Logic behind Chaos - Interview with Chaos Concepts

Interview by Rosemary Young and Gordon Aplin (1995)
Logic, indeed, behind the puzzles in Entombed, one of the most challenging games released last year. Its impressive ray-traced graphics and eerie sound effects together with the fiendish logic puzzles kept many of us glued to our monitors for hours on end. The creative team behind Entombed is Chaos Concepts made up of Henry Thomas and Grantley Day. We caught up with them recently to ask about their work. Here are Henry's responses to our questions.

Quandary: How did Chaos Concepts come to be formed?

Chaos Concepts: Grantley and I just decided that we really wanted to create a game. Knowing that we had very limited resources we decided to focus on our strengths, and design a game based on what we could do well, and in a short space of time.

Quandary: So the game was Entombed. What strengths did each of you bring to it?

Chaos Concepts: At that time Grantley was very experienced at programming the Windows API in Visual Basic and Visual C++, he also had a keen knowledge of the game market with over five years experience, and most importantly loved playing games. I on the other hand was experienced in animation for film and television using computer graphics, particularly 3D, I also knew a little bit of assembly language.

Quandary: So how did the original idea for Entombed come about?

Chaos Concepts: We designed the first level one Sunday afternoon. The story was particularly important. The player's character has fallen into a tomb, so for most of the game they are on their own. This eliminated any need for character interaction, which at the time we didn't feel we had the resources to do. Character animation is very time consuming.

Quandary: What about those puzzles? How did you come up with them or did they just evolve?

Chaos Concepts: Puzzle's are a very interesting challenge to create. Our knowledge of how to create a good puzzle actually evolved over the period of creating the game. To begin with we thought that each puzzle should contain a set of universally recognisable symbols. These would be placed in a discordant arrangement. To solve the puzzle some kind of mechanism needed to be altered in order to arrange the symbols in a logical sequence. But just for good measure, we would throw in some type of random element that didn't relate to any of the symbols within the puzzle. This adds a measure of difficulty.

While this model worked, we quickly realised that people related to symbols differently, and associated different meanings to them. This meant they were unable to see any logic in the choice of some of the symbols. So we decided to add both a hint line and a journal to each puzzle in order to clarify its design and symbology.

The hint line appeared at the bottom of the screen, and displayed a brief description for whatever the mouse cursor was pointing to. The journal was this diary that the player's character discovered when they first entered the tomb. This was written as a fictional story recounting the observations of a previous archaeologist. The journal was intended to assist the player to understand each of the puzzles, using a more structured set of deductions as the clue.

Up until level 2, all of the puzzles within the game were limited to a confined space on a wall, and their purpose was to stop the player from progressing further through the game unless the puzzle was solved. In level 2 we tried a slightly different approach. Here we designed a puzzle that required several different components to be completed before a final solution could be achieved. These solutions required the player to traverse the level, which we felt would be slightly more enjoyable because they were free to roam about. This was elaborated further in levels 4 and 5 where the player is free to traverse the entire tomb.

Level 3 had no puzzles. Instead, the layout of the rooms was designed to be a maze. What complicated matters further was that the maze was five floors deep. Although we provided an auto-mapping feature to assist the player in finding their way, the extra floors made the solution significantly more difficult.

Quandary: How long did it take you to develop this game from initial concept to finished product?

Chaos Concepts: The entire game was completed in six months. The most time consuming aspect turned out to be rendering the 3D scenes. We used a ray-tracer, and for each of the images this took between six to twelve hours.

Quandary: Why did you make Entombed a windows game?

Chaos Concepts: We chose to write for the Windows platform because we simply didn't want to spend the time writing a DOS game from the ground up. In DOS you have to write everything yourself, video drivers, sound drivers and a memory manager. Windows on the other hand has a very sophisticated API (Application Programming Interface) with multimedia capabilities, this allows you to get on with the job of programming rather than re-inventing the wheel, yet again.

Quandary: How difficult is it to develop and sell games in Australia given the relatively small games market here?

Chaos Concepts: We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from the Australian game playing community. Per Capita, Australia is still our most successful market for Entombed. We run a 24 hour BBS support line where people can dial in and downland the game, leave messages and ask for clue's. People are always commenting how proud they are that Entombed was made in Australia.

Quandary: In the Arts, especially, Australians seem to have to go overseas to establish themselves, is there similar pressure in the software industry?

Chaos Concepts: One of the really nice things about entertainment software development is that it is fairly independent of national borders. While US publishers dominate the distribution, many people would be surprised to know that many of the software development teams are set up all over the globe. Consequently there is very little pressure to go and live in America, because you can write games where ever you like.

Quandary: How hard is it to crack the international market?

Chaos Concepts: We didn't find it that hard to crack, our product stood out on it's own. I think that in order to create a good game you need to have a small team of hard working, dedicated, multi-disciplined and exceptionally talented people. But that's not all, you also have to know the market well, and have someone like Grantley who just lives for playing games. Once you have all this, then you have a winning combination.

Quandary: The federal government has announced the Creative Nation Initiatives to promote the development of multimedia software in Australia, do you see this initiative having any benefit for the electronic entertainment industry?

Chaos Concepts: We have been trying to understand who the Creative Nation Initiatives is intended for and what it will achieve for some time. Personally I think that it will become just another self serving federal government bureaucracy that will invest in products that have questionable market potential. While these productions may develop a skills infrastructure for the multimedia industry, I doubt if these productions will nurture competitive and efficient work practices. If the film industry is anything to go by, I fear that computer graphic artists and multimedia programmers of dubious talent may yet exceed actors in the ranks of the unemployed.

Quandary: Besides the sequel to Entombed, are you working on any other projects?

Chaos Concepts: Since Entombed, Chaos Concepts has headed down the aggressive road of expansion. Already we have set up another two teams of four people who are working in tandem with us on various projects. While the ideas and titles for these games are still under wraps, we can at least paint some broader brush strokes. One of the teams is working on a futuristic role playing adventure. The artwork is absolutely stunning. The game will look like a comic book that has come to life. Team two has a video production background and is working on a multimedia CD ROM title using digitised people and 3D backgrounds. Unlike many of the other interactive movies on the market, this will be a game. There will be a strong emphasis on game play, and the tactility and responsiveness of the interface.

Grantley and I have several shareware titles that we are also working on. We have spent the past 6 months consolidating our software engineering. Our new routines hold the images being used by a game compressed in memory, reducing the overall memory requirements for the game and increasing performance. The really neat thing is that the routines are able to decompress images on the fly directly onto the screen. The routines support masking, clipping and scrolling at arcade performance levels on hi- resolution images. We are also close to finishing a new 3D engine that will support hi-resolution hardware page flipping for smooth scrolling animation under Windows.

Copyright © Rosemary Young and Gordon Aplin 1995. All rights reserved.