Interview with Julian Gollop about Chaos Reborn/Julian's Development Philosophy
Interview with Julian Gollop about Chaos Reborn/Julian's Development Philosophy
Interview - posted by Whisky on Wed 26 March 2014, 16:17:04Tags: Chaos Reborn; Kickstarter; Tacticular Cancer Interview
Tacticular Cancer and FerrousPilot, known locally on the Codex as Duckard, both had interviews lined up with Julian Gollop, ours focused on his Kickstarter for Chaos Reborn and his, a Skype interview, based on his general design philosophy. So, we decided to pool our resources and make one large interview.
You can see the video above for the audio interview, along with footage of FerrousPilot/Duckard playing the current build of Chaos Reborn with Julian Gollop.
What do you think is the most important thing you've learned as a game designer?
The most important thing I've learned is that you've got to try and stay true to your vision, of what you're trying to do and create, but you need to be prepared to be flexible, because when you create something, you gotta test it, you gotta expose it to people, you gotta get feedback. You can't be precious about your creation, you have got to let it hang out there and this can improve what you do enormously; and perhaps the second thing that's related to that is that you really have to try to prototype your game as soon as possible and try to get the core gameplay in it and testable, you basically need to find the fun very quickly so you can't really afford to go too far and have to make big game design changes at the later stages of development.
Do you think we'll see something outside of core tactical gameplay in Chaos Reborn?
Yes, there is. There is an interesting metagame in Chaos Reborn and it revolves around several things: one is the single-player game where you're exploring these realms of chaos and it has a strong online component, a co-op play involved, you can invite players to help you in your realm in some of the difficult battles and you can find equipment and artifacts in these realms which you can use to buff up your wizard and make your wizard more powerful in combination with certain spells, but then again this is connected to the multi-player as well, some of the multi-player modes allow the use of equipment and you can use that to help you in your multi-player battles; and then there're also guilds, if you join a guild you can exchange and trade equipment with other players in the guild and you can trade maps and other artifacts that you get from the realms to help your other guild members do well in single-player as well. So yeah, there is more of a meta-game than just a simple arena battle.
How much of Chaos Reborn would you say is based on the original and how much is based on new material?
Well, what I did is look at the core mechanics of Chaos and they're very simple, but they work beautifully, so I decided that I'm going to take this more or less as it is, I'm not going to mess with that formula because it worked so well and then I decided how to create even more game variety and interest in the game, the first thing I did was devise a terrain system. The original game just had a completely blank, black arena and it was filled with spells and gooey blobs and trees and fires and everything, but in Chaos Reborn we now got procedurally generated environments based on different types, such as mountains, forests, ruins, caves, citadels, you name it, and it will generate different terrain and the terrain has different levels of elevation which is a big factor in the tactical gameplay and it has obstacles, trees, rocks, and some interactive terrain elements as well, we'll have shrines where you can worship your god and get bonuses, there'll be pickups like different kinds of chests with scrolls in them, and so on; so there'll be a lot more content than just the environment and that's still got the core mechanics of Chaos. We've also added, as I've mentioned before, the equipment system, your equipment has special bonuses and powers, but your wizard staff, which is your main equipment item, has a particular special ability, and it can do something, like a powerful spell for example. Beyond that, we've got a number of different game modes as well, so different types of multi-player game modes and co-op versus AI, and so on.
Other than the original Chaos, what would you say are the biggest influences on Chaos Reborn?
I guess it goes back to my board game playing days in the very early 80's. Interestingly, the original Chaos was based on a board game that I made and ran about in about 1982, which in turn was inspired by a Games Workshop board game called Warlock and I was never allowed to play this game at school, there was a group of kids who used to play and I had to watch them because they wouldn't let me play and I thought, well, heck, if they're not going to let me join in this game, I'm going to make my own wizard game and it's going to be better than this one. That was the evolution of the original Chaos, so I have a lot of influence from the role-playing games I was playing, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was a big thing in my life in the 1970's and 1980's, various other role-playing games, even science-fiction ones like Traveller and all these other systems that were involved in board games, these were the main influence behind Chaos and other games that I've made.
How about some of the past games you've worked on yourself?
Influences on other past games... Well, some of the games I've worked on have been quite original, the first game that I designed was called Time Lords which is about travelling in space, altering the course of history, is really quite original, that was a multi-player game only. But when I made Rebelstar Raiders, this two-player tactical game, it was very popular with players, even though it was two-player only and that's where I kind of saw something that could be evolved, improved over time. You know, with Rebelstar, I had like a scrolling map, I had an opportunity fire system, and morale thrown in; when I got to Laser Squad I added hidden units, a line-of-sight system so you couldn't see the enemy unless you had a direct line-of-sight to the enemy character; and explosives and chain reaction explosions, and so on. So by that stage, it was a real evolution and influence on what I was doing later on with XCOM.
