Col­lected Works

X-COM’s maker re­mem­bers over 30 years of per­fect­ing the turn-based tac­tics genre

EDGE - - SECTIONS - BY ALEX WILT­SHIRE Photography James Shep­pard

X-COM cre­ator Ju­lian Gol­lop on over 30 years spent per­fect­ing the turn-based tac­tics genre

REBELSTAR RAIDERS De­vel­oper Ju­lian Gol­lop Pub­lisher Red Shift For­mat ZX Spec­trum Re­lease 1984

CHAOS: THE BAT­TLE OF WIZARDS De­vel­oper Ju­lian Gol­lop Pub­lisher Games Work­shop For­mat ZX Spec­trum Re­lease 1985

LASER SQUAD De­vel­oper/Pub­lisher Tar­get Games For­mat Am­strad CPC, C64, ZX Spec­trum Re­lease 1988

X-COM: EN­EMY UN­KNOWN De­vel­oper Mythos Games Pub­lisher Mi­croProse For­mat Amiga, PC Re­lease 1994

MAGIC & MAY­HEM De­vel­oper Mythos Games Pub­lisher Vir­gin In­ter­ac­tive For­mat PC Re­lease 1998

GHOST RECON: SHADOW WARS De­vel­oper Ubisoft Sofia Pub­lisher Ubisoft For­mat 3DS Re­lease 2011

CHAOS REBORN De­vel­oper/Pub­lisher Snap­shot Games For­mat PC Re­lease 2015

Of a gen­er­a­tion of early British game cre­ators, only a hand­ful are still mak­ing games to­day. Still fewer have threaded their ca­reers through so many of the tec­tonic shifts and rev­o­lu­tions in busi­ness and tech­nol­ogy that have driven the game in­dus­try since. And even fewer also have so much still to look for­ward to. But Ju­lian Gol­lop, de­signer of strat­egy clas­sics Rebelstar, Laser Squad, and his most cel­e­brated game, X-COM: En­emy

Un­known, can claim a ca­reer that has lived all of it.

Gol­lop started out cod­ing games in BA­SIC while at school, trans­lat­ing his pas­sion for strat­egy board games to com­put­ers. He’s self-pub­lished games and founded sev­eral stu­dios. He’s watched pub­lish­ers rise and fall, and worked within one of its largest. He was a pioneer of DLC, has worked with launch hard­ware, jumped into crowd­fund­ing, and has ex­plored the fron­tiers of de­vel­op­ing for Early Ac­cess.

And through it all, as trends have waxed and waned, he has re­fined and pol­ished to a sheen a per­sonal fas­ci­na­tion for a par­tic­u­lar kind of game: turn-based squad tac­tics. As he con­tin­ues that grand project with the forthcoming Phoenix Point, he looks back on the games that have brought him to to­day.

REBELSTAR RAIDERS De­vel­oper Ju­lian Gol­lop Pub­lisher Red Shift For­mat ZX Spec­trum Re­lease 1984

Rebelstar Raiders came about be­cause I wanted to im­ple­ment some of the board games that I played years ear­lier, like Sniper and Squad Leader, which were all about squad-based tac­tics and true line-of-sight shoot­ing. I thought it’d be great for a com­puter to do this in­stead of hav­ing to cal­cu­late it by hand, but I was not the best pro­gram­mer in the world. Rebelstar Raiders had a one-screen map and each sol­dier was a sin­gle lit­tle char­ac­ter that moved in 8x8-pixel char­ac­ter jumps. The thing I needed was a shoot­ing al­go­rithm. I wanted a line of pix­els to ex­tend and shoot the en­emy with a bit of ran­dom­ness. A friend who was an ex­pert in ma­chine code wrote a lit­tle bit of code for me called Zap, and with it I could draw a line be­tween two pixel po­si­tions and de­fine what it hit at the end.

I was work­ing with a group of friends who had a com­pany called Red Shift. They were pro­duc­ing adap­ta­tions of board games, like Apoca­lypse for Games Work­shop, and Rebelstar Raiders sold very well for them, com­pared with their other games. There was clearly an au­di­ence for that style of game, even though it was twoplayer only and in­cluded only three maps.

