Julian Gollop Interview

01 Sep 2011

NowGamer has a pretty interesting interview with veteran game designer Julian Gollop, best known for his work on strategy/RPG titles, such as the X-Com series and the Magic & Mayhem titles. In it, he talks about his previous work, as well as the canceled X-Com spiritual successor/remake The Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge:
Were you satisfied with X-COM: Terror From The Deep given that MicroProse gave you such a short development period to create a sequel?

Well, they dragged their heels about it for some bizarre reason, I don’t know why. Eventually they agreed to do a sequel, and they wanted us to do it in six months. We said, ‘Well, we can’t really do anything meaningful in six months except just do new graphics and locations for the existing game.’

They were quite insistent about it so we said, ‘Okay, why don’t you take our code and do the sequel in six months, and we’ll work on the third game and spend longer about it.’ So we actually didn’t have much involvement at all with the first sequel.

Needless to say they took 12 months instead of six, even though their team size was massive compared to ours. I didn’t really play it that much, to be honest. The graphics were quite impressive, but I think they made a mistake trying to expand the scope of the game by making the missions bigger and longer.

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With Magic & Mayhem you updated some of the ideas and themes from Chaos and Lords Of Chaos for a contemporary audience. How successful do you think you were with bringing those ideas to PC gamers?

The idea was to take some concepts from the original Chaos, with a wizard casting spells and summoning lots of creatures, and make a real-time strategy role-playing game. It was partially successful, and we had some arguments with Virgin about the role-playing aspect.

We wanted to make it a little bit more involved, but they kept telling us that role-playing games didn’t sell. Baldur’s Gate hadn’t yet come out when we had this argument…

We wanted something much more RPG-oriented where you had a number of characters with more involved attributes and equipment, while they wanted more focus on real-time strategy. But I think the basic system was very good.

The multiplayer mode worked very well, in fact, and I enjoyed playing it. The single-player game was a bit less successful – it was our first real attempt at more sophisticated level design, the AI of your companions wasn’t good, and it had a number of frustrations for the player.

It was designed first as a multiplayer game and we sort of retrofitted the single-player experience, so it didn’t work so well unfortunately, for me.

What can you tell us about the cancelled The Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge project for Virgin, which was rumoured, in spirit, to be a full 3D version of your original X-COM game?

Yes, it was designed as a sort of remake of X-COM for PC and PlayStation 2, and it was looking very promising actually. We were using a lot of new technology, including the Havok physics engine, which was very new at that stage. At the time we were one of the very few companies that were using it.

It was quite an ambitious project – the closest thing I can relate it to is probably Valkyria Chronicles on the PS3. We had a third-person camera view behind your character with a bar representing your Action Points, which went down as you moved.

When you went into shooting mode it went into a first-person view and you could select snap shots or aimed shots, which altered the size of an aiming circle on screen. So you did the shooting from that view, and went back to the third-person view to move your characters. In fact, when I first played Valkyria Chronicles it was quite eerie because it was a very similar system to what we had with Dreamland.

We also had an interesting destructible terrain system with lots of physics, so you could blow holes in buildings with a rocket launcher and see all the brickwork fly around, then move through the gaps, it was quite advanced for its time. Unfortunately Virgin got taken over by Interplay, who in turn got taken over by Titus Interactive.

Titus had no interest in what we were doing – they were only after Interplay’s assets, and they cancelled the project. But because we had a four-game deal with Virgin and had only done one game for them – Magic & Mayhem – we had no choice but to wind up the company at that point.
Unlike the new XCOM reboot, Dreamland Chronicles was still to be a turn-based game, but sounds like they were doing some interesting things we perspective.