Greeting and Salutations dear reader! I am sure that you are chomping at the bit having read the title of my latest Q&A writeup. I certainly was when Troy Goodfellow, a developer and PR-type at Paradox Interactive, presented me with the opportunity to discuss Stellaris with Game Director Henrik Fåhraeus.
First, let me briefly introduce the developer/publisher, Paradox Interactive, though that might not be necessary. Paradox is the king of historically-based, alternate history games like Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, Victoria, Hearts of Iron and others. In the past couple of years, they really “blew up” when they changed their business model. But after years of deliberately staying away from the genre, Paradox is going to saddle up for the first in-house, space 4X title in their stable.
Stellaris is part 4X, part Grand Strategy, and all pausable real-time fun. Procedurally generated alien factions will compete with players for territory, influence, and galactic domination. But unlike most Paradox titles, Stellaris starts out as a traditional 4X where you eXplore, eXpand and build your foundation. Then comes eXploit – a whole lot of eXploit – and some eXterminate. Paradox is more interested in the political arena, and not so much in the military one. After all, what kind of a benevolent galactic overlord is going to bother with the day-to-day grind of war? Instead, Stellaris offers the eXperience that Paradox is known for without the pesky historical foundation from their other titles that forces you to play a certain way. How is that going to work? Well, that’s what the Q&A is for, so settle in for a fun read.
Question: Can you tell us a little about the main people behind the Stellaris design and what roles they fill?
Answer: As Game Director, I head up the whole design team of Paradox Development Studio, so my time is divided between several projects. So, while I own the vision and the top level design of Stellaris, Joakim Andreasson does most of the heavy lifting, filling in the blanks and working out the details. Daniel Moregård is our interface designer and has also done a lot of work on the game economy (resource balance, etc.). Then we have our chief content designer on Stellaris, Henrik Eklund, who is responsible for the scripted narratives in the game and the advisor/tutorial system. As always, many others, both on and off the team, have also made contributions, of course.
Question: In your first Dev Diary, you lay the foundation for Stellaris with a mission statement about your focus on eXploration. But eXpansion is equally important in the first act of any 4X as you secure territory and resources. Can you tell us about this phase of the game?
Answer: Absolutely! Now, keep in mind that everything I say in this interview is tentative – the game is still in early stages and things might change in particular instances. But the general outline of what I tell you should still be accurate.
Expansion and conquest are really what define a strategy game, for most people. In Stellaris, you will tend to settle a few colonies before you need to start worrying about the opposition. Of course, how much wiggle room you have depends on your galaxy set-up at the start of the game. The galaxy is generated so that there will always be at least one viable colony in the vicinity of your home planet, but you do not initially have the ability to build colony ships. So, while your science ships go around surveying planets and having little adventures, you tend to spend time planning the buildings on the surface of your home planet and researching the colony ship technology. You might also research “construction ships” so that you can build mining stations to harvest various Energy and Mineral deposits. Colony Ships are expensive to build, so you will need a healthy stockpile of Minerals.
When you build a Colony Ship, you are given the choice of what type of colonists it should carry. That is, which locally available “Pop” (population unit) they should draw from (but the whole Pop does not travel on the ship). When the Colony Ship has landed on the new world, it takes quite a while for the colonists to set up and grow into a full “Pop.” During this time, the colony will be a significant drain on your economy, so it is not always wise to settle as many worlds as you can as quickly as possible. It is worth noting that, in Stellaris, you cannot easily inhabit all types of worlds – not even with late-game technologies. You will be forced to rely on alien Pops or robots to colonize planets your starting race cannot inhabit (you can only terraform a few planets since doing so uses up a strategic resource).
Question: So, let’s talk about the various “players” in Stellaris. So far, I have seen the numbers of 32 and 32+1 featured a lot. The game is being developed with MP in mind, but does that mean that you won’t be able to have 100 “players” in a single game?
Answer: We only guarantee that the game runs well with 32 human players. That number is completely arbitrary though – there is no such limitation in the engine code or anything like that – but we simply do not use more players in our quality assurance process. As for AI-controlled empires, there is no real limit apart from how many you can reasonably squeeze into the galaxy. We are still working on the default settings and getting that balance right.
Question: Another major staple of 4X and Space 4X games are minor factions. I haven’t seen any mention of them, but in Dev Diary #3, you mention “a lot more will spring into existence during your game.” Are you referring to full-fledged empires as you explore the map, or new ones that appear within your empire? Can you elaborate on this, please?