As I made Rebelstar Raiders I thought of a num­ber of things I wanted to add to my tac­ti­cal com­bat sys­tem. I wanted op­por­tu­nity fire, or over­watch as it’s com­monly called now. It was a core me­chanic in the board game Sniper, and made it re­ally in­ter­est­ing be­cause it adds an el­e­ment of an­tic­i­pa­tion. The player had to plot ex­actly where they were go­ing to wait, pre­dict­ing what their op­po­nent was do­ing rather than just re­act­ing to them. I in­tro­duced that in Rebelstar. I also wanted in­ven­tory man­age­ment, so your sol­diers could use dif­fer­ent types of equip­ment, es­pe­cially grenades. I wanted more so­phis­ti­cated rules re­lat­ing to wound­ing and morale and stamina and stuff. These things were im­por­tant parts of the over­all me­chan­ics in Squad Leader, and they weren’t just about phys­i­cal de­struc­tion but how well your troops per­formed un­der pres­sure. And I wanted to re­fine the ex­plo­sions and de­struc­tibil­ity of ter­rain, be­cause mod­i­fy­ing the game’s en­vi­ron­ment through the ef­fects of bat­tle was, I felt, very im­por­tant.

It’s true to say that Rebelstar Raiders was the be­gin­ning of a long line of games that re­sulted in X-COM and now ul­ti­mately Phoenix Point. It’s a tac­ti­cal com­bat sys­tem that I con­tin­ued to re­fine over time as my skills im­proved.

“REBELSTAR RAIDERS WAS THE BE­GIN­NING OF A LONG LINE OF GAMES THAT RE­SULTED IN X-COM”

CHAOS: THE BAT­TLE OF WIZARDS De­vel­oper Ju­lian Gol­lop Pub­lisher Games Work­shop For­mat ZX Spec­trum Re­lease 1985

I orig­i­nally de­signed Chaos as a board game after see­ing some of my friends at school play­ing a Games Work­shop game called War­lock. It was ba­si­cally a card game with static wizards, so I thought, ‘Well, I’m go­ing to make a better game than this.’ The real in­no­va­tion that I was so pleased I came up with was that when you sum­moned crea­tures from your hand of cards, you ac­tu­ally placed the card on the board and then moved it around like a play­ing piece.

That was be­fore home com­put­ers ex­isted, so when I got my ZX Spec­trum one of the games I re­ally wanted to im­ple­ment was Chaos. It was the third game I pro­grammed en­tirely by my­self, but the first I coded purely in assem­bly lan­guage, and the first with ar­ti­fi­cial intelligence, so it was a big step up for me. You could have up to eight wizards in the game; I pri­mar­ily saw it as a mul­ti­player game in which all of them could be AI-con­trolled. The re­ally nice thing was that this al­lowed play­ers to play semi-co­op­er­a­tively ver­sus the AI be­fore they fought each other to be the fi­nal vic­tor.

I was pretty faith­ful to the orig­i­nal board game, but one thing I added, which could only have been done on a com­puter, was the idea that crea­tures could be sum­moned as il­lu­sions or real. If you sum­moned as an il­lu­sion it was guar­an­teed to suc­ceed, oth­er­wise it was a per­cent­age chance, but the other wizards could ‘dis­be­lieve’ it. It in­tro­duced an in­ter­est­ing game of bluff and counter-bluff with other hu­man play­ers and was still playable around one com­puter with one key­board. To cast your spells you had to cover your hand to se­cretly press the keys to main­tain the el­e­ment of bluff.

Un­for­tu­nately, it had a num­ber of bugs, and some were slightly weird. The no­to­ri­ous one is the Tur­moil spell. It ran­domly repo­si­tioned ev­ery­thing on the en­tire map, but I thought it wasn’t very use­ful or good, so I left it out of the ini­tial spell al­lo­ca­tion sys­tem. But there was an­other spell called Magic Wood, which a wizard could use to ran­domly be given a spell, and there was a chance that’d get Tur­moil. When they cast it, play­ers re­ported the game crashed after try­ing to move ev­ery­thing around the map for five min­utes solid. I don’t know why; I never tested it thor­oughly be­cause it wasn’t sup­posed to be there. The spell be­came a rare and leg­endary thing you’d be lucky to see. ‘Have you seen the Tur­moil spell in Chaos?’ Chaos was one of Games Work­shop’s first orig­i­nal com­puter games. I was des­per­ately try­ing to fin­ish it be­cause I’d started my univer­sity de­gree at Lon­don School Of Eco­nom­ics and I needed to get on with study­ing, and I have ab­so­lutely no idea how well it sold. I was paid some money for it, but I don’t re­mem­ber see­ing any roy­alty state­ments, and I re­solved from that point on that I was go­ing to do my own deals. The next game I did, which

was Rebelstar, I took di­rectly to Tele­com­soft and it was put on their Fire­bird la­bel. It still wasn’t the best busi­ness ne­go­ti­a­tion be­cause I got 10p a copy and the game re­tailed at £1.99, but

Rebelstar did well and my first roy­alty cheque was £6,000 or some­thing. I bought a nice elec­tric guitar, the first thing I could think of, and I left univer­sity.

