A Wizard Idea: Why Gollop’s Remaking Chaos

By Alec Meer on November 5th, 2012 at 11:00 am.

What a wizard wheeze

Friday’s shock announcement that X-COM co-creator Julian Gollop is creating a version of Chaos, his nigh-on legendary, wizard-based strategy game for the Spectrum, is the best gaming news in forever. But with zero known about it and even some concerns that his little-used, little-followed (at the time) Twitter account was the real deal, a whole slew of concerns can be assuaged by the development blog he’s set up to cover the making of the new game.


In the first major post, he addresses just why he’d remake/sequelise Chaos, which is now 27 years old. Short answer: because it’s amazing, because its values should translate well to a modern game, because people keep requesting it, and because he’s left Ubisoft (where he’s been working on mobile versions of franchise titles such as Ghost Recon and Assassin’s Creed for a half-decade) to work from home on his own projects. He also acknowledges that starting his new indie studio with a game that already has “some traction” is probably a wise move.

The most fascinating part of the post, for me, is his fascination with randonmness in games – a large part of the Chaos/Laser Squad/X-COM lineage, as anyone who’s ever miraculously survived thanks to a lucky shot will know – but something that was apparently steered clear from by his colleagues at Ubisoft. “They want more determinant decision making based more on skill than on luck. However, randomness does inject a fair dose of tension and fun into a game.”

Certainly, I personally incline towards games where there isn’t a certainty of outcome – the high stakes gamble element. Whereas playing Assassin’s Creed III this weekend, as well as wanting to hurl the disc into the sun when the tutorial showed no signs of ending even after five bloody hours of being told what to do, I was reflecting on the fact that it’s a very much a game of controls. Press the right buttons in the right order according to which situation you’re presented with (pack of guards, angry bear, chasing a piece of paper floating on the breeze, etc) and you can be absolutely assured of victory. An exact outcome, in fact. The predictable behaviours and need for control mastery gives the game an overwhelming mechanical feel despite the noble attempts to create a busy, organic world. Even within an open world, there is no scope at all for surprise, and surprise – plus the anecdotes that can stem from it – is what I crave.

I digress. This is why I can’t play games purely for fun anymore. Stupid brain of mine. Back to the point: X-COM, and before it Chaos, is the grand master of tension from the random, so I’m entirely incapable of anything other than slightly fanboyish excitement about what this new Chaos may bring. And I’ll be following its devblog closely.

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57 Comments »

  1. GallonOfAlan says:

    Yes! Right back to the days of Minter and Braybrook in Zzap! 64, I’ve loved a good dev diary.

    • Premium User Badge Llewyn says:

      Ah yes, I remember being so excited about Morpheus, and that dev diary triggering so much optimism for the future of gaming. And then I couldn’t afford it when it eventually came out, and have still never played it…

      • GallonOfAlan says:

        Morpheus was an impressive technical feat but not a great game.

  2. Richie Shoemaker says:

    I was a huge fan of the Lords sequel. It was the game my Spectrum died playing, so it died happy. Hooray for the return of the gooey blob!

    Has it been decided as to what’s happening with Laser Squad Nemesis?

  3. Dan Griliopoulos says:

    I was chatting to an educational psychologist for Gamesindustry.biz earlier in the year; IIRC, there’s evidence that men are motivated by random reward structures and women by fixed ones. Neuroscientific evidence, that is.

    “So Howard-Jones doesn’t just advocate using games in the classroom; his research also provides lessons for how teaching should change on the basis of what gaming has shown us about the chemical pathways in the brain. Notably, dopamine release is maximised not by certain rewards or by wholly unexpected rewards, but by uncertain rewards, which produce a long dopamine tail from the moment of anticipated reward. “That may explain why a lot of situations in gambling and gaming generate a lot of motivation.” Youngsters given the choice between a certain reward and a gamble that, on average, produces the same reward are more likely to go for the gamble – and boys much more than girls.

    It seems strange that we’d have this attraction to uncertain reward; one would think that the brain would orient attention towards certain reward rather than uncertain reward, but Howard-Jones can point to an evolutionary explanation. “To explain something in evolutionary terms, we often have to go back to prehistoric practices hunter-gathering. Foraging behaviour can be totally modelled by the reward response, using neuro-computational modelling. On the other hand hunting means you have to sustain attention for a long time and the outcomes are very, very uncertain. We also find that this mechanism is more present in males than in females.”

