Joe doesn’t like strategy games very much. He thinks they are boring and difficult. He vastly prefers RPGs and talking about himself in the third person. There is one exception to this rule though and that’s Frozen Synapse – a turn-based strategy game best that strips the genre of unit building and micromanagement. Instead, Frozen Synapse focuses on what actually matters – the tactics.
BT:Let’s start simple, tell us what Frozen Synapse is and why it’s so cool in your own words.
Paul Taylor: It's the ultimate tactical game! We wanted to make a simultaneous-turn-based game where you pit two randomly-selected squads against each other; instead of choosing your own units and loadouts, you're coping with the “hand” you've been dealt. So many strategy games are based around the turgid drudge of memorising tech trees or trying to pen your opponent into some kind of pre-conceived situation: our game is about mental agility and reacting to your opponent.
We started from the classic squad-based genre and tried to cut out all the boring bits, make it look cool and make it easy to play without being dumbed down.
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BT:Also, before we go any further, why choose ‘Frozen Synapse’ as a name? What does that mean
PT: I'm going to tell you a story. Someone I know asked me what the game we're working on is called, and I said, “Frozen Synapse.” He looked at me, pointed at my face and said, “You came up with that didn't you! That was you!”
That's all I want to say about it.
BT:We’ve played the Frozen Synapse beta and it seemed reasonably polished even then. How have things progressed since the beta and what sort of feedback have you gathered from players?
PT: We're still in beta, and we're just about to update the version you guys previewed. In terms of changes, we've updated the random level generator to be slightly less silly, buffed the sniper unit, done some new matchmaking things and a load of under-the-hood stuff to make the game run better. We're also still ploughing through our bugs list and tidying up some of the more annoying graphics glitches.
We've had really amazing player feedback: our community is crazy and very enthusiastic. Someone called the game “Frozen Cocaine”; other people have told me it's the game they've waited for all of their lives; I've been accused of destroying someone's working life through addiction: all the usual things really! Oh, and Photoshopping neon red ponies into screenshots seems to have become popular. I'm not sure if that's feedback per se.
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BT:What sort of features is the full version going to carry beyond the beta? Level editors?
PT: We have a level editor right now in the beta – that's very beta though and it needs quite a lot of work.
The most exciting thing about the full version will be the single player campaign. I saw our first real design doc for that yesterday and I think people will be excited by it eventually.
It's really challenging, because a lot of people want us to do the whole X-com research and base-building thing, but we're really not going down that route because it doesn't suit the game and it's not something we've ever been able to get into personally. We promise to make something good though!
BT:Speaking of which, we’ve described Frozen Synapse as TRON meets X-Com within the office, but what were your main influences when you were designing the gameplay?
PT: Ian Hardingham is our lead designer and the idea for FS first came to him when he was playing lots of Laser Squad: Nemesis. He loved that game but just got incredibly frustrated with certain things about it: how you couldn't get fine control over the plans, how long it took to get to the interesting part of matches and so on.
That was one key thing, and the other major influence was Bridge. We didn't think enough games made use of the skill of dealing with a random situation: hence the random level generators and random unit “hands”. Also we have a mode, Secure, where you bid for territory, so that certainly has a card game / gambling influence.