So, it's really just an evolution over time?
Yes, well, with Chaos I also evolved it, I did a sort-of sequel called Lords of Chaos, which was much more RPG-focused and much more slow-playing. I also revisited the magic thing with a later game I made, which was published in 1998, called Magic and Mayhem, interestingly, that was an RTS style game, but it still featured even some of the spells from the original Chaos, like the gooey blob, for example, was in Magic and Mayhem.
You've been mentioning these spells a lot, could you tell us what kind of spells we can expect in Chaos Reborn, especially any unusual or really cool ones?
Sure. A lot of the spells are creature summoning spells and this is kind of the base of your army and what you can do in Chaos Reborn, but there are a number of spells which are kind of a bit weird and they can work in conjunction with your other spells, I mean, I mentioned the gooey blob for example, that is going to make a reappearance in Chaos Reborn and you can summon it directly on an enemy creature and it will spread, it will engulf enemy creatures and stop them moving, you don't control where it moves, it's kind of a bit of a chaotic spell
Does it also effect your creatures, or just your enemies?
No, it won't spread on your own creatures, that's the one good thing. So it will only spread on enemy creatures and it will attack them as well and the enemy can try and free his creatures from the gooey blob by attacking them, but you know, the spreading ability is quite awesome when you have to face it. So that's going to make an appearance and some spells like that which kind of made Chaos a really interesting and diverse experience, we've also got magic fire which spreads in a different way from the blobs. We've got some spells reappearing like the Shadow Wood, where you create a little forest of trees which are able to attack enemies, they can't move, but they can attack, so they can create a defensive zone so it's difficult for your enemy creatures to penetrate it. There's also a spell called Magic Wood, now this is an interesting one because it's one that works quite well with co-op, again you summon a group of trees, your wizard may enter a tree and gain protection and there is a random chance that the tree may grant your wizard an extra spell, in which case, the tree gets used up and disappears, but you've got an extra spell and if you're playing co-op your teammate can also make use of your Magic Wood and it's also the way to get some spells which you can't otherwise get, like the Turmoil spell, which randomly moves everything around in the arena, completely chaotically. It's a spell of last resort, but it can change the situation when you need it.
And some of the new spells which I'm experimenting with are ones that have interesting effects and synergies with other spells and that are really positional and require you to think carefully about what you're doing. For example, Plague is an interesting one, if you cast a Plague on an enemy creature, it will effect adjacent creatures and ones adjacent to them and ones adjacent to them, so you can imagine all the creatures connected and suddenly infected in a chain, so you need to take advantage of the position of enemy creatures in order to do that and you don't want to infect your own creatures as well, so that's the other thing to watch out for, and a Plague can kill creatures and creatures will remain infected with it until they can get rid of it through their magic resistence. Another one that's interesting, for example, is the Fountain of Life, when you summon this, it summons this object, this Fountain of Life, and it means that the next three creatures, or your wizard, that die, will be resurrected next to the Fountain of Life, so it gives you a bit of a saving grace there from some of the combat, especially if you want to get your wizard involved in combat, it would get resurrected; the downside though, of course, is that the Fountain of Life itself can be attacked by the enemy, so you need to keep it safe or keep it out of the way or hidden, so you need to use it in conjunction with other spells. So there're a few examples.
That was great! I was going to ask you how you retain tactical depth without having matches that go on forever, but I mean, that variety of spells, it makes enough sense. Do you have anything to add?
Yeah, the variety of spells does make a lot of difference and there are spells which are more offensive and those that are more defensive, it depends on what you really need in any current situation. But when you do have to attack, I mean, if you're ahead in victory points, yes, you can hunker down a little bit and your enemies are obliged to attack then, but he could easily overtake in victory points by killing some of your creatures, so you have to be very careful and the game is tense until the end, it's very rare for there to be a guaranteed victor early on in the game.
Could you tell a little about the very basic gameplay, for those of us who've never heard of Chaos?
Sure, the actual basics of the gameplay, you control a wizard character and you enter an arena with other wizards and all you have to start with is your selection of spells. Many of these spells are creature summoning spells, you use those to summon a creature. Each spell has a percentage chance to be cast, so a simple spell would be like a goblin at 90%, a really difficult spell would be gold dragon at 20%. There are several things you can do to influence this and one of them is to shift to shift the balance of law and chaos: as you cast law spells, they become easier to cast, and as you cast chaos spells, they become easier to cast and it shifts between law and chaos that way. So a good strategy would be, for example, if you've got a really nice chaos spell, like a red dragon, and you've also got a few easy to cast, cheap chaos spells like goblin or zombie, then you start trying to push towards chaos with goblins and zombies, and once chaos is getting a big bonus then you try to summon your red dragon.