    More here: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2012-02-06-saving-education-through-games-addiction

    • MOKKA says:

      As someone who as some knowledge about human evolution I feel obliged to say that every explanation coming from ‘evolutionary psychologists’ is nothing more then wild speculations based on observations of present day hunter-gatherer societies. Whether or not those groups are representative of our past is not within our abilities to find out.

      Therefore, please be careful, when reading statements like the one above: It might sound logical, but since we have no way of finding out whether or not it’s true, it’s still nothing more then a nice story.

      • sinister agent says:

        To be fair, he doesn’t seem to be an evolutionary psychologist, and it’s not clear from the article how seriously he takes the suggestion that this particular explanation is an accurate one. There’s nothing wrong with a scientist taking a potshot at an explanation for their findings, as long as they don’t treat it as anything more than an untested possibility.

        The findings are what they are, and they’re the interesting part.

        • MOKKA says:

          Sadly it’s not so much about how the scientist sees it, as it is about how the people reading this shit see it, and that’s what I’m concerned about.
          Sure, it might be idle speculation, but if you look at the article you can see that it’s not presented as such. There is no distinct differenciation between his scientific findings and this stuff and how should a person, who has no knowledge about evolutionary theory or science in general, know the difference?

          I had to deal with too much of this kind of crap in the last few years to simply let something like this go past me without issuing a warning.

          • sinister agent says:

            Well yes, absolutely, I agree. But as far as we can tell (and as is most likely, going by typical meeja science reporting standards), it’s not the psychologist who’s at fault for that.

    • Yosharian says:

      That… is very interesting, thank you for sharing that

    • belgand says:

      Odd. While I realize that it isn’t an absolute blanket I’m still far, far more likely to take the guaranteed reward. Even in games I typically refuse to gamble with fake money that I have a ton of. I’ve spent time making small, slow, careful bets even at no-stakes casino nights where if I run out of play money I can just get more from a big pile by the door.

      Something about a bush, birds, and having a hand in IIRC. Never made a lot of sense either, I mean, who isn’t shaved these days? Maybe it’s an aphorism for the 70s.

    • Fitzmogwai says:

      Dan, did he also ask you to throw off your mental chains?

  4. President Weasel says:

    He’s been spending some time in the Gollop Chamber, and come out with an excellent idea.

  5. rustybroomhandle says:

    Suddenly all depressed about Mike Singleton again.

  6. Premium User Badge Mungrul says:

    I really did enjoy Chaos, but my enduring favourite Gollop game was Rebel Star, the £1.99 game with the single player game on side one of the tape, the 2 player on the other side.
    Leeder Krennon forever.

    • wodin says:

      Rebel Star for me aswell…then laser squad..then Xcom…never played Chaos..

    • beikul says:

      Rebelstar was my favourite too, in fact one of my favourite games full stop. The AI was predictable but I spent many happy hours on the hardest difficulty going for perfect wins. The single player also worked well as a hot-seat co-op; a friend and I used to divide the troops in two.

      Chaos was also excellent, particularly multiplayer. The whole ‘illusion’ mechanic was brilliant.

  7. Taidan says:

    Yay, a second crack at the single biggest cause of fights and fallings out between me and my friends when we were but nippers.

    As long as the local hotseat mode is still there, and all alliances/team modes are strictly “gentlemans’ agreements” and not actually enforced by the game in any way, I much anticipate a wondrous future full of backstabbing, betrayal and various other forms of vicious conflict for a new generation of Chaos players.

  8. derbefrier says:

    Hmm 27 years old huh no wonder I have never heard of it. I was 4 years old when this came outn which makes it hard to get even remotely excited about this.

    • Premium User Badge Bluerps says:

      Same for me. I didn’t have a Spectrum, and neither did any of my friends. The classics of that system are completely unknown to me.

      • frightlever says:

        You missed classics like Super Bam-man, Octoploria, Resumé Dash and Clatter Clatter. Fortunately you can still play them all by emulation.

    • Premium User Badge Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Sir, you appear to be situated upon my lawn. Vacate its vicinity immediately!

    • sinister agent says:

      You’re older than me, and I’m quite pleased at the news.

    • Soon says:

      I didn’t realise it was that old. I only knew it from some covertape (I think it was black and yellow) some years later. I’d practically live at my friend’s house where we’d play it all day.

