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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September, 2003, 06:17 GMT 07:17 UK
Game plays politics with your PC
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

The work of a shy and reclusive Bulgarian-born writer may seem like a strange source of inspiration for a computer game.

Screenshot from Republic
Your mission is to overthrow a ruthless dictator
But the writings of Elias Canetti about the nature of power are behind a complex and ambitious game called Republic: The Revolution, which has just gone on sale in the UK.

Republic is a strategy simulation game that puts you in the role of a budding revolutionary, out to overthrow a despotic and corrupt regime.

Much of the artificial intelligence in the game is based on the book, Crowds and Power, by the 1981 Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Political games

The game is set in the fictional country of Novistrana, supposedly one of the autonomous states that sprung up following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The state is in the grip of a ruthless dictator and your job is to build up a following and overthrow the regime.

Demis Hassabis
We boiled it down to three ways to win the game, force, money and influence
Demis Hassabis, Elixir Studios
"I wanted the player to feel what it was like to be Che Guevara," explained Demis Hassabis, the creator of Republic, "to evoke those emotions in a player."

The title crosses traditional genres, combining elements of real-time strategy games with simulation games like SimCity.

Using a specially developed graphics engine, players can look over detailed cityscapes and zoom in on individual characters.

Getting the mix of strategy and simulation just right was a slow and painstaking affair. Republic took an average of 25 people just over four years to complete.

Mr Hassabis told BBC News Online that "many, many times" he felt as if they were not going to succeed, because of the problems of combining two game genres

He has a great deal riding on the game, which is the first title by his company, Elixir Studios.

Complicated scenario

The game makers spent a lot of time trying to work out how to convey complex political ideology to gamers.

"I read a lot of revolutionary books during the making of the game, in particular Crowds and Power," said Mr Hassabis, "it looks at issues of mob role and power."

Screenshot from Republic
Learn how to use crowds to your advantage
The work by the Bulgarian-born British citizen Elias Canetti influenced the behaviour of the crowds in the game.

Some ideas had to be discarded as they proved too complicated for a computer game.

"We boiled it down to three ways to win the game, force, money and influence," said Mr Hassabis. Players can manipulate, threaten, bribe or defame their way to power.

But he is pleased with the result, arguing that the sociological model in the game is "as realistic as has been achieved so far".

Elixir are even talking to academics about how the artificial intelligence behind the game could be used for research purposes.

The political complexity means that Republic has a steep learning curve that could deter the casual gamer. Elixir admitted it might not be everyone's cup of tea.

"It takes a bit of time to get into," admitted Mr Hassabis. "The control system is quite intuitive but the interface is very different to other games.

"I hope it is not so complicated that people won't get into it," he said. "I hope it does well enough that we can carry on with developing it."

Republic: The Revolution, published by Eidos, is out now for the PC.

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