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Interview with Introversion Software
By Simon Jones (2006-11-22)
Q: There’s a clinical coldness to DEFCON, with its precise death counts and haunting soundtrack. Given that nuclear war is arguably more relevant now that it has been for over a decade, was the ‘moral attitude’ of the game a major consideration? Were you concerned about any kind of potential backlash from the less informed and more reactionary areas of the press?
Yes DEFCON is a pretty callous game; it reports global devastation in a very understated and basic way. You launch a nuke, it decimates your opponent’s city and all you see is a small pop-up indicating the number of dead in one full sweep. You are entirely removed from the horrific reality of the situation and this is probably not far off from the real-life detachment of nuclear warfare. You simply press a button and the deed is done but you are not there to witness, and in this respect, take responsibility for the heinousness of your actions. The fact that the whole North Korea incident kicked off within days of the DEFCON launch was of course a coincidence but it immediately gave DEFCON a sort of contemporary relevance which makes the whole game experience more dramatic. You are engaging in actions which could feasibly become a reality and that is quite frightening.
Q: What decisions led to the creation of the music and sound effects? They’re very iconic and are every bit as instantly recognisable as the game’s visuals.
Yes, the music is actually the most serious piece of content in DEFCON. It was created by Alistair Lindsay and Michael Maidment, the same two guys who created the awesome soundtrack for Darwinia. Again, it really goes back to a creative choice, we can’t compete graphically with the bigger publishers, but we can experiment with gameplay and atmosphere and the audio is an essential component of that. The music has a very disarming, almost uncomfortable effect on the gamer. It consists of a really haunting string adagio that is made up of short segments which are mixed and filtered in real-time to respond to major world variables in the game - like the number of people dead, the number of people dying right now, the number of nukes in the air etc.
Q: How did you go about balancing the game? The wildly different continent shapes and sizes must have made balancing extremely difficult.
Many people believe the map to be unbalanced, mostly in favour of Europe. Europe is certainly easy to play when you’re new to the game – it’s easy to defend because it’s quite small. But in more advanced games Europe’s weaknesses can be exploited – its immediate proximity to Russia, its lack of space for fleets, and its vulnerability to sub strikes from the North.
We are working on Mod support right now (currently in BETA) and our fans have already produced some new maps. One takes place entirely in the UK (England versus Scotland hehe), and one uses a Polar projection (i.e. you’re looking down on the North Pole. Once this Mod Support is publicly available we are hoping to see lots of new maps that will put an end to the question of balance.
We had a lot of other balancing issues which were not really due to the map. There are only 9 units so everything has to be perfectly balanced – if any one unit became dominant in the winning strategies it would ruin everything. This was much harder to get right – i.e. just how good should Carriers be against Subs? How quickly should Anti-aircraft fire shoot down nukes? We tried all kinds of setups, and I think the end result is pretty well balanced. Nobody has yet come up with an "unbeatable" strategy, which is a good sign.