  9. belgand says:

    That the man behind X-COM has spent the better chunk of the decade toiling away at ignorable mobile spin-off games for Ubisoft is a crime. It’s a shame he never ended up with a better developer who would actually put his talents to proper use. I certainly hope he can make a solid go of this.

    • frightlever says:

      I don’t remember the Gollops making any inroads into the world of 3D so it’s entirely possible he never acquired the skillset to make AAA games with a major developer.

    • Answermancer says:

      He worked on Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars which is a rich turn-based tactical game not unlike X-COM for the 3DS. It’s one of the best launch (or at least early) games for the 3DS, and still one of the best games for the system.

      Dismissing it as an “ignorable mobile spin-off game” is insulting.

  10. bill says:

    I got all excited when I thought there was going to be a Chaos Overlords remake. Sigh.

  11. minerwilly says:

    Why is he remaking Chaos? Because its the greatest computer game of all time. That is all.

  12. wodin says:

    Just think..if the recent XCo game hadn’t been made..he’d probably be making a new XCom game..now that really is a pisser..cos no matter how good the recent one is\was..Gollops would have been so much ebtter..

    • Supahewok says:

      If Firaxis made the new Xcom, he obviously lost the rights to the franchise some time ago, if he ever had them to begin with. So no, I doubt he would have made a new Xcom in any case. However, seeing Xcom remade by someone other than him may actually have been a motivation to do his own work again.

      • Hematite says:

        X-Com was published by Microprose, so I imagine the IP trailed along with the Civilisation IP somehow

  13. Mr. Mister says:

    Now that we have the relativistic game engine covered, it’d be time to get some results on the quantum RNG that can be operated by a classic computer.

    …this is probably the stupidest thing I’ve said.

  14. patricio says:

    The version by “Quirky” for Android (as was mentioned in the earlier thread) is great. My “spell failed” curses have enlivened many a tired commuter’s journey for the past few days.

    • DyingTickles says:

      I can’t find it. Please help a poor fool find this Chaos re-make

  15. epmode says:

    I hope I’m not the only person reading these comments that loves X-COM but hasn’t even heard of Chaos! Yeah, yeah, American, no Spectrum.

  16. pupsikaso says:

    I like randomness in games, too, but I don’t like it when the randomness comes in the form of my character’s abilities. For example if use an ability and it misses and I die because of it I don’t really say “oh golly gee! That was fun, Haha! Let’s try again!”. No, I say “this isn’t fair. I’ve done everything I could correctly but still lost.”

    So I prefer that randomness comes from outside, from things in games that I cannot control. For example look at Dwarf Fortress. The game is so absolutely fair and yet it is completely based on random things occurring to mess up your day, and that’s completely fine with me.

    • epmode says:

      I would agree with that if X-COM didn’t have the base strategy layer over the battle tactical layer. A large part of the game is minimizing the effect of inevitable losses. It’s as much about the big picture as it is the individual snap shots.

    • sinister agent says:

      Randomness needs to be done very carefully if it’s to work in the game’s favour, yeah. Even people who like some of it in their games would agree that it can be done badly, I’m sure.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Yes. Randomness adds variety and uncertainty to game situations, which is a good thing. However, too much risk, or un-managable risk, removes the point of the game. If winning or losing comes down to a dice roll I have no control overy – why bother playing at all?

  17. Oathbreaker says:

    Hell to the yes. Never played Chaos afaik, but did have a ZX28. The players who are driven by “fairness” and having “control” are the people who want their skill and ability to do everything right in the right order to be recognized and have their egos stroked.

    I’d rather have my skill and knowledge show in preparing for horrible things to happen. If there’s no risk there’s little emotional investment for me, and not much reward. Most console games and competitive multiplayer titles these days there’s no risk. They just cater to the players’ power fantasy. To hell with that.

    • Gnarf says:

      ‘The players who are driven by “fairness” and having “control” are the people who want their skill and ability to do everything right in the right order to be recognized and have their egos stroked.’

      THAT IS THE ONLY POSSIBLE REASON FOR PREFERRING CHESS OVER YAHTZEE YOU ARE SO RIGHT MAN HIGH FIVE BRO

  18. Strangerator says:

    I love randomness in games. I like when I am personally presented with a unique situation, because only I can make the decision of what to do next. When every single person playing a game has the exact same experience, I have a hard time enjoying the game. I want procedurally generated everything, so that I’m having an experience unique from everyone else’s (including my own previous experiences). X-com proved that with enough randomly generated elements, you can have a game that always feels different.

