Featured Items
Games
Software Demos News Recommended
Posts in "All News" channel about:

2K Collection

Show posts for all products, not just 2K Collection
PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Julian Gollop interview: on X-Coms old and new, the Ghost Recon strategy game that never was, AI, auteurs and “Fork My Fruit”">gollop ULTRA







Julian Gollop is a 27+ year veteran of the industry. He can list classics like Chaos, Laser Squad and, of course, X-Com, on his long career resume. As Firaxis successfully reboot X-Com for modern audiences with Enemy Uknown, Gollop has donned indie threads to pursue a current remake of his multiplayer wizard-duelling game, fittingly named Chaos Returns. I caught up with him at GDC for an affable chat about his work on the original X-Com, progress on the new Chaos game, and his thoughts on how the great machine of modern development compares to the tiny teams in operation during the turn-based-strategy boom.



The man himself.



The interview's a big 'un. Here's what you'll find on each page if you fancy skipping to a part that interests you.



Page 2: How auter-led development compares to Gollop's position in the original X-com team, and details of his new indie project, Chaos Reborn.

Page 3: Expanding Chess, "Fork My Fruit," the aborted "XCOM meets Ghost Recon" pitch and Gollop's thoughts on the modern version of XCOM.

Page 4: Gollop's love of boardgames, the story behind Terror from the Deep and XCOM: Apocalypse and Gollop's favourite recent games.



PC Gamer: In the original XCOM, the way the AI moved towards you, they would make use of cover and they weren't completely suicidal.

Julian: No, they weren't. I can't remember exactly how we did the AI in the original XCOM, but a lot of the time I tried to avoid moving into the direct line of fire of your guys. They tried to find cover  if they could, most of the time.

PC Gamer: The new XCOM has that for the Sectoids and the Floaters and the Thin Men, which were the Men in Black which you couldn't put in because Microprose were making another Men in Black game. They had quite a complicated AI system for them, but anything which was melee orientated just ran straight towards the nearest target. You're talking about AI here (GDC) as well.

Julian: I went out of interest because back in 1995 when I was coming to GDC, guys like Neil Kirby, I was involved in their round tables. Every year we used to go to it. There weren't that many AI programmers around at that time. A lot of them were actually involved in RTS games because that was the big thing that killed off turn-based games.

PC Gamer: I remember it well. After Dune II...

Julian: After Dune II... I mean, XCOM was really just at the end of the period where you had this turn-based strategy game as being a mainstream game.

PC Gamer: They're coming back now, but they're not coming back as mainstream games.

Julian: Not as mainstream games, no, because in those days, you had XCOM, Master of Magic and Master of Orion were, for me, phenomenal games. Colonisation, of course, came a bit later.

PC Gamer: I guess there were The Heroes of Might and Magic kind of games.

Julian: Yeah, Heroes of Might and Magic developed a trend, but they weren't in quite the same tradition of this grand strategy game which had big random elements in the generation of world, lots of AI and stuff. Heroes of Might and Magic is a bit of an exception. In those days, I believed firmly that the future of computer games was all about AI. That in twenty years time we'd be interacting with NPC characters in computer games that actually had real intelligence and could respond to you in really intelligent ways. Boy, I was wrong. So wrong!

PC Gamer: Do you think it didn't happen because we never built on anything we built? As in, every time people build AI they build it anew, there aren’t AI libraries as far as I know.

Julian: I think part of the problem is a lot of effort was put more into graphics rather than anything else.





Gollop ponders the "paper thin illusion" of visually advanced modern games like Assassin's Creed 3.

PC Gamer: It can be seen to raise review scores, sadly.

Julian: Because it's the thing that immediately impresses people. As soon as you start interacting with a world of pretty graphics then you realise that actually it's not so interesting. It may be pretty but it's not really that interactive. It's always bugged me about the way computer games developed over the years. Even if you take Assassin's Creed, a phenomenally complex game with all these NPCs wandering around, it is nothing but an elaborate paper thin illusion, to be honest.

PC Gamer: It's a paper thin illusion which is very clear about saying, "This is an illusion". Inside the game, the framing device that they use to make it a series rather than a random collection of games by the same name, there's a person playing a game within a simulation.

Julian: It is, but then again - yeah, that's true. (laughs)

PC Gamer: It feels to me like a huge joke, that they've done that. "How can we get away with making a game with paper thin mechanics, which are quite obviously mechanical? Oh, we'll a simulation inside a game".

Julian: You could say that, yeah. I mean, computer games didn't develop really in that direction, and I guess what people enjoy and what they like at the psychological level is more to do with having their own ego massaged in certain ways through these very simple reward cycles.

PC Gamer: It always struck me as interesting in the Turing test stuff, that it's not that AI ever passes the Turing test but people fail the Turing test. When you have the awards in England, it's always somebody pretending to be a robot which causes an AI to pass the Turing test. Not an AI actually being convincing in any way. And there's something about it being easier to fake intelligence than it is to even get anywhere near trying to generate it really. 

Julian: Yeah, obviously when I was programming XCOM stuff we were faking intelligent. We had some very simple tricks to fake it. I talked a bit about the randomness element in XCOM and how we put it in the AI. But in actual fact, being unpredictable is a way of intelligently countering someone who's predictable. If you play poker, for example.





A mote of randomisation made X-Com's enemies more fiendish.

PC Gamer: I knew you were going to make that reference. My friends hate it when I play poker because I'm random. I don't really understand what I'm doing.

Julian: The good poker players say, depending on your opponent of course, they'll say sometimes you need to mix up your game. Not necessarily that you're completely random but you're doing something which they're not predicting. You're maybe just changing the way you'revalue something and it throws them because (they) can no longer predict what you're doing. In the original XCOM, as I said in the talk, we always tried to make sure that the aliens did not do things on a purely binary yes/no thing, to always have a little bit of randomness in there. 10% of the time they'll do something really stupid perhaps, but most of the time, within some kind of reasonable constraints, what they do is reasonable even though it may have some random element to it.

PC Gamer: That randomness actually sometimes gave them a good chance of survivability as it meant you might have seen something disappear round a corner but you can never walk round the corner because you can never quite predict what will happen. There is a thing it should do rationally, but it might not be doing it.

It's interesting, the other person who was talking about the unpredictability thing was Gary Kasparov, when he writes about playing chess against a computer. Obviously, that whole peak of computing intelligence with rule sets, of chess, where the chess computers memorise the rule sets that every single Grand Master had learnt, Kasparov writes about it and says that the way he found of getting around it was having to always try and work out a way outside what somebody had done before. Going outside that rule set.





The team that built X-com was minute compared to modern blockbusters.

PC Gamer: The other thing that struck me about your Making of XCOM talk was the humility of how you describe how the game was designed. You describe it as you'd done the battle bit and then all of these other bits were suggested by Microprose. It's unusual in this industry, especially with the superstar developers that are around at the moment.

Julian: Yes, it is unusual, but then again if you work with a lot of creative people over the years like I have, you realise actually that you depend a lot on them. I've worked as a producer where I've had to try and build teams of people, get them to work together and you really have to make sure people are leaving their egos in their pockets or parking them at the door because you can get into big problems. What I did for my post mortem, actually, was I tried to contact all these people over the last few weeks to try and figure out what their recollections were of particularly the origins of the game. It was very interesting. There were some conflicts in what people remembered, for sure, and there were some things that I learned because I had no idea about the Spectrum Holobyte cancellation story.

PC Gamer: You didn’t realise it had been cancelled?

I did have some inkling from the QA team many, many years ago, someone some years ago saying that there was a threat to cancel it but I never realised that Spectrum Holobyte actually did make that decision, to cancel it and that the Microprose UK guy said, "Hmmm, nonono".

So I got this information when I spoke to people a couple of weeks ago, I guess. So I wanted to try and do an honest record of the development. Particularly guys who made a contribution which was never really recognised. Steve Hand, for example. because he wasn't in the credits or anything. Also, for the guys that did work on the project all those years ago: John Broomhall, the composer; John Reitze, the graphic designer - these guys really contributed something fairly unique and memorable to the project, without a doubt. Really, without my input to a certain extent. They were just doing this based on their own creativity.

PC Gamer: It's interesting that you had such a relaxed approach to the development. It was like, 'We have these people making music. We trust them, because Microprose UK have told us that they're going to be good at it.' You didn't select these people yourselves?

Julian: No, not at all.

PC Gamer: It was almost like it was, "We're doing our bit and they're going to do their bit and it's all going to work together in the end, so that's OK!" Nowadays you get people like David Cage or Ken Levine, the auteur theory, who have to go over every single detail in the game.

Julian: I think stuff today is so overdesigned, it's unbelievable. There are people obsessing about tiny details about stuff. Especially when you have marketing people involved about how your main character in a game's presented suddenly becomes a huge PR and marketing issue

PC Gamer: The whole thing with Booker holding a big gun on the cover of Bioshock Infinite. It's like crossword magazines in the UK, always having a very attractive blonde girl biting a pen. It sells more copies, amazingly.

Julian: What a shame.





The original Chaos was released on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

PC Gamer: What are you doing at the moment? I know you're working in Bulgaria.

Julian: Yeah, I'm working in Bulgaria. I am establishing my own independent games development studio. I'm working on a turn based strategy game. It's a sequel/remake of a game I made back in 1995 on the ZX Spectrum called Chaos which was originally published by Games Workshop. This was this just fantastic multiplayer turn based game where you're a wizard, you summon creatures, You're just looking at a black screen as an arena with your wizard but it gets filled up with creatures and magic fire and gooey blobs and stuff. It worked brilliantly as a multiplayer game so I want to update it with proper internet multiplayer connectivity.

PC Gamer: I recall looking at your blog with the concepts on there.

Julian: We've got concept art going on now. Although the concept art is obviously a lot more sophisticated than on a 48k Spectrum, we wanted to have some kind of feel or some kind of reminiscence of how the original game looked with it's completely monochromatic but brightly coloured, primary colour sprites and this black background. We're not going to have a black background but we're certainly going to have a dark background, for sure, and a bit more of an abstract, stylish graphics which is more illustrative than purely real rendering stuff.

We're just working on that aspect at the moment, but the actual core gameplay, I made a decision that I'm going to retain the actual core gameplay from the original game. We will elaborate a bit on the spells, for sure, there'll be more spells. I think the core gameplay was actually very simple and going back to this whole poker mechanic thing, it had this great bluffing mechanic in there where you could summon a creature as an illusion.

There's a lot of probability in the game, every spell has a certain probability to be cast, so the more powerful spells tend to be the most difficult ones to cast. You roll to make a creature like a gold dragon and it was something like 20% I think it was, for casting it. If you cast it as an illusion you would automatically get it. There was no possibility that you'd fail, which was cool because every player has a disbelief spell. If somebody summons a gold dragon, probably most players would think, "Well no. Now, that's probably an illusion. I'll try and disbelieve it". But if you disbelieve it and you fail, you've wasted your opportunity to cast a spell and you could be in trouble.

