Management strategy games usually let you be a "tycoon" of some sort. Somehow, you end up in charge of a financial empire that controls entire industries. But what if you ended up in control of an international crime cartel? That's the premise of publisher VU Games and developer Elixir Studios' recently completed game Evil Genius. In the game, you'll play as a diabolical criminal mastermind who builds a gigantic trap-laden base from which daring heists are pulled off. However, you must also defend against military attacks and secret-agent infiltrators. For more details, we recently sat down with Elixir's chairman and creative director Demis Hassabis. And if you'd like to try the game yourself, GameSpot proudly presents the download premiere of the Evil Genius demo.
GS: It seems safe to say that Evil Genius draws inspiration from Bullfrog's classic Dungeon Keeper. Were there specific aspects of that game that you wanted to bring over to Evil Genius? And were there specific issues or problems with that game that you wanted to rectify in Evil Genius?
Demis Hassabis: I didn't actually work on Dungeon Keeper, although, obviously, I'm familiar with it, as I left for university straight after finishing my work on Theme Park. Really, the only inspiration drawn from Dungeon Keeper was the idea of giving players the opportunity to be the bad guy. I think the main issue with Dungeon Keeper was its overcomplicated interface, which is something we were also guilty of with Republic, so I was keen to rectify this in Evil Genius. After thousands of hours of extensive play testing, I am confident that we achieved that aim. I believe Evil Genius has a very intuitive and simple-to-use interface.
GS: We know that Evil Genius was inspired, among other things, by the classic spy movies of the 1960s and 1970s, complete with their suave secret agents, diabolical masterminds, lethal traps, and so on. How were you able to stay true to this inspiration while still making sure the game was enjoyable?
DH: I think Evil Genius captures the essence of the '60s spy world very well through its distinct, vibrant art style and humorous animations and sound effects. Making sure a game is fun is a combination of getting these things right, as well as getting the mechanics and interface right.
GS: Tell us about the base-building in Evil Genius. How did the team make sure the game offered an enjoyable base-building experience, but one that also let players create a lair that was truly worthy of an evil genius--with whatever insane traps and torture devices they wished?
DH: There's a huge range of objects and rooms to choose from, from rocket caverns to dojos, and everything else an aspiring evil genius could want. With traps, we wanted a flexible system that would allow players to be creative so that they could come up with nefarious trap combinations. But the key to all this was, again, making the building interface simple and intuitive to use.
GS: Tell us about the combat system in the game. How did the team approach the task of letting players fight off secret agents and strike teams while also maintaining their bases and carrying out their dastardly missions?
DH: At a basic level, combat is handled automatically through the player "tagging" an enemy agent or soldier. Any minions that see them will immediately respond to the tag order and will attack the intruder. The player also has a range of henchmen at his or her disposal--the most powerful weapons in any evil genius's armory--that can be direct-controlled and that come with cool special abilities. They can be used to both deal with particularly tough agents and tip a big battle in the player's favor.
GS: In a larger sense, tell us about how the team made sure to minimize tedious micromanagement to focus the game on enjoyable operations? How can players successfully manage their bases, pull off daring heists, and repel Her Majesty's finest without having to deal with a frustrating interface and without having to keep track of too many buttons, icons, and meters?
DH: From the outset, we decided that the simulation (via the artificial intelligence of the minions) would handle any tedious base maintenance tasks automatically for you, thus freeing up the player's time to concentrate on the important matters at hand, like the dispatching of obnoxiously good superagents or the test-firing of rocket engines.
GS: Now that development on Evil Genius is finally complete, what was the most enjoyable part of making it? And is there a specific aspect of the game you hope players will notice and enjoy too?
DH: I think the most enjoyable part of development was the period of content creation. Once we had our tools and art pipeline set up and had all the features working, it was just a case of creating all of the cool traps and objects in the game, adding animations and sounds, and then testing them. It was definitely the most fun, as on a daily basis, people were crowding 'round each other's desks cackling with glee as agents were dispatched in completely new ways.
There are many things I hope people enjoy--all of the interrogation devices, creating freaks, loads of different Easter eggs--but I really hope that players experiment with the game. Try using the features of the game to create your own strategies. If you are getting attacked in one area, for example, why not use sets of doors to trap your own freaks in? Once the agents break through, they'll wish they hadn't when you unleash the freaks on them.
GS: We have to ask this... Now that Evil Genius is complete, what lies ahead for the game and for Elixir Studios? Can we expect to see any follow-up Evil Genius sequels or expansions...or does Elixir have something else entirely lined up next?
DH: We have many plans to extend the Evil Genius world--multiplayer, island-creation tools, missions, to name a few. Of course, this depends on how well Evil Genius does. Elixir is always working on several games, simultaneously, at different stages of development. We have a new, very ambitious project well under way that we are very excited about that is signed to a major publisher. But we will only be able to start talking about that early next year.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Evil Genius?
DH: We've had a lot of fun making the game and we're confident you'll have a lot of fun playing it!
GS: Looking forward to it. Thanks, Demis.