Gas Powered Games' founder Chris Taylor has a stinking cold. Even though he's still his usual effervescent, enthusiastic self, the interview is punctuated by the occasional sniffle, and he has a voice that in his own croaky words, "sounds as if I've been smoking three packs of cigarettes a day."
I've dragged Chris Taylor away from a hot Lemsip to ask the industry legend that developed Total Annihilation and Dungeon Siege, about the making of his latest success - the hardcore sci-fi RTS Supreme Commander and its follow-up Forged Alliance. Read on for the story of the creation of the universe, the problems with developing for PC, falling through ceilings, and the first exclusive confirmation of Supreme Commander 2...
The units themselves came from the team, and a bunch of them came from me, initially just to set the tone and set the size. The Fatboy unit with the giant treads, for example, came from me watching the huge Saturn 5 transport unit that moves real-world rockets from the vehicle assembly structure to the launch site - an incredible unit.
I would suggest units for scope and scale and the team would brainstorm other units that would fit. Steve Thompson - the lead artist - came up with the Monkey Lord, the giant spider with the death laser on it. The ideas do flow from everywhere; as the lead designer I just set the tone and then everyone else plugs into that overall vision.
The idea of the unit was a response to Total Annihilation, as the commander in that game was a defensive unit. The feedback I got was that people wanted to take him - and it was always a him, they never thought of the commander as a female - and use him more as an offensive hero-style unit.
Maybe it's because they played Warcraft III or some other games, but they felt he was just hanging around the base too much, and they wanted to charge him out into the field. I tried to make the design a little more robust, give him more defences so he would stand up more in battles.
We worked on the backstory for years - it started on the whiteboard as a pie chart that I divided into three pieces and drew out the three factions, and created these opposites - each factions' strengths and weaknesses - plus a belief system for each.
Evan Pongress, Bill Harms and the whole team worked so hard on the universe to build out the fiction, and make sense of the world that I started. Dr Brackman - my favourite character actually - was inspired by one of the great personalities of the games industry:
Tom Prezina at EA. I asked Tom if I could have photos of him to model Dr Brackman and he agreed - it's really hard to come up with a character that rich and interesting out of just your imagination."
The Aeon faction itself was this philosophical contradiction, which I got from the culture I live in. I wanted the Aeon to be visually different on the battlefield - one of the criticisms of TA was that you couldn't tell which unit was which in a battle.
Our goal from the beginning was to have all the units of the UEF, Cybran and Aeon clearly differentiated, have them move differently, have different-looking weapons, and feel like they had different philosophical fighting styles. That was the hardest thing of all to do, and in the end we sort of fell back to tanks and artillery - but at least we tried.