So, this little simple mechanic creates little bluffing strategies between players. Because of the high element of randomness and probability in the game it kind of makes the gameplay less predictable and controllable for each player which in some ways is more fun because there's always a possibility to win the game, however small. The gold dragon could come out to your wizard and attack you, you might survive. Not very likely. You might then attack the gold dragon and you might kill it. Not very likely, but you could, for example. The odds are in there. Trying to analyse why it works is quite interesting but I know for sure it does work well as a game and I want to bring it back.





For Chaos Returns, Gollop wants to retain something of the stark visuals of the original.

PC Gamer: There's the iOS and iPad version of the Settlers of Catan. Obviously Settlers is a dice based system so it’s random. They have a system in it where you can also choose a stacking system where the 36 possible results are treated as cards so you have to get through all the results before you move on. It kind of balances against pure randomness, with that.

Julian: So you know there is going to be at least one of each result there.  It makes it a bit less arbitrary. Yeah, you could be screwed in Settlers of Catan, I've played it many times. I guess they’re trying to make it a little more controlled, but still retain some of the randomness. I'm just not worried about it.  Basically, if you lose, you lose. If you win, you win. If you're a good player, you will tend to win and if you're a bad player you will tend to lose but it’s not automatic.

But I'm adding a whole meta-game to the game as well, this is another aspect. A single player meta-game. But you might have some multiplayer effects as well.

PC Gamer: Is this the second level type thing the same as you had in XCOM?

Julian: It's going to be a little bit simpler than XCOM, actually. The idea is that you're asked as a player to name the world that you wish to explore. This is used as a random number seed generator for the environment. So you have a world which is full of different regions, different types of terrain, and you're exploring. Your objective is basically to kill the Chaos King in the region but your secondary objective is to find stuff because there's lots of artefacts in the game which are going to be useful to you in multiplayer battles or single player battles, so there's a slight RPG element to it as well. So you've created this world and you're exploring it. You go from region to region, you'll fight any enemies in each region who have their own sets of spells or own personality. There's different terrain types in each region. There's special places within realms, places where you can learn your spells, places where you can teleport, places where you can move things around the world. It's a place that people can explore, still bearing in mind they have this requirement, this strategy, to find and locate the boss and kill him. Very simple.

PC Gamer: But it's all procedural?

Julian: Well, it's procedurally generated in the sense that yeah, you're still within an environment that consists of distinct regions, but they're randomly put together. A procedurally generated adventure, if you want to call it that way.





Chaos Reborn - naked giants confirmed.

PC Gamer: It's nice to see you're still genre-busting.

Julian: Well, yeah. I really like games that generate stuff for you. I complained about stuff being over designed. My obsession was always with scenario generators, if you want to call them that, where things are generated for the player to explore and it may be something nobody else has ever played because it's pseudo-randomly generated.

PC Gamer: Which saves you programming time to some degree.

Julian: It saves level design, that's for sure. Yeah. It does allow you to create something vast and complex to explore with less effort, sure. Because you're not designing every single possible experience the player could have in the game at all. Yeah, it's one of my little obsessions I guess, and I've still to see it done well in games. Rogue-like games have randomly generated environments and that's part of their attraction, because apart from that they're very simple games.

PC Gamer: Well, that and permadeath.

Julian: It's true. So I still think this style of game has an attraction for a lot of people. We're going to keep it nice and accessible and simple like back in the Spectrum days, but obviously there's much nicer updated presentation of course.

PC Gamer: And the ability to patch.

Julian: Yes, and add extra content as you're going, of course, and proper multiplayer online. The thing about this generating from a name you type is that you can say to a mate of yours, "Look, try this particular word because in this particular region you will find a tower of mist where you can get the Cloak of Fortitude". You'll be able to exchange stuff with other players and discuss what you can get where in a particular realm. Of course, there's millions of possibilities of things that can be generated this way.

PC Gamer: Have you worked out how many possibilities?

Julian: More than millions. It depends entirely on the limits of the random number seed, I guess, but it would be a lot.

PC Gamer: Sounds wonderful. Have you got an idea yet when you want to release?

Julian: Next year. I can't be more specific than that, really. I'm trying to build the team and get resources for the game as well, so this is all part of the process. When you're an indie developer you don't necessarily have to start with a fixed budget and a fixed schedule and fixed resources.





Gollop wanted to make an XCom-esque Ghost Recon game at one stage.

PC Gamer: Why Bulgaria? Is that because there are established programmers out there?

Julian: No, it's where I live. I've lived there since 2005. Because my wife is Bulgarian and I've got two children as well, two years old. I worked for Ubisoft from November 2006 to March last year, just over 5 years.

PC Gamer: What were you working on?

Julian: Ok, so when I first started at Ubisoft Bulgaria - it's a small studio, 13 people - I was employed as a game designer. The first project they wanted me to work on was Chess Master which I was a bit surprised at. So that's 2006, 2007 they were working on Chess Master 11, I think, for PC. I'm not sure why they wanted me to work on this because I thought the game of Chess had already been designed. Actually, what they wanted was a DS version of Chess Master. We added some mini games based on Chess which I designed.

PC Gamer: So you redesigned Chess?

Julian: I actually designed some original games using some Chess-like rules. There was one, my particular favourite, called Fork My Fruit where the Chess board had bits of fruit on it and you had to, using the forking principle in Chess, you could fork fruit. You got the fruit from the board.

I did Chess Master, then I worked on some projects  that were cancelled. Then I worked on Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, which was a launch title for 3DS. This was a project that I actually pitched. I just wanted to do a decent turn based strategy game again. I wanted to do something similar to XCOM still and I thought, well, you know, what's Ubisoft got that could be used here? Looking at the franchise, OK - Ghost Recon, possibly. So I pitched it initially as XCOM meets Ghost Recon. One of the guys at Ubisoft central office in Paris said yeah, OK. He OKed the project and we did a working demo and design. I think we spent maybe 3 months on this. It did have aspects of XCOM. There was supposed to be a world view you know, generated battles and maps, different bosses in different parts of the world that you had to tackle. The tactical game that we had for this design was very much like the new XCOM where you'd have two actions per turn for each character.

PC Gamer: What do you think of the new XCOM?

Julian: It's great. It's very very good. It's different from mine.

PC Gamer: Jake Solomon, the lead designer, seems to have been very respectful to elements of it and has obviously just gone "but we need to make this work on consoles".

Julian: He was worried what I would think of it. He's changed so much. I think he was probably worried that I'd come up to him and say "Jake, you've been a naughty boy. What have you done to my XCOM?" but no. It wasn't like that at all.



PC Gamer: You've played it then, I take it?

Julian: I have played it. I've actually restarted it twice. Maybe I should try it on an easier difficulty level because I haven't managed to get to the end yet! If there's anything that's a problem with the game, it's that you can be playing it for quite a while without knowing that you are actually completely screwed and you should have stopped and started again.

I think my second playthrough I did a lot better but it got to a point where I could see I was in a bit of a downward spiral, and I just couldn't see a way out of it. I thought, well ok. I've got to restart again. I was losing too much funding. It's quite unforgiving, actually, in that sense.

PC Gamer: I was lucky that I never had a satellite shot down but I forgot to put any more up. I was just running with that minimal level.

Julian: That's the mistake I made on my first run through. I wasn't paying enough attention to the satellites. I wasn't getting the funding.

PC Gamer: Yeah, you need to circle the world. It's something that you learn as you play. Which is an interesting game design element.

Julian: It is, and pretty much every decision you make has to be fairly carefully considered, because there's always a very distinctive trade-off in decisions. I think Firaxis did a really, really good job. If you ask me, would I have designed the game in the same way? I would have to say no.

PC Gamer: How would you have designed it?

Julian: (laughs) I certainly would have gone back to my idea of generators again. I would not have accepted anything less than pseudo-randomly generated maps. I probably would have had less contrived elements to it. I felt that the... was it the Terror missions? Where you had to pick one out of three spots. Aliens are terrorizing three places. You've got to pick one of them and you have to -





Failing to maintain good satellite coverage proved punishing in 2012's Enemy Unknown.

PC Gamer: Ugh, God, yes. You know that the other two continents are going to be on minimal support and if something goes wrong, you're going to lose that funding on those two countries.

Julian: You're going to definitely lose out somewhere. You have to choose which one you're going to lose. I would have designed it differently, for sure. Would it have been as successful as the new XCOM? Probably not. No, I'm afraid.

PC Gamer: They probably wouldn't have given it the marketing money, to be honest. An awful lot of it was that they actually backed it, which was amazing. They backed a turn based strategy game on console.

Julian: That is absolutely incredible. I mean, it's unheard of really, unless it's Civilisation. Civilisation was the only game that was really surviving as a turn based franchise.

PC Gamer: And thriving, with Civilisation Revolution as well which was wonderful.

Julian: Exactly. It's actually made Take 2 Interactive the new Microprose because they're the only company that's got these really popular well known, established turn based franchises. Civilisation and now XCOM.

PC Gamer: Was there anything you would have added to the XCOM as it stands? 

Julian: Well, yeah, the Geoscape is kind of missing. In the original game, the position of your bases - what you put in those bases - was important because aliens were active in particular areas, but the position of stuff in the new geoscape from the new game is actually, irrelevant, really. It doesn't really play any part in the game, so you don't have that. The Interceptors are based in each region. I guess my original game was a bit more simulation-ny and the new game is a bit more board game-y.

PC Gamer: Which is a way the industry's going. There's a whole video games made by board game designers section in the West Hall at GDC, so everyone plays board games now. I went to Jagex and Jagex have a whole room dedicated to their employees playing board games.

Julian: Yeah. This is very good and the new XCOM shows a lot of board game-y influences, without a doubt.







PC Gamer: You are a board gamer yourself, aren't you?

Julian: Yeah, I play board games. Absolutely. Far more than computer games.

PC Gamer: Would you design board games? Is that something you wanted to do or have done?

Julian: I do. Well, I have done, yes. Interestingly, Chaos, the game that I'm now remaking, was originally a board game.

PC Gamer: Was it a board game or card based?

Julian: Card based. Basically you had  grid of squares, your board or arena. You had a wizard character, you put it on your wizard card and you had a hand of cards which was your spells. So to cast a spell you put your card down, roll the dice to cast it. If it's a creature it goes on the board, you can start moving it around and attacking enemies. If it's a spell, you have to resolve the effect of the spell. So yeah, it was originally a board game. On my blog I've got some pictures of the cards. I put them up a couple of months ago. So, I still have the original cards from this board game that I made. I often had lots of ideas for board games. I made one - a couple, actually - while I was at Ubisoft which we played with the level designers there. I've never tried getting any of them published.

I've got a question about Terror from the Deep, were you involved with that?

Julian: I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

PC Gamer: When I was a kid, I knew that it came out (and) I was extremely excited and then I played it and it and went, "This feels like an asset swap, except I can't use some of my guns on land".

Julian: I think pretty much the entire code base was identical to the first game. I don't think they really changed very much.

