Republic: The Revolution Q&A

We discuss this ambitious strategy game with Elixir Studios' lead designer Demis Hassabis.

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Strategy games are easily the broadest genre of computer games there is. Some strategy games let you win a war with a show of force. Others let you conquer the world using trade or diplomacy. And there are those that let you build little guys that hit buildings until they catch on fire. Then there's Republic: The Revolution, a distinctive strategy game that will let you play as a single citizen of the small, volatile country of Novistrana. Unlike most of your countrymen, you've got plans to take over the nation by means of political intrigue, manipulating the press, and with good old-fashioned brute force.

Will you be the next leader of Novistrana?
Will you be the next leader of Novistrana?

We've only seen Republic a few times at various trade shows, like E3, but each time we've seen the game, it's seemed more and more intriguing. Republic's characters actually resemble those of the smash-hit life simulator The Sims, in that they speak an expressive (but unintelligible) gibberish language and move and speak with equally expressive gestures and body language. However, Republic's subject matter is considerably more gritty and stark than Maxis' lighthearted game--we've seen demonstrations of the measures you can take to seize power in Republic, which include applying beatings to noted members of the community or setting up a zealous student to be a martyr and die for your cause. But we've also seen the game get pushed back a few times and have read about various changes that have been made to it--for instance, 2867770at this year's E3 , we saw an example of Republic's multipart objective system, in which you'll constantly be tasked with performing different goals in your quest for power. We checked in with lead designer Demis Hassabis about these changes and also to get a general progress report of this ambitious game's development.

GameSpot: Thanks for taking the time for this interview, Demis. Can you briefly discuss your background and describe the work you're doing on Republic: The Revolution?

Demis Hassabis: At 15 I worked at Bullfrog as a level designer and then progressed on from there to co-create Theme Park at 17. Then after my degree from Cambridge I was a senior programmer at the newly started Lionhead. I worked on Black & White for eight months before leaving to set up Elixir. I work as the lead designer on Republic, but I'm also involved with the AI architecture and scripting.

GS: Though we've very much been looking forward to Republic, we haven't heard much about the game recently. Could you briefly describe the game's background and discuss your sources of inspiration for the game's design and concept?

"We've been trying to recreate the epic nature of these...events and put the player in them as the center of attention."--Demis Hassabis, Elixir Studios

DH: The inspiration came from many different sources: books, films, real-world events, and board games. The initial thought first came into my head when I played the classic board game Junta for the first time with friends [in college]. There was also the brilliant first edition of Illuminati, a cool card game about secret societies and networks. Then on the simulation side I had ideas for trying to create something much more intricate and detailed than I had ever been involved in (for example with Theme Park) or seen done before (for example [with] Sim City 2000). Part of this was fueled by the seminal book Crowds and Power by Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti, which describes the whole of human history in terms of crowds and mob power, something that is central to some of the macro-behaviors we have in the AI of Republic. Aside from that, we've been heavily influenced by real-world events such as the 1991 communist uprising in Russia. And trying to re-create the epic nature of these sorts of events and put the player in them as the center of attention is a large part of the vision behind the game.

The Price of Ambition

There are subtle, and not-so-subtle ways to get your point across.
There are subtle, and not-so-subtle ways to get your point across.

GS: How far along is Republic? What aspects of the game is the team currently working on now?

DH: At the moment we are concentrating hard on balancing the game properly and tweaking the basic mechanisms to ensure that it is as entertaining and satisfying as possible. We are also in the process of replacing placeholder work with the final content.

GS: When do you expect the game to be finished? What's left to be done?

DH: We expect to finish development toward the end of the year. It's a case of honing and polishing what we have and adding final content where it is required.

GS: When we first saw Republic at E3 2001, we knew right away that a game of this sort--one that lets players take control of an entire country using various forms of political intrigue--would be ambitious indeed. Can you discuss what sort of changes the design of Republic has undergone since it was conceived?

