Chris landed himself an awesome interview with Paul Taylor from Mode 7 Games developer of Frozen Synapse.
Last May, a game known as Frozen Synapse was released for the PC by a small company known as Mode 7 Games to considerable critical acclaim. The deceptively simple turn based strategy game has received renewed attention as part of The Humble Frozen Synapse Bundle, the latest in the popular ‘Humble Indie Bundle’ series of charity driven independent gaming compilations.
Recently, I spoke with Paul Taylor – also known as nervous_testpilot, Joint Managing Director of Mode 7 Games as well as the composer behind the game’s music. We spoke about the game as well as the decision to make it available as part of the latest Humble Indie Bundle.
I asked Mr. Taylor about the team’s rationale in including Frozen Synapse – easily one of the most recent (and expensive) games in the independent, name your own price bundle, and he replied that Mode 7 was approached by the Humble Indie Bundle team. Mode 7 was asked by the team if they would be interested in having Frozen Synapse be the centerpiece of a Frozen Synapse themed compilation. According to Mr. Taylor, the team was thrilled at the prospect, as they believed that their game – as multiplayer-centric as it is – has its success hinging on the size of its audience and its growth. With this in mind, they jumped at the chance to gain the additional exposure that the well known bundle would bring.
I was very curious when I noticed that the soundtrack to the game that is included with the bundle also contained a couple of bonus tracks that aren’t in the base soundtrack, including a track called ‘Complexity,’ which is practically identical to a track that nervous_testpilot had previewed on YouTube as being part of an upcoming expansion. I wondered if, perhaps, new content was being teased: if we might see new levels or game modes added in the near future. To this, Mr. Taylor responded that the tracks were, in fact, intended for the expansion, and they wanted to get exposure for the tracks as a nice bonus for those who purchased the game through the bundle. News about the expansion, I was assured, would be forthcoming.
Next I asked about the game’s unique ability to allow you – the player – to plan around what the opponent might conceivable do in the next turn by actually giving orders to enemy units before locking in their moves for the following turn. Paul’s answer was, for me, somewhat surprising. What many gamers and reviewers regard as a key feature to the game, he regarded as being something of a double edged sword. In his opinion, while it allows the player to plan their moves with unprecedented clarity, it can also cause a match to devolve into what he termed “a war of anality.” The feature grew out of an earlier ability in development whereby one could rewind their turn and plan things differently. The ability to account for what an enemy might do grew somewhat naturally from this and gave rise to the gameplay in its current form. The drawback, according to Mr. Taylor, is that players may now grow so anal and particular as to what their opponent might do as to distract them from actually letting the match progress! While I personally have not noticed this, it seemed to be a great annoyance to Paul, and I can see why, despite hardly noticing it myself.
The next point of interest for me was the game’s decidedly retro “play by email” feature which hearkens back to the earliest days of multiplayer gaming. I was dying to know how something so very old school wound up in a game with such a bleeding edge design aesthetic, to which Mr. Taylor answered – rather unexpectedly – that such a thing was in the core philosophy of their design. They set out from the beginning to create a turn based strategy game with gameplay derived from older email based multiplayer gaming in order to enable asynchronous gameplay.
The team was completely surprised to find that players preferred to play by taking concurrent turns, and this changed many of their expectations regarding the game.
The last two points I hit upon were purely aesthetic, but were of great interest to me personally. First, I wondered how the character of Belacqua – the player’s first contact in the game and the tutorial AI – came about, with his constant sarcasm and derisive attitude towards the player. Paul replied that as he was designing the walkthrough for the game, he was in a rather pissed off mood, and that began to show through in the dialogue he was writing. He decided to run with it, as he felt it was important to have a comic relief in the game, and a perpetually annoyed helper AI would be the perfect way to accomplish this. “It’s always good to have a few cheap gags” he said of Belacqua, and I couldn’t agree more.
Second and finally, I wondered how the name Frozen Synapse came about. It is, of course, far from obvious and seemed rather inspired. I wondered what meaning was behind it and was surprised to find that there was none. Originally, it turns out, the game was known as Psyche Out in production. Of course, the team knew that this title wouldn’t fly with consumers, so they had to decide upon a different title. They began composing random titles and eventually hit upon Frozen Synapse due to its cyberpunk sounding name and the fact that they felt that it alluded to the turn based nature of the game.
As we parted, I asked Paul what Mode 7 had planned for the future. He said that more Frozen Synapse content was coming and that a new project has just been started by the team, but that was all he really had to say on the subject.
As for Frozen Synapse itself, I can hardly recommend this game more. It’s tremendous fun; the developers are awesome, and for the next few days, you can pay whatever you feel like paying for the game at humbleindiebundle.com with the proceeds going to charity! You don’t often get a better offer than that.