Evil Genius 2: World Domination is set to bring the satirical spy-fi lair building series back into the spotlight next year. Seventeen years after the original, players will once again get a chance to build up their own evil lair, recruit an army of minions, and bring the world to its knees using really big, devastating weapons.
Earlier this month, we took part in a hands-off showcase of Evil Genius 2 – which you can read more about in our preview – while also getting the chance to speak with Lead Designer Richard Edwards and Producer Ash Tregay about Rebellion's upcoming title.
For their reasoning on why it was time for a sequel alongside specific details about gameplay and sources of inspiration, read on below.
GameWatcher: How did you decide that it was time for Evil Genius to get a sequel? Why a sequel when we seem to be living in an age of remasters?
Ash Tregay: I think it's kind of a confluence of different reasons why it's the time for Evil Genius 2. First and foremost, there's been kind of a renaissance in recent years of the strategy management genre. We've gone from a long period of not much going on to a whole series of some really outstanding titles from the likes of Paradox, Frontier, and, of course, Two Point Studio with Two Point Hospital in 2018. There's been a real resurgence of interest in the genre as a whole. And yet, even so, there's still not anything quite like Evil Genius out there in the world in recent years, so that puts us in a very good position.
Secondly, is general interest. Since Rebellion kind of rescued the IP for Evil Genius, it's been a game that fans have been clamoring for and emailing us about regularly; that kind of cult fan base is still there, which is fantastic!
And thirdly, it's about having the right team to build it, which has been a big focus for us at Rebellion, making sure we've got the right expertise behind and at the helm, and Rich Edwards here – my lead designer – has been a massive part of that.
Richard Edwards: I came along and I specifically joined Rebellion for this game. It got to the point where, when I realized what game they were making in the interview, I had to call for a timeout because I was really, really genuinely excited to be part of this game.
Ash Tregay: In terms of the second part of your question – why a sequel rather than a remaster – it's as much about expectation setting as anything. This isn't just a remaster of the original game, this is a sequel in the truest sense. We've taken a look at every aspect of what made the original such a cult classic in the first place and made sure we're bringing that heart forward into Evil Genius 2.
But we're also not just revisiting it from the perspective of a modern audience, but also expanding on it and making it frankly better in any way that we can, so there's the expectation there as well. On top of that, actually, that carries through into the narrative of the game in that it is a true sequel. It is set years after the events of the original game, once an evil genius has succeeded in taking over the world but now vanished, leaving a power vacuum behind them and a new wave of evil geniuses rising up to try to fill that power vacuum. So, in all respects, it's a true sequel.
GameWatcher: How will you incentivize players to give all four of the game’s campaigns a try?
Richard Edwards: For starters, they're all different. Every single genius you can play as has their own unique campaign. If you want a little bit of variety, you are absolutely able to dive in and play as a different genius attempting to do something slightly different. Obviously, there are going to be common beats through that; you are still going to be building a Doomsday Device with the end goal of taking over the world. But how you get there, the journey itself is different for each genius. We're making sure that you can go back and play as a different genius with a different focus.
The other thing is, we're stuffing the game to the gills with optional content. As you're playing through, you'll maybe encounter a crime lord on the rise in North America by the name of Eli Barracuda Jr. and you can choose to do battle with him, or you can choose to either bring him on your side or defeat him, ultimately, and feed him to the sharks. The content that you choose to engage with is going to be different based on you as a player. If you played through the game as Red Ivan and you recruited one set of Henchmen and collected one set of loot, we really want you to play the game through as, say, Maximilian and go after different goals, so collecting different henchmen, collecting different loot, on an entirely different island.
GameWatcher: How long do you expect a playthrough to last on average?
Ash Tregay: We're not going to talk specifics at this stage, but it does depend very much on the player's approach to the game, just as Rich was indicating, that they kind of have their pick of what optional content they want to fill. Some players will want to try to beeline through as swiftly as possible to get through one campaign, then experience one of the others, and they're not necessarily going to have the easiest time doing that if they're not going through some of the side stories to bring extra henchmen and loot items on board.
The more completionist players will want to do as much of that side content as they can before ultimately taking over the world, or [players] who just want to take a more relaxed, laid back approach to world domination and take their time to build up their lair will obviously have a lot more gameplay hours per campaign. We're very much focused on replayability, we want to give players reasons to go back and try the other campaigns, try those extra side stories that they decided not to explore the previous time.
GameWatcher: How will the different islands impact gameplay, are they Evil Genius 2’s take on difficulty modes?
Richard Edwards: They are not Evil Genius 2's take on difficulty modes. Each island has got its own unique layout and its own little gameplay modifiers. We're not going to talk too much about those today, but the first thing that you're going to notice when you've logged into one of the different islands is that the layout is completely different and that's going to pose a completely different set of building challenges to you as the player. You are going to be able to select any one of these three islands from the very start of the campaign. If you want to choose one, two, or three, it is entirely up to you. We're not going to ask you to play through one difficulty to unlock another island.
GameWatcher: How much freedom do players have in determining the general shape of their lair?