Answer: Well, when you think about it, a “minor” faction is really just an empire that starts out with some kind of disadvantage, probably in size or technology. I am not a fan of making some kind of permanent distinction between major and minor factions, but we have plenty of planets that start out as pre-space age civilizations, and also some “fallen empires” that have stopped researching. While you yourself cannot start the game as such a civilization, they are not destined to spend the rest of the game handicapped, and can eventually achieve FTL or start up their technological development again. Many new empires can also appear while you play – for example, through revolts or peace demands – and these will not be hobbled in any way. Stellaris is, in this way, more similar to Europa Universalis with its native tribes, revolts and liberation of subjugated nations.
Question: Alright, let’s talk about planets. In the 9th Dev Diary you covered a lot, but two things stand out for me: the tiles and the population that works them. How is your system different than any number of 4X titles that are currently available? How will you manage the inherent micromanagement as the empire grows?
Answer: The tile system in Stellaris is hardly revolutionary – a lot of games use this design idea – but I think our implementation is fun. The level of planning required by the player is appropriate in the early stages of the game, when you have time to think about adjacency bonuses and future building upgrades. Micromanagement is always a bogeyman, of course, but we have a built-in solution for that: you simply cannot control more than a few planets directly. Once you have grown past a certain point, you need to start assigning planets to something we call Sectors. This isn’t just an automation feature; it’s a step towards actual autonomy. If you have played Crusader Kings II, the concept is similar to how vassals work in that game.
Question: This is as good a place as any to discuss the resources. In the 9th Dev Diary, you also cover them. But what you don’t mention is how they are transported and utilized. Will ship construction be linked to supplies? How about food? What about the credits – can they be used to speed up anything in another system when not originally generated there?
Answer: Resources are automatically transported to a global supply (the exception being Food, which is local to the planet). There are no logistics involved in this. All ships and stations, as well as most planetary buildings, cost Energy Credits to maintain, which acts like a natural cap on your construction efforts.
Question: Let’s talk research. In the 11th Dev Diary, you cover R&D. On the surface, the new tech discovery system looks very interesting, but it reminds me a lot of Pandora: First Contact and Sword of the Stars. Do scientists have any effect on the type of research that they are heading? Do the techs randomize where any tech can be at any point of the card pile, or do they come in a set series?
Answer: Stellaris does not have a tech tree, so it’s not really similar to either of those games. Imagine that each technology is a card and that they are stacked in a deck. You draw the top three cards and pick one to research. The other two go back into the deck, which is then reshuffled. The magic happens in the act of “shuffling” the deck: Some cards have zero chance of being drawn, depending on prerequisite techs for example. These are simply put aside, which is pretty straightforward. However, the remaining cards all have different likelihoods of being drawn, or redrawn in some cases, depending on many factors, like, for example, the Skill and Traits of the scientist in charge, the ethics of your empire, and the results of your adventures in space. So some cards are “heavier” and tend to end up near the bottom of the pile, if you will. There is more to the system, but this is basically what I can reveal at this point.
Question: How about scavenging tech and retrofitting it? Can tech be stolen through espionage? And, if so, do you still have to research it since you might have stolen the idea and not its inner workings?
Answer: Ships tend to leave debris after combat. Following a battle, you can send your science ships there to study the wreckage, which can yield insights into technologies you do not have available to your empire. This can either lead to progress being made to a “card” you haven’t drawn yet, or the presentation of a fourth research option next time you do research, or even give you a technology outright. This system is also commonly used in exploration, when your science vessels study anomalies and so on. In fact, many technologies can only be discovered this way and not by normal research.
Question: What about the utilization of the researched tech? Is it like CK2 and EU4, or can you trust your governor to do it for you?
Answer: You have the choice of whether to automate this in your ship designs or do it manually. Other types of technologies are, of course, applied automatically.
Question: Since we talked about scientists, this is a great place to talk about Great People. In the 6th Dev Diary, you spoke of these characters and their limitations, but let’s look at where they shine. Do these great people have other interesting interactions that were added since they were first revealed?
Answer: The Leader characters do not have any interactions with each other. It is a possible area for expansion (though perhaps unlikely; this is, after all, not Crusader Kings). However, they do have serious effects on the population – especially your ruler and various governors, who play important roles in the Faction system.
Question: Okay, time to change direction. Let’s talk about Random Events and Discoveries. The game has a great vision and looks fantastic. You have an interesting galaxy and three modes of travel, too. Rare planets, resources and events are present, as well. Does the mode of travel affect the discovery of anything? Does it affect encounters?