LASER SQUAD De­vel­oper/Pub­lisher Tar­get Games For­mat Am­strad CPC, C64, ZX Spec­trum Re­lease 1988

When I left univer­sity I set up a com­pany with a friend called Tar­get Games. The idea was to make a new squad-based tac­ti­cal game. It was an evo­lu­tion of

Rebelstar with the dif­fer­ence that it was go­ing to in­clude hid­den en­e­mies which were only re­vealed by line of sight. Bat­tle is about eva­sion and de­tec­tion, about this ten­sion of try­ing to find the en­emy while at the same time avoid­ing de­tec­tion your­self. For me it’s a fun­da­men­tal part of how squad-level tac­tics should re­ally work in a game.

Each sol­dier had a fac­ing, so if you came across an en­emy look­ing away from you, you could see them and they couldn’t see you. This gave the op­por­tu­nity to dive back into cover to avoid de­tec­tion or to take a shot. That idea was mar­ried with op­por­tu­nity fire so you had to de­cide which way you wanted your sol­dier to face to an­tic­i­pate where an en­emy might come. It was an evo­lu­tion of ev­ery game I’d made pre­vi­ously, but re­ally, for the first time it was no longer a game of chess. It was about an­tic­i­pa­tion and pre­dic­tion and bluff. Re­ally, Laser Squad is the foun­da­tion of the tac­ti­cal sys­tem in X-COM.

My friend left, so my brother Nick joined. I’d nearly fin­ished work­ing on the Spec­trum ver­sion, he started work­ing on the C64 ver­sion, and then we did a Am­strad CPC ver­sion of the game. We did all the 8bit for­mats at the time, and we were self-pub­lish­ing so we got the boxes made, printed, we had them sent off to the dis­trib­u­tors, we paid for a bit of ad­ver­tis­ing. We were in busi­ness. The other in­no­va­tion we put in Laser

Squad was a busi­ness one. In the back of the rule­book there was a coupon you could send off with a postal or­der or cheque to buy an ex­pan­sion kit on tape, which came with two ex­tra mis­sions that you’d load after you loaded the main game. The idea was that we’d pro­duce a se­ries; it sounds very ba­sic, but we thought it was an amaz­ing in­no­va­tion! It was a good busi­ness model for us be­cause all we had to do was to man­u­fac­ture them very cheaply and do a bit of postage; me and Nick would come into our lit­tle Harlow of­fice in the morn­ing, get all the or­ders in the post, take the tapes out of the boxes, put them in bags and ad­dress them and we had a frank­ing ma­chine and took them to the post of­fice. Then we’d start cod­ing for the rest of the day.

X-COM: EN­EMY UN­KNOWN De­vel­oper Mythos Games Pub­lisher Mi­croProse For­mat Amiga, PC Re­lease 1994

We re­alised we needed to step up our game. From our point of view, the fu­ture of strat­egy games was go­ing to be on PC, pri­mar­ily be­cause of the stuff com­ing out of the US, es­pe­cially by Mi­croProse, like

Rail­way Ty­coon. We’d made a demo for Laser Squad 2 on the Atari ST, but we re­ally wanted to make it for PC and we took it to a list of three pub­lish­ers. At the top was Mi­croProse. The rea­son was ob­vi­ous: they did Rail­way Ty­coon, and Civ­i­liza­tion had just come out. It was 1991, and they were sim­ply the best com­puter game de­vel­oper and pub­lisher in the en­tire world, and Sid Meier was the best game de­signer.