    Games need to be capable of variation to hold our interest for the duration of a playthrough. Some games rely solely on the player’s input to produce their variation. These games usually only keep our interest for one trip through the game.

    When games themselves intentionally create variation at the same time the player does, you seem to get a lot more milage out of a game.

  19. AimHere says:

    “In the first major post, he addresses just why he’d remake/sequelise Chaos”

    If you’ve followed Julian Gollop’s career, why would he NOT remake Chaos? He’s done almost nothing BUT remake/sequelize his first two Spectrum Games. Other than his really early work (and some of the stuff he did lately for cash at Ubisoft), all of his games have variations on either RebelStar Raiders or Chaos.

    That’s not really a criticism. Some designers (the early careers of Meier and Miyamoto, perhaps?) invent genre after genre, stamping their influence on great dollops of gaming culture. Gollop did the opposite; decided what his ideal game consisted of early on and has spent his entire career aiming for that ideal, often with great results. I’d put 3 of his games (Chaos, XCom and Laser Squad Nemesis) in my top 20 games of all time list. Whatever this turns out to be, it’s an instant buy from me…

  20. GreatUncleBaal says:

    The reason (I think) that randomness worked so well in Chaos was because it was ideally played 8-player, even if that meant filling the slots with CPU players. Even if you got a really shit hand of spells you could hope that in the general melee things might go your way. And the other genius thing was the Law / Chaos balance: if you had a load of decent spells you couldn’t cast at the outset, there was a chance that if enough spells of the right alignment were cast by everyone else you could come into your own.
    Actually, there’s a lot more that’s great about this game, but the images that stick in my mind are always the desperate battles between a handful of surviving players, surrounded by magic fire or gooey blob fields spreading across the map. The most powerful wizard with a huge army could suddenly be wiped out by an errant blob if they didn’t play carefully.

  21. somnolentsurfer says:

    Yeah, but, really, the best gaming news in forever is that Dreamfall Chapters is happening, surely?

  22. zapatapon says:

    I also enjoy some randomness in decision games, it can often provide for unexpected and dramatic turn of events. It is interesting for instance that Laser Squad Nemesis and Frozen Synapse, although they share a lot of basic design principles, differ on the presence of randomness, which makes for a radically different experience. I love both, but Frozen Synapse can feel a little like chess play at times, and in most one-to-one situations you know with certainty who will win. This effectively eliminates from the play most gung-ho strategies, which in my opinion takes away some of the fun (especially for desperate situations). Similarly, in Frozen Synapse, you (and the computer) can launch your grenades/missiles with surgical pixel precision, whereas in Laser Squad Nemesis you always have to factor in the possibility that they blow up right in your nose.

    • AimHere says:

      Funny you should make the chess comparison, LSN was often being likened to chess back in the day, because of the small number of very simple units. Anyway Frozen Synapse isn’t strictly determined either, because like other games of incomplete information, it’s optimal for the players to bring their own randomness (Think: rock paper scissors)

  23. maxi0 says:

    While my mind = blown by the news of a Chaos remake, I would literally explode (literally) with joy, should Mr. Gollop announce a remake of the sequel Lords of Chaos, which was thrust mercilessly into the Public Domain some years ago.

    Bring back the Wizard Designer!

    • Bremenacht says:

      Some of the HLD stuff he describes sounds very much like Lords of Chaos.

      • maxi0 says:

        Indeed. The more I read about this, the better it sounds.

        Hmm.

        Better immediately forget about it until after I read wot someone thinks.

  24. FCKundo says:

    Hello people!
    i don’t know where to say this but i can’t fin any forums and i think this is the right place to do it
    Anyone wants to play some LASER SQUAD:NEMESIS?
    i can’t find any peple

    • Chris D says:

      If you’re looking for the forums they’re hidden in tiny writing at the top of the screen, just above the title and on the right.

  25. popedoo says:

    Like

  26. SteveSmitmith says:

    For anyone who’s looking for a modern Chaos remake and can’t wait for Julian to finish his new version (and if you’ve got Android) take a look at Sorcerers.