Interview: We wanna be elected! Part one
3rd Apr 2003 | 17:20
Destination: The Chelsea Village hotel, London. It's the venue that Eidos has selected to show off the latest build of Elixir Studios' PC title Republic: The Revolution. Games journalists show an unusually impressive turnout. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we're all eager to check out the title that's promised groundbreaking gameplay since its conception.
On hand to demo Republic: The Revolution to us was Elixir Studios head Demis Hassabis.
In a nutshell, Republic: The Revolution sets players the task of ousting the President of the Republic of Novistrana and claiming the big black chair of authority for themselves. To accomplish this goal, you are required to forge a political faction and exert influence over citizens, gathering them to your cause.
The game is split into three main sections, beginning in the town of Ekaterine, moving to the city of Pugachev and then it's on to the final showdown in Berezina.
While the main premise of Republic is to remove Novistrana's President, how you go about that is another thing entirely. At the very beginning of the game you get to create what's called your avatar (faction leader), and you will, in the retail release, be taken through a series of psychometric questions that determine your character's ideology.
This will determine whether you nature attunes to Force, associated with muscle, Influence, associated with, say, media, or Money, associated with business.
When you enter Republic proper, you will find that major characters in the game that are potential members of your faction adhere to one of these three ideologies. So, the idea is, you try to draw characters into your faction whose ideologies reflect how you want to win the game.
Get it? Well, we hope so.
Once your faction begins to come together (it can have a maximum of six members), it's a case of, at least in the early stages, gaining support of town districts. In the build we were being shown, there's currently the option to get a grand overview of the town, city or capital, that not only shows you the ideology slant of a district, but also, thanks to a pie chart, shows you how much support you have in any certain area.
However, you can also drop into the town, city of capital proper to get the thoughts of the populace (they can sometimes give hints as to other faction activity or maybe about an avenue of action you should take) by clicking on the individual people. You can also follow your faction characters around as they perform actions.
Characters in your faction can perform what are called "actions", and these can be anything from running a leafleting campaign or running an army recruitment campaign through to attempts to bribe important businessmen as you try to get them to join your cause. This is pretty much the meat and potatoes of the gameplay, the actions occurring at three different periods in any day: morning; noon; or night. In a way it's turn-based.
Well that, it has to be said, is only a brief overview of Republic (what can we say? It's an in-depth game) but it should give you a good idea of what the game is about. After Demis Hassabis had run us through the ins and out of play, he offered himself up for questions on the title, so we gave the bait a good chewing.
What follows is part one of a Q&A session conducted in open forum style. Come back tomorrow for part two.
What can you tell us of Republic: The Revolution's narrative?
Hassabis: It's quite a complex narrative, and there are various time-based objectives that happen in the game as well as an over-arching plot. Republic kicks off with a cut-scene sequence set 20 years prior to the start of the game where you, as a young man, see your parents getting arrested by the Head of the Secret Police.
The Head of the Secret Police, Karasov, is the man who then becomes the President of Novistrana.
So that gives you a personal reason why your character is set on getting rid of the President. You have a personal reason as well as a global reason why you want to liberate the country.
That begins the main narrative in the game, and then the first thing that happens is that you have to recruit a long lost friend. Ekaterine is your hometown, and you've been in exile for a while and have come home and found your hometown in disarray. So the first thing to do is recruit one of your old university friends into your faction.
Whichever one you recruit, and again they are Force-, Money- and Influence-orientated all three of them - they've gone down diverging paths in the last 20 years... And you've got to recruit one of them and then that kicks off the storyline.
Then, the next things you've got to do are things like, get a certain amount of support in a particular area, get rid of a faction... Very early on in the game there's a faction called Democracy Now, and this gets obliterated in the very first half hour of the proceedings by the President. That's a warning to the player to be careful about being too covert about their tactics.
Then you move on to freeing a political prisoner and steadily building up to a major rally in Ekaterine. It's quite low-level stuff in Ekaterine, but once you get to Pugachev, which is a city, that's when you start needing to do things like create income flow and fund your party. There are various ways of doing this. You can found a charity and syphon off money for example, or you can set up a business empire or set up a crime syndicate.