We thought it was a long shot. Why would they be in­ter­ested in what we had to of­fer? And we were also a bit wor­ried be­cause we’d never ac­tu­ally made any­thing on PC be­fore. Atari ST was as close as we’d got. So we took the demo to Mi­croProse UK and one guy there, Steve Hand, was a big fan of Laser Squad and he re­ally wanted Mi­croProse to do the game. But he was strug­gling to get them to ac­cept it, so they came back to us with a pro­posal for

“THEY WERE VERY KEEN FOR THE SET­TING TO BE BASED ON GERRY AN­DER­SON’S UFO TV SE­RIES”

some­thing much big­ger as a game con­cept. In par­tic­u­lar, they wanted some­thing that could match Civ­i­liza­tion in scope and com­plex­ity, be­cause Mi­croProse US rather dis­parag­ingly re­garded Mi­croProse UK as the toy divi­sion.

The pri­mary re­quire­ments were a Civilo­pe­dia and a Civ- like tech tree. Which was fine. They were very keen for the set­ting to be based on Gerry An­der­son’s UFO TV se­ries, be­cause they were big fans of it, and from that we took the con­cept of

X-COM it­self, be­cause in the TV show there’s some­thing called SHADO, which is this world­wide or­gan­i­sa­tion try­ing to pre­vent in­fil­tra­tion of UFOs on Earth. They had Moon-based in­ter­cep­tors and air­craft in­ter­cep­tors, and if the UFO got through they had a ground-based in­ter­cep­tor, a ridicu­lous-look­ing ve­hi­cle. We didn’t have the Moon-based in­ter­cep­tors, but the con­cept went straight into X-COM: we had air­craft, and you could send your ground squad to tackle UFO land­ings.

What we didn’t take were the aliens them­selves. They were, dis­ap­point­ingly, ex­actly like hu­man be­ings. So I looked at some UFO folk­lore, in par­tic­u­lar a book called Alien Li­ai­son by Ti­mothy Good, which con­tained all this juicy stuff about ab­duc­tions by greys and cat­tle mu­ti­la­tions, re­verse-en­gi­neer­ing cap­tured UFOs, shady deals be­tween gov­ern­ments and hy­brid aliens. It was re­ally good. I just took it all and put it in the game as well, but the graph­ics came from the imag­i­na­tion of John Reitze, who was the main artist. Steve Hand and I looked at a screen­ful of sprites and we de­cided which were the most in­ter­est­ing-look­ing ones and they went in the game. I had to retro-fit what they ac­tu­ally did; it was quite an eclec­tic mix which didn’t re­ally seem to fit to­gether!

From our ini­tial meet­ings at Mi­croProse I quickly wrote the orig­i­nal de­sign doc­u­ment. Al­though it was a bit sketchy, only about 12 pages long, the fi­nal game is very close to it. I came up with the idea of the Geoscape, a globe that is your main strate­gic plan­ning de­vice, and that you have things fly­ing around and cities and coun­tries. I hadn’t re­ally fleshed out how in­ter­cep­tions would work but ev­ery­thing was there in terms of fund­ing from coun­tries, and UFO ac­tiv­ity in dif­fer­ent re­gions; you had to deal with it or it’d af­fect your fund­ing. Aliens could take over coun­tries. There were ter­ror mis­sions. There was the idea of loot­ing stuff and re­verse-en­gi­neer­ing it. That was all there in the doc­u­ment. But Mi­croProse ini­tially strug­gled to un­der­stand the game. I had to go to a very large meet­ing with 12 peo­ple there from mar­ket­ing, game de­sign­ers, se­nior pro­duc­ers, and I had to ex­plain it to them. It must have worked, be­cause we got the con­tract signed very shortly after that. We were away.

The orig­i­nal game was made by me and Nick, and a cou­ple of artists, and that was it. A sound de­signer and mu­si­cian came in at the end of the project. The Geoscape and the Bat­tlescape didn’t come to­gether very well un­til very, very late in the project, partly due to prob­lems with our sched­ul­ing. We had monthly mile­stones planned and we were go­ing to spend sev­eral months on the tac­ti­cal side and then 11 months on other side. We started work­ing purely on the tac­ti­cal game but we didn’t fin­ish it be­fore we started to work on the Geoscape, and we didn’t get them work­ing to­gether at all un­til about four or five months be­fore the game was fin­ished, and then it re­ally was a bit of a mess.

Still, tes­ta­ment to the orig­i­nal vi­sion be­ing quite good, it did end up pretty much what I wanted it to be. Re­ally, it’s a ques­tion of the whole be­ing greater than the sum of its parts, be­cause once you started get­ting the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the strate­gic and tac­ti­cal it re­ally felt like you were in com­mand of an or­gan­i­sa­tion. Ev­ery­thing you did made a dif­fer­ence and had an im­pact on the fu­ture. If you lost a solider it was bad, or you might get a lot of loot from a mis­sion that could re­ally boost your re­search and man­u­fac­tur­ing. It was cool. I mean, there were cer­tainly prob­lems, like the mi­cro­man­age­ment of re­sources, and you had to equip your sol­diers ev­ery time. But in terms of the core me­chan­ics of the gameplay I was re­ally happy with the way it turned out.

