Gas Powered Games' founder Chris Taylor has a stinking cold. Even though he's still his usual effervescent, enthusiastic self, the interview is punctuated by the occasional sniffle, and he has a voice that in his own croaky words, "sounds as if I've been smoking three packs of cigarettes a day." I've dragged Chris Taylor away from a hot Lemsip to ask the industry legend that developed Total Annihilation and Dungeon Siege, about the making of his latest success - the hardcore sci-fi RTS Supreme Commander and its follow-up Forged Alliance. Read on for the story of the creation of the universe, the problems with developing for PC, falling through ceilings, and the first exclusive confirmation of Supreme Commander 2...
"The units themselves came from the team, and a bunch of them came from me, initially just to set the tone and set the size. The Fatboy unit with the giant treads, for example, came from me watching the huge Saturn 5 transport unit that moves real-world rockets from the vehicle assembly structure to the launch site - an incredible unit. I would suggest units for scope and scale and the team would brainstorm other units that would fit. Steve Thompson - the lead artist - came up with the Monkey Lord, the giant spider with the death laser on it. The ideas do flow from everywhere; as the lead designer I just set the tone and then everyone else plugs into that overall vision."
"The idea of the unit was a response to Total Annihilation, as the commander in that game was a defensive unit. The feedback I got was that people wanted to take him - and it was always a him, they never thought of the commander as a female - and use him more as an offensive hero-style unit. Maybe it's because they played Warcraft III or some other games, but they felt he was just hanging around the base too much, and they wanted to charge him out into the field. I tried to make the design a little more robust, give him more defences so he would stand up more in battles."
"We worked on the backstory for years - it started on the whiteboard as a pie chart that I divided into three pieces and drew out the three factions, and created these opposites - each factions' strengths and weaknesses - plus a belief system for each. Evan Pongress, Bill Harms and the whole team worked so hard on the universe to build out the fiction, and make sense of the world that I started. Dr Brackman - my favourite character actually -was inspired by one of the great personalities of the games industry: Tom Prezina at EA. I asked Tom if I could have photos of him to model Dr Brackman and he agreed - it's really hard to come up with a character that rich and interesting out of just your imagination."
"The Aeon faction itself was this philosophical contradiction, which I got from the culture I live in. I wanted the Aeon to be visually different on the battlefield - one of the criticisms of TA was that you couldn't tell which unit was which in a battle. Our goal from the beginning was to have all the units of the UEF, Cybran and Aeon clearly differentiated, have them move differently, have different-looking weapons, and feel like they had different philosophical fighting styles. That was the hardest thing of all to do, and in the end we sort of fell back to tanks and artillery - but at least we tried.
Balance Of Power:
"The guys who had to roll up their sleeves and test the game had a hell of a job. They looked at me and said You gotta be kidding right?' as they only had two or three months to balance the game. I just said Do your best,' and they did great for that first balancing, and better with each iteration. What we have today is really terrific. That's all you can ask for - but there's never enough time for balancing."
"The strategies that come from players are always so different to the ones you imagine. You see people become so efficient at destroying their opponents, and you simply couldn't have imagined the techniques. They're so fast! They'd be in someone's base and have them killed in, like, seven minutes. An important part of the tuning process was seeing what people did and tweaking the game to close shortcuts and exploits.
"We were definitely going to go to people who did a great job before - so of course it was a no-brainer that for the score we went to Jeremy Soule, who did the music in the original Total Annihilation, and Frank Bry for the sound effects. We were definitely trying to capture the spirit of what we'd done on TA. However, Supremo Commander is not Total Annihilation 2 - if that game had been made, it would have been very different.
"On SC, we learned a big lesson that you really can't go too hard on system specs, because you need to make sure that the game can run on a lot of hardware. We pushed very hard, and although the game is very high-tech and state-of-the-art, it did cut out the lower-end systems. Demigod is going to run on a lot more hardware and there's going to be a lot more people that can play it. That's why I think that casual games are doing so well - they're a lot of fun and run really well on every computer made right now. I'd like to develop something casual, but a little more sophisticated, not just a one-play session type game, but one that persists online, something where you get a score you can track over time like an MMO. I do like that idea and I have got something that we're working on here that we'll be talking about it in another year."
"Man, back in the old days we were such kids. We did the dumbest, weirdest things when we were back on Dungeon Siege and Total Annihilation, but we're sort of grown up now, more mature! We used to try and stuff as much pizza as we could in our mouths, fall through the ceiling, run around with a bucket on our heads, or get puking drunk - but on SC we didn't do any of that It's kind of sad isn't it? Probably the funniest thing at the celebration of SC was me sticking my mouth over the champagne bottle because I was trying to keep it from spilling onto the floor. Someone snapped a picture of me and I had to run and tackle them to take the camera away. Maybe on Demigod we can let ourselves go a bit, break some stuff...
Big Clompy Robots, mushroom clouds and a world view that renders all as primary-coloured dots make SupCom a worthy, challenging and clever take on wide-scale global combat Mammoth bases are built, waypoints clearly demarcated, build times organised tactically and successful missions then rewarded by an expansion of the play area and manifold new threats to life within.
The interface is a bit of a marvel, but you won't be frantically clicking here and there when the game hits its stride. Even the most frenzied SupCom general will stop and stare at the game's flagship superweapons - the UEF Fatboy is an outright work of art.
So SupCom is well worth a buy. You shouldn't have many problems actually getting your machine to run it properly these days either.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode