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The first in a regular series of exclusive diaries detailing the development process…
The Making of Evil Genius â?“ The Background
The Elixir team is already regarded as one of the UKs most interesting and innovative development teams. Over the next few months, we shall be bringing you a diary into The Making of Evil Genius, which is already grabbing lots of media attention. Each month will chronicle the many aspects that go into creating a game and each chapter will spotlight a number of interesting insights from the team itself.
TotalVideoGames in conjunction with Elixir and Vivendi-Universal will present a number of surprises but as they say, we shall start at the beginning.
Live, in this first insight we got the thoughts of:
- Demis Hassabis Chairman & Creative Director
- Adrian Bolton Executive Producer
- Peter Gilbert Producer
- Mike Rosser Assistant Designer
â??The original idea for the game came to me when I was chilling out on a remote island in Thailand after graduation. The island was very like the Evil Genius lair in fact and the first initial idea I had was â??wouldnâ??t it be fun to play the role of a mad criminal mastermind bent on world domination?â?? It just seemed a fun and simple premise for a game so I thought about it some more and the concept just evolved. For me the sign of a good game concept is when ideas flow easily, and the more I thought about the concept the more the ideas came. I ended up writing â??Be Dr Noâ?? in my notepad and seven years later here we are.â?
â??All of the team has had an influence on the evolving concept. From our artists through to our programmers, the designers and the animators have all added ideas or touches, which have enhanced the original conceptâ?“ we have a very talented team. However we have had to draw a lot of lines under a lot of ideas or weâ??d never be able to stick to the schedule and our Producer might not have lasted the two years!â?
With great feedback and a growing fan base from their first collective title, Republic: The Revolution, it was intersting to hear both Adrian and Demisâ??s thoughts on what they had learnt from this game and how they would ensure the creation of Evil Genius was timed to perfection.
â??The biggest thing we learnt from Republic was not to try to develop completely original games on top of completely original graphics engines, whilst building a company from scratch at the same time and not expect some pretty large problems. I think at the outset we simply underestimated the time it would take to create all the complex pieces of technology needed to make the game.â??
Demis, â??Of course we would all have preferred a lot more time to have polished Republic before release (especially the steep learning curve and last minute tutorial) and to have implemented more ideas but there simply wasnâ??t that time available. Republic ended up dividing the gaming community with some people really liking it and some not, but then that's nearly always the case with ambitious original games. Most people that had the patience to get over the initial steep learning curve and give the game a chance seemed to really like it and I'm proud of what we achieved with it even though there were things I would have liked to have turned out differently in a perfect world.â?
â??Obviously weâ??ve learnt many other lessons from Republic. Basically the games buying public like slippage almost as little as Publishers and our own development teams and Republic slipped more than once in its development schedule. One of the biggest impacts the experience of making Republic has had on Evil Genius is an obsessive respect for standardised Project Management techniques to track creativity but not crush it. It means Evil Genius has not yet slipped and itâ??s not something that seems likely to happen either- we are still on target for a fall release.â?
Games go through their own evolution cycle and making changes is always a part of the progress. Adrian explained some of the intricacies of the game engine, which we will highlight further in a future diary, which is indeed impressive.
â??Evil Genius is using an enhanced version of the engine used in Republic, which is designed to handle tons of characters, special effects and animation on-screen. It scales neatly between more accurate (and higher polygon) effects when the camera is zoomed in, and faster implementations when zoomed out. There are all the features you'd expect from a modern game, such as a fluid animation system, particle effects, reflections, and real-time shadows. We're particularly proud that even on our minimum spec graphics cards, we can still throw around a lot of polygons without it slowing down. â??
â??Republic had tons of AI talent behind it, and several of the AI systems in Evil Genius are deeply indebted to it. The scripting system in particular was used extensively on Republic and has proved invaluable again on EG. Having said that, we've been careful to tune everything to our particular AI requirements. AI is in many ways the key to the game, and it's important for us that the requirements match the system exactly. Itâ??s more a case of having the basics worked out and then fine tuning the different requirements for different games.â?
