footage, the Bolters used by the Imperium and Chaos Marines sound like cannons going off and the damage from these shells seems 100% fatal. This not the path of the very successful Dawn of War RTS franchise, where the Bolter is more like a conventional firearm.

Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior for PC and PS2 (2003)
In 2003, we fans of Warhammer 40,000 would finally get a solid 40K shooter game, but it is not totally what we expected. Unlike the vast majority of the WH40K video games, you do not inhabit the enhanced body of the Space Marines, but one of their newer enemies: The Tau. Specifically, a rookie Tau Fire Warrior named Shas'la Kais. This game was developed shortly after the 2001 introduction of the Tau into the 40K universe, and when the game was released, I had never heard of the Tau. This game forced me to buy the Codex to learn about this new foe. 
Only released on the PS2 and the PC, the game received mixed reviews, and most fans were insulted by the easy that an single Fire Warrior defeated Space Marines. It was also ugly, too hard at the end levels, but did have an great opening, cut-scenes, and one of the better representations of the Boltgun in 40K video games. In the game, the Bolter is a slower firing boxy weapon that launches massive shells into its enemy with crushing results. Incoming Bolter fire is like a hailstorm in hell and only a few shots finish you off. This, to me, seems like the Boltgun I've always imagined. Your Tau Fire Warrior is allowed to pick up Space Marine Bolter and even an Chaos Marine Bolter...which functions and shoots the same as the non-corrupted Boltgun, but looks like it is dressed up to go to a GWAR! concert. Fire Warrior is largely forgotten today, and its graphics have completely not withstood the test of time nor has the gameplay mechanics. It was viewed as an odd duck of the 40K video game world. 

THQ's Space Marine Xbox 360, PC, and PS3 Video Game (2011)
Just prior to THQ folding, they released one of the better 40K non-RTS games: Space Marine. In this game, you as a senior Ultramarine by the name of Titus that takes on the forces of Chaos, waves of Orks on the Forge world of Graia using all manner of weaponry, including melee. You drop into the game armed with an long-knife and an Bolt Pistol, and soon, you get upgraded to the standard Bolter in the .998 long cartridge. In the game, the Bolt Pistol is presented as a powerful hand gun that takes down Orks with a slow semi-automatic fire and is fed from an magazine of about 12 rounds with infinite ammo.
The standard .998 Godwyn Bolter is presented as a magazine-fed slower RPM firing fully auto weapon that takes down targets within several shots. When you pick up the standard Bolter very early in the game, it is called an "battle rifle" and the magazine is about 30 rounds with the standard load-out being 330. Throughout the 3rd person campaign and the multiplayer, several Boltgun variants are usable and being close to the original source material.  Sadly, because of the closure of THQ, the two planned sequels by Relic Entertainment to the 2011 game were cancelled.

Dawn of War PC Games for PC (2004-2016)
The Dawn of War RTS gaming series by THQ is the most successful of all the 40K video games, selling over 7 million copies from 2004-2016. One of the highlights for me is the excellent trailers for the games, and they show the Boltguns in all of their glory and some great sounds. However, the Dawn of War games all show the Bolters being more like modern military small arms with spraying Bolter fire at the targets.

Ultramarine: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie (2010)
In 2010, we 40K fans finally got a Warhammer 40,000 film in the form of an ugly CGI direct-to-DVD-release film about a small team of Astartes Ultramarines voiced by some serious talent. In the "film", the standard Bolter, the Bolt Pistol, and the Heavy Bolter are all featured with heavy sound effects that make the weapons closer to the original source material. However, the weapon impact and effect is completely lopsided. The Ultramarines fire onto Traitor Marines with one hit ending their desperate charge, while the Ultramarines can absorb hit after hit from the Chaos Bolters. There is a nice sequence of an Bolt shell rocketing towards the T-zone of an Chaos Marine with the rocket motor burning for a few seconds prior to impact. Honestly, watch this one on Youtube for free...it is not worth the money.

Flashgitz's "Space Hulk" and "the Trials of Lord Draigo" Videos 
While their recent "TRANSformer" cartoon was completely unfunny, ill-timed, and crude; the rest of their videos are crude but extremely funny. Chief among them is their three videos concerning the world of 40K. The Space Hulk videos do show Blood Angels in Terminator armor assaulting an hulk and using their Storm Bolters to take down genestealers. The Storm-Bolters are projected as single shot and with heavy crack-boom sound effect. In the "Trials of Lord Draigo", we see Grey Knights in action against the demons using their wrist-mounted Storm-Bolters. The sound effect for these wrist-mounted Storm-Bolters is interesting...more PDW than massive slug-thrower. If you are fan of 40K, you need to watch these.

