18 - Hogs of War

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A Hogs of War poster
Far from a mere "Worms in 3D", Hogs of War was its own breed of madness. Hear the story of how it evolved from a concept of "Command and Conquer with pigs", what made it such a well-designed satire, and how this underrated PlayStation game saw the funny side of serious global conflict.

All music and sound effects in this episode were composed and performed by me, except for the bits that I lifted out of Hogs of War.

Hogs of War is available for Playstation 3/Vita/PSP via PSN, and its PC port (slightly better graphics but solo campaign AI is broken and lots of glitches) is on GOG. If you'd like to play it, I suggest either grabbing the PSN release or tracking down a copy of the PS1 original.

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(Partial) Transcript

[start with recording from the game]

To call it Worms in 3D would be overly simplistic, and maybe even flat-out wrong. Hogs of War was its own breed of madness, perhaps not a world, but at least a county, apart from its most obvious influence — Worms, the best-selling artillery franchise by Team 17, where cute, anthropomorphised phyla blow each other to bits with zany weapons and snappy one-liners.

Hogs of War is its own thing, partly because it’s got so much real-time strategy in it, conceptually speaking, and partly also because, for such a light-hearted game, it’s actually quite dark and cynical.

It takes the First World War, that most bleak and wasteful of global conflicts, masked by noble intentions of a "war to end all wars", and it satirises it — calling attention to the folly and the misplaced bravado of war, not unlike the final season of its creators’ favourite TV series, BlackAdder, through ultimately-pointless skirmishes and human…er, pig sacrifices of politically-motivated war.

But before I say more on what Hogs of War is, and isn’t, and why I think it’s such an underrated gem from the PlayStation 1 era, I want to put it in proper context. So let’s go back to the beginning.

Our story starts in 1996. The camp, over-the-top sci-fi real-time strategy game Command and Conquer ruled the charts all around the world (though Worms was right up there with it), and real-time strategy was the games industry’s favourite new genre. The hot thing everyone wanted, kind of like battle royale games today.

There were dozens of titles entering production, most aping on either Command and Conquer’s sci-fi bent or Warcraft’s fantasy stylings. And the long-running British games company Gremlin Interactive wanted a slice of that pie.

Specifically, they thought they’d do their own spin on Command and Conquer. With pigs.

Why pigs? There’s apparently some disagreement on this, but lead programmer Jake Habgood remembers it coming from Gremlin founder Ian Stewart, who, legend has it, saw the hit movie Babe and then said in a marketing meeting that they should be making games about pigs. Because people like pigs.

Anyway, one way or another, they ended up with a design document that described warring pig nations battling for control over a highly-coveted, rare, oil-like resource called Swill — a not-so-subtle, very tongue-in-cheek nod to Dune’s spice and Command and Conquer’s Tiberium — that’s deposited in large quantities in the island nations of Saustralasia. Control the swill and you’ll control the world.

(For more you'll have to either just listen to the episode or sign up as a supporter on Patreon — everyone who pledges $3 or more a month gets access to full episode transcripts [amongst other things].)


If you enjoyed this episode, you might like to consider listening to the previous entry this season, Super Mario Kart, or one of the many other game design/development-focused stories I've done — consider, for instance, the episodes on Lode RunnerMidwinterFIFA 3DO, the grid-based level editor (part 2) of the original Tomb Raider games, or the graphical innovations of pixel artist Mark Ferrari. Or for a change of pace, perhaps you'd like to learn about the origins of the "boss button" or of the App Store's race to the bottom in game pricing?

There are "soundbites", too — short clips from interviews I've conducted over the years, like with Tetris Company co-founder Henk Rogers, former Microsoft executive Jon Kimmich, and legendary puzzle designer Scott Kim.

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The Life & Times of Video Games

The Life & Times of Video Games: A documentary and narrative-style audio series about video games and the video game industry — as they were in the past, and how they came to be the way they are today.

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