Sadly, it wasn’t the case for Mi­croProse, be­cause in 1993 they were taken over by Spec­trum Holobyte. Spec­trum Holobyte vis­ited Mi­croProse UK and they told them to can­cel a bunch of projects. They took one look at X-COM and said it looked real crap. ‘Stop work­ing on this rub­bish right away.’ But there was a lot of sup­port for the project at Mi­croProse UK by this stage and they de­fied their new rulers in the US and kept the project go­ing. They didn’t tell us it had been can­celled. That would’ve wor­ried us, for sure.

Then it came back on Spec­trum Holobyte’s radar. They’d re­quired Mi­croProse UK to de­liver a project for their end of quar­ter to meet fi­nan­cial pro­jec­tions. So Mi­croProse UK told them that X-COM was still go­ing and it could be ready in time. They said, ‘OK, fine, we need some­thing.’ But it put a lot of pres­sure on us, be­cause sud­denly we re­ally had to fin­ish it by end of March, and they re­quired us to work in-house in Chip­ping Sod­bury seven days a week, 10 hours a day for sev­eral months. They didn’t give us any ex­tra re­sources. In fact, we had to beg them to give us a more pow­er­ful com­puter to use, be­cause my brother’s com­puter couldn’t han­dle it! My com­puter was hav­ing se­ri­ous over­heat­ing prob­lems. I had to re­move the case and it crashed oc­ca­sion­ally. They be­grudged us one new com­puter for Nick and they stuck us in this tiny lit­tle room. We just had to crunch. X-COM: En­emy Un­known was a re­ally big suc­cess for them. So of course they wanted a se­quel and said they needed it in six months. We said, look, we can’t do any­thing mean­ing­ful in six months. The best we can do is a mi­nor up­date to the game. We wanted to do some­thing much more am­bi­tious. And they said, ‘Right, fine. Why don’t you li­cense the code to us to do the se­quel and you can work on the third one in the se­ries.’ So that’s how Ter­ror From The Deep be­came the se­quel, and it was done en­tirely in-house at Mi­croProse, us­ing all our code, which they didn’t change very much, and we worked on X-COM Apoca­lypse, which was re­leased in 1997.

It took them longer than six months to do it. I think it was about a year. That told them. And they had a large team on it! I re­mem­ber vis­it­ing them when they’d just fin­ished the gold master and they had a bit of a cel­e­bra­tion meet­ing, and there were 15 peo­ple there. I was like, blimey, this is a big team! Wow, if we had that

“THEY RE­QUIRED US TO WORK SEVEN DAYS A WEEK, 10 HOURS A DAY FOR SEV­ERAL MONTHS”

amount of re­sources for a year we could’ve done some­thing amaz­ing! And all they’d done is a re­skin of the orig­i­nal game? Good grief.

MAGIC & MAY­HEM De­vel­oper Mythos Games Pub­lisher Vir­gin In­ter­ac­tive For­mat PC Re­lease 1998

We switched pub­lisher to Vir­gin In­ter­ac­tive and we had a four-game deal with them. The first project was go­ing to be Magic & May­hem, and the idea was to cre­ate a wizard cast­ing game, loosely in­spired by the orig­i­nal Chaos but this time with a re­al­time game sys­tem and a cam­paign struc­ture where you’d go from one re­gion to an­other ful­fill­ing var­i­ous mis­sion ob­jec­tives.

We put a lot of ef­fort into the core me­chan­ics of the spell­cast­ing, where you com­bined items with Law, Chaos or Neu­tral­ity tal­is­mans to cre­ate dif­fer­ent spells at the be­gin­ning of each level. It was a nice game sys­tem, but the sin­gle­player as­pect of the game was a bit of a strug­gle. It was al­most an af­ter­thought, and we wanted to have a much more heavy RPG flavour to the game so you could cus­tomise your char­ac­ter, a lot more pro­gres­sion sys­tems.