There are other time-based things that happen in the game, and I don't want to give too much of the story away, but half-way through Pugachev you'll get information from one of your characters that someone in your midst is a traitor. You've got to find out who it is in a certain amount of time, and if you don't... the game obviously won't end; none of these objectives end the game, but they do make it harder for you to achieve goals.
In this case, the betrayer will split from the faction and take half of the faction members with him. That will then spawn some new objectives, and you can either choose to kill him or try to get him back on your side.
In the capital, Berezina, which is the last stage of the game, you've got to win over one of the Army Generals or the Archbishop... and there are other objectives such as getting the UN involved, and then you can use UN Intervention, which is one way of discrediting the President. Before you can perform an action on the President such as forced resignation, you will need to do various things to discredit the President first. And again, there are a number of ways of going about doing that.
UN Intervention would be the way to do it if you had a lot of media control, if you had a number of powerful, charismatic characters under your control, like and Archbishop. Or, for example, if you went down the business route and had powerful businessmen under your control, what you might do then is cause the stock exchange to crash. That would also discredit the President.
Similarly, if you wanted go down the military coup route, you need to get an Army General on your faction and declare martial law. But there are a score of other objectives to complete along the way.
How obvious to the player will these other objectives be? Will they be directly lead to them?
Hassabis: They'll be explicit to you. You'll be presented with a number of bullet points saying that you need to being doing "this and this and this". We're experimenting with having explicit difficulty levels as well at the moment, where at the easiest level the player would be hand-held all the way through.
The other thing is that the game is self-balancing in a way in that the other CPU factions will attack you more the better you are doing. So if you're not doing so well, they'll attack each other and leave you alone. Or if you are doing really well, then they'll attack you more.
Is it actually possible to completely fail the game then?
Hassabis: You can fail, but it's quite hard to fail out-right. You can fail by everyone leaving your faction in disgust, obviously. You can run out of resources, which is effectively becoming bankrupt, or your avatar can be killed or sent into exile or prison. However, it's very difficult for other factions to kill you, in the same way that's it's very difficult for you to kill leaders of opposing factions.
Are you not concerned that the complex nature of the game will put off potential players?
Hassabis: Yes, we are aware of that, and a lot of that is going to be down to the work we do in the next couple of weeks, getting the user interface right. I don't believe that, fundamentally, the game is that complex; it's just all to do with presentation really. We're trying to make that as simple as possible. Most people in the real world know about the title's concepts, it's just about getting these across within the game.
Characters belonging to your faction are defined by classes. How many of these classes are there in Republic?
Hassabis: There are nine classes, with three being aligned to each ideology. Military, Criminal and Trade Union are all Force-aligned, Religion, Politics and Media are all Influence-aligned, and then there's Business, Celebrity, for example, that are Money-aligned.
Your own avatar, the leader of your faction, is a special class on his own.
Could you go into more detail about how the classes work in the game?
Hassabis: The classes are what governs which characters can do which actions. In the game, the character classes will be very specific. For example, only a character from the Trade Union will be able to organise a strike or a national strike. Only a character in the Military class will get access to Army Draft or a Military Parade, or something like that.
So you can think of them almost like a tech tree. Each character class has its own technology, if you like, which has a limited number of actions attached to it. For example, the Religious characters have access to Evangelise, Leaflet Campaign - these sorts of actions.
So you need a good combination of character classes within your faction to get access to the different types of actions that exist in the game.
Do the classes interact with, or counteract, each other in any way?
Hassabis: Yeah, certain character classes don't like each other. For example, religious and criminal classes don't get on well and there'll be friction between these. Often you'll get memos from your characters telling you how they feel every so often, and they may say, Well, sorry I can't continue to be in this faction because of so and so", and so you'll need to make a decision between the two.
To get a faction that can deal with both of these would be very tricky, so you need to spend time doing things like Blood Brothers or favours. One or other of them you'd have to keep sweet the whole time, and obviously that'll take up a lot of your avatar's time. He then can't do other actions as he's running around keeping these faction members happy.
Earlier on in development we experimented with not allowing the player to have religious and criminal members in their faction at the same time. In the end we thought it would be more fun to allow you to have both, but you then have to manage the relationship between them.
There's no "you can't have this guy with this other person", but it will make things more difficult. It will be almost impossible to keep both happy.