Answer: The type of Faster-Than-Light travel you select for your civilization can affect some of the “quests” in the game. When ships enter any type of FTL, they can leave a trace behind to be studied. This is used in some of the in-game events. The various special types of ships and beings in space also use different modes of travel, of course. I guess the short answer is that, yes, the mode of travel can impact encounters, but it’s dependent on how the specific narrative is scripted and not a general rule.
Question: Spaceports, who doesn’t love them, right? In Dev Diary #10, you gave us a lot of tantalizing information. Can you place your spaceports anywhere? How about using them in lieu of the planets themselves? Can you leave them in orbit and strip mine planets? Can they move at all? How about defend themselves?
Answer: You can build exactly one station in orbit of a planet, moon, star, or asteroid. If the planet is inhabited, you can normally only build what we call a spaceport, which serves as a construction yard for ships. Should the planet be inhabited by a pre-space age society, you could also build an “observation post” under some circumstances to keep an eye on less advanced races for research purposes.
If the planet is not inhabited, however, you are free to build a research or mining station to exploit its resources. So, yes, you can choose to mine a planet from space instead of settling it. Civilian stations have weak defenses. There are also military stations, which you are free to build anywhere (it does not have to be in the orbit of a celestial body), and can be upgraded with modules and weapons, just like a ship.
Question: Let’s look at territory for a bit. In the 9th Dev Diary, there is a picture at the bottom with 3 interesting things. I see what appears to be the border of the empire, the distance that can be travelled and the distance that can be observed? Am I right?
Answer: Almost. The colored area is indeed the border of the empire, but the dotted line is the sensor range (distance that can be observed). Outside that range, stars you haven’t visited (or received maps of) are grayed out. Take this with a grain of salt though, because it might not be the final appearance.
Question: How special are the special projects? In Dev Diary #8, you discuss boarding a derelict space ship. Is it an actual boarding action, or just a screen with results after a few turns? What else can happen during these specialized missions?
Answer: The special projects are so special that they can basically be anything our scripters can come up with. For example, they can require the presence of one or more of various types of ships (construction, science, or military vessels), that might even have to have special modules on them. A project can also potentially be interrupted midway with more narrative and choices, or lead to different outcomes on different occasions, etc.
Question: I love empires and what Stellaris potentially brings is both revolutionary and evolutionary. The 5th Dev Diary had me thinking and I would love to know a bit more. What if your governors don’t like the new leader, will they revolt? If they do, what do you need to do to get them back into your empire?
Answer: Indeed! Leader characters as well as units of population can be members of a certain Faction. Powerful Factions can revolt to gain independence (or for various other reasons). However, you might want to meet them halfway before that happens by granting them limited autonomy and making them a vassal state. Either way, you can take them back more easily than you would conquer an alien empire, since taking their planets in a peace deal would be “cheaper” (much like in Europa Universalis IV peace negotiations).
Question: In Dev Diary #12, you introduce Policies and Edicts. Besides technological discovery, what else can increase the pool of possible strategic decisions?
Answer: Your initial Edicts and Policies are chiefly made available by your empire’s combination of Ethics. More are unlocked by researching Social technologies.
Question: In Dev Diaries 13/14/15, you discuss native and uplifted species, minors species and fallen empires. Is it safe to assume that there are going to be additional surprises like aliens invading from off map and/or other dimensions?
Answer: I think that would be a fairly safe bet…
Question: Can you tell us something about the espionage system in Stellaris?
Answer: That is something we won’t have on release, but I’d love to do an expansion on that theme.
Question: Can you tell us something about the combat in Stellaris?
Answer: Combat in Stellaris is fully visualized, but not tactical. That is, you give orders to entire fleets, not individual ships. However, you can install a behavior module on ships in the ship designer, which affects their behavior during combat. As you observe combat play out on the map and in the combat view interface, you can evaluate how well your ships are doing against the enemy fleet, but the only order you can issue is to try to disengage and make an “emergency jump” out of the solar system (which is likely to severely damage your ships).
Question: Of all the things you can tell us about, which part of Stellaris has you most excited?
Answer: I love the random elements of the game; the risks you run as you explore the great unknown of the galaxy, and the surprises it will throw at you…
So folks, there you have it. With the weekly Developer Diary updates from Paradox, it was a difficult decision as to when to end the interview. The 16th DD released on 1/18 was not included. But as you can see, Stellaris is shaping up to be an amazing title. With that, I’d like to thank Henrik, Troy and all the of Paradox crew for everything Stellaris will do to and for the 4X genre and the greater Strategy gaming community.