PC Gamer: Last year at GDC I spoke to Frederick Raynal who made Alone in the Dark. He had this thing where he made Alone in the Dark, he didn't sleep more than about 3 hours a night for a year. It got to the end of the year and the publisher said, "It's doing really well! We're going to put another one out. We're just going to do exactly the same thing. We're just going to make a clone and change a few bits” and he quit immediately. To me it seemed that Terror from the Deep had that air about it. Had you left the company?

Julian: No, no, yeah. What happened was, we started working on XCOM: Apocalypse pretty much the same time as they started work on Terror from the Deep. What really happened was that myself and Nick wanted to do a different game to XCOM, or at least do something a little bit different than just remake the original, so that's how XCOM: Apocalypse came about. There were some significant differences in the way that the game worked.

PC Gamer: Apocalypse had a bit of Sim City about it, I remember.

Julian: You were in this city and it had different organisations in this city with diplomatic relationships with each other and stuff. But they wanted a sequel within 6 months basically, this is what they wanted and we had to say "Well, it's not possible to do anything except re-skin the game with some (new) graphics".

Actually, they changed the story of course, I guess the clever bit, it was all about under the sea rather than Mars. Actually, it took a year to do the game. I had a huge team on it. Well, when I say huge I mean like, 15 people. Compared to just me and Nick and Helen, John and Martin on the graphics side of the original, this was much bigger.

PC Gamer: It must be strange to see studios with 400 staff, like Destiny, which is the Bungie game that's been announced.

Julian: Well I know from working at Ubisoft they have hundreds upon hundreds working on Assassin's Creed - more than 400. Assassin's Creed 3 is absolute bare minimum 600 people, probably, were working on it for most of the time worldwide across many studios.

PC Gamer: Their studio in Montreal, is it 2100 people?

Julian: It's huge. Ubisoft and probably other big publishers actually, they're making games by pure brute force.

PC Gamer: Having the Shanghai studio which is cheap to do lots of asset generation.

Julian: Yes. Obviously, these games require a huge amount of asset generation. It's like a factory. They're an immensely difficult undertaking, to be sure.





Gollop calls XCOM: Apocalypse "a disastrous project, even from the beginning."

PC Gamer: You had your huge team of 15 people on Terror from the Deep, is that right? Or XCOM: Apocalypse?

Julian: On XCOM: Apocalypse the team size for that actually was 5 of us at Mythos Games working on it and there was a team of artists at Microprose working on it as well. Again, it's a similar arrangement to the first game where we were doing the programming and Microprose were doing the artwork. But it was a disastrous project, even from the beginning, because one thing that happened is that the Microprose art team were trying to change the design of the game. Then they were failing to actually deliver anything that they promised. They just couldn't get the isometric graphic system sorted out in their heads. They did things which just didn't work, like they hired a guy whose name I forget to design the aliens, and this is a well known Science Fiction artist and he built these big models of the aliens and the idea was that they were going to scan them and put them into a 3D modelling software. It just didn't work. He had all this fine detail in these models and this scanning system just wasn't good enough.

PC Gamer: I do remember the aliens in it looking a bit blobby.

Julian: Then they had to recreate them basically in a 3D software they were using at the time. Yeah, they were awful, blobby things. They were nasty. Terrible graphics. It was very difficult.

PC Gamer: I still enjoyed playing it in the end, mainly because of jet bikes equipped with plasma cannons and missiles.

Julian: We had a real time system as well which was interesting, actually. It had some interesting aspects to it, but I don't think you can beat turn based games for simple straightforward playability.

PC Gamer: And planning tactically, as well. Responding on the fly was just tough, especially when you could just pause. Let's just quickly deal with Interceptor and Enforcer.

Julian: XCOM: Interceptor, yeah. That was the X Wing thing. XCOM: Alliance was an FPS one, yes. It wasn't a straightforward first person shooter, it was like a team based shooter, allegedly something similar to Rainbow 6. But with aliens.

PC Gamer: At what point did you stop being involved with making these games?

Julian: After Apocalypse. So, I had absolutely nothing to do with XCOM: Alliance or XCOM: Interceptor or any XCOM anything else. XCOM: Enforcer? Well, what happened there was that Microprose or Hasbro as it was by then, they had three Unreal licenses, I think, that that had to somehow use. XCOM: Alliance was using Unreal but because that project was going nowhere, they decided to "Well, let's just put out a straightforward Unreal-style shooter using the assets from XCOM: Alliance. We'll at least have something there to show for all the effort".

XCOM: Alliance was in development for a long time. How the development got screwed up, I don't know. As you're probably well aware, quite often games companies start and you're going for a long time and it just doesn't happen.

PC Gamer: This Milo and Kate seems to have broken Peter Molyneux's heart. They just gradually realised they couldn't make something believable. Yeah, it happens a lot.

Julian: It does. It's quite frequent.





X-Com inspired many official and unofficial successors.

PC Gamer: After Microprose and Hasbro stopped making them, suddenly in the late 90s / early 2000s people started making XCOM-inspired games with names like UFO: Afterlight, Aftermath. Some of them were really good, some of them were dreadful.

Julian: UFO: Aftermath arose out of my Dreamland Chronicles project. We did one game for Virgin Interactive called Magic and Mayhem, then I proposed to Virgin, "Why don't we try and do a remaining or remake of the original XCOM with, obviously, a different story? Make it PC and Playstation II". It was still a turn based game, still had all the elements of XCOM there. The tactical part was a little bit different because you controlled characters using a traditional third person controls for a console game.

If you've played Valkyria Chronicles on the PS3 then you've got an idea of how Dreamland Chronicles worked, because it's very similar. We had a little action point bar that would go down as you moved your character just like in Valkyria Chronicles, and when you wanted to shoot somebody you'd get the over the shoulder view, just like in Valkyria Chronicles. When you select characters it was on an overhead map, just like in Valkyria Chronicles.

So, it was looking promising, but Virgin Interactive had problems. They were sold to Interplay and then to Titus Interactive. Titus Interactive took one look at our game and said 'This is rubbish. This is so bad. Sorry, we're not interested in this.' Well, Titus were more interested in the IP that they got from buying Interplay. Whether they managed to do anything productive with it is another question.

So, we had to close the studio. We had a four-game contract with Virgin and now Titus but they were not going to fund this or any other games and we couldn't go to another publisher, so we had to shut the studio. What they did was they took all of the assets that we'd done and they ultimately ended up in the hands of ALTAR Interactive who made UFO: Aftermath. Unfortunately they stripped out our fantastic Valkyria Chronicles style turn based stuff and they put what I thought was a rather weak real-time thing in there.

PC Gamer: The last game they made, Afterlight, was actually good; good characters, a fun plot, interesting Geoscape mechanics.

Julian: I played it very briefly, I seem to remember. Certainly not very much, no. Unfortunately I very rarely finish games these days. Well, from my point of view I don't have the time. A lot of my game playing is more about research than entertainment because with limited time to play games, my interest is finding out what people are doing. At the moment, my main obsession is trying to find turn based games for iPad, for example, to figure out what is there out there that's interesting.

PC Gamer: I get an awful lot from BoardGameGeek.

Julian: There's a lot of board games coming out which is really cool. Very nice. But I'm talking about original turn based, to be tactical turn based games. There's one I like called Battlefield Academy which is also on PC, of course. That's quite nice.





FTL is the next game Gollop's lined up to play.

PC Gamer: What are you playing at the moment?

Julian: What am I playing? I know what I'm about to play because I just downloaded it before I came to GDC, which is FTL. I purposefully did not start doing it 'cause I had to finish my presentation so I guess as soon as I get back that's at the top of my list. Before that, I was playing XCOM, of course.  I do play games on the iPad as well. The latest one is Battlefield Academy. Outwitters, I quite like. Outwitters is nice. Online turn based game, cutesy graphics, brutal gameplay. Chess-like.

PC Gamer: I haven't heard Chess mentioned once, apart from you, during all the time at GDC. It's not something people learn from any more. They don't reference it any more. That's really odd, considering it was, for 6000 years or however long it's been around.

Julian: I don't know. Maybe people think it's boring and that's all there is to it. If you like Chess, you'll like Outwitters. Outwitters has got a brilliant mechanic in it which is very simple. Each piece has a certain move, a certain strength - attack strength and defence strength - but you can only see the board as far as your pieces can move. So, there's a hidden area of the board, you have to be careful. You're not entirely sure what your opponent's doing. Very simply done. That gives the game a little bit of uncertainly and a bit of edge. It's quite nice.

PC Gamer: Can you see what your opponent can see?

Julian: Not exactly. You're not entirely sure what he can see. Most of the time, actually, you're not sure. Some of the time you're sure because the long range scout units, if you've got those up front on your front lines you know that you can see as much as he can see, because his scout units can't see further than yours sees. It's an intriguing game.

PC Gamer: Oh, that reminds me. The other XCOM game that was in development which has gone very quiet. Did you ever see that?

Julian: Oh yeah, the 2K Marin game. The only thing that I read is that they sort of rebooted it. Obviously, gone back to the drawing board a little bit trying to figure out what the identity of this game should really be. I think they got some bad reactions on several levels. One was the fact it was an FPS. Secondly, the presentation was a bit - this 1950s style alternate reality thing probably didn't go down too well with a lot of people, either, so it may be they're rethinking that. I'm not sure. Graphically, it was amazing.

PC Gamer: Thank you!

 



 
PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Julian Gollop interview: on X-Coms old and new, the Ghost Recon strategy game that never was, AI, auteurs and “Fork My Fruit”">gollop ULTRA







Julian Gollop is a 27+ year veteran of the industry. He can list classics like Chaos, Laser Squad and, of course, X-Com, on his long career resume. As Firaxis successfully reboot X-Com for modern audiences with Enemy Uknown, Gollop has donned indie threads to pursue a current remake of his multiplayer wizard-duelling game, fittingly named Chaos Returns. I caught up with him at GDC for an affable chat about his work on the original X-Com, progress on the new Chaos game, and his thoughts on how the great machine of modern development compares to the tiny teams in operation during the turn-based-strategy boom.



The man himself.



The interview's a big 'un. Here's what you'll find on each page if you fancy skipping to a part that interests you.



Page 2: How auter-led development compares to Gollop's position in the original X-com team, and details of his new indie project, Chaos Reborn.

Page 3: Expanding Chess, "Fork My Fruit," the aborted "XCOM meets Ghost Recon" pitch and Gollop's thoughts on the modern version of XCOM.

Page 4: Gollop's love of boardgames, the story behind Terror from the Deep and XCOM: Apocalypse and Gollop's favourite recent games.



PC Gamer: In the original XCOM, the way the AI moved towards you, they would make use of cover and they weren't completely suicidal.

Julian: No, they weren't. I can't remember exactly how we did the AI in the original XCOM, but a lot of the time I tried to avoid moving into the direct line of fire of your guys. They tried to find cover  if they could, most of the time.

PC Gamer: The new XCOM has that for the Sectoids and the Floaters and the Thin Men, which were the Men in Black which you couldn't put in because Microprose were making another Men in Black game. They had quite a complicated AI system for them, but anything which was melee orientated just ran straight towards the nearest target. You're talking about AI here (GDC) as well.

