GameSpot recently talked with Trevor Chan, the lead designer at Enlight Software and the creator of the Capitalism and Seven Kingdoms strategy games. His latest game, Capitalism II, recently arrived in stores. Chan talked to us about the game's development, how he first got into the game industry, how he balances educational and entertainment elements in his games, his plans for future games, and what he would like to include in Capitalism III.
GameSpot: Your latest game, Capitalism II, is now in stores. How long was the game in development?
Trevor Chan: The game was in development for more than 18 months.
GS: What was the biggest challenge in making a sequel to Capitalism?
TC: The original Capitalism is known for its realistic and intricate simulation of the business world, and admittedly its learning curve can be fairly steep for new players. When it comes to developing the sequel, the biggest challenge posed to us was how to add new features on top of its already extensive base of features and yet make the game easier to learn and play than its predecessors. We worked toward this objective by streamlining the interface and improving the tutorial system. For instance, now the player no longer has to look for suppliers on the map. Replacing this tedious process is a window listing all the suppliers matching your selection criteria. The new city view, which is graphically much richer, is also part of the effort to increase the game's user-friendliness to new players.
GS: Do you have any plans to make Capitalism III? If so, what features would you like to add?
TC: A couple of years ago, we all saw the Internet craze and the tremendous wealth it created on the stock market. While the bubble has burst, the e-business revolution that it triggered in the corporate world has not. Capitalism was modeled on an economic structure that served us well for the majority of the 20th century until the digital economy started to profoundly shape how a business operates.
If I am going to develop Capitalism III, the biggest change will definitely come from the transformation from the traditional economy to the digital economy. Among many of its implications, strategies that are so favorably used by Capitalism veterans like vertical integration will instantly become obsolete, as the new economy values ideas, technologies, and brands significantly over physical capital.
Imagine a game that lets you re-create all the glories of the Internet boom and subsequently experience the fallouts of dot-coms in the virtual world. A skilled player can make a difference by letting the virtue of the digital revolution lead your corporation to success, instead of failing miserably like many of the tech companies in the real world did. This idea is so fascinating to me that I have already started doing preliminary design on what should be a logical progression of the Capitalism series.
GS: The original Capitalism games, and more recently Virtual U, have been used as educational tools. What have you done to design your games to appeal to both educators and a more general gaming audience?
TC: To design a game appealing to both audiences, striking a good balance between realism and gameplay is crucial. Educators are very demanding on realism, whereas gamers in general are more forgiving about oversights in realism and are driven mostly by gameplay. Brutally put, if a game is not fun, no matter how educational it is, gamers are not going to buy it. The distinctively different preferences of the two market segments require the game designer to consistently conceive and evaluate the game design from the perspectives of both sides throughout the course of the development.
For the Capitalism series, I attempted to immerse myself in the academic world by reading an extensive list of academic books on the subject during the early stage of the development. On the other hand, the gaming perspective came relatively effortlessly, as I have always been a gamer.
For Virtual U, which is a university simulation, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to co-design the game with Professor William Massy, who formerly served as vice president at Stanford University. He is a well-recognized expert in higher education management and was instrumental in developing Virtual U's highly realistic simulation model.
GS: How did you first get into game development? What did you do before Capitalism?
TC: I started making games on a part-time basis while I had day job working for an airline company as a programming consultant on a sales system. My first game was developed for a local television network for promotional proposes, and it was released about 10 years ago. The game was a strategy game about managing TV programs and competing with your peer program managers. I recall that it ran on machine with a VGA 320x200 256-color video display, which was considered cutting-edge then.
Although the game's purpose was for promotion only and did not get much attention from the gaming community, the fun and rewarding experience of developing my first game propelled me to undertake a larger scale game development project on my own, which eventually became the first Capitalism, after two and a half years of development.
GS: You also created the Seven Kingdoms strategy games, which are set in a fantasy universe. What inspired you to switch from a real-world economic simulation to a fantasy empire-building strategy game, and then back?
TC: I am a big fan of Civilization. And like many gamers, I was hooked by real-time strategy games when they first came out in the mid-'90s. Expectedly, my dream game would be a real-time strategy game with the empire-building elements of Civilization. However, there was not such a game on the market at that time, and this meant that I would have to make the game myself if I wanted to play it. From the business point of view, it indicated that there was a market underserved and room for developing such a title.
The fantasy elements were added to the game after the empire-building part was solid. I always enjoy seeing and playing with wildly imagined creatures in games. Since I could not do that with Capitalism, doing it with Seven Kingdoms was a chance that I couldn't afford to miss.
After developing two Seven Kingdoms games in a row, I was up for a change in design direction. I also felt obliged to make an up-to-date version of Capitalism for those gamers who still play previous Capitalism versions whose graphics are quite dated. Therefore, making the sequel to Capitalism was a rational decision to me after completing Seven Kingdoms II.
GS: Are there any plans for a Seven Kingdoms III?
TC: There are no concrete plans for Seven Kingdoms III yet. But I have something on the drawing board that may take Seven Kingdoms to a new frontier. I figure that it will take months before I can tell conclusively whether the concept has enough merits to be taken seriously as a game project.
GS: Do you plan to explore other types of games in the future? If so, what other kinds of games, strategy or otherwise, are you interested in?
TC: My team at Enlight has been developing a hotel simulation game for some time now, and it should be completed early next year. It will be the first game that lets the player build a hotel and have all the satisfactions of watching your virtual customers enjoying your hotel's services in vivid 3D.
Enlight also has a couple of secret projects in preproduction phases. They are bolder projects than what we have undertaken before and promise to defy the boundaries of strategy, business sim, and RPG gaming, seamlessly integrating different gaming elements into unique gaming experiences.
GS: Thanks for your time, Trevor.
For more information about Capitalism II, take a look at our previous coverage of the game, and stay tuned for our full review tomorrow.