After over a decade of relative peace and calm, it’s time for supervillains to rise again. Having announced the game all the way back in 2017, Rebellion have been secretively working on their grand scheme to bring the Evil Genius series back with a full sequel for modern systems. That game, Evil Genius 2: World Domination, is now set to make its grand return and stake its claim to strategy management genre when it releases on 30th March, 2021.
We played a few hours of the game last week – read our Evil Genius 2 preview here – getting to grips with its kitschy spy villain mischief as we played through the game’s opening tutorial, before sitting down and chatting with Producer Ash Tregay and Lead Designer Rich Edwards about the game’s origins and how Rebellion are modernising the experience. Also murdering minions in their sleep. There’s some of that as well.
TSA – How happy are you that you’ve managed to beat the long-rumoured, possibly but not really in development Austin Powers 4 to release?
Ash Tregay – I think that’s always been our goal from the outset to make sure we get out to market before Austin Powers 4 doe, and so, you know, here we’re in 2021 and we’ve absolutely nailed it! So, yeah, take that Mike Myers! [laughs]
TSA – [laughs] He really needs to get his act together, doesn’t he? He’s in semi-retirement or something, so if Austin Powers 4 is going to happen, he’s actually got to start working again.
Ash – He really does. He’s been slacking! Well, maybe he will play Evil Genius 2 and it will inspire him to get back on the horse.
TSA – You could have helped him out. You’ve got Brian Blessed on the cast, so maybe Mike Myers would have been up for doing some lines over the phone?
Ash – We could. I think I still he’s still a restraining order against me after all the messages I sent him prior to it. So you know, probably still in place. That’s why we can’t get him?
TSA – That daft question was rooted in a little bit of truth though, because this has been one of the longest running rumoured game development sagas I can think of. There were the rumours, the speculation, but then that first real announcement came in 2017. What led to it being such a long time between Rebellion picking up the IP and then deciding it was the right time to do this?
Ash – Yeah, that’s a great question. Um, I think, since we picked up the IP, there’s been a lot of enthusiasm for the franchise, and that we wanted to make it a sequel, when the time and the team was right. Back near 2017, there was kind of a sense that maybe we should crowdfund this to make sure it gets off the ground and there’s still the appetite for it. Following the kind of phenomenal success of the Sniper Elite series, we found ourselves in the fortunate position of not needing to ask fans to do that and so we took another look at it…
TSA – Your gold vaults were overflowing?
Ash – We had sufficient gold in our vault, that’s exactly it! And so we took a look at that and said actually, we don’t need to do this, so let’s just make it because we know we want to do it. At the same time wanted to assure fans that this was still a thing; we hadn’t kind of made noises about potential crowdfunding, and then just it had gone completely silent, so that’s why the announcement came as early as it did while we were in the very early stages of pre-production. Whereas otherwise, we might have waited until it was further along before reassuring people of that.
TSA – How do you feel about the balance between having that very early game announcement – which can go very wrong, to put it mildly – and biding your time to get to those further trailers and beats closer to release?
Ash – I think it’s so difficult to get right, isn’t it? I mean, it’s something that I know Jason Kingsley, our CEO, had constantly been asked questions on are you making an Evil Genius? When are you making Evil Genius 2? And it was ultimately his decision that to say, I’m going to let people know this is the thing.
I think one of the advantages of being a independent developer means that we we are in a position where we can announce those things early and still have confidence that we’re going to come out with this. If we’re going to announce it, then we are confident with what we’re making and that there’s a good team behind it. So there’s less danger of it being cancelled along the way. But as you say, it does lead to those potential longer periods of downtime where we’re not talking about much stuff and, honestly, it’s just such a difficult balance to get right, because we want to engage with the fans as much as possible. One of the things has been really nice is, since we have been talking about the game more we’ve seen the fan response and there’s clearly such a significant audience who are still really enthusiastic about Evil Genius and what we’re doing. So thank goodness for that!
Rich Edwards – Yeah, I think that’s been true throughout. When the announcement first went out, there was this massive sort of public outcry that yes, this is finally getting done. It was such a nice thing to be part of and seeing that rise up from the ground floor. I know that, yeah, if I’d not been working on the game, I would have absolutely been one of those people. Because I was one of the people that had been for years doing a Rebellion going, “When are they going to make this game?”
Ash – On that note, it might be worth worth talking about how you join the team.