Julian: I went out of interest because back in 1995 when I was coming to GDC, guys like Neil Kirby, I was involved in their round tables. Every year we used to go to it. There weren't that many AI programmers around at that time. A lot of them were actually involved in RTS games because that was the big thing that killed off turn-based games.

PC Gamer: I remember it well. After Dune II...

Julian: After Dune II... I mean, XCOM was really just at the end of the period where you had this turn-based strategy game as being a mainstream game.

PC Gamer: They're coming back now, but they're not coming back as mainstream games.

Julian: Not as mainstream games, no, because in those days, you had XCOM, Master of Magic and Master of Orion were, for me, phenomenal games. Colonisation, of course, came a bit later.

PC Gamer: I guess there were The Heroes of Might and Magic kind of games.

Julian: Yeah, Heroes of Might and Magic developed a trend, but they weren't in quite the same tradition of this grand strategy game which had big random elements in the generation of world, lots of AI and stuff. Heroes of Might and Magic is a bit of an exception. In those days, I believed firmly that the future of computer games was all about AI. That in twenty years time we'd be interacting with NPC characters in computer games that actually had real intelligence and could respond to you in really intelligent ways. Boy, I was wrong. So wrong!

PC Gamer: Do you think it didn't happen because we never built on anything we built? As in, every time people build AI they build it anew, there aren’t AI libraries as far as I know.

Julian: I think part of the problem is a lot of effort was put more into graphics rather than anything else.





Gollop ponders the "paper thin illusion" of visually advanced modern games like Assassin's Creed 3.

PC Gamer: It can be seen to raise review scores, sadly.

Julian: Because it's the thing that immediately impresses people. As soon as you start interacting with a world of pretty graphics then you realise that actually it's not so interesting. It may be pretty but it's not really that interactive. It's always bugged me about the way computer games developed over the years. Even if you take Assassin's Creed, a phenomenally complex game with all these NPCs wandering around, it is nothing but an elaborate paper thin illusion, to be honest.

PC Gamer: It's a paper thin illusion which is very clear about saying, "This is an illusion". Inside the game, the framing device that they use to make it a series rather than a random collection of games by the same name, there's a person playing a game within a simulation.

Julian: It is, but then again - yeah, that's true. (laughs)

PC Gamer: It feels to me like a huge joke, that they've done that. "How can we get away with making a game with paper thin mechanics, which are quite obviously mechanical? Oh, we'll a simulation inside a game".

Julian: You could say that, yeah. I mean, computer games didn't develop really in that direction, and I guess what people enjoy and what they like at the psychological level is more to do with having their own ego massaged in certain ways through these very simple reward cycles.

PC Gamer: It always struck me as interesting in the Turing test stuff, that it's not that AI ever passes the Turing test but people fail the Turing test. When you have the awards in England, it's always somebody pretending to be a robot which causes an AI to pass the Turing test. Not an AI actually being convincing in any way. And there's something about it being easier to fake intelligence than it is to even get anywhere near trying to generate it really. 

Julian: Yeah, obviously when I was programming XCOM stuff we were faking intelligent. We had some very simple tricks to fake it. I talked a bit about the randomness element in XCOM and how we put it in the AI. But in actual fact, being unpredictable is a way of intelligently countering someone who's predictable. If you play poker, for example.





A mote of randomisation made X-Com's enemies more fiendish.

PC Gamer: I knew you were going to make that reference. My friends hate it when I play poker because I'm random. I don't really understand what I'm doing.

Julian: The good poker players say, depending on your opponent of course, they'll say sometimes you need to mix up your game. Not necessarily that you're completely random but you're doing something which they're not predicting. You're maybe just changing the way you'revalue something and it throws them because (they) can no longer predict what you're doing. In the original XCOM, as I said in the talk, we always tried to make sure that the aliens did not do things on a purely binary yes/no thing, to always have a little bit of randomness in there. 10% of the time they'll do something really stupid perhaps, but most of the time, within some kind of reasonable constraints, what they do is reasonable even though it may have some random element to it.

PC Gamer: That randomness actually sometimes gave them a good chance of survivability as it meant you might have seen something disappear round a corner but you can never walk round the corner because you can never quite predict what will happen. There is a thing it should do rationally, but it might not be doing it.

It's interesting, the other person who was talking about the unpredictability thing was Gary Kasparov, when he writes about playing chess against a computer. Obviously, that whole peak of computing intelligence with rule sets, of chess, where the chess computers memorise the rule sets that every single Grand Master had learnt, Kasparov writes about it and says that the way he found of getting around it was having to always try and work out a way outside what somebody had done before. Going outside that rule set.





The team that built X-com was minute compared to modern blockbusters.

PC Gamer: The other thing that struck me about your Making of XCOM talk was the humility of how you describe how the game was designed. You describe it as you'd done the battle bit and then all of these other bits were suggested by Microprose. It's unusual in this industry, especially with the superstar developers that are around at the moment.

Julian: Yes, it is unusual, but then again if you work with a lot of creative people over the years like I have, you realise actually that you depend a lot on them. I've worked as a producer where I've had to try and build teams of people, get them to work together and you really have to make sure people are leaving their egos in their pockets or parking them at the door because you can get into big problems. What I did for my post mortem, actually, was I tried to contact all these people over the last few weeks to try and figure out what their recollections were of particularly the origins of the game. It was very interesting. There were some conflicts in what people remembered, for sure, and there were some things that I learned because I had no idea about the Spectrum Holobyte cancellation story.

PC Gamer: You didn’t realise it had been cancelled?

I did have some inkling from the QA team many, many years ago, someone some years ago saying that there was a threat to cancel it but I never realised that Spectrum Holobyte actually did make that decision, to cancel it and that the Microprose UK guy said, "Hmmm, nonono".

So I got this information when I spoke to people a couple of weeks ago, I guess. So I wanted to try and do an honest record of the development. Particularly guys who made a contribution which was never really recognised. Steve Hand, for example. because he wasn't in the credits or anything. Also, for the guys that did work on the project all those years ago: John Broomhall, the composer; John Reitze, the graphic designer - these guys really contributed something fairly unique and memorable to the project, without a doubt. Really, without my input to a certain extent. They were just doing this based on their own creativity.

PC Gamer: It's interesting that you had such a relaxed approach to the development. It was like, 'We have these people making music. We trust them, because Microprose UK have told us that they're going to be good at it.' You didn't select these people yourselves?

Julian: No, not at all.

PC Gamer: It was almost like it was, "We're doing our bit and they're going to do their bit and it's all going to work together in the end, so that's OK!" Nowadays you get people like David Cage or Ken Levine, the auteur theory, who have to go over every single detail in the game.

Julian: I think stuff today is so overdesigned, it's unbelievable. There are people obsessing about tiny details about stuff. Especially when you have marketing people involved about how your main character in a game's presented suddenly becomes a huge PR and marketing issue

PC Gamer: The whole thing with Booker holding a big gun on the cover of Bioshock Infinite. It's like crossword magazines in the UK, always having a very attractive blonde girl biting a pen. It sells more copies, amazingly.

Julian: What a shame.





The original Chaos was released on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

PC Gamer: What are you doing at the moment? I know you're working in Bulgaria.

Julian: Yeah, I'm working in Bulgaria. I am establishing my own independent games development studio. I'm working on a turn based strategy game. It's a sequel/remake of a game I made back in 1995 on the ZX Spectrum called Chaos which was originally published by Games Workshop. This was this just fantastic multiplayer turn based game where you're a wizard, you summon creatures, You're just looking at a black screen as an arena with your wizard but it gets filled up with creatures and magic fire and gooey blobs and stuff. It worked brilliantly as a multiplayer game so I want to update it with proper internet multiplayer connectivity.

PC Gamer: I recall looking at your blog with the concepts on there.

Julian: We've got concept art going on now. Although the concept art is obviously a lot more sophisticated than on a 48k Spectrum, we wanted to have some kind of feel or some kind of reminiscence of how the original game looked with it's completely monochromatic but brightly coloured, primary colour sprites and this black background. We're not going to have a black background but we're certainly going to have a dark background, for sure, and a bit more of an abstract, stylish graphics which is more illustrative than purely real rendering stuff.

We're just working on that aspect at the moment, but the actual core gameplay, I made a decision that I'm going to retain the actual core gameplay from the original game. We will elaborate a bit on the spells, for sure, there'll be more spells. I think the core gameplay was actually very simple and going back to this whole poker mechanic thing, it had this great bluffing mechanic in there where you could summon a creature as an illusion.

There's a lot of probability in the game, every spell has a certain probability to be cast, so the more powerful spells tend to be the most difficult ones to cast. You roll to make a creature like a gold dragon and it was something like 20% I think it was, for casting it. If you cast it as an illusion you would automatically get it. There was no possibility that you'd fail, which was cool because every player has a disbelief spell. If somebody summons a gold dragon, probably most players would think, "Well no. Now, that's probably an illusion. I'll try and disbelieve it". But if you disbelieve it and you fail, you've wasted your opportunity to cast a spell and you could be in trouble.

So, this little simple mechanic creates little bluffing strategies between players. Because of the high element of randomness and probability in the game it kind of makes the gameplay less predictable and controllable for each player which in some ways is more fun because there's always a possibility to win the game, however small. The gold dragon could come out to your wizard and attack you, you might survive. Not very likely. You might then attack the gold dragon and you might kill it. Not very likely, but you could, for example. The odds are in there. Trying to analyse why it works is quite interesting but I know for sure it does work well as a game and I want to bring it back.





For Chaos Returns, Gollop wants to retain something of the stark visuals of the original.

PC Gamer: There's the iOS and iPad version of the Settlers of Catan. Obviously Settlers is a dice based system so it’s random. They have a system in it where you can also choose a stacking system where the 36 possible results are treated as cards so you have to get through all the results before you move on. It kind of balances against pure randomness, with that.

Julian: So you know there is going to be at least one of each result there.  It makes it a bit less arbitrary. Yeah, you could be screwed in Settlers of Catan, I've played it many times. I guess they’re trying to make it a little more controlled, but still retain some of the randomness. I'm just not worried about it.  Basically, if you lose, you lose. If you win, you win. If you're a good player, you will tend to win and if you're a bad player you will tend to lose but it’s not automatic.

But I'm adding a whole meta-game to the game as well, this is another aspect. A single player meta-game. But you might have some multiplayer effects as well.

PC Gamer: Is this the second level type thing the same as you had in XCOM?

Julian: It's going to be a little bit simpler than XCOM, actually. The idea is that you're asked as a player to name the world that you wish to explore. This is used as a random number seed generator for the environment. So you have a world which is full of different regions, different types of terrain, and you're exploring. Your objective is basically to kill the Chaos King in the region but your secondary objective is to find stuff because there's lots of artefacts in the game which are going to be useful to you in multiplayer battles or single player battles, so there's a slight RPG element to it as well. So you've created this world and you're exploring it. You go from region to region, you'll fight any enemies in each region who have their own sets of spells or own personality. There's different terrain types in each region. There's special places within realms, places where you can learn your spells, places where you can teleport, places where you can move things around the world. It's a place that people can explore, still bearing in mind they have this requirement, this strategy, to find and locate the boss and kill him. Very simple.