Richard Edwards: As much freedom as they want. We give you the island and we give you a building space to build into and, as soon as you're away, you can just build that as freely as you like. Now, there's one thing – we only ask that a room is a minimum of four tiles, so if you want to make that room as huge as possible or as small as possible, it's entirely down to you. One of the things that I personally like to do is build a barracks and stick a mess hall right in the middle of that with absolutely no walls between those two rooms. But you might find more cautious players want to make sure that there are walls everywhere and every aspect of their lair is a tightly-guarded secret, locked away in a different part of the mountain.
Ash Tregay: That's something that I, as a producer, have had to adapt to as I got to grips with Evil Genius 2 because, as a producer, I like to put things in boxes; it's what I do for a living. When I started playing Evil Genius 2, I was very much building “Right, this is my barracks room, this is my control room, and make sure that they will have walls and a door, and they're all sealed off.” and Rich would despair of me and say “No, you can do so much more than that with our game, let me show you.” Gradually, over time, I got a little bit better at that, so you can build some really interesting configurations of lair as you realize “Actually, I can have,” as Rich indicated, “one room inside another with no borders between them, or even multiple different room types all configured to join each other in interesting ways.”
So you could, if you really chose to, actually build an entirely open lair, once you get past the cover operation. It would be a terrible idea in practice, because it means any Forces of Justice agents who got that far would be able to see everything. But you could choose to do that if you wanted to. So there's a great deal of freedom within the restrictions imposed for any given island.
GameWatcher: Evil Genius 2 allows players to build their lair on multiple levels. How will you ensure that managing a multi-level lair won’t become too overwhelming?
Richard Edwards: One of the things that we want to make sure with following [the action] is that the player never gets overwhelmed at any stage, and that's for all of our systems, not just the multiple floor things. You, as the genius, are focused on the big picture stuff and you say “I want this done now.” and it's up to your minions to go and do that for you. You give big orders and the minions will go away and do that, no matter what floor that is on. If you decide that you actually want a basement barracks, you just say “Give me this basement barracks.” and minions will go and build that, they will go down there and rest whenever they want.
You can set this macro picture and say “I want these things to happen.” and the minions go away and do it, but the player, as you saw in the demo today, is also capable of diving in and micromanaging to a certain extent, putting the genius in a place and saying “Actually, this is what I care about.” It's about balancing that macro big picture – which is what you'll be doing for the majority of the game – and then diving in and micromanaging the bits of the game that you really want to get to grips with.
GameWatcher: The casino is the only cover operation for the player’s evil lair. How will it stay interesting over the course of multiple playthroughs?
Richard Edwards: Although we only have the casino for each evil genius, it is the evil genius themselves that have a different attitude to that cover operation. Red Ivan [is] much more focused on making sure that his enemies are met with rank and file guards to turn away, so he's not going to be as focused on that cover operation, where the genius that we haven't yet talked about publicly is so much more focused on that, she's going to be far more able to train up Deception minions to man that. In addition to basically the size and the scale and the layout of your cover operation, which is just another room type, you can build that as freely as you like.
It is worth noting that you are able to fill that with a number of different items of furniture. For example, if you want to make sure that your tourists and the agents who are invading your lair are met with a false smile and some minions who are going to bamboozle them, you can absolutely put in welcome desks and [inaudible] tables. Whereas if you just want to generate that little bit more money and you don't really mind if agents are able to breeze through there without being distracted, then slot machines are for you, you're going to want to put a lot more of these sort of automated bits of furniture within that cover operation.
GameWatcher: So, it's safe to assume that the geniuses themselves will have an impact on different parts of the gameplay, aside from just their abilities and their weapons.
Richard Edwards: Absolutely. The genius you choose will give you your own narrative campaign, and that campaign will determine the challenges that you're going up against. For example, Ivan – as a deposed warlord – is going to be seeing an awful lot more calls for him to send in Muscle minions into various things and that does then filter down into absolutely the entirety of the rest of the game. If I'm training up so many guards that I can send out, then I don't necessarily have the budget or the minions to build a cover operation as expansive as I otherwise could. I can try it, and I definitely can, but I'm definitely playing against my type.
GameWatcher: How are minions recruited? You mentioned a high turnover rate due to the dangers inherent to the job and the occasional execution. Will players always have a pool of candidates from which to choose?
Richard Edwards: There are so many minions that will be coming through your lair. We don't want to give you the sort of overhead of rubber-stamping applications for your organization. There is a system that will just grab minions from the world map and bring them into your lair, so recruiters behind the scenes select candidates and send them to your lair. Now, they might not always get that right, they might send through somebody who isn't perfectly suited for the job, say, somebody is a bit squeamish, or somebody who is unsuspecting or something of a coward, and those are people that you, as a genius, can then decide to say “You know what? You don't belong in my organization.” and you can either send them straight back out to the world or, as we've just covered, you can terminate their employment fairly effectively.
GameWatcher: The Forces of Justice are Evil Genius 2’s primary antagonist. Do they have their own goals towards which they work or are they more of a reactive faction whose main mission is to thwart the player’s plans?