Rich – So yeah, I had my life in a box and I was about to take a job at the other end of the country. I’d been living in Oxford for a while and I showed up to an interview with Rebellion on like, just a whim, basically. I’d been offered an interview and I’d said, “Fine, but my life is in a box, I’m gonna be moving out literally tomorrow and I’ll show up and see what’s going on.” I showed up and halfway through the interview, they told me that actually, this is for Evil Genius 2, not for any of our existing unannounced properties. I had to call the timeout in the middle of the interview. I don’t remember what I did…
Ash – Reports vary! [laughs]
Rich – They do! I think I thought they were quite stoic and relaxed and calm, but other people say that I came across the table. There’s been a number of different things said about what happened . What I do know is that I just was overjoyed to hear that a sequel was happening and when I was leaving the office, I accepted the job as soon as it was offered, and then had to go around and tell my landlord that actually yes, I do want to stay here, and can I please still stay in the city and not have to go and find another place to live!
Ash – And thank goodness he did, to be honest, because Rich has been absolutely integral to the project. He is the genius behind Evil Genius 2. So much of this is his kind of brainchild, and as I’m sure he’ll tell you if given half a chance, he actually tried to start building an Evil Genius many years ago on his own in his bedroom. So yeah, having a full, complete, decent team around him has been fantastic in getting that where I needed to go.
TSA – I’m not entirely sure that going into a bit of a fugue state is the best idea in a job interview, but it worked out it seems.
Rich – Honestly, I woke up thinking that, yeah, I genuinely didn’t think I’ve got the job, but I was still overjoyed to hear that, you know, the game was happening. It’s great.
TSA – That fan reaction is interesting, because it does feel like management sims, in broad terms, was underserved for a long time. Did seeing the success of Frontier’s games and Two Point Studios help spur on Rebellion’s decision to greenlight the game?
Ash – We’d started pre-production on Evil Genius 2 already, but we certainly closely followed a number of those those properties. I mean we’re big strategy management fans ourselves on the team, as you might expect, and so we’re big fans of Two Point Hospital, Jurassic World Evolution, Surviving mars and all that stuff. I think seeing those titles kind of come out to such an enormous positive response was really heartening for us. I think when we started the project, it was very much seen as well, we’re probably going to be a small niche PC title, but it’s going to be cool and we really want to make it there’s a lot of passionate people behind this and waiting for it so that let’s just do it.
I think the real tipping point for us in terms of that there’s a potentially a huge audience for this came in at E3 2019 when we opened the PC Gaming Show with our kind of first trailer and the response to that was enormous and we were like, “Oh wow, okay. This might be bigger than we expected.” So yes, seeing the resurgence of the strategy management genre has been really phenomenally positive thing for us and kind of encouraged us that we’re doing the right thing here. Seeing some of the ways we’ve looked to modernise Evil Genius and similar corresponding beats in some of those other properties has also been heartening. It’s like, “Cool, yeah, we’re doing that as well. That’s brilliant!” Yet, at the same time, there’s still nothing quite like Evil Genius out there, so I think it puts us in a really, really good position.
TSA – Speaking of modernisation, how have you gone about taking a 15 year old game and updating it, beyond just making the game look much prettier? There’s the potential to go a bit too far with handholding, and also to stay to slavishly restricted by the original.
Rich – So one of the things that we’d be looked at on every feature we’ve implemented is how you can just interact with that feature at a very sort of surface level, it’s a game about being an Evil Genius, so you can if you want focus on being just the big picture person, the person who says I want a room over here, and then minions will do it for you. This is a fantastic example of where ou can take your hands off the wheels and just let this thing play out by giving these nice orders. That just makes it nicely accessible for basically any player.
But to make sure that we’re also targeting the people who want that sort of hardcore, in-depth experience, we’ve made sure that our features have that level where you can go in and say, “Actually, you know what, this means a bit lazier than the others, I’m going to execute him or send him to the world map have him commit a crime, so I never need to think about him again.” It’s all about making sure that the feature just works out of the box, but has that nice potential to be a really nice cog in a machine that the player gets to build.
TSA – I’ll be honest, when the tutorial was forcing me to execute someone, I literally went through all the minions I had, looking for someone who’s lazy? Someone who’s just really tired at the moment? I feel bad killing someone that’s awake!
Ash – So you executed someone in their sleep? That’s brutal?
TSA – Uh, I think I did, yeah. There was someone in their bunk. It’s a shame there wasn’t a pillow smothering animation to go with it! [laughs]
Ash – I was just thinking… if we had time!
TSA – One thing I found as I was playing was that I was initially very stuck in the mentality of building my lair out of just rooms and corridors. It was only after a few hours that I realised I could just adjoin certain room types and have, for example, a sushi bar just in my science lab. I then saw this featured in some of your game screenshots. Is there anything you do to encourage the exploration of this more open plan design?
