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The second chapter in our ongoing series of diaries focuses on character creation & story...
With E3 just finished and all the plaudits, adulation and attention that was focused on Vivenidiâ??s great looking title, Evil Genius, now just a memory; we find the Elixir team back in the studio working away.
The team is currently working towards the completion of their Beta milestone. There are several parts of the interface being polished, and the abilities of the agents are being balanced. The game will have another focus test prior to completion, to make sure that players find the game easy to pick up and play.
In Part 2 of our exclusive diary Mike Rosser, Assistant Designer, Pete Gilbert, Producer, and Sandy Sammarco, Lead Designer, were on hand to expand and talk about the game.
With the story and in game cast a central factor we got an informative insight into this aspect of the game.
The player starts the game as a budding Evil Genius, with nothing to their name other than $200,000 in the bank, a tropical island, a henchman, and a handful of minions. Thatâ??s practically penniless by Evil Genius standards. The playerâ??s task is to work their way up from being a pitiful nobody to an infamous world scourge by performing evil deeds and gaining notoriety. The ultimate goal is to launch a doomsday device and take over the world, and much of the storyline concerns the Evil Geniusâ?? efforts to raise his/her profile in the world and develop the doomsday technology.
Mike expressed his view pertaining to the role and importance of the story.
The story in Evil Genius is mainly to set the tone. Thereâ??s a broad narrative arc that involves the Evil Genius's rise to prominence and (eventually) world domination, but itâ??s not the driving force of the game. Their aim with Evil Genius is to provide an interesting and fun strategy-simulation game, and the story is primarily there to provide a context. Anyone expecting narrative twists and complex character development is probably looking in the wrong place, although thatâ??s not to say the story is inconsequential, suffice to say that no evil cliché goes untapped in our quest to involve and entertain the player.
Finding out how much of the story was written before the team started thinking about the characters or even if the cast was first in their thoughts was an interesting area to explore.
It appears that the storyline and objectives mainly evolved independently of the characters. This is a strategy-simulation game, so Elixir couldnâ??t really have a storyline of great depth without resorting to constant cut-scenes, something theyâ??d opted not to do for both practical and design reasons.
If was agreed and surmised that they would rather let the player construct their own stories through the emergent gameplay than force them rigidly through a contrived storyline.
Mike ably answered the initial questions on the issue of story and cast creation.
The story and characters were developed through several separate brainstorming sessions. When the designers were discussing storyline ideas, it was with the aim of developing fun tasks that would allow the player to take part in scenarios that would make them feel like a powerful Evil Genius. The character discussions (Here Iâ??m mainly thinking of henchmen and super-agents.) were primarily concerned with coming up with characters who were memorable and stylistically distinct, and who had a range of useful and appropriate special abilities.
Sandy continued on. The story creates a framework that they hung the game play on. Being a linear narrative, it provides a lot of the context for the player's actions and visible goals. Having said that, the main themes of the game play, like base building, gaining notoriety and combating the Forces of Justice, work independently, so the day-to-day playing of the game can be very diverse.
The building of the character traits, making them well rounded and seamless with the game, whilst giving them all individual qualities, foibles and looks, is an area that has been worked on.
Each characters in-game behaviour helps give them a great deal of personality - you donâ??t need to read his bio to realize that Ivan is a destructive psychopath once youâ??ve seen him wreaking havoc with his rocket launcher. This is most obvious in the super-agent objectives - these are optional tasks that the player doesnâ??t have to achieve, but it will make their life easier if they do, as once a super-agent has been defeated, they wonâ??t come back. The methods of defeat were tailored to the character - for instance, the Chinese super-agent is a kung fu master, so they had definite ideas that his downfall should be related to his martial arts abilities.
Conceptualising the story, building the characters and even breaking down the game components and ideas is also another part of the on going sequence in creating a game.
The narrative of the game effectively came out of the objectives, which were in turn devised after a lot of brainstorming about what evil geniuses tend to attempt on their path to world domination (with a humorous slant, of course, Elixir want the game to be fun, not real). The team went through plenty of clichés as well as novel ideas, trying to work out how they could fit into the game play. It appears that obviously, some scenarios were simply unworkable due to time constraints, but eventually they ended up with a bunch that compliment the game play and believe players will enjoy them.
For the characters, Elixir was very lucky to have an excellent concept artist, which allowed them to bounce many ideas around and see the results very quickly. Forming character designs was heavily biased towards the visual aspects, because that's mainly how the player will experience them. Players should recognise many aspects of the spy genre, twisted in some new and amusing ways.
There are 18 central characters in the game: 3 Evil Genius avatars, 10 henchmen (although those who pre-order the game will get an extra henchman) and 5 super-agents. These are the most important characters in the game, but there is also a vast supporting cast of characters, including 10 minions and 16 individual regular agents from each world alliance (making 80 in total). Quite apart from these constants, there is also a number of specialist characters that the player will encounter throughout the game, such as crime bosses, government officials, assassins, cosmonauts, mercenary scientists, clones.
The look of the cast, as is all the game, is very stylised as we have become accustomed to with Elixir titles. The characters were designed by Elixirâ??s Visual Director, Siku, and character modeller, Matt Clark. The clean look of the environments had already been established and Siku drew on his comic book history to design simple characters that wouldnâ??t look out of place in our game world. Matt wanted to keep as close to Sikuâ??s designs as possible when building the in game models, and developed a method of building and texturing the models which not only remained faithful to the concepts, but helped him keep a consistency in style across over 80 unique characters (a figure which grows to about 150 with texture variants!).
Throughout May the team were predominantly concerned with gameplay balancing and final interface polish. One of their major aims for the game is to make it pick up and play, and to that end they have focus-tested the project throughout its development. The project has managed to stay on schedule from its conception, which they are obviously extremely happy about.
Moving back to the E3, which is a great showcase for the game, it was a chance to get feedback from Pete who was bullish!
â?Feedback from E3 was extremely positive, the game was demonstrated behind closed doors to a select few journalists, and was also on display on two pods on the main floor. Visitors to the pods on the floor comprised three groups, those who knew about the game and were excited to see it, those who had been told to come and see it through word of mouth, and those who wandered by and wondered what all the fuss was about. I am delighted to say that every one of the 80 individuals that I spoke to during the course of E3 was unfailingly enthusiastic about the premise and execution of the title.â?
We asked the team if they had anything else to comment on before we returned next month!
â?As a bit of in-house trivia; after two months of dedicated effort, our lead designer Sandy has created a Kinder whip that reaches to the ceiling of the office. For those not in the know, this is constructed from the orange containers found inside Kinder Surprise eggs sello-taped together. His initial plan was to create a Kinder bandolier, however his chocolate addiction quickly oversupplied demand for this modest ambition, so he set himself a more ambitious goal. By the end of the project he is planning to create a belt that will encircle his rapidly expanding waistline.â?
Weâ??ll have an update on Evil Genius in the next Developer Diary exclusively featured on TVG next month, in which we shall focus on the technology behind Evil Genius and the Totality engine that powers it.
Once again TVG would like to issue a special thanks to all of those involved in this monthâ??s Developer Diary.