Richard Edwards: Their main mission is to thwart the player's plans. The Forces of Justice fully rule the world. As a villain, as someone who wants to upset that status quo, you are absolutely that underdog trying to work your way up on top. And the Forces of Justice, they're in a position, we've all seen the good guys get complacent and sit around saying “This world is ours, we'll keep it exactly as it is.” – they are reactive to what you do. If you start committing a lot of crimes in their area, they are absolutely going to respond to you. And, as you progress through the campaign, you might find one or two returning faces who do take more of an active interest in bringing an end to your plans.
GameWatcher: You’ve mentioned stealing gold as a possible scheme that underlings can perform. How do schemes tie into the game’s economy? Are they vital in keeping your Lair running?
Richard Edwards: They are absolutely vital. One of the things that we're aware of is we have a casino which would traditionally make money, but we are using that as the false flag sort of a cover operation to obscure things. Your primary source of income is going to be through criminal activities on the world stage and, for the most part, that is going to take the part of sending minions away to complete various schemes which will bring back gold to your lair.
GameWatcher: Can you detail other schemes that players will be able to use?
Richard Edwards: Absolutely. Let's say I just robbed a whole bunch of banks in an area and I brought in a ton of gold, and now the Forces of Justice are watching me, absolutely scrutinizing that area of the world map. My criminal organization will have gathered a lot of heat at that point, and I am now concerned that the Forces of Justice are going to be attempting to invade my lair with just their very best agents because I've caused that much of a ruckus. At this stage, I can send some minions out, usually Deception minions, to reduce that heat. Now, we can do that through a number of different things; I could potentially send Spin Doctors to bribe politicians to bring that down or, if the opportunity arises, I could maybe send some Hitmen to take out key witnesses and push that heat even lower still.
GameWatcher: Is building the Doomsday Device the only way of achieving victory? If so, are the requirements to build it always the same or can players take different avenues towards its completion?
Richard Edwards: Building the Doomsday Device is the focus of your campaign. As a genius, you are going to quickly realize that you're not only outnumbered, but you're also outmanned, outgunned, the world has got a whole bunch of resources that you don't have, and what you need is an ace up your sleeve. That Doomsday Device is that ace up your sleeve that you can use to bring the world to its knees.
The campaign is going to take you through the narrative of a genius building that device up from the ground, quite literally through the cavern, and then ultimately bringing about their doomsday scenario where they hold the world to ransom. Now, the steps that the player takes to get to that stage, although they are going to be going through the narrative for that genius, they are going to be able to engage with all sorts of optional content. For example, the loot items are entirely optional. If you want to go for them, you can, if you choose not to, if you choose to take a bit of a backwards step and say “Actually, loot items, not for me, I'll just get a couple, I'll get the bare minimum to sort of assert my dominance as an evil genius and then move on.” that's entirely in your control and plays a big part into how players can set the pace of their own game.
Ash Tregay: We also want to make sure that the Doomsday Devices themselves have sufficient variety to keep the player interested through four different campaigns. As Rich mentioned before and in the preview itself, we want to put that power in the player's hands early, but also make sure that each of those Doomsday Devices has a unique effect both in the lair and on the world map. Taking Maximilian's, for example, the Midas Device, as you might work out from the name, basically turns people and objects into gold. Firing that on the world map will then give him a neat way of getting a whole bunch of extra gold very quickly, whereas Ivan's is more about causing raw destruction and then maximizing, capitalizing on the opportunities that destruction then provides.
GameWatcher: Will there be additional modes that don’t feature story-driven gameplay?
Ash Tregay: It's something that we're certainly looking into for Evil Genius 2. We've got nothing to announce at this time but we're certainly looking into other avenues that we can give the player means to explore different game opportunities outside of the core campaigns.
GameWatcher: Judging by the footage shared so far, Evil Genius 2’s stylized visuals seem to blend a dose of seriousness with goofs and slapstick comedy. How did you decide this was the tone you wanted to go for?
Richard Edwards: The tone of Evil Genius 1 really informed the direction that the sequel will go in. But when we look back at all of the classic Bond films, all of the source inspiration for this genre, we do find that everything tends to be a little bit tongue in cheek, a little bit knowing winks saying, “Yes, we know that this spy is going around, telling everybody his name, but let's go with this and have a good time.” We want to make sure that the game is capturing that sense of fun that the source material that we're influenced by has. I think within the team we've referred to it as “guilt-free evil” quite a bit.
Ash Tregay: Yeah, on top of that, obviously, there have been the most recent Bond reincarnation is kind of the gritty reboot, and we do occasionally joke about having a gritty reboot John Steele, who's kind of our Bond parody, but we haven't quite got around to considering whether we want to make that thing or not yet.
GameWatcher: Will Evil Genius 2 feature microtransactions and are there any plans for post-launch DLC?
Ash Tregay: We've got nothing to announce at that point yet, but if you look at our other Rebellion titles, then we do like to make sure that our titles are well-supported post-launch.
Thanks to Rebellion for answering our questions. Evil Genius 2: World Domination launches on PC in the first half of 2021.
Interview edited for clarity.