The lead developer, Krzysztof Koźmik, has graciously agreed to an email interview with eXplorminate4x.com. “Chris” posts as Silver Lemur on our forums, and we’re very excited to get to talk about his new game.
Pocket Space Empire (PSE) is a new space 4X game in development. The idea of PSE is eliminate the aspects of 4X games that people find tiring or tedious and replace them with more macroscopic mechanics. PSE is intended to be much more of an empire simulator than a tactical war game.
Troy: One can see that you have a very clear and strong vision for what you want Pocket Space Empire (PSE) to be. How did this vision come to you? What inspired it?
Chris: Hi Troy! This is the first time that someone asked to interview me so it’s quite exciting, thanks.
About the vision, I aimed for a strong & clear one because I found out that, at least among games I made, the ones with strong vision turn out better, more fun and more profitable. Personally, I feel that many traditional studios get it wrong and try to cater to everyone (casual mania) and in the end they make a game no one really likes. So, instead of making a generic 4X, I designed a game I would want to play myself. That might result in less people liking it, but those who do, should enjoy it more.
What inspired it? Well, first comes my personal grudge against micromanagement. I do not have a lot of time to play and I expect any game I touch to have a good ratio of fun vs time invested. Next is the Emperor part, I like to play as a powerful authoritarian ruler, also imperial court and the like sound tasty to me. The last component that was missing was asymmetry, once I got it, I had the game.
As for inspiration? I would say Andean Abyss (boardgame), Dictator (ZX Spectrum), Imperium (Amiga) and Reunion (Amiga) were the most influential. Of course I played tons of other (games), more modern ones and these inspired me to a degree as well.
Troy: What are some of your previous software development experiences? And how have they played a role in creating PSE?
Chris: I have been making games ever since I can remember: board games, C64, Amiga, PC, and web browser games. It’s a typical, boring and tedious story of unfinished projects, taking on more than you can chew, feature creep, and the other stuff most devs can tell you about. Overall it took me 15 years to learn how to actually finish games. Before? I just knew how to start them.
Since 2005, I’ve been making games full time. What did I make exactly? Well, excluding all these unfinished projects and boardgames, the list is quite small: 1 roguelike for PC and around 5-7 browser MMOs. It’s quite frustrating. I have been doing it for a total of 25 years and somehow just one standalone game was released… So, I decided to go back to making these PC games and that’s how PSE started.
Over the years I was making RPGs, simulations, strategy and board games. One shouldn’t forget board games. They are super inspirational and have tons of original mechanics. Let me tell you something, boardgames are a decade or more ahead of computer games in terms of innovation. So, I soaked myself in various mechanics and features that will be used in PSE later.
Troy: There are a lot of Space 4X games currently on the market and in production. It seems like every month I hear about a new one. What will make PSE stand out from the rest of them?
Chris: It will differ quite a lot. Asymmetric gameplay alone makes the game totally different than classic 4X (as far as I know there are only 2 asymmetric strategies/4X games at the moment: AI War Fleet Command and At The Gates).
Then comes the audience mechanic, hierarchical military system, dealing with formations instead of individual ships, the research system has a slightly unique twist of priority system (I love designing research systems and techs), assassination attempts, part of the UI/mechanics moved from the UI to the audience which also simplifies the interface, hundreds of imperial officials.
I would not want to copy here all the stuff I had listed on the homepage, but really, if you are into unique stuff you won’t be disappointed. There are tons of these features, but note that, as with all innovation, some of these might, and will, turn out be less fun than expected. hat’s the real danger here, not the lack or originality.
Troy: When people see the finished product, what do you want them to say about PSE?
Chris: That they have not wasted their time and money :) And that they had fun. Everything else is really irrelevant.
Troy: Two of the biggest problems fans tend to identify in our genre are weak AI’s and lousy endgames. How are you addressing these?
Chris: Lousy endgame stems from 3 roots: more and more choices over time where each individual choice matters less and less; geometrical increase of management units (planets, ships); the need to conquer every single planet even after it’s obviously clear you already won.
I decided to fight it at the management unit level, while preserving hundreds of planets and tens of thousands of ships I made them manageable at the higher levels. It’s a controversial choice and some people will not like it, but the key was to limit players from building farms, factories or moving around individual ships. You manage planets by edicts and very generic specialization settings. Military units are managed as whole formations. So, in the late game, you should not have drastically more decisions to make per turn then you did at the start.
