The man behind the original UFO Enemy Unknown talks about his return to roots as a bedroom programmer
17 March 2014 | By Import
There can’t be more than a handful of former ZX Spectrum gamers who aren’t familiar with a wonderful little 8 player turn-based strategy game called Chaos. The initial release with Games Workshop in the 80s passed by almost unnoticed, as the man who created it notes, ‘...they only wanted to sell it in their own stores and refused to deal with other distributors. Something I could never fully understand.’ However, Julian Gollop persevered with a game he thankfully thought deserved a little more attention and managed to get it republished with Mirrorsoft. It was later featured on Your Sinclair cover tapes twice, which is most likely where its popularity really swelled. That’s where I first encountered the game.
Many years later in 2001, I was sat in a University dormitory, my tiny room packed full of fellow hall-mates smoking, drinking, and talking about the usual student nonsense while the 1985 classic beamed from a PC screen. It looked as charming as ever running on a ZX Spectrum emulator. Many of those people were not big gamers; some even had difficulty using the keyboard to make their moves; nevertheless, the appeal of the game still penetrated through to us all. It is without a single hint of irony that I say that this is a game which even when held up against my huge collection of modern games I would happily load up right now and burn away a few hours with a group of friends. The implications of such a statement are mindboggling; the bloody thing is still as entertaining as it always was almost 30 years after it was released!
Julian has been thinking about a Chaos remake for some time, he mentions that throughout the years many other people have approached him and asked for permission to remake the game. ‘I approved them all,’ he adds. Now, due to a change in personal circumstances and after saying goodbye to the Bulgarian based Ubisoft offices where he worked, he has decided it’s time to go back to his roots and have a crack at remaking this titanic classic himself.
Although the game is only ‘about 20% complete’ the multiplayer skirmish mode is already functional and I was able to play a game with the man himself. The game mechanics are almost identical to the original. Each player controls a wizard with a randomized fixed set of spells. There are some directly targeted spells although the majority are summoning spells. When casting a summon players must crucially choose whether to try to summon a real creature. Spells have a certain percentage chance of success which can sometimes be worryingly low; however there is also the option of casting an illusion. Illusions function exactly the same as real creatures except that another wizard can use their turn to cast a spell called ‘Disbelieve’, target your creature, and instantly destroy it. Disbelieve is always in the spell book and can be cast as many times as you want, whereas other spells may only be cast once and then disappear for good.
Along with this, the game is made more interesting by dynamics such as units classed as ‘undead’, zombies for example, which can only be harmed by other undead units or magic. Also, once units enter face-to-face combat they may be classed as ‘engaged in combat’ on their next turn and thus unable to move. Based on various unit stats, every time a unit attacks it has a chance to outright kill the other unit. No hit points, just chance. It’s the combination of strategic control with all these random elements that make the game so exciting. You can often be winning a game only to get a few unlucky rolls and be right back on the defensive.
Our quick game demonstrated the remake to be much like the classic in this respect. First I had a creature number advantage, and then Julian had an annoyingly positioned undead skeleton which I was unable to navigate around and didn’t have any summons at my disposal to combat it. However, I lucked out by casing a dragon – one of the most powerful creatures with a low casting chance. But that was short-lived, Julian’s skeleton was able to block off my dragon and outrageously pull off a one-hit-kill on it. The game went back and forth like this almost turn for turn, until I managed to take control of an enemy vampire using a short-range spell called subversion, and was able to finish off Julian’s wizard – his first loss in a while. I have to admit, I wasn’t very forthcoming about my prior experience with Chaos, so it was a bit of a cheap shot. Still, if I had a twitter account I’d definitely be tweeting about it.
Strategy Informer: It seems like you’ve decided to remain very faithful to the original, especially as far as gameplay is concerned.
Julian Gollop: Yeah, I’ve decided to keep the basic game mechanics pretty much the same. They make the game fairly quick playing and also it has this kind of brutal randomness which you have to be careful about – do you take a risk or do you not take a risk. As you saw in the game we just played, the tides can turn from one turn to the next. You can’t be certain of anything.
Strategy Informer: What’s your primary objective with remaking Chaos?
Julian Gollop: The main thing I’m trying to do is keep the gameplay immediate, fun, and not too overextended. I’m aiming for battles to be relatively short but interesting and exciting to the end. The other thing I’m going to do is expand on the spells so we get some more interesting combinations, because some of my favourite spells from the original were some of the more weird spells like the gooey blob (a spell which creates a randomly-spreading all-consuming goo) and the magic wood (a spell which creates trees which any wizard on the map can enter and sit in to get gifted a new spell for that battle) which are very useful but somewhat difficult to control and predict. So I want to put some more spells in like that which have some interesting and over-the-top effects; spells that aren’t so controllable and maybe not even entirely beneficial to the caster.
Strategy Informer: Will people still be able to play a multiplayer game using only one PC?
Julian Gollop: Absolutely.
Strategy Informer: The remake features a kind of campaign mode. Can you talk about that?
Julian Gollop: With the campaign what I want to do is take the core wizard arena battle system and make that part of a much bigger meta-game. You will start as a level 1 wizard and you will level up your wizard by gaining experience in battles and acquiring treasures. This will take part in the lands of chaos; these lands, or realms, are going to be procedurally generated adventures. Every day there will be new adventures generated by the server. Each realm will be ruled by wizard lords and a wizard king, who ultimately you will have to defeat.
You have to optimize your route throughout the realms of chaos because as time goes on the wizard king and wizard lords will strengthen their position. So there’s a slight race element to the game where you need to be efficient with your exploration and chose your path through the realm carefully. Navigation through the realms will be an important part of the game.
The interesting side to that is sharing the knowledge you have from exploring the realms with other players – your friends. So you can tell people about how to navigate the different realms, as other players can enter those realms and get the same experience which you did, until the realm is closed off because they don’t last forever. In addition to that you can invite friends to help you with battles in the realm, doing so will cost experience and will also mean, of course, that you have to share the spoils of war. That’s another way to try and help you if you want to go for a more difficult realm then you have that choice and you can get a friend involved to help you.
We’re also going to have an online ranking system with an integrated guild system. Players will be able to form and be part of guilds and help those guilds move up the rankings and win various benefits and awards. Through the ranking system players will also be able to become a lord or a king of a realm and will then act as an enemy NPC in other players games.
After that players can become a demi-god, which means they will automatically be put in control of a guild and need to pledge allegiance to one of the gods, and above that players can become a god. As a god you have a whole bunch of followers you’re trying to attract, you can bestow blessings on them with your powers. You’re still a wizard and you still go adventuring but you have this god-like status. Ultimately as a god you’re aiming to push the realms further towards your alignment, be it chaos, order or neutral.
Strategy Informer: How will the spell books work in this part of the game. Will they be randomly generated like in the skirmishes?
Julian Gollop: Not exactly. They’ll work a bit like a collectable card game in the sense that you’ve got a library of spells and from that you need to pick a deck of, say, 20. But when you’re in the battle you’ll only draw, say, five spells at a time. So that bit is randomised like a CCG. So it’s more of a constructed and configured spell mode; if you get defeated by a wizard in a realm you can always readjust your spell book and try again. You’ll be able to buy spells in towns, or win them off enemy wizards. You’ve still got access to the classic chaos mode if you want it, of course, but this mode will allow a bit more customisation.
Julian will be launching a Kickstarter campaign for Chaos Reborn today. You can find out more on the game’s official site at http://www.chaos-reborn.com/