Vir­gin In­ter­ac­tive re­ally pushed back against this. We started to make it be­fore Di­ablo came out, and it was also be­fore

Bal­dur’s Gate, which was the real mile­stone in RPGs. They said RPGs don’t sell, which was, of course, com­plete rub­bish. They wanted to make it much more RTS-fo­cused, partly be­cause of

Com­mand & Con­quer, which was very pop­u­lar at the time. They took us on a trip to Las Ve­gas to have an au­di­ence with Brett Sperry, who founded West­wood Stu­dios, to get his in­put.

One of the things we strug­gled with was how to gen­er­ate the art. It was a bit crazy but we had this idea that we’d make all the crea­tures out of plas­ticine, put an ar­ma­ture in­side them and do stop­mo­tion an­i­ma­tion, putting them on a turntable and to take shots of them from eight dif­fer­ent an­gles with a video cam­era for each pose. Then we’d process the im­ages in Pho­to­shop, re­plac­ing the back­ground with blue and shrink­ing down to the sprite.

It sounds a nice sim­ple sys­tem, but we had an ab­so­lute night­mare in the cleanup of all the graph­ics. We had to em­ploy peo­ple to process them and there were so many mis­takes, in­clud­ing los­ing en­tire se­quences of im­ages. Each crea­ture had a death se­quence which usu­ally meant the de­struc­tion of the model it­self. We found there were some an­i­ma­tion prob­lems, some things we’d for­got­ten to do, and we couldn’t go back and do them be­cause the model had been de­stroyed! So it was just crazy.

It also had a dif­fi­cult re­lease. Vir­gin In­ter­ac­tive weren’t do­ing too well. West­wood Stu­dios had been sold to EA and they had to do a deal with Bethesda, who were help­ing fund the game, and they sold it in the US. It sold okay in Europe but not so well in the US, prob­a­bly be­cause by the time it was re­leased the graph­ics were look­ing quite dated and the game sys­tem didn’t know what it wanted to be. It had RPG and RTS el­e­ments but they weren’t re­ally there. It was a dif­fi­cult project which didn’t work out so well, though quite a lot of peo­ple liked it.

GHOST RECON: SHADOW WARS De­vel­oper Ubisoft Sofia Pub­lisher Ubisoft For­mat 3DS Re­lease 2011

After I had fin­ished Rebelstar Tac­ti­cal

Com­mand on GBA I had the in­ten­tion to go to Bul­garia and take it easy for a while and just ex­plore the coun­try and catch up on games and read­ing. But I got a bit bored! I had some projects I was plan­ning to do but I re­alised they’d be a bit too dif­fi­cult to do on my own and I missed work­ing with a cre­ative team. So when I heard Ubisoft were set­ting up a stu­dio in Sofia, I ap­plied and I was hired as a game de­signer in Novem­ber 2006. The first project I worked on was

Chess Master, which was a bit strange be­cause I thought chess had al­ready been de­signed, but we pro­duced some

“MY BOSS WAS COM­PLETELY WRONG, AS HE WAS ABOUT MANY, MANY OTHER THINGS”

in­ter­est­ing minigames. Very quickly I be­came a pro­ducer be­cause the stu­dio was so in­ex­pe­ri­enced. I worked on var­i­ous projects, many of which never saw the light of day, all for Nin­tendo DS, but we also made sev­eral pitches to Ubisoft’s ed­i­to­rial of­fice. One of them was Ghost

Recon meets X-COM for Nin­tendo DS. Luck­ily there was a fan of X-COM on the ed­i­to­rial board and he re­ally liked the idea. At the time they were work­ing on a new Ghost Recon game and Ubisoft had this cross-plat­form si­mul­ta­ne­ous launch strat­egy. It didn’t matter if the games were dif­fer­ent but one re­quire­ment was that the sto­ries had to be re­lated. Our game would be a ‘sid­e­quel’ to the main con­sole game, Fu­ture Sol­dier, and a turn-based strat­egy while theirs was an ac­tion game.

But then Ubisoft started to in­sist that we did cer­tain things that didn’t make much sense. The con­sole ver­sion had this weird con­cept, ‘united we are stronger’, so as a squad of four you could go around to­gether shoot­ing things and one player would con­trol the move­ments of all four and the oth­ers would do the shoot­ing; the idea was they had com­bined spe­cial pow­ers in this for­ma­tion. It was a weird idea; I didn’t re­ally un­der­stand it, and from Shadow

Wars’ point of view it didn’t make sense be­cause one thing you re­ally shouldn’t do as a squad is move around to­gether be­cause you’re vul­ner­a­ble to ex­plo­sives, and it’s also a bit bor­ing. We tried to push back, and then I got a call say­ing that we didn’t have to worry any more and that we could make it the way we wanted. I later found out that they can­celled Fu­ture

Sol­dier to com­pletely re­boot it. But they couldn’t re­boot our game be­cause by this stage we’d tran­si­tioned from DS into a 3DS launch ti­tle.