PC Gamer: But it's all procedural?

Julian: Well, it's procedurally generated in the sense that yeah, you're still within an environment that consists of distinct regions, but they're randomly put together. A procedurally generated adventure, if you want to call it that way.





Chaos Reborn - naked giants confirmed.

PC Gamer: It's nice to see you're still genre-busting.

Julian: Well, yeah. I really like games that generate stuff for you. I complained about stuff being over designed. My obsession was always with scenario generators, if you want to call them that, where things are generated for the player to explore and it may be something nobody else has ever played because it's pseudo-randomly generated.

PC Gamer: Which saves you programming time to some degree.

Julian: It saves level design, that's for sure. Yeah. It does allow you to create something vast and complex to explore with less effort, sure. Because you're not designing every single possible experience the player could have in the game at all. Yeah, it's one of my little obsessions I guess, and I've still to see it done well in games. Rogue-like games have randomly generated environments and that's part of their attraction, because apart from that they're very simple games.

PC Gamer: Well, that and permadeath.

Julian: It's true. So I still think this style of game has an attraction for a lot of people. We're going to keep it nice and accessible and simple like back in the Spectrum days, but obviously there's much nicer updated presentation of course.

PC Gamer: And the ability to patch.

Julian: Yes, and add extra content as you're going, of course, and proper multiplayer online. The thing about this generating from a name you type is that you can say to a mate of yours, "Look, try this particular word because in this particular region you will find a tower of mist where you can get the Cloak of Fortitude". You'll be able to exchange stuff with other players and discuss what you can get where in a particular realm. Of course, there's millions of possibilities of things that can be generated this way.

PC Gamer: Have you worked out how many possibilities?

Julian: More than millions. It depends entirely on the limits of the random number seed, I guess, but it would be a lot.

PC Gamer: Sounds wonderful. Have you got an idea yet when you want to release?

Julian: Next year. I can't be more specific than that, really. I'm trying to build the team and get resources for the game as well, so this is all part of the process. When you're an indie developer you don't necessarily have to start with a fixed budget and a fixed schedule and fixed resources.





Gollop wanted to make an XCom-esque Ghost Recon game at one stage.

PC Gamer: Why Bulgaria? Is that because there are established programmers out there?

Julian: No, it's where I live. I've lived there since 2005. Because my wife is Bulgarian and I've got two children as well, two years old. I worked for Ubisoft from November 2006 to March last year, just over 5 years.

PC Gamer: What were you working on?

Julian: Ok, so when I first started at Ubisoft Bulgaria - it's a small studio, 13 people - I was employed as a game designer. The first project they wanted me to work on was Chess Master which I was a bit surprised at. So that's 2006, 2007 they were working on Chess Master 11, I think, for PC. I'm not sure why they wanted me to work on this because I thought the game of Chess had already been designed. Actually, what they wanted was a DS version of Chess Master. We added some mini games based on Chess which I designed.

PC Gamer: So you redesigned Chess?

Julian: I actually designed some original games using some Chess-like rules. There was one, my particular favourite, called Fork My Fruit where the Chess board had bits of fruit on it and you had to, using the forking principle in Chess, you could fork fruit. You got the fruit from the board.

I did Chess Master, then I worked on some projects  that were cancelled. Then I worked on Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, which was a launch title for 3DS. This was a project that I actually pitched. I just wanted to do a decent turn based strategy game again. I wanted to do something similar to XCOM still and I thought, well, you know, what's Ubisoft got that could be used here? Looking at the franchise, OK - Ghost Recon, possibly. So I pitched it initially as XCOM meets Ghost Recon. One of the guys at Ubisoft central office in Paris said yeah, OK. He OKed the project and we did a working demo and design. I think we spent maybe 3 months on this. It did have aspects of XCOM. There was supposed to be a world view you know, generated battles and maps, different bosses in different parts of the world that you had to tackle. The tactical game that we had for this design was very much like the new XCOM where you'd have two actions per turn for each character.

PC Gamer: What do you think of the new XCOM?

Julian: It's great. It's very very good. It's different from mine.

PC Gamer: Jake Solomon, the lead designer, seems to have been very respectful to elements of it and has obviously just gone "but we need to make this work on consoles".

Julian: He was worried what I would think of it. He's changed so much. I think he was probably worried that I'd come up to him and say "Jake, you've been a naughty boy. What have you done to my XCOM?" but no. It wasn't like that at all.



PC Gamer: You've played it then, I take it?

Julian: I have played it. I've actually restarted it twice. Maybe I should try it on an easier difficulty level because I haven't managed to get to the end yet! If there's anything that's a problem with the game, it's that you can be playing it for quite a while without knowing that you are actually completely screwed and you should have stopped and started again.

I think my second playthrough I did a lot better but it got to a point where I could see I was in a bit of a downward spiral, and I just couldn't see a way out of it. I thought, well ok. I've got to restart again. I was losing too much funding. It's quite unforgiving, actually, in that sense.

PC Gamer: I was lucky that I never had a satellite shot down but I forgot to put any more up. I was just running with that minimal level.

Julian: That's the mistake I made on my first run through. I wasn't paying enough attention to the satellites. I wasn't getting the funding.

PC Gamer: Yeah, you need to circle the world. It's something that you learn as you play. Which is an interesting game design element.

Julian: It is, and pretty much every decision you make has to be fairly carefully considered, because there's always a very distinctive trade-off in decisions. I think Firaxis did a really, really good job. If you ask me, would I have designed the game in the same way? I would have to say no.

PC Gamer: How would you have designed it?

Julian: (laughs) I certainly would have gone back to my idea of generators again. I would not have accepted anything less than pseudo-randomly generated maps. I probably would have had less contrived elements to it. I felt that the... was it the Terror missions? Where you had to pick one out of three spots. Aliens are terrorizing three places. You've got to pick one of them and you have to -





Failing to maintain good satellite coverage proved punishing in 2012's Enemy Unknown.

PC Gamer: Ugh, God, yes. You know that the other two continents are going to be on minimal support and if something goes wrong, you're going to lose that funding on those two countries.

Julian: You're going to definitely lose out somewhere. You have to choose which one you're going to lose. I would have designed it differently, for sure. Would it have been as successful as the new XCOM? Probably not. No, I'm afraid.

PC Gamer: They probably wouldn't have given it the marketing money, to be honest. An awful lot of it was that they actually backed it, which was amazing. They backed a turn based strategy game on console.

Julian: That is absolutely incredible. I mean, it's unheard of really, unless it's Civilisation. Civilisation was the only game that was really surviving as a turn based franchise.

PC Gamer: And thriving, with Civilisation Revolution as well which was wonderful.

Julian: Exactly. It's actually made Take 2 Interactive the new Microprose because they're the only company that's got these really popular well known, established turn based franchises. Civilisation and now XCOM.

PC Gamer: Was there anything you would have added to the XCOM as it stands? 

Julian: Well, yeah, the Geoscape is kind of missing. In the original game, the position of your bases - what you put in those bases - was important because aliens were active in particular areas, but the position of stuff in the new geoscape from the new game is actually, irrelevant, really. It doesn't really play any part in the game, so you don't have that. The Interceptors are based in each region. I guess my original game was a bit more simulation-ny and the new game is a bit more board game-y.

PC Gamer: Which is a way the industry's going. There's a whole video games made by board game designers section in the West Hall at GDC, so everyone plays board games now. I went to Jagex and Jagex have a whole room dedicated to their employees playing board games.

Julian: Yeah. This is very good and the new XCOM shows a lot of board game-y influences, without a doubt.







PC Gamer: You are a board gamer yourself, aren't you?

Julian: Yeah, I play board games. Absolutely. Far more than computer games.

PC Gamer: Would you design board games? Is that something you wanted to do or have done?

Julian: I do. Well, I have done, yes. Interestingly, Chaos, the game that I'm now remaking, was originally a board game.

PC Gamer: Was it a board game or card based?

Julian: Card based. Basically you had  grid of squares, your board or arena. You had a wizard character, you put it on your wizard card and you had a hand of cards which was your spells. So to cast a spell you put your card down, roll the dice to cast it. If it's a creature it goes on the board, you can start moving it around and attacking enemies. If it's a spell, you have to resolve the effect of the spell. So yeah, it was originally a board game. On my blog I've got some pictures of the cards. I put them up a couple of months ago. So, I still have the original cards from this board game that I made. I often had lots of ideas for board games. I made one - a couple, actually - while I was at Ubisoft which we played with the level designers there. I've never tried getting any of them published.

I've got a question about Terror from the Deep, were you involved with that?

Julian: I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

PC Gamer: When I was a kid, I knew that it came out (and) I was extremely excited and then I played it and it and went, "This feels like an asset swap, except I can't use some of my guns on land".

Julian: I think pretty much the entire code base was identical to the first game. I don't think they really changed very much.

PC Gamer: Last year at GDC I spoke to Frederick Raynal who made Alone in the Dark. He had this thing where he made Alone in the Dark, he didn't sleep more than about 3 hours a night for a year. It got to the end of the year and the publisher said, "It's doing really well! We're going to put another one out. We're just going to do exactly the same thing. We're just going to make a clone and change a few bits” and he quit immediately. To me it seemed that Terror from the Deep had that air about it. Had you left the company?

Julian: No, no, yeah. What happened was, we started working on XCOM: Apocalypse pretty much the same time as they started work on Terror from the Deep. What really happened was that myself and Nick wanted to do a different game to XCOM, or at least do something a little bit different than just remake the original, so that's how XCOM: Apocalypse came about. There were some significant differences in the way that the game worked.

PC Gamer: Apocalypse had a bit of Sim City about it, I remember.

Julian: You were in this city and it had different organisations in this city with diplomatic relationships with each other and stuff. But they wanted a sequel within 6 months basically, this is what they wanted and we had to say "Well, it's not possible to do anything except re-skin the game with some (new) graphics".

Actually, they changed the story of course, I guess the clever bit, it was all about under the sea rather than Mars. Actually, it took a year to do the game. I had a huge team on it. Well, when I say huge I mean like, 15 people. Compared to just me and Nick and Helen, John and Martin on the graphics side of the original, this was much bigger.

PC Gamer: It must be strange to see studios with 400 staff, like Destiny, which is the Bungie game that's been announced.

Julian: Well I know from working at Ubisoft they have hundreds upon hundreds working on Assassin's Creed - more than 400. Assassin's Creed 3 is absolute bare minimum 600 people, probably, were working on it for most of the time worldwide across many studios.

PC Gamer: Their studio in Montreal, is it 2100 people?

Julian: It's huge. Ubisoft and probably other big publishers actually, they're making games by pure brute force.

PC Gamer: Having the Shanghai studio which is cheap to do lots of asset generation.

Julian: Yes. Obviously, these games require a huge amount of asset generation. It's like a factory. They're an immensely difficult undertaking, to be sure.





Gollop calls XCOM: Apocalypse "a disastrous project, even from the beginning."

