Embrace the Chaos: X-Com creator Julian Gollop on independence and the trouble with Ubisoft | PCGamesN

Embrace the Chaos: X-Com creator Julian Gollop on independence and the trouble with Ubisoft

Chaos Reborn: a Unity game.

Julian Gollop is playing Chaos Reborn, and he’s losing. Badly.

His wizard, both player avatar and font of all spells in this turn-based game of spellcasting, is backed into a hexagonal corner of the map - a charcoal island arena interrupted by jutting rocks and dotted with leafless trees. With an impotent fizz-crackle, his would-be spider goes the same way as a potential unicorn, an intended giant, and a whole host of sentient, violent flora that never quite materialised.

As our eagle and scorpion close in on his position in a pincer movement of Gollop’s own advising, you might even be tempted to feel sorry for him - but you shouldn’t. It’s sort of his fault. 

Let us not forget: this man has been driven all his professional life to create strategy games in which every shot, swipe and grenade toss hinges not just on player intent, but on the fickle roll of the dice.

Here’s the thing: Julian Gollop cannot help but make these games. It’s this fact which has driven him to leave security at Ubisoft for unbound creativity, and to roll the dice on the goodwill of X-Com fans on Kickstarter.

Julian Gollop has spent more than six years of the last decade at Ubisoft Sofia - at the time of his joining, a gaggle of handheld game specialists with a fraction of the “power and political weight” of some of the publisher’s better known city states.

“Within Ubisoft, Montreal is in itself a little kingdom - not surprising given its size and reputation and its successes,” explains Gollop. “Especially during the first years, we were basically given projects. We didn’t have much of a choice. We had to prove ourselves.”

In those first years, Gollop worked on several DS projects for Ubisoft - most of which were cancelled. Increasingly creatively frustrated, the X-Com designer was eventually driven to invoke his own legacy, so that Ubisoft Sofia could work on an idea that was entirely their own - and that might stand a chance of weathering the publisher’s internal pitch process.

“You basically have to sell your game concept and game idea to an editorial board, to your team, to your studio manager or your editor abroad or whatever,” laughs Gollop. “I decided on, ‘Well, what can I pitch to the editorial board that might stand a chance of actually being approved?’”

Browsing the publisher’s IP catalogue for a likely turn-based strategy vehicle, Gollop happened upon Ghost Recon - the nominally tactical shooter series the publisher was then rebooting as Future Soldier.

“I pitched a game as ‘Ghost Recon-meets-XCOM for the Nintendo DS’ – fairly straightforward,” he says. “But partly, I was lucky because they were working on a new Ghost Recon game, and the way Ubisoft works is that – well, there’s this cross format release, so if they’re releasing a game on Xbox 360 and PS3 then there has to be a DS release, there has to be a PSP release and so on.”

As it happened, Future Soldier for the big machines was delayed and rehashed by an entirely different team - and Sofia were given the rare instruction to go their own way. The resulting turn-based tactics game was a bullish, often brilliant, X-Com variant Gollop describes as his “main achievement” at Ubisoft. But he doesn’t think he could have pulled off the same trick for Chaos Reborn.

“You don’t get a lot of freedom and [you get] lots of interference,” he says of his time at the publisher. “So how Capybara got away with [inventive match-three RPG] Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes I don’t know.

“I felt that Ubisoft, as an internal developer, is generally very inefficient. I just don’t have that kind of patience to spend a lot of time struggling against the inefficiency and the bureaucracy of it. I prefer [there] to be more creative obstacles to overcome than bureaucratic ones, you know?”

And so Julian Gollop went indie - and not for the first time.

“I’ve been an independent developer - if you want to call it that - for most of my career,” he says. “What’s called indie now is basically what I was doing at the beginning. When I was programming the original Chaos I was sitting in my bedroom with a 48K Spectrum, and I was the only person working on the project.”

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Shriven avatarJE | Voxelman avatarDog Pants avatar
Shriven Avatar
4 Years ago

Edit: Im putting this ontop of my initial comment to stress that this is a cracking interview. Must have been disconcerting to have someone freely admiting that a massive publisher is crap.

"The Trouble with Ubisoft..." you mean, besides bribing journo's with free £200 tablets in exchange for favorable coverage? Awwwww no i didnt?

Dog Pants Avatar
Dog Pants(25 minutes played)
4 Years ago

It's going to be a tight one, this Kickstarter. I didn't play the original Chaos, and while I've heard it cited as being influential I'm not entirely sure it's for me. The Kickstarter rewards have problems too. The minimum tier for being rewarded with the game is $20, which is a little above average. It comes with digital artbook and soundtrack, but that makes it feel like you're being forced into a higher tier. A $15 tier with just the game would probably have been more appealing.

That said, the Gollops have been the creators of or influence for some games which I have got a lot of enjoyment out of, and it would be a tragedy to see this project fail. So I've backed it at risk, which is really what Kickstarter is about anyway. I hope it gets through.

JE | Voxelman Avatar
JE | Voxelman(6 minutes played)
4 Years ago

I hope this gets made, XCOM was good but it seriously lacked the depth and replayability of it's predecessor.