For strategy gamers, Julian Gollop is a name of hallowed reverence. His Belt of Achievements includes pre-millenium classics such as Laser Squad and Chaos. Most notably, he created the X-COM series of turn-based tactical alien fragging and directed 1994's X-COM: UFO Defense widely considered one of the best strategy games ever made. The franchise spent some time in the engineering bay before returning in 2012 with Firaxis' excellent Enemy Unknown, but Gollop has lately turned to crowdsourced funding with a small team to develop his multiplayer wizard-em-up reboot Chaos Reborn. In an AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on Reddit last weekend, Gollop answered questions on his take of the current state of strategy games, alternate funding, and the rise of early access.
Chaos Reborn's most recent status update saw a Kickstarter campaign kick off earlier this year as a means to gather additional funds for adding additional competitive and co-op modes to the turn-based sorcery dueler. So far, the campaign has amassed over $96,000 in donations with 22 days left.
Here's a few of Gollop's most interesting answers from the thread:
On preferences between "old, more complex" X-COM design and current, "more casual" remake design: "That's a toughie. There are some things about the new XCOM which are clearly better a better tutorial, a better interface. The old complex X-COM had a slightly different approach the aliens had their agenda which progressed no matter what the player did. Things were more systemic and less scripted. I still prefer this approach, but it's just not seen in any AAA game these days, let alone the new XCOM."
Gollop wanted to create a Lovecraftian, 20th century strategy game after X-COM: "After the first X-COM, I was so worn out by the development that I wanted to do something in a new direction. I proposed an X-COM-style game based on a kind of Lovecraftian Chthulu mythos set in the 1930s with cults, portals into a parallel world, and Nazis. Microprose said that horror games don't sell. However, some elements of these ideas did make it into X-COM: Apocalypse."
On how game development changed since the '80s: "The main changes are the abundance of powerful tools and engines (e.g. Unity, which we are using on Chaos Reborn), the specialization of many roles (I used to do everything. Art, coding, sound, etc.), and the diversity of the market opening up opportunities for new types of games. It was really very amateurish back in the early 1980s, but there was still some amazing talent and fantastic games made."
On early access: "Early access can really help developers get their project finished which might not otherwise get any funding. It's a two-way street, though. I think developers need to be very careful to offer something of real value if they are actually charging money for it. They must 'find the fun' quickly, and it must be present from the earliest release. In my view, rough graphics and functional interfaces are acceptable, but buggy, incoherent gameplay isn't."
On the next most exciting development in the industry: "I'm pretty excited about Steam OS, because it would be great to have an open games platform succeed. The Oculus Rift is even more exciting though, and I think it will do well. Above all, though, I think that the rise of the indie gaming scene is the most exciting thing I have seen in years."
On the current state of strategy gaming: "I think things are improving. XCOM is a standout success, of course, but there is some really good stuff coming out. I love Unity of Command, for example, with its brilliant presentation and UI. I like the work of Shenandoah Studio with its iPad games, Battle of the Bulge, and Drive on Moscow. I have been in awe of Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings 2. More stuff seems to be happening on tablets, which is a great platform for turn-based games, for sure. Still, I wish there were more high quality turn-based strategy games."