Peter explained how it all begins with some rudimentary details!
â??The concept was at the start of the project, and the game features were also agreed early in development, but some elements have been improved on the fly. For example, the henchmen were initially controlled by the simulation however once we focus tested the game several times it was obvious players wanted more immediate control. This change was duly made and the game has definitely improved because of it.â?
â??In a perfect world we would design all games completely in advance, however that would require perfect designers. I'm not saying that Sandy, our lead designer, isn't perfect...no...hang on...actually I am saying that. Sorry Sandy...â?
Itâ??s only when the first piece of code is up and running that the game really comes to life and Adrian explained working towards that goal.
â??The first code we concentrated on was the level and environment design. Designing your base is almost the first thing the player will do, and it was the same with us. Until the environments were ready, we couldn't properly try out any more complex code (such as AI and pathfinding, which were the next biggies on the list). We also realised that how the environments were built and structured internally (in our code) would make a huge difference to the rest of the game systems, so it was important to have something solid in place before we approached these other areas.â?
â??Interestingly, the original prototype included multiple height levels - you could design your base with multiple floors. We eventually cut these when we realised they just added complication, not fun. All the fun bits involving heights (collapsing floors, piranha tanks underneath the ground, etc.) could be done in other ways without requiring the player to tie himself to a specific height level. Rest assured the piranha tanks and pit traps are still very much in the game.â?
Elixir has a reputation for attention to detail and also being very cerebral. Perhaps, working with Peter Molynuex, where Demis started his gaming sojourn, has had a lasting influence. Sometimes certain aspects within a game, although excitingly clever, could possibly go over gamersâ?? heads. Demis explain his â??mindsetâ?? considering this!
â??Well, we always strive to innovate and create games that have something unique and groundbreaking about them. Sometimes this means picking subjects or themes that are not the usual fare for games and are often hard to categorise. This is a conscious decision on our part and when you attempt to do something that is original and ambitious by its very nature you run the risk of possibly alienating some sections of the audience. However, thereâ??s no greater feeling than creating something original and fresh that turns out right and ends up being appreciated by thousands of people. And although we try to be innovative we also try equally hard to make our games as accessible as possible (time permitting!) and I think people will see that with Evil Genius.â?
A game is all about its gameplay and story, which we shall detail more in the next chapter of the diary. First up we asked Peter to give a basic overview and objectives for the player and possibly outlining some innovations we can look forward to.
â??At the core of Evil Genius are 10 main objectives that represent milestones on the player's journey to world domination, from setting up the first base to launching the doomsday device. With these objectives, we've tried to give the player cool, fun things to do that you'd expect to be able to do as an Evil Genius, and we've also tried to make these objectives as free-form as possible. This is a tricky balance - with this sort of strategy-simulation game, we want the player to be able to approach the game in their own way, and experiment with the way the world works, but we don't want them to feel lost or overwhelmed, or lose interest. Our approach has been to provide a goal for the player, but let them tackle it however they deem best (where possible) and whenever they feel ready, then we reward them with something appropriately cool and evil when they achieve the goal. As an example, early on in the game the player has to prove their evil credentials by taking over the criminal underworld. One particular crime boss isn't impressed, and won't come to the island until the player's raised his notoriety levels. How you go about this is up to the player - they can perform whichever Acts of Infamy they choose to gain notoriety, in whichever regions they want; they can even get smaller notoriety boosts by gloating over captured prisoners. When the crime boss is finally lured to the island, the player will witness the meeting between your Evil Genius and the world's crime bosses...suffice to say, it ends messily. We provide the climax, but how the player got there is up to them.â?