Rich – The tools that we give you absolutely allow you to bring out that from minute one. And one of the endless push-pulls that we have on the dev team is that I am the kind of player who will use those straightaway. I’ll say, you know, my minions need to be eating or sleeping much more quickly, so I can put the sushi bar right in the middle of my barracks to sort of facilitate that. Whereas you’ve got somebody like ASh, who will build very square rooms, all of them with you know, just like the one or two bits that they need in it…
Ash – Look, I put things in boxes for a living, Rich!
Yeah, it’s something that’s taken me a lot longer to adapt to, I think, I think there were, you know, back in the pre-COVID development days, Rish was on desk next to mine, and he would often kind of walk past my screen where I was building, kind of shake his head and go, “You know, you’re not using the checkerboarding. You’re not placing things rooms within rooms!” And I’m like, “But I like this kind of layout.” It’s only relatively recently that I’ve started really experimenting with that and realising just how powerful that tool set is. Being able to combine multiple room types, as you say, have a sushi bar in the middle of your barracks, or put weapon racks at the side of your control room so that if it red alerts, your minions respond more quickly, that kind of thing is all really, really integral to the people who want to fully experiment and go extreme with what a lair can truly be.
The fact that it’s not strictly necessary means that if you don’t want to do that, you can build a more traditional rooms, separated by corridors and that will also work. So I think it’s about making sure that it meets what people want to do going in, regardless of their mindset, but also provide them with the depth to explore and continue to say, “Well, okay, I built a lair with boxes and corridors last time, but in this other campaign, I’m gonna go crazy and then see what happens.” And that’s the other advantage, I guess, of having four separate narrative campaigns, so we are very focused on replayability. And that the depth of those tools means that, yeah, there are so very, very many different ways you can go about building a very functional lair.
TSA – You’ve got four geniuses in the game this time round, and they’re all new apart from Maximilian who’s obviously coming back. What went into the creation of the other ones, what twists on the gameplay? I see that Red Ivan has had a bit of a promotion.
Rich – The first thing we did was we looked at the ways that we would want to play this game. So we ended up with four sort of very broad archetypes, which we then ended up modelling our geniuses on. So we’ve got sort of the standard and wants to be good at everything player who is sort of the gold standard dabbles in everything, which is Maximilian. He’s this genius specifically tailored for you know, you just want to do a little bit of everything, but not exactly specialised.
The other three then follow the different minion trees more heavily than the other geniuses. For example, Ivan is more into his big burly guards, and you know, big gunfights in the middle of the corridors, were somebody like Zalika is going to be far more focused on traps because she has the scientific power to, to pull those through.
That said, as we’ve sort of been keen to stress at every level, you can play the game whichever way you want. So if you want to play Red Ivan, but put a very heavy focus on research, you absolutely can. It might not move as smoothly as somebody like Zalika would be able to do and you might find yourself needing compensate in other areas, ut it’s your genius, your lair, and you can absolutely play this however you want. The other thing that gives us the massive advantage here is we’ve got four campaigns, one for each genius. So that’s given us an opportunity to, rather than give like one standard set of levels that all geniuses must overcome, we’re giving you very unique challenges for each genius. For example, Ivan will be seeing a lot more soldiers showing up in his lair as he attempts to take over the world, whereas somebody like Zalika will be needing to do a lot more research in order to complete her campaign.
TSA – And finally, since everyone’s working from home and there’s no doubt endless video conference calls, who on the team has the best evil lair?
Ash – Oh, that’s a good question….
Rich – It is hard…
Ash – I might go with… me? Yeah!
So I moved house at the end of last year, and bought my first house and I spent kind of lost that the previous kind of 9-10 months working from an old sofa in front of my TV in my little flat. So when I moved house, I was like, well, this is an expensive time anyway and my back hurts, so I spent a fair bit of money on getting a really nice setup, but because of the kind of person I am, I tend to buy black, white or chrome things – that’s why I’m not an artist – so my desk setup is a black desk with a big black high back chair and multiple screens and a mic stand and big black speakers. I’m very happy with it, but it does look a little bit malevolent.
Rich – Thinking about this, even back in the office, Ash had a giant red buttons on his desk and he never told us what it did!
Ash – Someone once referred to it as the murder button; they reckoned that I pressed it if someone really annoyed me… Not true!
Thanks to Ash and Rich for chatting with us, and hopefully nobody has drawn the ire of Ash and his big red button in recent times! Evil Genius 2 is out for PC on 30th March. Make sure to check out our hands on preview here.