"You actually feel like you are there and that what you are doing is making a difference to the people on the streets."
DH: There are several minor things that we really would have liked to put in, simply for cool factor and completeness. Things like animals, birds, and children have been cut because we felt that our time would be better spent on the game itself. The game structure has also evolved. We found that players were lost in the vastness of the world. The number of possibilities baffled many players, so we have created a loose objectives system that gives the player something more solid to aim for. The system is dynamic and adjusts depending on how the player is performing and how they have chosen to approach the game. Republic is still just as open-ended, but now the objectives system acts as "sign posts" in the sea of potential actions. This way the players can orientate themselves.

Another thing we have revised is the number of locations. This is really a sense of scale. Do you conquer hundreds of cities and towns, or do you work more slowly, more realistically, and conquer hundreds of districts within each city? We found that the district solution plugs you into the soul of each location. It allows you, as the player, to get to know each location intimately: who shops where, what the daily routines are like, and the particular ebb and flow of each unique city. Before, you would flit from town to town, and you would never really care what each place was like except on a statistical level. It felt like just another resource. Although there is the same amount of game in terms of the number of areas, there is a much greater and more intimate connection to the world. You actually feel like you are there and that what you are doing is making a difference to the people on the streets. This has been a big breakthrough in how it feels to play Republic.

Power to the People

GS: Can you discuss how Republic's mission structure will work? When we checked in with you at E3 2002, we learned that the game will generally present players with five goals at any time and that any three must be accomplished to continue. Could you discuss how the goals system will affect your character's development? How will the goals system tie into Republic's mission structure?

Novistrana: a grim police state, or an empire waiting to be seized?
Novistrana: a grim police state, or an empire waiting to be seized?

DH: It's the character development that affects the goals system rather than the other way around. The way you choose to develop your character and your faction means that certain goals will be easier and more attractive to you, while still letting you attempt to complete any of them. The objectives system is the mission structure, so I suppose they tie together intimately in that they are one and the same thing. The goals system also helps to create the learning curve. It does this by introducing you to the play pattern of developing your character's actions, gathering nuggets of information, and then acting upon them.

GS: Speaking of mission structures, how will Republic's campaign game be laid out? Will the campaign branch into different missions depending on the actions you've taken and what sort of leader you've created? About how many missions will the final game have?

DH: The campaign game is the process of going from obscurity to overthrowing the president and seizing power. The missions are a separate entity. They are challenges that ask you to achieve a certain objective with one hand tied behind your back, such as generating an amount of influence using only two recruits.

GS: One of the most intriguing things about Republic is the distinctive way in which it will use some of the features of The Sims--characters will speak gibberish and be expressively animated but will serve real purposes in order to accomplish complex goals. But how developed will Republic's artificial intelligence be? How much of a role will it play when carrying out missions? Will morale or loyalty be involved?

DH: All citizens in Republic will have their own daily routines, beliefs, and motivations. The player will have to learn how to best manipulate the masses to further their cause. Helping the player to do this will be a number of "key characters" recruited by the player to the faction's inner circle. They will be used to carry out actions that will affect the way the masses think. Attributes such as their loyalty and morale will affect how well they execute actions as well as determine how much trust the player can place in them.

GS: We've known Republic to be an ambitious project from the start. What's been the most difficult part of developing the game so far? For instance, has the team found working with Republic's fully 3D graphics engine to be especially challenging?

"We are re-creating a whole living, breathing country in minute detail."
DH: Our continuous level-of-detail graphics engine, Totality, has probably been the hardest single piece of technology we've had to create. Also, several parts of the underlying AI architecture are groundbreaking, and it's been a complex piece of technology to build too. However, I would say that we have invested the largest amount of development time building industrial-strength design tools that are robust and efficient enough to allow our designers to create the vast amount of content needed by a game such as Republic.

GS: Conversely, what do you currently consider to be the best feature of Republic so far? What aspects of the game do you think players will enjoy the most?

DH: The fact that we are re-creating a whole living, breathing country in minute detail. The sheer size, scale, and realism of the gameworld. The enormous amount of freedom the player has. And its cinematic feel and look.

GS: Thanks for your time, Demis.

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