His name is not on the ear recent years, and a new generation of gamers may even have not heard about Julian Gollop. Back in the 80's he managed to create a lot of great games, and about 20 years ago Julian and his brother Nick had created a masterpiece X-COM UFO Defense: the game, that gave birth to a series, that won the hearts and minds of thousands of fans around the world, and is considered as one of the best tactical strategies of all times. We had not heard interesting news about Mr. Gollop last 10 years: he basically worked on game design and produced chess games and tactics for portable consoles. But around a week ago Julian announced remake of the game Chaos, which appeared in 1985 on the ZX Spectrum. On it, we decided to talk to Julian, and also find out, what the creator of X-Com is thinking about a new Enemy Unknown, why he now lives in Bulgaria and how he is related to Assassin's Creed series.
Hello, Julian! Please tell us how you decided to start making games? How did you get into the gaming industry? Was the Time Lords your first project, or you had also some earlier works?
I started making boardgames before home computers were commonly available. I played a lot of SPI and Avalon Hill board games and role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Traveller. A friend of mine converted a pencil and paper game I made into a computer game on the BBC model B computer, which became ‘Time Lords’ — my first computer game design. This was in 1982.
Somewhat unexpected question, but still: if it is possible, could you tell us, please, what caused the decision to move to live in Bulgaria? Was it difficult to leave England and settle in a new place? Were there problems with the language?
My wife is Bulgarian, and after living for a year together in Britain after our marriage I suggested to move to Bulgaria for a change of scenery. I could still continue my work at that time. There were difficulties, of course, mainly with renovating our flat because there was a big construction boom and workers were in short supply. I still have problems with the language, but most young Bulgarians can speak English quite well.
Almost all of your games are tactical strategies? How did it happen? Why do you prefer this genre the rest?
This is all down to my love for boardgames. I still play board games today, and I think the standard of game design in the best boardgames is easily better than most computer or video games.
What do you think about the new XCOM: Enemy Unknown? Have you played in it? Did you like it? What in this game is cool, and what would you do differently?
I think Firaxis did a terrific job with the new XCOM. They have made a very console friendly and accessible game, but it still has a lot of strategic and tactical depth. The character progression is done very well, and the tactical combat system is great. I would have done things differently for sure. I was a bit disappointed that the Geoscape is basically irrelevant, with no strategy involved about positioning of bases, detection ranges, base attacks and so on. It is also a shame that there is no random map generation. The development of the alien menace seems to be driven by specific events, such as the first alien base assault, rather than the aliens own development agenda as in the original X-Com.
XCOM series always had a lot of fans, but now it is at a new peak of popularity. Would you like to work on a new part of this franchise?
No, I think I am done with X-Com. I tried many times for many years to get a remake underway, but Firaxis finally did it. Also, there is a promising and more faithful remake nearing completion called ‘Xenonauts’.
We heard that you were the creative director of Assassin's Creed Liberation. What contribution you have made to the creation of the game, what was your role? Why is the fact of your participation in the development of Liberation not advertised, it could be great advertisement for the project?
I worked for a year on the game, developing the character, the story and the new game design systems, such as the persona system. I left the project before it was publicly announced, so I guess nobody knew about my involvement.
A few questions about your new project — a remake of Chaos: The Battle of Wizards (1985). Will it be a remake or a sequel? Is new Chaos somehow connected to the Lords of Chaos (1990)?
It is part remake and part sequel. The core mechanics of the original game will be mostly the same, but there will be a more RPG oriented single player version which is more similar to Lords of Chaos.
How long are you working on Chaos? How many people are working on the game? Why did you choose exactly this game to convert: you have many other wonderful games?..
I have been working on it since mid-October. I chose this game because it has attracted a lot of attention from people wanting to make remakes of it. The game definitely has a unique quality to it, and I want to recreate it for modern platforms with new technology.
What changes are waiting the game: what do you want to add, what will disappear? Are you going just to move the old ideas on a new engine or change the very mechanics? Please, describe the gameplay of the new game.
The core mechanics of combat, movement and spell casting in a confined arena will still be there. All spells have a certain chance to be cast, and the more powerful the spell the more difficult it is to be cast. The ability to cast creatures as illusions, and to use a ‘disbelieve’ spell will also be a major part of the game, as in the original game. A major new addition will be terrain with different elevations and effects, with many different arena designs. Spells are also rated as either neutral, chaos or law. Casting a chaos spell will shift the balance of the environment towards chaos, making chaos spells easier to cast, and the reverse with law spells. However, one major new addition is that if the balance is shifted too far in one direction the game will enter a state of ‘total chaos’ or ‘total law’, which cannot be changed for the rest of the game. This will change the terrain and have some interesting game effects. In ‘total chaos’ the terrain will become more organic, alive, but also decaying and collapsing. Chaos creatures will receive a combat boost, and law creatures a defence penalty. In a state of ‘total law’ the terrain will become crystallized, sharp and brittle. Law creatures will then gain the benefits, and chaos creatures the penalties.
Battle of wizards is good for multiplayer. In your new game can players fight each other? Will there be several game modes or only one type of «fantasy deathmatch»? Will there be some kind of singleplayer story campaign?
There will be many multiplayer features. There will be a number of game modes — deathmatch, team based and co-op vs AI. There will be alternative victory conditions to the usual deathmatch, including capturing artifacts, or exiting through a portal. Players will be rated for league matches in the different categories of game. Apart from multiplayer, there will be an interesting single player game called ‘kingdoms of chaos’. You will start with a young and inexperienced wizard and travel through different regions in search of the chaos king. Your quest is to defeat him, but you have to battle many of his followers first. By doing this you find artefacts and magic tomes that will give you new spells and powers. It will be a procedurally generated game world, guaranteeing a different experience each time you play.
Next question about the visual style of the game: how Chaos will look like? Do you prefer funny cartoon style or dark bloody fantasy? What engine is at the heart of the project? Which works of art (movies, comics, books and games) have shaped the visual appearance of the game?
I don’t like cutesy cartoony graphics. Humor is good, but I prefer it to be dark humor rather than light humor. I generally admire much of the fantasy world of Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battles, both in its visual style and its many interesting and varied characters. Also, I like many of the Rackham miniatures made for the original Confrontation game. However, I still haven’t determined the visual direction for the game, so I am open to ideas.
Chaos is announced for Mac and PC, Linux and Android versions are also possible. But what about the consoles (Xbox360, Playstation3)? Don’t you want to contact these platforms because of technical difficulties, or do you think that this game will not be popular there?
There is not much technical difficulty with porting the game to Xbox360 or PS3, but it is certainly more expensive because of the cost of the Unity3D license. However, if it is possible I would certainly like to do it.
When do you plan to release Chaos? How do you plan to publish the project: sale it from the website, find a publisher, or use some services like Steam? Or, as once, will Games Workshop help you?
It is too early to give a release date yet when the scope of the game is not yet determined and the team size is currently one (me). I hope to get artists and animators involved in the project one I reach the initial prototyping stage with a playable version of the game. The game will be in Apple’s app store and hopefully on Steam. I won’t be looking for a publisher.
Can you tell us a bit about your brother, Nick? What is he doing now? Is he still game-developer?
Nick is not working in games any more — he has his own projects with internet marketing.
What are your future plans? Are you going to do another remake of your good old game or make something new? Do not you want to revive Laser Squad, Rebelstar or Magic and Mayhem? How long do you plan to stay in the video game industry?
I have no firm plans after Chaos, but I certainly want to stay in the games industry. Now it is an exciting time for indie game developers, so I will keep doing it as long as I can.
Thanks for your answers. We are looking forward to release of new Chaos!