Kind of linked to that ability, is the ability to summon creatures as illusions and if you summon a creature as an illusion, it has a 100% chance of being cast. But, of course, your enemy wizards have Disbelief spells which can be used to dispel an illusion. Otherwise an illusion acts much like a real creature, so you can be moving your illusions around and fighting with them and so on, until the point where your enemy decides, "Ah ha! You know, I think that might be an illusion, that he might be bluffing there," so it's an interesting game of bluff and deception there. But even going back to the example of law and chaos there, if you wanted to summon that red dragon there, you could use a lot of chaos illusion creatures just to boost the chaos rating and not worry too much about them being Disbeliefed, that's a valid strategy. So, these elements all come into play, I've probably explained the most complicated parts of the game, but basically you have a bunch of creatures as a wizard, you move each creature and you attack with them. It's strictly turn-based, so you take your time with all your creatures, then you end your turn and your enemy takes his turn. And his wizard can move and he can attack you or he can cast a spell each turn.
And the ultimate goal is to defeat the enemy wizard?
That's right, yes.
In your XCOM postmortem at GDC last year, you mentioned your philosophy on game design, I'll just read it out:
"A game should have a life of its own, such that it repeatedly generates experiences that are fresh and engaging. The actors in this system should appear to be intelligent and responsive to the player's actions."
How do you achieve that in your games, especially Chaos Reborn?
Well, it is achieved with some interesting AI programming and also to make sure that the AI is not predictable we try and give some random elements to the AI, but not completely random, they exist within certain rule-sets. So, for example, in Chaos Reborn, an enemy wizard might have a particular personality where he's very aggressive and he likes to use direct attack spells like Magic Bolt and he likes to get in conflicts, we can give the wizard that personality, but at the same time he has to do things intelligently, so if he is in danger, then he has to retreat and protect himself, if he is ahead on victory points then he might change his strategy and go back on the defensive. So again, these random elements have to have some measure of intelligence and the player has to kind of appreciate what the AI is doing even if the player cannot fully predict what the enemy is doing, what the enemy does should make some kind of sense. So, and this is quite difficult to achieve in strategy games or any game that uses AI, but it is a key part of making the experience fresh and interesting for the player.
So is it just really a matter of polishing the game and seeing what works and doesn’t?
Not exactly, I mean, for example, what we'll do is we'll have several parameters that will define a personality for a wizard and these personalities will be based on certain strategies such as aggression, defensive, prefers law/chaos, that kind of thing. And the player should recognize that when they're playing different wizards that they have different tactical personalities and they're not always going to behave the same way in the same situation, so it requires a bit of planning, and you're right, it does require a hell of a lot of testing as well.
What exactly can we expect out of the single-player campaign and how long do you expect it to be?
Well, it's kind of a, I don't want to say infinite but it could be if the player wants it to be, but what you start with is a wizard who is level 1 and you explore these realms of chaos and each day, you'll have potentially a small selection, a new handful of new realms to explore, and you enter these realms and there's different regions in these realms, you have mountains, towns, cities, forests and so on, you explore it and you acquire artifacts and equipment, you fight enemies and so on. But each realm has basically the same objective, to defeat the ruler of the realm, the wizard king, but they're procedurally generated, there's a lot of procedural generation in the game; and each realm has a level as well and as your wizard level increases it allows you access to higher level realms and higher level realms have, obviously more nastier AI controlled wizards, but they'll also have more interesting artifacts and there might be rare spells that you can find there as well, because as you're going along, you're kind of building up your spell library by acquiring spell books. This is basically the single-player version of the game and it's kind of RPG based with this random content, maybe slightly reminiscent of how some multi-user dungeons are created or rogue-like games. Each time you enter a realm it's probably going to be something slightly different.