Space Hulk for the PC, Wii, PS3, and Mac (2013)
Unlike the more tactical-shooter of the 1996 Vengeance of the Blood Angels, the 2013 Space Hulk game is more closely related to the original board/war game and the original 1992 PC game. The game mechanics feature rolling virtual dice for hit-or-miss and even the movements as if the Terminators were on the board. This faithful adaption has fairly standard Boltgun sound effects and damage profile. The game cuts to view of the Bolter blazing away towards the camera with a hailstorm of Bolter projectiles. The sound effect is like any video game machine gun. I wished this game had been a graphical update of Vengeance of the Blood Angels instead.   


Space Hulk: Deathwing for the PC, Xbox One, and PS4 (2016)
For the current generation of consoles and computer, we finally have 40K game coming in Winter(?) of 2016. Streum On Studio has created a  modern Tactical First Person Shooter involving the elite 1st company of the Dark Angels Chapter. These elite Terminator Astartes have been frequent characters of Space Hulk games and now players will inhabit the body of an Deathwing Librarian. In the trailer, we see all glorious gun-porn video along dynamic images of the Storm-Bolter firing. Honestly, this game looks amazing, and the Storm-Bolter is well done with some modern touches of an HUD projected ammo counter and it is either fed from an drum or traditional magazine.

Fan-made Bolter Replicas
While Warhammer 40,000 is one of the most enduring military sci-fi franchies of all time and its plastic crack can be found in hobby stores, comic book stores, and even Games Workshop's own stores around the world; it has yet to reach the general public in the way of Trek, Wars, and even HALO have. Unlike those iconic franchise that have a wide assortment of plastic-fantastic replica/prop merchandises to separate you from your money; 40K does not, despite the vast armies of plastic. You cannot buy a officially licensed Boltgun from a Games Workshop like you can buy a Phaser or Lightsaber from officially licensed stores online. The only way to get an Boltgun is from companies and individuals that fashion replica Bolters at their own risk at incurring the wrath of GW. I've seen some masterfully crafted Boltguns of all patterns and variants for cosplayers and display. Seriously, Games Workshop, you cannot sell an officially licensed Bolter for the cosplay community?

The Impact of the Bolter
Since the late 1980's, Warhammer 40,000 has been one of the most enduring and unqiue military science fiction franchise, leading it to be an inspiration for creators since 1987. The Bolter itself has become one of the most iconic sci-fi weapons and was ambassador for kinetic energy weapons. Fans for decades have constructed homebrewed display Boltguns, cosplay pieces, and even a few Airsoft guns. The Bolter, coupled with guns like the M41A1 Pulse Rifle from ALIENS, impacted sci-fi by triggering creators to consider KEW over DEW, marking a return of the bullet to science fiction. The interesting thing about the Bolter is, while popular in some circles of gaming and sci-fi, it has yet to obtain widecast recognition among the general public like the Phaser and Lightsaber. This has helped the Bolter to be more of "serious fan" sci-fi weapon and a symbol for fans of the 40K universe to rally around and discuss...in British accents worthy of an Monty Python troop.

Why This Blogpost was Difficult to Write and Research
This blogpost has been started and stopped several times, and I received a number of emails on when I was going to write about the Boltgun. And I then realized that there are sacred cows in science fiction franchise and 40K is one; with the Bolter being an key element in that feverish devotion. For fans, the images of heavily armored super human warriors battling the forces of darkness and green skinned aliens with blazing Bolters is the fuel for their dreams of heroic battles while listening to Metallica's "Creeping Death" and Iron Maiden's "The Trooper". This was just one factor complicating the writing of this blogpost, along with the maddening inconsistency of canon material about the Bolter. First off, I did not want to get this wrong or offend anyone due to the popularity of 40K and the holy status the gun has in the community. I thought this blog article would be easier since I own the bulk of the Codex books from the 1990;s, but locating information on the Boltguns was difficult...far too difficult. For fuck's sake, I could not answer the basics of the Bolter nor even what caliber it fired from these canonized sources!
Instead, I turned to the internet, and I still  found conflicting information and no explanation for questions that this blogpost raised. I was lucky that fans had written and debated about some of the issues in online forums. Due to 40K starting life off as an wargame and not an video game, the information that Games Workshop needed to convey was not the military specs of the Boltgun, but it damage and range profile on the gameboard. With its popularity and the rise of computer technology, 40K was reimagined into video game format, with various studios putting their own spin on the Bolter. It didn't help that the known stats for the gun and the official art did not match up. All of this adds up to the Boltgun being a bitch in terms of consistency and hard data.

Next Time on FWS...
In another installment of the Top 10 serial, FWS will be looking at the top future technologies seen in the bulk of military science fiction works. Much of the technological hallmarks on this list are retreads of topics FWS has covered in throughout the six years. Going to be a good one!

15 comments:

  1. Frankly the bolter would need pure proton rounds that are saturated with quarks from a particle accelerator firing pin just to swell the pellet to full size as it launches down the barrel.

    Didnt I explain lightsabers? The most likely is an applied field that distorts the target field causing the target to damage itself. Far more viable than a million joules.