As for dragging the gameplay on after others stand no chance, it’s just a matter of proper winning conditions plus the asymmetric invasion of aliens from another dimension towards the end.
Weak AI is a different problem. Actually, what players complain about most, is not the AI being weak but it being abusable and challenging without cheats. I think the key problem here is the attempt to make the AI simulate human-like behavior. Well, computers can’t do it, they have no intellect just speed, memory and algorithms.
The obvious solution is to make the AI play by different rules, like the battle between the bear trying to get the honey and the swarm of bees protecting their hive. The bear needs to be cunning, sly and resilient while swarms of bees fight by totally different rules. They fly, sting, coordinate their attacks and have disposable warriors willing to die for the queen and their honey. The bear on the other hand, while hungry, definitely would not trade it’s life for their honey. I doubt the bear views the swarm as a weak or it’s behavior as abusable AI.
Troy: I noticed you were using a crowdfunding site to help launch the work on PSE. Crowdfunding is something I am keenly interested in and support in a big way. What is your past experience with such sites and what made you choose Indie-go-go over some of the other ones? (feel free to link your campaign in your answer, by the way)
Chris: No experience here. Just decided to give it a try. IndieGoGo was available in my country while Kickstarter was not, no other considerations involved.
Overall, I feel the glory of crowdfunding as a thing of the past, at least for video games. I have stumbled upon many people who say they would buy the game after release but they won’t pay anything through crowdfunding because they were burned by it the past. Same goes for Early Access. Even if you take into account my ignorance on the whole crowdfunding thing, which is undeniable, I have not seen any project recently that did reasonably well.
We shall see since there is plenty of time until the campaign ends, so maybe it will work out in the end. Anyway, the best part of crowdfunding venture is that I got quite a lot of support from random people. I also realized that people wanted this game. That means it will have the fans after release, so I’m going to the make the game using my savings even if crowdfunding fails.
Troy: I also noticed you have started a Steam Greenlight campaign. What have been some of the challenges of that? (again, feel free to link your campaign in your answer)
Chris: Again, no experience here. Even less than on crowdfunding. I just put it on greenlight: and then saw some strange metrics like “35% of the way to the top 100” without a clue if it’s a good or bad value.
Anyway, I plan to release on Steam, Humble Store and maybe GOG(.com).
Troy: There are certainly some mechanical aspects fans will want to know about. Answer these in any manner you choose: Will there be multiplayer? Will there be mod support? How long do you think you’ll support the game post-launch? Do you plan any DLC’s or expansions?
Chris: First requirements, it should work on a very low specs machines without any lag. It will launch quite fast (most things “load on demand”) and overall be “light weight” in all aspects. The game is strictly single player. It was designed this way to utilize the single player mechanics to the fullest, no compromises here, and while many people will disagree with me here, trust me, it makes a game better when focused on just one game mode.
Mod support? hard to tell right now, maybe is all I can say. But I prefer customization, so you can “mod it” yourself on runtime without downloading any mods. I want to make a complete product you can play without the need to mod it and provide enough in game customization and variation (like different sets/themes of technologies you can choose on setup). Mod support might be there, as an extra, but the core will be on customization side of things.
How long I will support it? hard to tell now because it really depends on the community response. Lords, my game from 2005, still gets updates. Expansions? well, I do hope to make at least one. I have learned that when people ask if there will be expansions/DLCs, that’s usually an implication that the game is broken or incomplete/lacking in content without a DLC. I don’t plan to make these evil things :) Also, I don’t really need to, my personal flaw is making my games too complex in the first place, so I can come up with almost infinite number of additional rules and mechanics which could be in future expansions (till it all becomes so complex and only I know how to play it). To sum it up, I want to make a relatively simple game (to my standards at least) that is solid, clear and fun without the need for expansions to make it fully playable.
Troy: What is one thing you are most excited about when it comes to PSE?
Chris: My return to desktop development and single-player games.
Troy: What is something you hope the readers of this article take away from reading it?
Chris: You know, if you are into a grand strategy imperial sim, like asymmetric gameplay and loathe micromanagement or don’t have too much time? Odds are that you will like this game. Thanks!
Troy: Thank you very much for your time, Chris. I wish you the best of luck in both your campaigns and in your endeavor to bring us a new 4X game.