We speak with Demis Hassabis for a final update on Elixir's game of political intrigue before it's released next week.
Elixir Studios' Republic will be a game about political intrigue. In it, players will assume the role of an ambitious upstart in a politically turbulent Eastern European country. The game has seen numerous delays, though it's finally scheduled to ship near the end of this month. We sat down with Elixir Studios' Demis Hassabis for a final update on the ambitious game. You can find more information on Republic in our previous coverage.
GameSpot: Though we realize that you may not be at liberty to discuss many exact details, many fans have been waiting on Republic for some time. What were some of the reasons the game was delayed? Were technical issues involved, or were there additional features that the team wanted to get in before the game finally shipped?
Demis Hassabis: Yes, it's been far from an ideal state of affairs! At the outset we simply underestimated the time it would take to create all the complex pieces of technology needed to make Republic. Add to this the inevitable distractions of building up a company from nothing, and then in retrospect it is not surprising things have taken as long as they have. We have certainly learned from our experiences, though, and we can promise this will not happen again on our future projects.
GS: Now that most of Republic's development is nearing completion, what part of the development process would you say was the most challenging?
DH: Probably the most difficult part has been developing the vast amount of proprietary, cutting-edge technology--graphics and AI--needed to power a game such as this. A lot of new, innovative techniques were needed in order for us to be able to realize the scale and detail we wanted to portray in the cities.
GS: What aspect of Republic are you and the team most proud of?
DH: The detail, complexity, and overall beauty of the cities. Also, realizing our initial vision of making a game whose gameplay and premise were different from anything else out there.
GS: Republic has seemed like an ambitious game from the outset, especially considering its powerful 3D engine and complex character AI. What aspect of the game do you think will seem most impressive to players once the game is released?
DH: Apart from the cutting-edge visuals and the behavior of the citizens, I think the scope of what the game covers will be impressive to players. It charts the whole of a revolutionary power struggle from beginning to end! I also think the players will find the amount of freedom they have refreshing in deciding how to complete a particular goal.
GS: One of the most interesting aspects of the game is the way it lets you emphasize three different things during your rise to power: wealth, influence, and force. Presumably, each represents an equally viable means to succeed in the game. Were these three areas difficult to balance against each other?
DH: Yes, they were difficult to balance. Not only in terms of viability, but also in terms of making each path equally accessible and exciting. To begin with, most people preferred to use force, but as we gradually tweaked the game mechanics and characters, it became equally viable and enjoyable to complete the game in any combination of the three ways.
GS: Another of Republic's distinct features is its use of huge, clockwork cities populated by citizens with regular daily routines, similar to the Grand Theft Auto series. What do these clockwork cities add to Republic?
DH: They provide the player with immediate contextual feedback as to the consequences of the actions they perform. Stick up posters demanding freedom and watch passersby take an interest in them. Start an army recruitment drive and see the military presence around town increase. Create a crime syndicate and watch petty crime incidents soar, and so on. The visual world also allows you to keep tabs on what other factions may be doing and counter the actions they carry out. Finally, watching an action's visuals will give the player clues as to how successful that action is. For example, the success of a speech is related to the number of people in the crowd and their reactions.
GS: You've mentioned to us previously that books like Crowds and Power and tabletop games such as Junta and Illuminati helped inspire you. Other than pay tribute to these sources, what other goals were you trying to accomplish with Republic? Was there a larger message about human society and/or politics that you were trying to communicate? How does Republic convey this message?
DH: I really wanted to try and make a game that said something about an important aspect of the world at large and dealt with wider issues not normally seen in games. I also wanted to give players of the game a glimpse into the machinations that go on behind the scenes of a real-life revolutionary struggle. I think we achieved both of those things with Republic.
GS: Republic's intriguing premise has caught the attention of many of our readers, but several of them are concerned about the game's future, especially considering the fact that Elixir Studios is already working on a completely different project, Evil Genius, for a completely different publisher. What lies ahead for Republic, in terms of both future support for the original game and potential expansion packs or sequels?
DH: We have many exciting plans for Republic's future, from new actions, cities, and characters to totally new settings. But perhaps the thing we would most like to do would be multiplayer. Republic's design and premise lend themselves pretty naturally to multiplayer, with different players controlling different factions, and maybe even someone controlling the president! The core systems were actually tested internally in a multiplayer test bed, but unfortunately, we could not include multiplayer with the initial release, as it would have involved a ton more development and testing time. All these plans are dependent on how well Republic does.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Republic?
DH: We're proud of the fact that we've created a truly unique game that we think people will enjoy. If the subject matter of the game appeals to you at all, we urge you to try the game and see for yourselves!
GS: Thanks, Demis.
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