That was re­ally tough, be­cause when we fi­nally got Nin­tendo’s 3DS SDK it was like a cir­cuit board in a card­board box. It was very un­fin­ished. For­tu­nately, we’d made a very good de­ci­sion early on in the project to build ev­ery­thing on PC us­ing XNA and C#. Our idea was then to trans­late it to DS. So sud­denly switch­ing to 3DS didn’t have a big im­pact on us, though it was a strug­gle to make the engine work on the SDK hard­ware.

Then, very late in de­vel­op­ment, Nin­tendo dropped the bomb­shell that the 3DS’ up­per screen was stereo­scopic 3D. They kept it se­cret from all the de­vel­op­ment teams be­cause they didn’t want it to leak! Be­fore­hand, we couldn’t fig­ure out why the up­per screen was larger than the lower screen, which for us was the pri­mary screen be­cause of its sty­lus in­put, and the up­per screen was for in­for­ma­tion. Oh crap, we thought, we had to swap our screens around and forego sty­lus in­put. It wasn’t such a big tran­si­tion but it was a shock be­cause it was so close to launch.

Some­thing I’ve never talked about is that the first pro­to­type we pro­duced was much more X-COM- like than the fi­nal game. It had a strat­egy el­e­ment and the tac­ti­cal game was more like X-COM. It had over­watch and more so­phis­ti­cated sys­tems, and it also had a two-ac­tion point sys­tem, al­most ex­actly the same as the one in Fi­raxis’ XCOM! We thought it was an in­ter­est­ing con­ces­sion to mak­ing it more playable. But when we pre­sented it to the ed­i­to­rial board, they had a re­ally neg­a­tive re­ac­tion. They said it looked far too much like a PC game. I said, ‘Well, we did pitch it as X-COM meets Ghost Recon! We can re­ally make this work.’ But they said, ‘No, there’s only one kind of strat­egy game on Nin­tendo hand­helds and that’s

Ad­vance Wars. If it isn’t like that, it isn’t a proper hand­held game.’ So we had to go back and make it like Ad­vance Wars. I made the in­ter­face very sim­i­lar, while re­tain­ing the squad-based me­chan­ics that we wanted. I think we did quite a good job and maybe the ed­i­to­rial board were right to make it more fa­mil­iar to Ad­vance

Wars play­ers. We were wor­ried it was a bit too ba­sic, but it seemed to go down quite well with many play­ers. Un­for­tu­nately, the launch of the 3DS it­self wasn’t a suc­cess, partly be­cause its price was out of whack with what the mar­ket ex­pected and the launch lineup was re­ally lack­lus­tre. Nin­tendo fixed these prob­lems but my boss was op­posed to do­ing a se­quel. He said the 3DS was dead and that we had to go with the PS Vita so we worked on As­sas­sin’s Creed

Lib­er­a­tion. I love Nin­tendo hand­helds and I’ve made two games for Nin­tendo. It’s a shame I wasn’t able to make a fol­low-up to Shadow Wars. And then the 3DS ended up a suc­cess and the Vita wasn’t, so my boss was com­pletely wrong about that, as he was about many, many other things.

CHAOS REBORN De­vel­oper/Pub­lisher Snap­shot Games For­mat PC Re­lease 2015

In 2010, 2K an­nounced the game that was even­tu­ally called The Bureau: XCOM

De­clas­si­fied. There was a big back­lash against it by fans, say­ing it wasn’t the game they wanted. I was also in­fu­ri­ated and I thought, ‘Right, that’s it, I’m go­ing to do my own ver­sion of

X-COM’. I wanted to do my own thing again and was go­ing to crowd­fund it. In 2011 I started to put a team to­gether for it and planned to leave Ubisoft. But then Fi­raxis an­nounced their

XCOM. I was ut­terly, ut­terly dis­mayed. I thought my plans were ba­si­cally tor­pe­doed. I be­lieved that if any­one could do a good job with the fran­chise it surely had to be Fi­raxis, they’d do it prop­erly. And they did. So I thought, ‘OK, let’s not do that, let’s do a re­boot of an ear­lier game’, be­cause it’d be a smaller project and eas­ier to do. I picked Chaos be­cause it was a favourite of mine.