PC Gamer: You had your huge team of 15 people on Terror from the Deep, is that right? Or XCOM: Apocalypse?

Julian: On XCOM: Apocalypse the team size for that actually was 5 of us at Mythos Games working on it and there was a team of artists at Microprose working on it as well. Again, it's a similar arrangement to the first game where we were doing the programming and Microprose were doing the artwork. But it was a disastrous project, even from the beginning, because one thing that happened is that the Microprose art team were trying to change the design of the game. Then they were failing to actually deliver anything that they promised. They just couldn't get the isometric graphic system sorted out in their heads. They did things which just didn't work, like they hired a guy whose name I forget to design the aliens, and this is a well known Science Fiction artist and he built these big models of the aliens and the idea was that they were going to scan them and put them into a 3D modelling software. It just didn't work. He had all this fine detail in these models and this scanning system just wasn't good enough.

PC Gamer: I do remember the aliens in it looking a bit blobby.

Julian: Then they had to recreate them basically in a 3D software they were using at the time. Yeah, they were awful, blobby things. They were nasty. Terrible graphics. It was very difficult.

PC Gamer: I still enjoyed playing it in the end, mainly because of jet bikes equipped with plasma cannons and missiles.

Julian: We had a real time system as well which was interesting, actually. It had some interesting aspects to it, but I don't think you can beat turn based games for simple straightforward playability.

PC Gamer: And planning tactically, as well. Responding on the fly was just tough, especially when you could just pause. Let's just quickly deal with Interceptor and Enforcer.

Julian: XCOM: Interceptor, yeah. That was the X Wing thing. XCOM: Alliance was an FPS one, yes. It wasn't a straightforward first person shooter, it was like a team based shooter, allegedly something similar to Rainbow 6. But with aliens.

PC Gamer: At what point did you stop being involved with making these games?

Julian: After Apocalypse. So, I had absolutely nothing to do with XCOM: Alliance or XCOM: Interceptor or any XCOM anything else. XCOM: Enforcer? Well, what happened there was that Microprose or Hasbro as it was by then, they had three Unreal licenses, I think, that that had to somehow use. XCOM: Alliance was using Unreal but because that project was going nowhere, they decided to "Well, let's just put out a straightforward Unreal-style shooter using the assets from XCOM: Alliance. We'll at least have something there to show for all the effort".

XCOM: Alliance was in development for a long time. How the development got screwed up, I don't know. As you're probably well aware, quite often games companies start and you're going for a long time and it just doesn't happen.

PC Gamer: This Milo and Kate seems to have broken Peter Molyneux's heart. They just gradually realised they couldn't make something believable. Yeah, it happens a lot.

Julian: It does. It's quite frequent.





X-Com inspired many official and unofficial successors.

PC Gamer: After Microprose and Hasbro stopped making them, suddenly in the late 90s / early 2000s people started making XCOM-inspired games with names like UFO: Afterlight, Aftermath. Some of them were really good, some of them were dreadful.

Julian: UFO: Aftermath arose out of my Dreamland Chronicles project. We did one game for Virgin Interactive called Magic and Mayhem, then I proposed to Virgin, "Why don't we try and do a remaining or remake of the original XCOM with, obviously, a different story? Make it PC and Playstation II". It was still a turn based game, still had all the elements of XCOM there. The tactical part was a little bit different because you controlled characters using a traditional third person controls for a console game.

If you've played Valkyria Chronicles on the PS3 then you've got an idea of how Dreamland Chronicles worked, because it's very similar. We had a little action point bar that would go down as you moved your character just like in Valkyria Chronicles, and when you wanted to shoot somebody you'd get the over the shoulder view, just like in Valkyria Chronicles. When you select characters it was on an overhead map, just like in Valkyria Chronicles.

So, it was looking promising, but Virgin Interactive had problems. They were sold to Interplay and then to Titus Interactive. Titus Interactive took one look at our game and said 'This is rubbish. This is so bad. Sorry, we're not interested in this.' Well, Titus were more interested in the IP that they got from buying Interplay. Whether they managed to do anything productive with it is another question.

So, we had to close the studio. We had a four-game contract with Virgin and now Titus but they were not going to fund this or any other games and we couldn't go to another publisher, so we had to shut the studio. What they did was they took all of the assets that we'd done and they ultimately ended up in the hands of ALTAR Interactive who made UFO: Aftermath. Unfortunately they stripped out our fantastic Valkyria Chronicles style turn based stuff and they put what I thought was a rather weak real-time thing in there.

PC Gamer: The last game they made, Afterlight, was actually good; good characters, a fun plot, interesting Geoscape mechanics.

Julian: I played it very briefly, I seem to remember. Certainly not very much, no. Unfortunately I very rarely finish games these days. Well, from my point of view I don't have the time. A lot of my game playing is more about research than entertainment because with limited time to play games, my interest is finding out what people are doing. At the moment, my main obsession is trying to find turn based games for iPad, for example, to figure out what is there out there that's interesting.

PC Gamer: I get an awful lot from BoardGameGeek.

Julian: There's a lot of board games coming out which is really cool. Very nice. But I'm talking about original turn based, to be tactical turn based games. There's one I like called Battlefield Academy which is also on PC, of course. That's quite nice.





FTL is the next game Gollop's lined up to play.

PC Gamer: What are you playing at the moment?

Julian: What am I playing? I know what I'm about to play because I just downloaded it before I came to GDC, which is FTL. I purposefully did not start doing it 'cause I had to finish my presentation so I guess as soon as I get back that's at the top of my list. Before that, I was playing XCOM, of course.  I do play games on the iPad as well. The latest one is Battlefield Academy. Outwitters, I quite like. Outwitters is nice. Online turn based game, cutesy graphics, brutal gameplay. Chess-like.

PC Gamer: I haven't heard Chess mentioned once, apart from you, during all the time at GDC. It's not something people learn from any more. They don't reference it any more. That's really odd, considering it was, for 6000 years or however long it's been around.

Julian: I don't know. Maybe people think it's boring and that's all there is to it. If you like Chess, you'll like Outwitters. Outwitters has got a brilliant mechanic in it which is very simple. Each piece has a certain move, a certain strength - attack strength and defence strength - but you can only see the board as far as your pieces can move. So, there's a hidden area of the board, you have to be careful. You're not entirely sure what your opponent's doing. Very simply done. That gives the game a little bit of uncertainly and a bit of edge. It's quite nice.

PC Gamer: Can you see what your opponent can see?

Julian: Not exactly. You're not entirely sure what he can see. Most of the time, actually, you're not sure. Some of the time you're sure because the long range scout units, if you've got those up front on your front lines you know that you can see as much as he can see, because his scout units can't see further than yours sees. It's an intriguing game.

PC Gamer: Oh, that reminds me. The other XCOM game that was in development which has gone very quiet. Did you ever see that?

Julian: Oh yeah, the 2K Marin game. The only thing that I read is that they sort of rebooted it. Obviously, gone back to the drawing board a little bit trying to figure out what the identity of this game should really be. I think they got some bad reactions on several levels. One was the fact it was an FPS. Secondly, the presentation was a bit - this 1950s style alternate reality thing probably didn't go down too well with a lot of people, either, so it may be they're rethinking that. I'm not sure. Graphically, it was amazing.

PC Gamer: Thank you!

 



 
PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Poker Night 2 brings a new set of wisecrackers to the table">Poker Night 2







Who told you that Adult Swim cartoon characters, ditzy cyberpunk robots, and a cuddly rabbit-and-dog detective team couldn't live together in harmony? Because if today's Poker Night 2 release is anything to go by, they totally can. Well, as harmoniously as a bunch of wisecracking jerks can get on while competing ruthlessly for assorted unlockable items, anyway. Check out the new cast of players in the trailer - and we've got a list of the prizes up for grabs, too.







Brock Samson from the Venture Bros squares off against Borderlands' plucky Claptrap, while Ash Williams from Army of Darkness and the notorious Sam and Max are all plotting your defeat. Oh, and just to make your "Omaha Hold 'em" losses against these fictional smartasses all the more devastating, your dealer is the soul-crushing GLaDOS.



The prizes are based on your platform of choice, so us PC gamers will be aiming to outfit ourselves in these stylish Borderlands 2 and Team Fortress 2 items. Because look: you're nowhere near striking fear in your foes' chests unless your Mechromancer is wearing a perpetually grinning Max Mask. There are also numerous in-game unlocks to be had, such as themed poker tables and chips. I hope Max's face is slapped on everything.



For just a fiver, Telltale's Poker Night 2 is available today on Steam.
PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to X-Com creator Julian Gollop on how he would have designed Enemy Unknown differently, and why it would have failed">XCOM enemy unknown







It’s well-recognised that PC Gamer favourite XCOM was lost in rights-hell for years until Firaxis rescued it last year. In a charmingly-open interview at GDC, UFO: Enemy Unknown / X-COM co-creator Julian Gollop revealed how he felt about the new game, how he would have changed it - and why it would have failed.



"He was probably worried that I'd come up to him and say, 'Jake, you've been a naughty boy'."



“I would have designed it differently, for sure,” says Gollop, of the new game. “Would it have been as successful as the new XCOM? Probably not. No, I'm afraid.”



Gollop is definitely in love with the new game - “It's great. It's very very good,” he says - but he does admit to some frustrations with it. Talking of Jake Solomon’s work on the game, he says, “He's changed so much. I think he was probably worried that I'd come up to him and say, 'Jake, you've been a naughty boy. What have you done to my XCOM?' but no. It wasn't like that at all.”







Gollop’s first criticism comes from the game’s difficulty level. He himself is on his third run-through the game now, but hasn’t yet finished it or even reached the Gollop Chamber named after Julian and his brother Nick. “Maybe I should try it on an easier difficulty level because I haven't managed to get to the end yet! If there's anything that's a problem with the game, it's that you can be playing it for quite a while without knowing that you are actually completely screwed and you should have stopped and started again.”



"Would I have designed the game in the same way? I would have to say no."



On his first run through, Gollop didn’t pay enough attention to the satellite system - the game’s slightly-obscure funding mechanism. “I think my second playthrough I did a lot better but it got to a point where I could see I was in a bit of a downward spiral, and I just couldn't see a way out of it. I thought, well ok. I've got to restart again. I was losing too much funding. It's quite unforgiving, actually, in that sense... Pretty much every decision you make has to be fairly carefully considered, because there's always a very distinctive trade-off in decisions. I think Firaxis did a really, really good job. If you ask me, would I have designed the game in the same way? I would have to say no.”







Gollop also was slightly critical of the repetitiveness of the mission maps, “I certainly would have gone back to my idea of generators again. I would not have accepted anything less than pseudo-randomly generated maps. I probably would have had more... less contrived elements to it. I felt that the... was it the Terror missions? Where aliens are terrorizing three places. You've got to pick one of them... You're going to definitely lose out somewhere. You have to choose which one you're going to lose. I would have designed it differently, for sure. Would it have been as successful as the new XCOM? Probably not. No, I'm afraid.”



"I would not have accepted anything less than pseudo-randomly generated maps."



