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Chris Sawyer on his reentry back into video games

Industry veteran Chris Sawyer has a new studio, and a re-envisioning of an old game. Here, he discusses 31X Ltd, the new Transport Tycoon, and why his games won't be free-to-play.
"It was just named randomly on a whim - the original intention was that this was just a holding company, not the public face for the publication of my game." Chris Sawyer has been out of the video game limelight since his 2004 simulation game Chris Sawyer's Locomotion failed to gain much traction where accolades are concerned. So when Sawyer set up 31X Ltd back in 2010, he didn't plan to put a whole lot of thought into the name. "31X Ltd was originally set up only as a holding company for the Transport Tycoon IP," he tells me. "It was actually chosen deliberately as it doesn't mean anything, though I expect people will read many different things into it!" "As time went by it became obvious that the right way forward was to create and publish a new version of the game, and so the company evolved to take on that task." This leads us to the here and now, as Sawyer prepares to launch Transport Tycoon for mobile devices (pictured) -- a re-envisioned version of the original classic from 1994, developed in collaboration with Origin8 Technologies. TransportTycoon1.jpgThe 31X team includes Jacqui Lyons, who has represented Sawyer for over 20 years; John Hurlbut, the general marketing manger on Sawyer's original RollerCoaster Tycoon; and Guy Herbert of Marjacq Micro, who negotiated the reversion of the MicroProse licence in Transport Tycoon. "The game is completely re-written (a consequence of the original games being written in 8086 Assembler, which can't be recompiled for other platforms)," he explains, "but the game design is very much based on my older games with updated interface and controls to suit mobile platforms." He continues, "The graphical style of the game (fixed viewpoint isometric) I think really works well on devices like the iPad and iPhone - It shows a lot of rich detail in a small screen area, and together with the touchscreen interface makes the game feel very tactile." Sawyer's original plan was to completely stay out of the development side, and instead focus on funding development from the team at Origin8. "However, as time went on I got drawn into working quite closely with the development team, overseeing the design and helping with debugging, and generally trying to help get what is a massively complex game working on mobile platforms," he says. TransportTycoon05.jpgJust because the game is coming to mobile, don't expect a free-to-play experience. "It's a paid title," Sawyer tells me. "The game doesn't suit the free-to-play revenue model, and I'm also not a great fan of the way free-to-play titles try to make money through in-game purchases or advertising." Given that the original Transport Tycoon was released for PC platforms, and since Sawyer's career in video games was essentially carried by his PC gaming fans, I asked him whether he believes he'll see a backlash from PC gamers over his choice to target mobile platforms. "I think many PC gamers will be glad to see a mobile version of the game they love," he responds. "Why would there be a backlash? The game is very much true to the Tycoon label and hasn't been watered down whatsoever - it's probably the most complex game ever to be launched on mobile platforms." He adds, "Hopefully PC gamers who also own an iOS or Android phone or tablet will embrace the new game as a revitalised version of the classic original." Transport Tycoon will be released for iOS and Android platforms in late 2013.

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