What is it about nuclear weapons that so repulses and yet fascinates the human species?  Is it because of the fact that this hard-won capacity to unleash the power of the atom is mankind’s best representation of our ability to transcend mere science to super-science?  Or is it due to a more primal reason—an undeniable testament that, with the ability to unleash irresistible power, mankind has become almost god-like in our potential wrath?   What ever the reason, “nukes” have always presented something of a “fatal attraction” for the species that is their sole creator.   Hence, be it on the silver screen or the computer screen, nuclear warfare always manages to serve as fresh fodder for terror disguised as entertainment. 

Nonetheless, nuclear war has proven more than a little difficult to translate into a form suitable for a computer game—many have tried, and just as many have failed (DataSoft’s 1986 release of Theater Europe, anyone?).  However, despite the difficult nature of the subject matter, fresh attempts are continually made.  The most recent company to take a crack at thermonuclear warfare is Introversion Software with their forthcoming game (appropriately) entitled DEFCON.  Known for innovative games, Introversion is striving to apply their unique perspective on computer gaming to produce a nuclear war-themed game that is as fun to play as it is emotionally powerful. 

Xtreme-Gamer was fortunate to have been able to ask a few questions of Chris Delay, lead developer of DEFCON.

XG:  Could you tell me a little about yourself and your role in developing DEFCON?

Chris: My name’s Chris Delay and I am the lead developer here at Introversion Software for all of our games. Introversion is a UK-based small independent games developer formed in 2001 with two other friends, Mark Morris and Tom Arundel whom I’d met at university. To date we have released two other games, Uplink and Darwinia and are set to release DEFCON this September. DEFCON is an online, multiplayer game based around the theme of global thermonuclear war – a nice light subject for a change!

XG:  DEFCON looks very similar to the nuclear warfare simulation in the classic movie WarGames.  I imagine this is not a coincidence? 

Chris: Yeah a lot of people have picked up on this and no, it’s not a coincidence! Wargames is a great movie and its definitely one of those films I loved as a child and it does seem to pop up a lot as a source of inspiration in the games we make. The hacking theme in our first title, Uplink, was inspired by Wargames and watching it again a little later down the line we realized there were still really good ideas coming from it that as far as we knew had never been attempted before. We wanted to create a game that successfully simulated warfare but which wasn’t too heavily strategic (e.g. turn based and stat heavy).  It seemed crazy to me that nobody had done this yet.

XG:  Besides WarGames, what else was the inspiration for doing a game about nuclear warfare?

Chris: That’s the only inspiration for the nuclear warfare aspect. Though I was inspired by an episode of 24, to see what sort of a game I could put together in a non-stop 24 hour coding jam. DEFCON was the result, although we’ve since added 9 months of polish to it.

XG:  Introversion won many accolades for Darwinia’s innovative gameplay.  What innovation can we expect to see in DEFCON?

Chris: Like all of our titles we hope that it will instantly stand out because it’s different. In an industry increasingly obsessed with photorealism, DEFCON’s simplicity will certainly do that. Its not even innovation really; DEFCON is a captivating, strong game that doesn’t need to be shrouded in high-graphic imagery to make an impact.

We’ve also introduced some new ideas such as DEFCON office mode, a version of the game specifically aimed at groups of work colleagues who want to play a longer game of nuclear warfare to see them through the tedium of the working day. The game takes place entirely in real time, so you see it’s quite feasible to end the world with nuclear conflict in 8 hours, with each player controlling one territory, like North America or Russia. If work is busy and you have looming deadlines you’re able to adopt a fairly laissez-faire attitude to this nuclear conflict; since everything takes place in real-time, you’ve got at least 30 minutes to respond to an impending nuclear attack!

We’ve added all these small details to Office Mode to make it more worker friendly, so say your boss turns up unexpectedly, you can hit the Panic Key (press esc twice) which immediately removes the game from the screen, putting a discreet icon in your system tray. If anything important happens, the icon in the system tray changes, for example, it will flash as a Nuke for a few seconds if some nuclear launches have been detected. One journalists asked us whether the ‘boss key’ is another allusion to our nostalgia for past games – perhaps yes but also the process is innovation is surely about taking aspects from the past and bringing them back up to date, making them work for you in new gaming scenarios.

XG:  Obviously a game about nuclear war will feature nuclear missiles, but what other types of units will be included in the game?  And how realistically are these units modeled?

Chris:  Units in DEFCON are divided into three types, ground, sea, and air units. They are depicted by fixed icons (please take a look at the DEFCON promo manual where you will find images of these icons).

All units are ‘modeled’ as what you might call ‘military sprites’ – line drawings representing units. The game isn’t supposed to be about realism of the units – it’s about realism in the strategy, paranoia and tension of a nuclear conflict. When you’ve got such powerful emotions and concepts available, does it really matter if you’ve modeled your fighter planes to fly at 1x or 1.5x real-life speed or range?