He also felt key elements were absent from his design. “The Geoscape is kind of missing. In the original game, the position of your bases - what you put in those bases - was important because aliens were active in particular areas, but the position of stuff in the new geoscape from the new game is actually, irrelevant, really. It doesn't really play any part in the game, so you don't have that. The Interceptors are based in each region. I guess my original game was a bit more simulation-ny and the new game is a bit more board game-y.”







"For years I tried to remake Xcom. With the new one, the urge is gone. That demon’s been laid to rest."



He has less to say on the Missing-In-Action FPS reboot from 2K Marin, which Take Two’s trademark and website actions seems to indicate will be rebranded as ‘The Bureau’. “I think they got some bad reactions on several levels. One was the fact it was an FPS. Secondly, the presentation was a bit... this 1950s style alternate reality thing probably didn't go down too well with a lot of people, either, so it may be they're rethinking that. I'm not sure. Graphically, it was amazing.”



In the time since finishing UFO: Enemy Unknown, Gollop admits, he has tried many times to reclaim the feel of his masterpiece -  but he’s done with that. “For years I tried to remake Xcom. But with the new one, the urge is gone. That demon's been laid to rest."



The full interview will be published this Sunday right here on PCGamer.com.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

This boy transforms into Cthulhu. Calling it now.

Whatever happened to the other XCOM, the 2K Marin-made shooter which was revealed long before last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown made everyone, except you, happy? It’s a question we’ve already asked several times here. We ask it because we don’t know the answer, and unless anyone involved feels like getting their Talpidae on and sneaking us some info, we won’t know until 2K reveal all. Which appears to be something that will happen rather soon. There’s a viral campaign of sorts, there’s a mysterious package being sent to games sites which aren’t us, and, well, there’s a blog post. That kind of undermines the air of mystery, I guess.

(more…)

PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Face Off: Are silent protagonists superior?">face off silent protagonist







Are mute heroes better than verbose heroes? Does a voice-acted player character infringe on your ability to put yourself into the story? In this week's debate, Logan says "Yes," while his character says nothing. He wants to be the character he’s playing, not merely control him, and that’s easier to do when the character is silent. T.J. had a professional voice actor say "No." He thinks giving verbalized emotions and mannerisms to your in-universe avatar makes him or her feel more real.



Read the debate below, continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community. Logan, you have the floor:



Logan: BioShock’s Jack. Isaac Clarke from Dead Space. The little boy from Limbo. Portal’s Chell. Gordon Freeman. These are some of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever played, and they all made their indelible impressions on me without speaking a single word. In fact, they made such an impression because they didn’t say a word. By remaining silent throughout, they gave me room to take over the role, to project myself into the game.



T.J.: All of the games you mentioned were unforgettable narratives. But everything memorable about them came from the environments, situations, and supporting casts. Gordon Freeman is a great example. What can you really say about him, as a person? I find Shepard’s inspirational speeches to the crew in the Mass Effect games far more stirring and memorable than almost anything I’ve experienced in a silent protagonist game. I was Shepard, just as much as I was Gordon. But I didn’t have the alienating element of not having a voice making me feel less like a grounded part of the setting.







Logan: Ooh, Shepard. That was cold. I’ll happily agree that some games are better off with fully written and voiced protagonists—and Shepard’s a perfect example. But it’s a different matter, I think, with first-person games in particular, where your thought processes animate the narrative: “OK, if I jump into a portal here, I’ll shoot out of the wall there and land over yonder.” In this way I’m woven into the story, as a product of my own imagination. If the character is talking, I’m listening to his or her thoughts—and they sort of overwrite my own. It can be great fun, but it’s a more passive experience.



T.J.: First-person shooters are probably one of the best venues for silent protagonists, but lets look at BioShock and BioShock Infinite. I definitely felt more engaged by Booker, who responded verbally to the action, the story twists, and the potent emotions expressed by Elizabeth... than I did by Jack, who didn’t so much as cough at the chaos and insanity around him.



Logan: But was the result that BioShock Infinite was a better game, or just that it delivered a traditional main character?



T.J.: Booker? Traditional? Did we play the same game? I mean, it’s a tough call to say which was out-and-out better, as there are a lot of factors to consider. But zooming in on the protagonist’s vocals (or lack thereof) as an added brushstroke on a complex canvas, Infinite displays a more vibrant palette.



Logan: Do you think that Half-Life 2, in retrospect, is an inferior game as a result of its silent protagonist?







T.J.: Half-Life 2 was great. Great enough that we gave it a 98. But imagine what it could have been like if Gordon had been given the opportunity to project himself onto his surroundings, with reactive astrophysics quips and emotional back-and-forth to play off of the memorable cast around him? We relate to characters in fiction that behave like people we know in the real world. So yeah, I’ll take that plunge: I think I would have bonded with Freeman more, and therefore had a superior experience, if he hadn't kept his lips sewn shut the whole way.



Logan: A scripted and voiced Gordon Freeman may or may not have been a memorable character, just like a scripted and voiced Chell from Portal might have been. But in a sense, that’s the problem! Because some of my best memories from games with silent protagonists are the memories of my own thoughts and actions. I remember staring at the foot of a splicer in BioShock and realizing that the flesh of her foot was molded into a heel. I was so grossed out that I made this unmanly noise, partway between a squeal and a scream. I remember getting orders shouted at me in FEAR and thinking, "No, why don’t you take point.” I’m glad these moments weren't preempted by scripted elements.



T.J.: You were staring at the Splicers’ feet? Man, in a real underwater, objectivist dystopia ruined by rampant genetic modification, you’d totally be “that one guy” who just stands there dumbfounded and gets sliced into 14 pieces.



Logan: No, I’d be the guy at Pinkberry with his mouth under the chocolate hazelnut nozzle going “Would you kindly pull the lever?” But my point is, I remember what I did and thought at moments throughout all of my favorite games, and those are experiences that are totally unique to me. And that’s at least part of why I love games so much—because of unique experiences like that.







T.J.: I see what you’re getting at. Likewise, a lot of my love for games is driven by their ability to tell the kinds of stories other media just aren’t equipped for. Silent protagonists take us further beyond the bounds of traditional narratives, accentuating the uniqueness of interactive storytelling. That being said, really good voiced protagonists—your Shepards, your Bookers, your Lee Everetts—never feel like a distraction from the mutated flesh pumps you come across. When the execution is right, they serve to enhance all of those things, and lend them insight and believability.



There’s nothing like being pulled out of the moment in Dragon Age: Origins when the flow of an intense conversation stops so the camera can cut to the speechless, distant expression of your seemingly-oblivious Grey Warden.



Logan: Oh yeah, there’s no question that voiced protagonists have their moments. But they’re not my moments, and those are the ones I enjoy the most in games. Valve seems to understand this intuitively, and that’s why it’s given us two of the most memorable characters in videogame history: because I think the developers deliberately build into their games moments that they all understand will be uniquely owned by the players; “a-ha!” moments when the solution to a puzzle suddenly snaps into focus, or narrative revelations like watching horseplay between Alyx and Dog that instantly tell you a lot about how she grew up. Voiced protagonists can give us wonderful characters; silent ones let me build my own.



That’s the debate! As always, these debates are exercises meant to reveal alternate viewpoints—sometimes including perspectives we wouldn’t normally explore—and cultivate discussion, so continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for more opinions from the community.











https://twitter.com/hawkinson88/status/325060938120183808



@pcgamer it really depends on the writing. Some voiced characters are amazing, and some are whiny and annoying.— Ryan H (@kancer) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer In many cases, yes. I am forced to substitute the absence of a developed personality with my own words and thoughts. I like that.— Rocko (@Rockoman100) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer The volume of the protag doesn't matter, only the skill of the writer: hero voice is just one tool of many in a master writer's box— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer The most interesting characters are the ones with a history, with regrets. Blank characters don't have that.— Devin White (@D_A_White) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer Most voiced characters seem to disappoint. I think silent ones express the storyline better through visuals which I prefer.— Casey Bavier (@clbavier) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer Definitely voiced. Having an NPC talk to you directly, then act as if your lack of response is totally normal feels eerily wrong.— Kirt Goodfellow (@_Kenomica) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer Silent! #YOLO— Michael Nader (@MNader92) April 19, 2013

PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to X-COM creator Julian Gollop on “brute force” blockbuster game development and the lost promise of intelligent AI">XCOM







In a genial interview, strategy-game elder statesman and creator of the original X-COM Julian Gollop talked to us about his imagined alternate history of gaming, his preference for procedural systems, and how he feels modern games have abandoned the promise of advanced AI in favour of shinier visuals and reward mechanics designed to massage players' egos.



Gollop first came to GDC in 1995, to discuss AI, when turn-based strategy games like UFO / X-COM were the cutting edge, just as RTS was taking over. “In those days, I believed firmly that the future of computer games was all about AI. That in twenty years time we'd be interacting with NPC characters in computer games that actually had real intelligence and could respond to you in really intelligent ways. Boy, I was wrong. So wrong!”



"I believed firmly that the future of computer games was all about AI"



Gollop reckons that more effort has been put into graphics than into AI ever since his time. “Because it's the thing that immediately impresses people. As soon as you start interacting with a world of pretty graphics then you realise that actually it's not really that interactive. It's always bugged me about the way computer games developed over the years. Even if you take Assassin's Creed, which is a phenomenally complex game with all these NPCs wandering around, it is nothing but an elaborate paper-thin illusion, to be honest.”



Assassin's Creed - "an elaborate paper-thin illusion".



“I mean, computer games didn't develop really in that direction," he says, “and I guess what people enjoy and what they like at the psychological level is more to do with having their own ego massaged in certain ways through these very simple reward cycles.”



Not that all Gollop’s own games were totally honest with the player. “Yeah, obviously when I was programming XCOM stuff we were faking intelligent. We had some very simple tricks to fake it. I talked a bit about the randomness element in XCOM and how we put it in the AI. But in actual fact, being unpredictable is a way of intelligently countering someone who's predictable.



“If you play poker, for example... the good poker players say, depending on your opponent of course, they'll say sometimes you need to mix up your game. Not necessarily that you're completely random but you're doing something which they're not predicting. You're maybe just changing the way you value something and it throws them because they can no longer predict what you're doing. In the original XCOM, we always tried to make sure that the aliens did not do things on a purely binary choice but always had a little bit of randomness in there. 10% of the time they'll do something really stupid perhaps but most of the time, within some kind of reasonable constraints, what they do is reasonable even though it may have some random element to it.”



"I think stuff today is so overdesigned, it’s unbelievable"



The ‘we’ is important in that quote. Gollop’s consensual design and management style was reflected in his self-deprecating GDC talk, where he emphasised quite how much a team effort the original XCOM was - to the extent that he restricted his own credit almost solely to the Laser Squad-style battle sections. Many would argue he’s extremely unfair to himself. Here, he contrasted that with the auteur-driven games of today. “I think stuff today is so overdesigned, it's unbelievable. There are people obsessing about tiny details about stuff. Especially when you have marketing people involved so how your main character is presented suddenly becomes a huge PR and marketing issue...”