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  2. Have to take my hat off to you. This is a far better handled and extensive an detailed an article on this weapon than any I have found. Most fans do tend to just shrug their shoulders and accept it as a powerful gun for the reasons you cite, and the malleable details behind the setting means few are truly willing to get into the nitty gritty. Hell, the same goes for the authors for that matter.

    Still, even as someone who holds this setting in high regard, this was a very enjoyable read, so thank you for creating it.

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  3. Thank you for the kind words. As a fan of 40K, I've always loved, but been mystify by this weapon. I felt it was the job of FWS to explore and explain this unqiue sci-fi weapon. Next time...the Phaser!

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  4. The main point I have noticed with Games Workshop figures is that their details are oversized to the point of being cartoonish. This makes them easier to see and paint. The bolter is just a victim of this style of figure design. Though I dislike Games Workshop, this is one the few parts of the game that makes sense.

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  5. :D Im little green about Warhammer 40k stuff, but i love it Space Marines arsenal You know vehicles and weapons like Bolter.
    Everytime my friend quoteing Metal Boxes from Dawn of war game :) i cant stop laugh it.

    “Look! Rhinos! RHINOS! Our enemies hide in METAL BOXES, the cowards! THE FOOLS! We… We should take away their METAL BOXES!”

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  6. The Storm bolter is the one that fires alternate rounds.

    The combi bolter is literally 2 bolters strapped together and fire 2 rounds simultaneously, which was shown in the 40k rules.

    Storm bolter is twin linked and got a re-roll to hit.
    Combi-bolter got extra shots.

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  7. An interesting article, though it would appear that the exact mechanics of the Boltgun is as ambiguous as the Phaser and Lightsaber, if not moreso. Though I can't help but wonder if it would be considered a smoothbore weapon due to its nature as a gyrojet on steroids. Then again, considering the initial firing charge, I can only assume that the explosive charge is mostly there to overcome the low initial velocity of said boltgun round's rocket motors which I'm presuming is a delayed fuse if it's suppose to ignite the moment it leaves the barrel.

    Still, interesting to see the full nature and history of the weapon both canon and contradictory.

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  8. The .75 caliber round is more like a 12 gauge shotgun slug. Turn the slug into a rocket propelled round and you got the .75 caliber bolter, kick charge and all.

    The 25mm version is pretty much a 25mm grenade launcher with a rocket propelled round. Nothing wrong with that.

    Ron

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  9. Good article but a couple of things.

    1. Bolter rounds are filled with *Depleted Deuterium*, not Uranium. Yeah I know, it makes no sense. Its 40K and it was the '80s.

    2. The Reaver picture you have illustrating the Vulcan MegaBolter doesn't have a VMB equipped. That gun its firing is a Gatling Blaster. GB's are a conventional (ish, for 40,000 years in the future) howitzer. The rounds for the Reaver GB are around 150 mm and the Warlord's are around 250 mm.

    The VMB, if a Reaver carries one, is on the carapace hardpoint and not the arm. Its more commonly seen (in fluff, hardly anyone uses it over the Turbo-Laser in TT) on the Warhound.

    Its also somewhere around 75 mm (3.0 caliber).

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  10. I think the "Depleted Deuterium" shell-filling was a games designer mis-hearing or mis-remembering "depleted uranium" and making his own version of "depleted something-or-other-ium" which sounds cool, but is just gibberish.
    In my pondering as to what sort of real-world mechanism bolt-guns could use, I always presumed it was some sort of high/low pressure round like a 40mm grenade for an M203 launcher with a rocket assist igniting after it leaves the muzzle.
    Scaled down to 25mm or 20mm it would end up with recoil similar to lead deer slugs from magnum shotgun shells out of a 10 or 12 gauge shotgun, so not totally impossible for non-augmented humans, but also not very pleasant to fire

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  11. The Astartes bolt pistol/bolter/heavy bolter is basically an XM25 with a propelling charge suitable for a 25 mm AP round.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XM25_CDTE

    Its why the Guard version is a crew served weapon fired from a mount. Astartes are mobile with it because of the power armor.

    The normal human Bolt pistol versions are 12.7 mm - Commissars like them because they make heads explode in a way a laspistol or stubgun won't - and there's no (canon) entry for a rifle/carbine version for regular dudes.

    Not that someone, somewhere, in the Imperium couldn't be using them.

    Canon descriptions are inconsistent, but *generally* the Pistol/bolter are semi-automatic weapons - the Astartes having enough skill and training to fire sufficiently accurately to put only as many rounds as necessary on target to kill it and not needing to use suppressing fire as they normally would be assaulting you - and that alone is enough to get most things to duck or run away, no need to waste the Emperor's ammunition not hitting anything. Suppressing fire, if its needed, comes from the Devestator squads.

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  12. Looks like we may have a single-shot bolter here: http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a17837/laser-guided-grenades-anyone/

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