Julian Gollop made four Rebelstars, two X-COMs, a Ghost Recon and an Assassin’s Creed before considering a return to Chaos. Before Chaos’s most recent rebirth, it was a 1985 ZX Spectrum game, and before that it was a boardgame, but only a handful of British 30-somethings will recognise this as a sequel. For most, Chaos Reborn is new, even if its rules are 30 years old.
In Chaos, wizards take turns summoning creatures and launching attacks from a deck of spells. The most powerful spells have a reduced chance of being successful, but casting several weaker spells with high hit rates can shift the balance, and the battlefield, towards lawful or chaotic. This in turn increases the odds of a successful cast of spells of that type and escalates the battle. The first few rounds tend to be played out with goblins and zombies, but as the casting odds increase, dragons, vampires and giants start to come into play.
And Chaos becomes a poker game when you learn any creature can be cast as an illusion with a 100 per cent success rate. Illusory creatures move, attack and defend like the real thing, but can be immediately dispelled by another wizard’s Disbelieve spell. The question, then, is whether you doubt your opponent’s Golden Dragon enough to waste a valuable turn Disbelieving it. Get it wrong and the beast will shrug the spell off, fly halfway across the battlefield and belch fire all over your undefended wizard.
Those core rules have survived unchanged in Reborn. “There’s a simplicity there,” says Gollop, both designer and programmer here. “But with that simplicity, you’ve got a great deal of diversity in what can happen. Randomness is a key part of this, and I
wanted to keep that feeling from the original game, because it’s unique. The randomness means you have to judge your risk carefully; you have to take chances when you need to and be cautious, because the situation can change suddenly from one turn to the next. It’s a game that has quite a few turnarounds, even though each game is quite short.”
Reborn’s modern updates have made the game faster and more dynamic. Wizards and creatures are more mobile on hexes than they were on the original’s square grid, and battles are now limited to a maximum of four players, not eight, with maps scaled to the player count. Victory points discourage cowardice, with successful spells and creature kills scoring points that come into play if the game lasts 20 turns, though this is rare.
Reborn is a fast-paced strategy game made for simultaneous online play, but asynchronous play can stretch short games over days.
Brand new, too, is the Realms Of Chaos metagame, which links hundreds of player-vs-CPU battles across a procedurally generated, fog-shrouded landscape. As you explore, you’ll confront enemy wizards, fight them, and steal new spells for your own deck. That deck can be taken into online multiplayer, and acquired knowledge shared with the rest of your wizards’ guild. “Chaos really was just an arena battle game,” Gollop says, “but I’ve always been a big fan of metagames. I added a metagame to X-COM, as you know, and I was attempting to do so for other games and failing, but it works for Chaos, especially with the online element. If you find certain pieces of equipment, you can share that information with your guild members.
“It sounds vague, but we’re still working it out.” Indeed, Reborn’s playable prototype has none of the metagame or online elements besides the core multiplayer mode, Classic Chaos, in which up to four wizards are assigned a random deck and sent into battle. For now, there are 43 spells – just over half the planned number – with few beasts’ special abilities implemented, but already it’s a competitive tussle where the manoeuvrable units are more than a match for a lucky cast and games are often won by the best player rather than the best deck.
For Gollop, Reborn is the sum of 30 years of learning. “There’s so much,” he says. “Something I’m very keen on developing is procedurally generated content. There was an
“With that simplicity, you’ve got a great deal of diversity in what can happen”
element of that in X-COM and it’s something I very much want to do with Chaos Reborn. We’ll have randomly generated arenas, randomly generated realms [and] opponents. We’ll see how far we can take it. Then there’s the accessibility, or Ubisoft’s definition of accessibility I learned [on Ghost Recon and
Assassin’s Creed], which is a combination of usability and learnability. The idea to try to keep things easy for the player to learn, and easy to get into, is quite valuable.
“And I think the other thing I learned was from working on Laser Squad Nemesis before going back to a big publisher… and it’s that working directly with your audience is quite rewarding compared to this disconnected approach you get working either in or for a big publisher. We built Nemesis with a small set of features and we developed it with lots of player input, and we had players designing maps, moderating their own tournaments and more. I hope Chaos Reborn will develop in the same way, because when players own the game, it’s a very cool way to make games.”
ABOVE CENTRE Chaos’s Gooey Blob is its most famous spell and even became the name of Yahoo’s Chaos fan club in the late ’90s. It used to spread exponentially across the board, swallowing all in its path, but it’ll burn itself out eventually in Reborn.
ABOVE Flying creatures move quickly and make deadly mounts. Strongest of all are the dragons, which fly and have a powerful ranged attack, but their 20 per cent casting chance also makes them a risky card to play. LEFT In later builds of
Reborn, giants will gain a one-shot ranged attack, a thrown rock, that their 8bit counterparts never had
Chaos’s creatures were limited to one of seven colours due to the ZX Spectrum’s simple palette. Reborn’s beasts still have one base colour, but they’re pearlescent. They’re also often rendered in the hue used for their 8bit forebears
Wizards can cast creatures to fight on their behalf, or can attack directly using spells such as Vengeance or Magic Bolt. Other defensive and offensive options include a magic sword and shield, or a magic castle to hide within
BELOW Shadow Wood can be summoned dt to engage enemy units, populating the map with living trees. While the trees are weak, an engaged unit is immobile until the fight is over, making it the perfect delay tactic
Julian Gollop, designer and programmer