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How Syndicate went from clever AI exercise to murderous cyborg mayhem

Much of Syndicate's appeal lies in its great cyberpunk graphics, created by graphics designers Paul and Chris. Paul used DPaint on an Amiga to produce most of the work on the cities, and Chris worked on the sprites.

Paul says he works according to the needs of the programmer: "Generally you work on the backgrounds first in combination with a rough set of sprites. You rarely jump straight in and get something substantial finished early on."

"People come up and throw ideas at you and gradually you start building up a very specific look," adds Chris. "Even right up to the last minute we were deciding whether or not to include certain sprites and how guns should work."

Russell, the sound effects man, started work on Syndicate in November 1992, his task was made much easier because the game was mostly finished. His job, says Russell, "is very much a pruning process after I've done tons of things. I'd rather have fewer effects with better quality, than thousands of effects that all sound rubbishy. Sound quality has to be your priority."

Alex Travers' job title is Head of Quality Assurance. "When a project reaches a certain state it's my job to play the game thoroughly, look for any problems and make suggestions for the game," he says.

"The way this works is we fill in a bug sheet which is divided into sections dealing with program faults, crashes, glitches and stuff. At the end of the day it gets handed on to the programmer. And believe me, we are the programmer's worst enemy because we give them so much grief!"

Massive mission

However, on Syndicate, Alex spent most of his time creating the different missions.

"The first step in designing the levels was to take the blocks from the graphics artist," he explains. "We've got this custom City Editor which enables you to place things where you want. It's a good idea to have a sketch before you start, though, so you've got a rough idea what's going where.

"Once the basics of the city were down, I then used the people editor to plonk policemen, citizens, agents or criminals wherever I wanted and I could tell them to do almost anything - instruct a citizen to use a car, park it, go into a house, wait, come out of the house, go to work, and so on.

"In Syndicate the whole transport system works as it should. You can use the cars and the monorail and all the other characters use it too. There's a lot of stuff in there that people will never see. A car will go past, but they won't watch it, they'll just blow the thing up.

"You don't have to aimlessly wander around blowing things up, it's just that a lot of people like doing that. Many of the levels can be completed non-violently."

"I hope people do realise that the violence is tongue-in-cheek," adds Alex, "the game was a lot worse - we used to have more civilians in the city. For instance there were mothers and crying babies which you could torch, but the biggest objections came when dogs were torched!"

Eventually, all the hard work has to stop and the game has to be mastered and duplicated ready for the shops and you.

"There's a lot of pressure to release a game early," says Molyneux. "In Syndicate's case there was a lot of pressure from us on distributors Electronics Arts to release it in March '93, and I said no.

"There's also a lot of pressure internally to keep on making improvements, but you've got to stop somewhere or you'd go on forever."