We es­tab­lished a new stu­dio, Snap­shot Games, and did a Kick­starter cam­paign. A lot of the sup­port­ers were fans of the orig­i­nal, and it was a re­ally nice project to work on. We en­coun­tered a dilemma, though, be­cause the game is mul­ti­player-fo­cused. I think it worked well as that, but the sin­gle­player game not so much. It’s just not so in­ter­est­ing fight­ing against an AI: the bluff me­chanic doesn’t work so well, you don’t get this emo­tional roller­coaster of the strange be­hav­iour of other play­ers. So a group of fans were re­ally keen on the game but it didn’t reach much of a wider au­di­ence.

One of the other prob­lems was that the ran­dom-num­ber stuff was re­ally too bru­tal for a lot of play­ers to han­dle. It was re­ally ex­treme, es­pe­cially in the com­bat. Based on a sin­gle per­cent­age, you ei­ther killed the en­emy or you didn’t. Of course, for ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers it’s all about man­ag­ing your risk and as­sess­ing that on per­cent­ages, and one of the ob­vi­ous ways to mit­i­gate your risk is not to get your wizard in range of be­ing at­tacked, be­cause any­thing can kill you in one hit. We found a lot of play­ers sim­ply couldn’t get this at all. They as­sumed their wizards can soak up dam­age. It makes the game re­ally dy­namic and ex­cit­ing for peo­ple who get it, but we were get­ting these neg­a­tive re­views about RNG and so we spent two or three weeks on a re­duced RNG ver­sion. It worked quite well but of course it split our player base.

Ob­vi­ously X-COM also faced this prob­lem. One of the big­gest com­plaints is when an en­emy is right next to a player and they’ve got an 85 per cent chance to hit and they miss. ‘That’s ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous!’ Peo­ple rage quit and never play again. It’s an is­sue they partly solved in XCOM 2, and we had an­other mode in

Chaos Reborn. It’s a rather sober­ing les­son in game de­sign and how peo­ple man­age ran­dom fac­tors. Still, it sold well enough for us to start work on the next game,

Phoenix Point. So from that point of view it was a suc­cess, to lead to the next game.

Rebel­starRaiders’ three sce­nar­ios have play­ers de­stroy­ing de­fences on a moon, then de­fend­ing their ship as it’s be­ing re­paired, be­fore as­sault­ing the en­emy’s base

Play­ers start Chaos with a se­lec­tion of spells, each with a par­tic­u­lar chance of suc­cess. An im­por­tant strat­egy in­volves their alignment: the more law­ful or chaotic spells you cast, the more chance they’ll be suc­cess­ful

Laser Squad’s mis­sions are strongly ob­jec­tive-based, with the need to res­cue sol­diers and as­sas­si­nate en­e­mies. Gol­lop re­turned to the game in 2002 with the mul­ti­player-fo­cused LaserSquadNeme­sis

X-COM’s iso­met­ri­cally pre­sented ‘Bat­tlescape’ lev­els were not only stun­ning to look at in 1994 but also pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated, built by patch­ing to­gether pre-de­signed blocks of desert, city, farm and jun­gle to make sur­pris­ingly var­ied en­vi­ron­ments

Un­for­tu­nately, Ene­myUn­known shipped with a bug that set the dif­fi­culty level to Be­gin­ner after the first mis­sion

Magic&May­hem fea­tures clay­ma­tion cutscenes, which of­fer some con­ti­nu­ity with the way its sprites were de­vel­oped. Both the cutscenes and the mod­els in the game were cre­ated by stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tor and model-maker Alan Friswell

GhostRe­con:Shad­owWars was the se­cond high­est rated of 3DS’ launch games, partly be­cause it was so full-fea­tured, with 37 cam­paign mis­sions and also as many as 20 stand­alone skir­mish mis­sions

ChaosRe­born raised $211,000 dur­ing its 2014 Kick­starter cam­paign, only reach­ing its goal in its fi­nal 34 hours. Back­ers had ac­cess to early ver­sions and it was re­leased on Steam Early Ac­cess in De­cem­ber that year. It wasn’t great tim­ing, but with funds run­ning low it was nec­es­sary. “Ideally we’d have re­leased it much later when it was closer to the fin­ish,” Gol­lop says

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