We first heard about Archon in the aftermath of Game Developer Conference this year, where everyone was telling us we had to see this strategy game where players could travel through time however they wanted. People were amazed.
Unfortunately, we’d missed our chance to see Chris Hazard of Hazardous Software and lead designer on Achron talk about the game. All we could do was catch up with him after and ask him a few quick questions…
bit-tech:Hi! Before we get really started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in game development?
Chris Hazard: I’ve always been fascinated by the immersion of games and have always been excited about creating universes in which things interact. I first began designing games in sketch books when I was a kid, sometime around fourth or fifth grade, and I still have a couple of them.
I had some interesting experiences in high school, one of which was learning how to program from tutorials written by demoscene coders. My first real program was a 3D modeller and terrain renderer for a space shooter I wanted to make, entirely written in assembly language. Around that time I learned my lesson of keeping safe backups, as the entire terrain rendering portion of the game engine was lost, despite being backed up on four separate floppy disks. I’ve often been called insane for doing that all in assembly, but it certainly gave me a unique background.
If Achron is all about time travel, shouldn't it be available now?
Throughout undergrad I worked on numerous research projects from distributed computing to 3D rendering. I took a lot of courses in physics, computer engineering, and maths. In addition, I had formed a group to make a massive adventure/RPG that we were going to populate almost entirely with procedural content. While I had made some progress, the project never took off because most the rest of the group didn’t have time to contribute to it. I’m glad that projects like EA’s Spore and especially the upcoming indie game Infinity are bringing this technology out from the realm of demos.
I met Mike Resnick, the co-founder of Hazardous Software Inc., while working at Motorola developing cell phone infrastructure. After working at Motorola for a few years, I decided to go back for my PhD in artificial intelligence, which I’m getting close to finishing now. My research involves e-commerce from an AI perspective, and has given me considerable background in game theory, operations research, and economics, all of which have been very applicable to game design.
BT:You’re currently working on Achron which is a game that’s going to be pretty complex to a total newcomer. Can you give us a quick overview of the project and what makes it special?
CH:Achron is the first game that gives all players the ability to time travel entirely at will. Not only that, but all players and their units can time travel independently. Achron enables players to participate in temporal warfare that has previously been limited to science fiction stories. We call it a ‘meta-time strategy game’ because while it’s still an RTS, you have the ability to transcend the in-game timeline.
Chris Hazard says StarCraft was a major inspiration for Achron
While there’s been talk about how complex the game appears, all of our play testers have been able to start using the time travel mechanism within a few minutes of game play. We have designed the single-player game to gradually introduce the player to time travel by putting the player in increasingly difficult situations where they need to use time travel to be successful. We have observed that time travel is very easy to start using but difficult to fully master as it opens up many new strategies.
Time travel is a familiar concept, but because people aren’t used to thinking in terms of time travel, they often jump to the most complex scenarios and paradoxes. However, these complex scenarios aren’t typical in gameplay unless you purposefully cause them, and usually you’re simply modifying a history you are familiar with because you just played through it.
Imagine if Nintendo’s initial demos of Twilight Princess had shown Link going through the final level of the game. That level involves fighting tough foes and solving tricky puzzles using a multitude of items. People new to the Zelda series probably would have thought the game was very complex. However, Twilight Princess is a well-crafted and intuitive game that teaches you how to play it as you go along.
In our case, because our gameplay mechanism is so new and different, people want to see how it all works and what is possible right away. From our experience with our playtesters over the past several years, covering the gamut between casual gamer and nationally ranked Starcraft player, we believe Achron will be able to teach almost anyone to use time travel.