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Interview: We chat with Cyanide's game designer on A Game of Thrones: Genesis

a game of thrones genesis
A Song of Ice and Fire is the overall title for the acclaimed fantasy novel series by author George R. R. Martin. 2011 will see fans of the series get the long awaited next novel in the series, A Dance With Dragons, in July. In April HBO will launch a TV series based on the novels, Game of Thrones. Finally the series will get a turn-based strategy PC game, A Game of Thrones: Genesis, from developer Cyanide Studio and publisher Focus Home Interactive that will be released later this year.

Big Download got a chance to learn more about the game from its designer, Cyanide's Regis Robin, including how the game fits into the novels' timeline, how Martin is involved in the game's development and more.
First, how did Cyanide get the game rights to the A Song of Ice and Fire ?

Back in 2004 we called George R.R.Martin's agent, who spoke to George and who, in turn, said "no". We watched and saw no games being announced so about one year later we called his agent, who spoke to George, who said "no" once more. That's basically how it went for 5 years. Cyanide grew and we kept George up to date with the evolution of the studio and with our plans for the IP. Our projects obviously grew in parallel with our own expansion and in early 2009 we proposed an RPG and an RTS based on the license. By then George had come to know us; had no doubt come to the conclusion that we were serious and that we had reached a sufficient size to be able to do justice to his works. He finally agreed.

The George R.R. Martin novels are so deep in story and in characters. How hard is it to get the novel's scope into the game?

It's impossible and we do not seek to do so. If we did, development would go on for years and the end result would leave the player without any bearings. Our main aim is to adapt the Machiavellian essence of the series into video game format.

How much involvement does George R.R. Martin have with the game's development?

George R.R. Martin stays personally involved, but he has many calls on his time and so we have tended to rely more on the inputs from people George works with on other licensed properties.

What can you tell us about the game's story and how it fits into the novels?

Anyone who has read the novels will have come across names such as Nymeria, Aegon the Conqueror, Balerion, Rhaenyra Targaryen, Daemon Blackfyre, etc. These are all from the past (before the events of the first book in the series). We therefore thought that it would be a good idea to bring all these strands together and to tell the story of Westeros from 700 years before Aegon's Landing. We don't cover every episode, but the various chapters take the player right up to the present day, so the game provides a good background to the books and the HBO series.

We felt that the unification of the Seven Kingdoms and the subsequent conflicts were well suited to the RTS format. However, contrary to most "conquer & build" games, ours does rely on a significant dose of politics and intrigue rather than just military might.

What sort of control does the player have over the kingdoms in the game?

The game is broken into two separate parts. Part 1 is called "Campaign" mode and, as outlined above, it takes the player through much of the history of Westeros. The story is linear and the player is guided from event to event, chapter to chapter and he controls those areas allotted to him. This is essential straitjacketing as we view these chapters as a mega-tutorial which will teach the player about the multitude of mechanisms within the game. Hopefully, by the time he's finished "Campaign" mode he will be fully-armed to attack what might be called "Kingdom" mode. This second mode sets the player up as the lord of one of the major Houses within Westeros : Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, etc. It can be played against the game AI or against human lords of other Houses. The idea is to outdo your opponents and sit upon the Iron Throne.

How will using force and magic work in the game?

The game is set in a time of conquest and so there are military units such as knights, infantry, bowmen etc. Battles do take place and castles are captured by siege. However, as readers of the books will know, there are much more subtle methods available and these usually remain hidden until it is too late to do anything about them. As Ned Stark found to his cost there are "wheels within wheels within wheels". As for magic, again as readers will know, there is not much of it in the books and for us treachery is a far more important weapon.

What kind of diplomacy features will the game have?

We have envoys who can establish an initial alliance and this can be cemented into a more secure "blood alliance" by the marriage of a lord or a noble lady. Alliances cannot, however, be taken at face value as there are underhand mechanisms which will keep players on their guard. Moreover, there are assassins who can bring about a far more direct and bloody end to an alliance. In multiplayer games we also allow the creation of pacts between Houses. These are not etched in stone and, no doubt, players will enjoy speaking those words of Littlefinger "I did warn you not to trust me, you know" as an erstwhile ally sees his plans come to nought.

What other features do you think are important in A Game of Thrones: Genesis?

There are a multitude of mechanisms to create fakes and illusions. This is not magic, it's just that what looks like an alliance may not be an alliance; what looks like an army may not be an army and a unit whom you believe to be in your service may, in fact, be in the pay of your enemy. The Joseph Heller "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you" quote comes to mind.

Are there plans for multiplayer support in the game?

Multiplayer mode will be played outside "Campaign" mode and will pit House against House. The size of the map will vary according to the number of players involved and it will be possible to play against human or AI lords. We are also looking into a co-op mode, but this hasn't been decided as yet.

Any plans for a demo or beta test before the game is released?

I doubt that any game goes out the door without being demoed and beta tested. However, that's a question for our publisher.

HBO will be showing a Game of Thrones TV series this spring. Will the game have any tie-ins to the TV show in any way?

The HBO series follows the chronology of the books whereas we begin 1000 years before. The game is therefore a prequel to the series and helps to understand who's doing what to whom and why.

Finally is there anything else you wish to say about A Game of Thrones Genesis?

"A Game of Thrones" is far from what one would call a run-of-the-mill book. The scope and structure of the series require a fair bit of effort on the part of the reader. It's the same with the game. It's going to take a certain investment in time to understand all the mechanisms and, no doubt, this will annoy some players. However, once the mechanisms have been mastered, it really will be a fun game. We can't eliminate the exasperation, but we can guarantee that one infuriated player means that his opponent is smiling from ear to ear.

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