So, as your wizard progresses, you can level up your wizard and you ultimately become pretty powerful so there's going to be a level cap at some point and at that point you'll be very powerful; that could be the end of the single-player game for you, but we also have other interesting aspects of the game such as these feudal-like ranks, so you can at some point become a wizard lord and that would mean that you can place your wizard in other realms for other people to encounter, and it would be AI controlled, you'd be doing this offline, you might have quite a few battles offline before you come back online and check how your wizard has done, and if you do well at that, you can qualify to become a wizard king and a wizard king, of course, rules over a realm and your wizard will be used in realms to populate the realm with wizard kings, but also you can create your own realms, there will be a realm creation tool, you can create realms that are interesting, contain some puzzle elements, even story elements if you wish, and the idea is to make realms which are interesting and fun for other players because they will rate your realm and if you do well at that, then you could qualify for becoming a demi-god and as a demi-god, you control one of the powerful guilds in the game and now your object is to recruit members to your guild, first thing you have to do is declare loyalty to one of the gods and that god can help you in your tasks, and your goal is to get your guild rankings high and if you do well at that, then you might qualify to become a god, and if you become a god, then you have the power to bestow blessings and favors on your followers and you need to attract followers and worshippers to give you the power to do this. So, I guess you could say the ultimate object might be for the player to become a god and rule over the world of the realms of chaos.
That also ties into the multi-player, right? Could you tell us a little about that?
It does tie into the multi-player as well, so in multi-player you've got a ranked matching system mode, which sort of places you into league divisions or possibly sub-divisions if there's a large number of players, and you can challenge anyone in your division. You have to try and progress in your division and improve your player rankings, which can help if you're a member of a guild or help qualify for you to become a wizard lord or king. There's also non-ranked multi-player modes, some modes you can use your equipment, some are more symmetrical and even like the naked wizard mode where you don't have equipment. There's a mode where each player is given a random selection of spells, the same selection for both players, and you have to discard a third of them, so when you go into battle the wizards will have a different selection of spells, but you've selected them from a known set. That's called the Symmetrical Mode. That's basically it, I mean, your wizard can win and gain experience so you can level up through multi-player without playing single-player.
How do you make it so that you can have a wide variety of character builds in online combat, rather than having one build that's clearly overpowered compared to the rest?
The wizard's levelling power allows him to level up his equipment and the equipment does improve in its power and ability for sure, but it's not absolutely decisive, you can still fight a high-level wizard as a low level wizard, but the actual matching system will tend to make sure wizards are roughly in the same level of power and their ranking. The other thing is, if you're in a multi-player battle and you're a high level wizard, you're also a high-level target, as you get much more experience points for killing a high-level wizard and more victory points as well. It's kind of a little bit of a balancing system in there already.
What kinds of realms and areas can we expect in terms of what kind of terrain and natural obstacles there will be in them?
Right, well the basic ones you've got forest, which tends to be populated with trees and some water areas as well, we've got mountains which are more rough, uneven terrain with lots of crevices and variance in the terrain levels; we've got plains, which are much more plain of course; we've got towns which maybe have buildings and other elements in them, bits of furniture; caves which are tunnels and caverns, citadels where kings reside, there's ruins as well. They will each have a different visual style and different style of gameplay attached to them, because of the way maps are generated.
Could you tell us a little about how they effect gameplay?
Yes, I can tell you some things, but not everything has been decided yet. The mountains would benefit flying creatures more, due to the variance in ground levels that would slow down ground units. Forests would probably favour powerful ground units that can fight through trees, as they can be removed by force or fire. The ruins can contain shrines which as I've mentioned before you can use to make a sacrifice to your god to gain benefit in battle. Citadels and towns will usually contain pick-ups such as chests which may contain anything from gold to artifacts to special spell scrolls. So there's a lot of stuff there, but not everything’s been determined yet.
What made you decide to return to the Chaos series?
Mainly because so many people have made clones of it. There's about 35 clones already, I'm always getting people's requests for me permission to make clones. I kind of thought that there must be something about this game which is so enduring, because there's been nothing like it since and there original had this interesting balance between simplicity, tactics, and fun, which is really quite difficult to do in turn-based gaming. So, I think it has a lot of potential in terms of being brought to a new audience with new multi-player modes, which will allow to the depth of the game but still keep the simple, quick fun aspects.
Just to finish off here, what's your experience been like with Kickstarter and would it be something you'd consider doing again in the future?
Well, the experience is quite nerve-wracking, because you have to do a hell of a lot to keep the momentum. So I'd say it's pretty difficult, be prepared to lose a lot of sleep. Would I do it again? Well, certainly not immediately, I'd like to take a rest before I attempt it again. So, it's very interesting, it's very encouraging, lots of interesting and difficult questions. I think it really helps develop a relationship between the developer and your potential customers, your backers, which is an experience that's difficult to find elsewhere.
We'd like to thank both Julian Gollop for agreeing to this interview and FerrousPilot/Duckard for agreeing to combine our resources.
If you're interested in donating to Chaos Reborn, please check out the Kickstarter here. It's asking for $180,000, and it's reached just over half of that with 21 days to go.