Evil Genius Designer Diary #1

Executive designer Demis Hassabis explains why you will want to be an evil genius and try to take over the world.

Anyone familiar with Hollywood movies knows that no matter how diabolically clever the plan, the criminal mastermind always fails in the end. But that won't be the case in Evil Genius, the upcoming strategy game from Vivendi Universal Games and British developer Elixir Studios. Evil Genius will let you play as, well, an evil genius out to take over the world! From your tropical island base, you'll construct an elaborate underground facility where you'll train henchmen to commit dastardly deeds, like steal the Eiffel Tower. Meanwhile, your scientists will research the ultimate doomsday device so that you can blackmail nations. And to camouflage your activities, you'll operate a world-class tropical resort on your island. Tourists will bask on the sandy beach, not knowing that beneath lies the lair of a criminal mastermind. Of course, governments will dispatch commandos and secret agents to try to disrupt your activities. To welcome them, you'll have to design elaborate traps--the more over-the-top the better! That's because Evil Genius is inspired by the likes of Austin Powers, so the idea is to have lots of fun while you're busy trying to take over the world.

As an evil genius, your job will be to build the ultimate doomsday weapon to blackmail the world.

Why Evil Genius?

By Demis Hassabis
Executive Designer, Elixir Studios

I first had the kernel of the idea for Evil Genius way before Elixir had even started. I was chilling out on a remote and idyllic island in Thailand (very much like the Evil Genius lair!) after my graduation, when the initial idea came to me: Wouldn't it be fun to play the role of a mad criminal mastermind bent on world domination? It seemed a simple and fun premise for a game, and the more I thought about it the better the concept appeared. Also, when I started to tentatively think about details, such as control and scope, the ideas flowed easily--always a really promising sign that a high concept is good. So as a reminder to myself, I wrote down a very brief note in my design notebook that I always keep with me--a six-letter concept: "Be Dr. No."

Elixir always maintains a large stock of game ideas at any one time. When it came to choosing the next game to follow Republic, we made a conscious decision to do something that contrasted with the seriousness of Republic, something a lot more lighthearted. A tongue-in-cheek game was therefore the natural choice, and Evil Genius was born. From the beginning, the aim was to make the most amusing strategy game around, whilst not compromising depth. A game that people would have loads of fun playing and one the team would have lots of fun making! So far we seem to have succeeded in this aim, with many a journalist coming away from their preview chuckling mightily.

Inspiration for the game has come from many places. I've always loved spy films from mainstream fare such as Bond, Mission: Impossible, and Austin Powers to the more obscure, the Fu Manchu movies, for example. Aspects of the game have also been influenced by other classics not strictly in the spy genre, such as Enter the Dragon and Flash Gordon. I'm sure most people have at one time or another wanted, just once, for the cool archvillain to triumph over the sickeningly smug superagent. In fact, a lot of people after seeing the game often remark, "This seems like a really obvious idea for a game. Why hasn't it been done before?" This is always a pleasing thing to hear, as often the best game ideas elicit this kind of response.

Commando teams will try to infiltrate your island to wreak havoc on your evil plans.

Although Evil Genius is a totally unique concoction of features that looks, feels, and plays differently from anything else, as with any game there's some DNA in there from other classic games, namely X-Com, Dungeon Keeper, and Theme Park. All three of those games feature simulation, missions, and base building. Whilst we tried to distill what worked and what was addictive in those games, for the most part we've tried to strike our own path, attempting to take the simulation/strategy genre in new and fresh directions.

It's Fun Being Evil

But an idea is nothing without the right team to implement it. And we are lucky to have a very talented team working on Evil Genius. Our lead designer is Sandy Sammarco; he heads up the design on a day-to-day basis and injects the game with his own unique brand of eccentricity and humor. My role is that of executive designer, which means meeting with Sandy and Pete Gilbert (the producer) on a regular basis to see where we are with the project and agree on which direction we should go in next. I'm also there to act as a sounding board for any difficult design decisions and make sure that the original vision of the game is maintained. Our lead programmer is Alex Thomson, and he has done admirably well in coping with the incessant stream of unreasonable demands made on him by the evil designers.

Guards and laser gates are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to base defense.

We also have some fantastic artists working for us. Our lead artist, Brian Gillies, wanted a shiny "atomic age" '60s style for the game, a sort of "beautiful people in a beautiful world" feel, and I think you'll agree that the game looks really fresh and striking as a result. Our visual director, Siku, who was once described by David Bishop (former editor of Judge Dredd Magazine and 2000AD) as "one of Britain's best young comic book painters," has excelled himself in designing some truly fantastic characters ably brought to life by our character artist extraordinaire, Matt Clark.

Developing Evil Genius has been a pleasure. We have spent just over two years working full time on the title, and it's coming together extremely well. Deciding what challenges an Evil Genius should face while plotting world domination has been an interesting task for the design team and me. Certain elements of the game warranted immediate inclusion. Naturally there had to be an underground volcanic lair. Without question there had to be a multitude of nefarious traps (with giant lasers), and the disposal of agents in fiendish but amusing ways was a given. The game also required a way for the Evil Genius to develop his or her vicious master plan. A research lab suggested itself, with diverse pieces of technology that could be used to discover exciting new objects for the player's base as well as in the construction of the ultimate doomsday device, whilst also being employed in the secondary function of the aforementioned disposal of agents.

You have to take care of your henchmen, hence this cafeteria, which can also be used to torture captured agents.

But perhaps the mechanic we are most proud of is that of "gloating." No self-respecting Evil Genius would be caught dead dispatching his foes in an efficient, sensible, and painless way. No! The more convoluted the better. So we had to come up with a mechanic that would reward the player for properly playing in the manner of an Evil Genius, and so gloating was born. When an agent is captured, the player can stand outside the agent's holding cell and laugh maniacally at the agent. The more the player gloats, the more notoriety he or she gains (notoriety is the measure of the player's respect in the criminal underworld and is key to progress through the game). But the more the player gloats, the more chance there is that it will backfire, allowing the agent to turn the tables and escape.

Sadly, that's all there's room for in this installment of the diary. But over the next couple of months other members of the team will be divulging details on their particular areas of the development. So far it's been a great deal of fun making this game, and we are confident that when you get your hands on it this fall you'll have at least as much fun playing it!

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