Interview with Chris Taylor, Designer of Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

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CSM What has your motivation for Total Annihilation been? And why a strategy game when there is already an impressive number of similar titles ?
CHRIS I loved Command & Conquer and WarCraft 2 not to mention Dune 2 and WarCraft before that. It seemed really natural that I should build my own version with all the things that I wanted to see in the game. When I started out there were hardly any games on the horizon, it just seems like a crazy thing to do when you consider how much competition there is today.

CSM During the development of Total Annihilation, were you infuenced by external elements ? Inspiration often comes from things we have done or seen in past experiences, was it your case ?
CHRIS I think we are all influenced by the world that we live in and I guess for me the projects that I did before Total Annihilation. For example, in the baseball games that I did, I always spent a lot of time on the little details and I just developed a respect for a game design that pays attention to these details.

CSM Speaking of past experiences Chris, before becoming the lead designer/programmer of Total Annihilation you were a stand-up comedian. How did you end up at Cavedog Entertainment, and what was it like to switch from comedy to programming?
CHRIS Well, I only did comedy on the side for a while... I was selling cemetary property to pay the bills. My past is really programming games. When I was fourteen my dad bought me a TRS-80 and I started to make games using Z-80 assembly language. All the other things I did really just interferred with my desire to make games... that's probably the best way to look at it.

CSM Are there any features (such as the fog of war) commonly found in real-time strategy games that you didn't want to use in Total Annihilation to avoid the eternal similitude with the C&C and Warcraft likes ?
CHRIS No, not really. I have a very basic design principle. If adding an idea that has been used by another game will make it more fun, then I put it in. That's all there is to it.

CSM Of all the characteristics in Total Annihilation, what are those that, in your opinion, allow you to claim that Total Annihilation is not another clone of Warcraft or C&C ?
CHRIS Definitely the 3D world and units stand out as being something that none of the other games have. The other thing that Total Annihilation does is cover a lot of ground with the diverse number of units. We have air and sea battles that no one has ever seen before not to mention units that drive along the ocean floor.

CSM Does your past carreer influence your current work on Total Annihilation ? In other terms, will we find any traces of humor in the game ?
CHRIS There are definitely some things in the game that reflect my sense of humor but for the most part I tried to keep it to a minimum because I like to think of Total Annihilation as a game for serious strategists.

CSM When you started to work on Total Annihilation with Ron Gilbert, what was each of your parts in the elaboration of the scenario, interface, unit's design, in short, in the overall conception of the game ?
CHRIS Well, as the designer it was my job to collect ideas from all over and figure out which ones to use or not. Ron's roll as the producer was to make sure that all of the things that I was saying that I wanted to do made sense. In the end it is a team effort and we all made contributions in all areas.

CSM If you each had to give a good description of the Total Annihilation to someone who had never heard of the game (which is unlikely to happen), what would that be?
CHRIS I would say that if you like realtime strategy games then you are going to love Total Annihilation. It takes the whole experience to the next level. Tons of units, maps and missions. Multiplayer is the most exciting that anyone has ever seen. I guess I would end up doing a lot of bragging, because I really believe in what we have accomplished.

CSM When the competition is as harsh as it currently is with real-time strategy games, it becomes more and more difficult to imagine an innovative scenario. After the struggle between Orcs and Humans in Warcraft, the race for Tiberium in C&C, the resistance against alien invaders in Dark Colony, what are the motives for which we will fight in Total Annihilation?
CHRIS I tried to make the motive of the war between the Arm and Core very simple... they hate each other because they have a difference of opinion. The Core lives inside a machine and the Arm prefer the fleshy alternative. I definitely wanted to create a bias against the Core as the dark and evil empire knowing full well that some people would like that.

CSM Regarding missions, will Total Annihilation be similar to its competitors, as to include two different linear storylines, each related to a specific faction. Couldn't we conceive a storyline that would progressively evolve according the victories and defeats of the player, instead of having the player stuck when he or she can't pass a specific mission?
CHRIS We didn't like getting stuck on a particular mission either so that's why we added the feature to skip a mission. We have also got a cheat code that allows players to play any mission that they want.

CSM Will combats occur on sea, ground and in the air as in Warcraft 2 and C&C: Red Alert? How many unit types will be available in the game?
CHRIS Combat covers all the major areas, Air, Land and Sea. We have a full compliment of units for each theatre of war, ie. not just a few ships, we went totally overboard (no pun intended - ok, maybe a bit of a pun). There are over 150 units in the game currently and additional units are available for download from our website at starting on October 31st.

CSM With Warcraft 2, Blizzard Entertainment introduced the spawning technology that allows several players to play simultaneously without each player having to buy a copy of the game. Does Total Annihilation follow this trend or will we all have to buy the game to play together on a LAN?
CHRIS We definitely liked the ability to play more than one person on a single copy of the game so we adopted a very similar approach. 3 Players from 1 copy, 6 players from 2 copies and 10 players from 3 copies of the game.

CSM During the development of Total Annihilation, did you consider the Internet as a medium for multi-player, or was it simply seen as an option you could use for non-LAN users? Will there be dedicated servers for players to connect and play together, such as Blizzard Entertainment's Battle.Net for Diablo?
CHRIS We definitely considered the internet a medium for multiplayer games, right fromt the start. We have set it up with almost all of the major online service providers to allow players to play TA on their service.

CSM Again about the multi-player support, did you create specific missions/maps for multi-player games? What particular attention did you bring into their design?
CHRIS We created a bunch of maps that were to be used exclusively for multiplayer maps that covered a lot of ground and a ton of variation with respect to size and the variation of water and land. This is the first game where players will be able to fight for and hold an entire continent.

CSM The first pictures of Total Annihilation showed absolutely superb landscapes with an incredible realism and a relief that is simply stunning. Even though other games were only able to simulate the effect of the relief on their maps, Total Annihilation really succeeded. One can discover valleys with smooth slopes, plains, beaches, but also gorges with vertical cliffs, all plunged into various environments and flora. What were the techniques you employed to create such realistic landscapes?
CHRIS Well we had to create a bunch of special tools first. We render the terrain using a ray tracing package and then we manipulate that data with the custom tools. All together we had about 5 different programs to make the game and a handful of other miscellaneous utilities.

CSM If it was unrealistic, even suicidal, to post a unit and use it as a sniper in Warcraft or C&C, it is not that hypothetical in Total Annihilation, because if I'm right, each unit has a line of sight that determines what can be seen from its position, hence the importance of the relief. How will these new elements modify the regular strategies of players?
CHRIS The terrain mostly effects the way you must use the different weapons in the game. Lasers and other direct line of sight weapons cannot hit targets that are behind hills, rocks and wreckage. The player must learn to modify their strategy dynamically depending on what sort of terrain they are playing on. This is where scouts come in... first you need to scout the area out and then decide on what sort of units to send in. It definitely adds an extra dimension to the experience.

CSM Thank you.

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