He himself prefers procedural systems. "I really like games that generate stuff for you rather than have everything overdesigned. My obsession was always with scenario generators, if you want to call them that, where things are generated for the player to explore and it may be something nobody else has ever played because it's pseudo-randomly generated. It does allow you to create something vast and complex to explore with less effort. Because you're not designing every single possible experience the player could have in the game at all. Yeah, it's one of my little obsessions I guess, and I've still to see it done well in games. Rogue-like games have randomly generated environments and that's part of their attraction, because apart from that they're very simple games."



"Ubisoft and probably other big publishers actually, they’re making games by pure brute force"



From that perspective it's not surprising that Gollop, who spent many years working at Ubisoft Bulgaria before departing to work on his new game Chaos Reborn, is wary of the scale of modern AAA development. XCOM: Apocalypse had a then-average team of five.  “Well I know from working at Ubisoft they have hundreds upon hundreds working on Assassin's Creed - more than 400. Assassin's Creed III is absolute bare minimum 600 people, probably, were working on it for most of the time worldwide across many studios.”



“It's huge. Ubisoft and probably other big publishers actually, they're making games by pure brute force... Obviously, these games require a huge amount of asset generation. It's like a factory. They're an immensely difficult undertaking, to be sure.”



The full interview, featuring Gollop's thoughts on Firaxis' 2012 iteration of the XCOM series, tales from the development of Apocalypse and much more will be published this Sunday here on PCGamer.com.
PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Let’s Reboot… System Shock">Shodan_SystemShock







“Let’s Reboot” takes a look back at a classic in need of a new outing or a beloved series gone stale and asks how it might be best redesigned or given a kick up the backside for today’s gaming audience. The Rules: Assume a free hand, and a decent budget, but realistic technology and expectations. This week’s sacred cow – the cyberpunk adventure from 1994 that sparked the 'Shock series.



Ken Levine. Kenny Lovin’. Kenbo Baggins. The Manly Jowelbeast. I recall an interview with King Divine, in which he said that System Shock 2 was not, contrary to all common sense, a perfectly-realised vision of the authors’ intent. That the monotonous corridors of System Shock 2’s Von Braun were as much a product of technical limitations, as the thundering powerhouse of the creativity behind it. Learning this, I had a brief teenage response. I felt like a Belieber trying to process Justin tweeting, “Did I say I love my fans? Naw. They’re dicks, and that includes hypothetical ones like Anne Frank. #worldwarPOOmorelike”



I wanted to defend SS2 against one of the guys who made it.



That’s an argument I’d probably lose, so let’s just reboot the bugger. Commence spoiler warning klaxon for System Shock 1, 2 and BioShock Infinite: AROOGA AROOGA AROOGA etc.



WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A ROGUE AI LIKE SHODAN?



"What can we do with Shodan that hasn’t already been pre-empted by GLaDOS?"

You can hear Shodan’s tame, morality-restricted voice during the optional intro to System Shock 1. And at the risk of spoiling a 14-year-old game, at the end of System Shock 2, she collapses cyber and meat-spaces to occupy the body of Rebecca, turning her into a kind of hard-wired fusion of Tron’s MCP and Bonnie Tyler. One of the best moment of going back to SS1 is watching that optional intro, and hearing her voice change as she narrates the story of the hacker removing her morals.



But what can we do with Shodan that hasn’t already been pre-empted by GLaDOS’ tale of unexpected humanity, humility, and anti-redemption?



How not to do Shodan:



1. Law Of The West-style conversation simulator, in which Shodan and minor SS2 character Tommy share awkward chats as the AI discovers her new sexual urges;



2. Multiple body-swap comedy in which she learns how difficult it is to be a Californian teenager, a rock star, and a single mum;



3. Endlessly looping animated GIF of Shodan's face slowly appearing and disappearing from Anton Corbijn’s iconic 1981 photo of Kate Bush.



I'll bust more than your clouds mate



Look: it’s fine, but it’s not a video game.



So, why not make Shodan the playable character? She’s totemic enough to step around that pervasive bullshit about gamers not wanting to play women, in case we all start spontaneously trans-identifying, or something.



Plus, in the body of Rebecca, she’s a total unaugmented newcomer to meatspace, a perfect way to put her at the bottom of the skill tree. Stranded in her new body, her only access to computers would be hacking - a process that would be disgusting to her. Imagine having to use arthritic bones, where once was a sheer force of will.



"Potato-GLaDOS was sympathetic. Shodan's tale could be a study in psychopathy."

This might seem like I’m trying to turn System Shock into a comedy. Insane, ambitious evil is innately comical when it’s powerless - but that’s forgetting her sinister history with comedy. She was powerless in SS2. She needed you, and it actually was pretty funny that even then, she couldn't hold back the insults.



Besides, even Portal 2 didn't plunder the comedy mine of malevolent impotence too deeply. For potato-GLaDOS, it was a chance for sympathy. Shodan's tale could be a study in human psychopathy: there are real people who think like Shodan. The bastards run the world. And being a psychopath would reduce the sense of disconnect, when the inevitable “snap their spines, slashing blood across the screen” moment comes, as it probably must.



You’d need a mutual cause to give Shodan an air of possible redemption - and as the player, we’d need to believe there’s genuine conflict between the megalomaniac AI, and the new unaccustomed waves of hormones and humanity.



(Again, GLaDOS has taken the best line, with “Caroline deleted”. Note to self: ask Valve if System Shock can be part of the Half-Life multiverse. Half-Life 3, maybe. Cool? Cool.)







BUILD A GRAND UNIFYING THEORY OF *SHOCK



Bioshock Infinite’s Sea of Doors was a massive pull-back-to-reveal that can’t ever be matched in the Bioshock universe. You really get the feeling it was a final defiant piss on the franchise that was Irrational’s way of saying, “Oh, you just try another Bioshock 2.”



Is there room for another, crashing, pull back? Can we fold System Shock into the world of lighthouses, men, and doors? “There’s always a sentient thing, there's always a location. And space. That’s just how it works in this, even more generalised, multiverse.” Shodan collapses meat and cyber in the same way Elizabeth collapses branching universes - they could be distant relatives.



OK. Maybe not. In that case, I've got another idea:



OH MY GOD GUYS WHAT ABOUT A MINI-SERIES



Bioshock Infinite didn’t feel to me to be quite as important as it wanted to be. I’m aware that there are dozens of people more intelligent, sexy and taller than me who feel otherwise. But taken on plot alone, it felt like a Doctor Who season finale. This similarity includes the fact that my family still look at me like a demented adult baby because I tell them to shut up on Christmas day while we all watch a kid’s TV show. Only, you know, with this it's my choice of career.



Moving on - I would love the same prolonged sense of “what’s going on?” that Doctor Who gives. I loved the post-ending discussions of Bioshock Infinite more than I liked the actual ending. Imagine three months of constant System Shock speculation, forum chat, talking to strangers in ATM queues. I know the episodic thing is tough, and nowhere more so in the world of shooters. Half-Life, Sin, s'up. So why not stuff shooting - shall we just give System Shock to TellTale?



You want a real 1999 mode? In 1999, LucasArts had just made Grim Fandango.



"Cyberspace is a location with unrealised potential, a place where imagination is tangible."

WHERE IS IT SET?



Irrational have built a fantastical rod for their back with locations. But we've already got a location with unrealised potential, here. Cyberspace. A revamped Cyberspace could go further than the aesthetics of Monolith's Tron 2.0. It could be a place where imagination is tangible. And god knows, you could seed endless stuff in the environment when it's all conjured by the perception of an unreliable narrator. In fact, this could be the solution to the another annoying problem:



FIND THAT ALTERNATIVE TO AUDIOLOGS



I really don't like audiologs. I don't like the acting in them, because there's something about pretending to record their thoughts in this way that always rings hollow. And I don't like the fact that finding one creates an artificial zone of in-game safety, because you know the writers will get snippy if combat happens over their precious story.



(Either that, or they make it so the audiologs fade out as you walk away, and that can sod off twice as hard.)



CONCLUSION



OK: so I've been all over the place, here. But I've settled on this - a serialised TellTale adventure, in the vein of Walking Dead, that flips between the perspectives of a disempowered Shodan and a Rebecca finding her feet in Cyberspace. They're racing to Earth - Shodan to become a god, Rebecca to get her body back. Of course, many exciting things will happen on the way, but I'm not the details man. Someone start the Kickstarter and send me ten million when it’s the most popular game in the world. I'm off to eat a bunch of grapes.
Product Update - Valve
1.5.0 Patch Notes

General
• Added support and compatibility for upcoming content, including character customizations unlocked by playing Poker Night 2.
• Fixed an issue where bank and stash capacity could be exceeded. This change prevents additional items from being added to stash / bank until capacity is below the maximum -- it does not forcibly remove or delete any items.
• Added a preview of available premium customizations when using a customization station so that players can see what a purchased head or skin would look like before buying.
• Fixed an exploit where players could become invincible occasionally through the Siren's Res skill.
• Fixed an issue that prevented players from choosing a new customization from SHiFT when creating a character immediately after redeeming a customization code.
• Players are now able to type a "c" in their player name without causing the "load a character" overlay to appear while starting a New Game.
Missions
• Fixed issues with the following missions that could cause players to get stuck or not be able to complete them:
o Bad Hair Day
o Best Minion Ever
• Fixed a bug that could cause the "Wildlife Preservation" mission boss to sometimes continue fighting after the encounter in Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode.
• (Captain Scarlett DLC) Fixed an issue that could cause Scarlett to not drop Scarlett's Greed in the fight with Roscoe.
Equipment
• Fixed a bug that caused the player's grenade count to not be saved properly if they were using a Grenadier class mod.
• Fixed a bug causing Seraph items of the day to incorrectly be capped at level 55.
• Rebalanced the Gunzerker's Titan class mod to be more in line other Gunzerker class mods.
• Fixed an issue where the Evolution shield could incorrectly list a Recharge Delay of 0.00 seconds.
• Fixed audio from Impact shields not playing when connected to another player.
• Fixed an issue causing audio distortion in some cases when a transfusion projectile got stuck inside an object.


Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Nathan Grayson)

Who shoots the shooters? Well, I don’t think Spec Ops: The Line and Far Cry 3 writers Walt Williams and Jeffrey Yohalem have ever shot anybody, but they are attempting to skewer gaming’s shooter genre – or at least give it a good paddling. In the previous two installments of this gigantic chat, we discussed everything from the art of critique, to violence, to the effect of treating gamers like they’re stupid, to Dante’s Inferno and the Sistine Chapel. Seriously. It’s been a very long and interesting road, but now we’re finally at its end. In this thrill-a-millisecond conclusion, we discuss real, long-form criticism of games (including that one guy who wrote a book about Spec Ops), what’s next for these sorts of dissection of videogame culture, games as tools for exploring the future, and where games like BioShock Infinite fit into that. >

(more…)

...

Search
Archive
2014
Jul   Jun   May   Apr   Mar   Feb  
Jan  
Archives By Year
2014   2013   2012   2011   2010  
2009   2008   2007   2006   2005  
2004   2003   2002