â??As well as the main objectives, there are also many secondary objectives which don't have to be tackled to complete the game, but will provide the player with a benefit of some sort, usually a large one. One of the main secondary objectives is defeating all of the super-agents. Each one has a weakness that can be discovered and exploited. For instance, the Chinese super-agent is almost unstoppable in hand-to-hand combat, and will send minion after minion flying if the player tries to kill him normally. By capturing and interrogating the super-agent's Sensei, however, it's possible to discover his weakness - stage fright. He gets very nervous performing in public exhibitions, so maybe a kung-fu tournament could be arranged...â?
Gameplay versus graphics issues were answered by Mike.
â??Gameplay is of course the most important ingredient in any game. However, players also expect a certain quality bar from the graphics irrespective of the game. And in Evil Genius we have tried to deliver a very fresh unique look, almost comic book, which was intended to be in keeping with the perfect vision of the 60s, that of â??beautiful people in a beautiful worldâ??.â?
Ensuring the game will be released on time later in the year, which we have already discussed, is of course a priority for both developer and publisher and to achieve this certain milestones have to be met. With Republic appearing rather late, Peter detailed the teamâ??s plans.
Evil Genius has been developed in a way that is pretty standard for most modern games. We decided upon a set of features early on, agreed a set of milestones with our publisher, then delivered everything expected from us on the dates we agreed upon. So far development could not have been smoother. We have hit every single milestone precisely on time so far and have just passed Alpha; as such we are very confident Evil Genius will be delivered on time for a Fall 2004 release. Vivendi has been a great publisher for the game, they have given us the freedom to develop the game we want to within the constraints that were agreed at the start of development. They also have a great track record for PC publishing, so they were an obvious choice for Elixir as publisher for Evil Genius.
The focus on Evil Genius compared to Elixir Studios previous title Republic appears to be very much on â??funâ??; so we asked Demis, was this a conscious effort after the complexities of Republic and how do you go about incorporating humour into a videogame? Demis continued by telling us a little about the exact genre, kind of gameplay, to expect.
â??Elixir holds a large stock of game ideas at any one time. When it came to choosing our next game there was a definite conscious decision to contrast against the seriousness of Republic with something a lot more light-hearted. It also stood out as being an idea we all thought would make a really cool game and would be a lot of fun to create as well. Humour is a difficult thing to get right in a game but we did it in an understated way mainly via the animations. Incidental visual humour is pretty international in its appeal (as opposed to verbal humour) and we seem to have got it right with many people coming out of a preview laughing heartily.â?
â??Evil Genius is a strategy game built on a simulation. The type of gameplay itâ??s closest to is that of a tycoon-style empire building game but with many cool innovations and twists. Minions look after the day-to-day running of the base and are controlled automatically by the simulation intelligently doing the most sensible thing relevant to their character class at the time. Because, as an Evil Genius, you naturally have much more pressing issues to be dealing with, like disposing of pesky super agents, than deciding which exact minion should hollow out your rocket cavern. You just want it done, and done yesterday! So this frees up the playerâ??s time to directly control their Evil Genius and powerful unique henchmen and concentrate their efforts on plans for global domination. With Evil Genius we set out to try to make the most fun and amusing strategy game around and we think that players will agree when they get their hands on it.â?
The all important â?“ show off your game to the media time - is drawing close (May) and with this in mind the teamâ??s focus is partially on E3 in LA.
â??The game will be present, but there will not be a demo specifically created for the show. At E3 we want game players to come and play the game, rather than sitting through a demo. All of the features in the game will be accessible, but given that there is a lot of interest in the game and a lot of people want to play it, we will probably have a partially built base with several henchmen available to the players so that they can get some idea of the amount of features in the gameâ?, Peter.
NEXT DIARY CHAPTER : The Story and the â??in game castâ??
We shall find out more about how they go about conceptualizing and creating the story and the building and formation of the â??in game castâ??.
TVG would like to thank those at Elixir Studios, Vivendi-Universal and Lunch PR for their assistance in creating this article; see you in a monthâ?¦