The XX Show #1: Master of Orionitis

Join Nate and Troy on the inaugural show for the eXtemporaneous eXplorations [yup, we’re working on a better name as well] Podcast as they eXamine why Troy is fed up with MoO-clones.

eXplorminate Music by MangaDrive

Show Notes:

28 replies »

  1. I agree with Troy, the space 4x genre is bloated and it’s going to be a bloodbath for anyone trying to make money in it — not just the indie devs, but the AAA titles as well.

    Some of the indie games will probably not come out in 2016.

    M.O.R.E. has literally been in a “the alpha will be in 3 months” phase for almost three years. It was originally planned for July 2013 and still hasn’t arrived. A final release almost certainly won’t be here in 2016.

    Lord of Rigel is a really ambitious project which (presumably) had to scale back somewhat after they did not get their Kickstarter. They are supposed to release a plan soon and hope to make 2016, but without an alpha it’s hard to predict.

    Dominus Galaxia seems to be in blackout mode. There have been a few screenshots but they are very quiet about their progress. I would be shocked, but happy, to see them release in 2016.

    Java MOO, which I am working on, is very close to an alpha but “very close” still means 6-8 weeks. There’s so much artwork to do that the earliest date for the beta is November and honestly that is an aggressive pace. Maybe if our illustrator had 4 arms we could make that date!

    In fact, I think it’s fair to say that any indie game that does not have a playable alpha out by now will probably not be released this 2016.

    Regardless, the cynic and realist in me thinks that every one of these titles is going to get flattened financially for the very reasons that Troy cited. It’s just an extremely crowded market right now. M.O.R.E. is the only one that announced early enough to get Kickstarter money and they blew through that a long time ago. Since Java MOO will be free, there are no expectations to make back the production budget so I am kind of inoculated against these problems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brent of Dominus Galaxia here. Yeah, we’re guilty of not posting much updates, but there’s several reasons for that.

      First, and the biggest one, is that Jeff is a perfectionist. He don’t like showing placeholder stuff in screenshots. As an example, we do have ship design working, but it’s ugly and uses placeholder UI, so no screenshots of that until we finalize UI for it.

      Second, majority of our work since October’s post are many small details (optimizing, implementing racial attributes, fixing bugs, polish, etc). There’s not really much visual progress besides the ones we’ve already shown. The best way for publishing the next update is to do a gameplay video to show everything in action.

      Jeff is currently re-doing the UI to their near-final stage. Once this is completed, and other details polished/added, then we’ll make the video.

      We’re really close to an alpha, the only missing feature to actually win and make it playable is orbital bombardment after space combat is resolved.

      The remaining missing major features are diplomacy, random events, espionage, and ground combat/transports, but those are not required to be able to win the game. The rest are all implemented, some with missing minor features such as special equipment’s’ effects.

      The majority of work remaining is polish, AI, obtaining assets such as race artwork and ship models among other things, and bunch of minor features. I read somewhere that the last 10% of the game’s development is 90% of the work, which is true in our case :)

      As for the discussion, since I’m deaf, I don’t know what was said. But I assume it’s about the oversaturation of space 4X games. Reading the other comments, I agree, there’s a glut of space games. My main issue with those games falls in several categories:

      1. Too complex – For example, in FPS games, you can quickly pick up the rules of the game, and start having fun right away. I tried several space 4X games, and they simply didn’t keep me entertained while I learn the rules. If it can’t be forgiving and let me get away with knowing little of the rules, it’s not fun and I stop playing it. A 4X game don’t have to be complex to be fun. In fact, the opposite is true, the less complex it is, the more fun it is. By complex I mean, too many types of resources, managing food and money, using the correct tone in diplomacy (I’m looking at you, MoO 3), etc that doesn’t add to the fun.

      2. Uses MoO 2 as a base – Whenever I see people complain “Not another moo clone!”, they’re actually referring to MoO 2, not MoO 1. I’ve yet to see a MoO 1 clone besides DG and Java-MoO. MoO 1 is very very different from MoO 2. I’m sick of games that’s influenced by MoO 2, because there’s way too many of them, and there’s no MoO 1-inspired games. Look at Heroes of Might and Magic, it has stacked units and turn-based combat. Yet it’s successful. Why not the same in space like MoO 1?

      3. Poor implementation of space combat/ground combat. I guess it’s my fault I’m more of a general than an emperor. I don’t care about managing empires in their nitty gritty details. I just want to tell them “make moar ships!” and “research moar techs!” so I can design ships and use my tactical skills to counter an superior force. I don’t feel that in most of space 4X games.

      When a new 4X game is announced, inevitably it will fall in one or more of those categories, and I lose a little more hope that a fun space 4X game will actually be developed.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Brent,
        Since we are making very similar games, I think it’s fascinating to contrast our different approaches in technology and features. I totally agree with you that MOO1 is the superior version in the franchise and it’s been a little frustrating over the years that no one ever made a true MOO1 sequel.

        It sounds like you might still have a lot of work to do, though, because diplomacy was definitely a much bigger beast than I expected. The only significant features I have left now are tactical combat, random events, and loading/saving games. Only the latter is planned for the alpha.

        How many people are on your team? For Java MOO, it’s just a developer, illustrator, musician and a writer.


      • I can’t reply directly to your comment, strange. Anyway, I didn’t mean to trivialize the work diplomacy will entail. I meant that those major features aren’t implemented yet, but does not stop the game from being playable.

        We are keenly aware that there’s a lot more work ahead to be done. We originally estimated that we’d have a playable alpha by end of October, yet it’s now Feb and about 600 commits later, we’re still “almost Alpha” :)

        Space combat took us longer than expected due to number of design issues we had to solve, bugs to iron out, etc. Auto-resolve that don’t “estimate”, but actually perform the same as normal combat took a while to do. So when you do embark on space combat, it might take longer than expected as well :)

        As for my team, we have 3 part-time developers (including myself), 1 full-time developer, 1 part-time artist, and a contracted art team that does race artwork.


  2. Maybe this crunch has already set in.
    Blind Mind Studios of StarRuler fame decided to go into hibernation because sales were lacking.
    Dan’s ZeroSum Games is moving to other genres after StarDrive’s Sector Zero DLC is published.
    The worst has still to come, naturally.

    It feels to me that Endless, Stellaris, and Orion are poised to brawl with each other over the max one million consumer base for the genre.
    They all started making noise about their product around the same time.

    What makes you think that the top tier studios are going to get out of this situation unscathed?


    • A million sales among those three games wouldn’t be too bad. It might be a flop for Wargaming, but I’m not sure what their expectations are for NuMoO. EU4 has sold around 900k in 3 years, Endless Legend has sold about 700k in 18 months. If Stellaris/ES2 each come away with 400k or so sales by the end of December, I’d think that’s alright. NuMoO getting 200-300k would be about right for a big studio’s first 4X game IMO.


  3. Fantastic talk, guys. Really enjoyed the discussion. However I will have to disagree on a few points. Well, not really disagree. I cannot find any fault in your reasoning. But instead I feel the need to raise a few, I humbly think, important questions.

    I do agree that this is a most unfortunate time for some of these small companies to be releasing space 4x games, and in particular on the beaten path of MoO cloning. I can totally see where Troy is coming from. But we cannot just leave it at that. This thought raises too many important issues that need to be addressed, including even the role of indie development in the gaming industry.

    Also the saturation of the MoO clone market, even the space strategy market as a whole, requires some additional thoughts.

    I will try to be as brief as I can.

    1. The Timing
    We can see today the tremendous challenge these small companies are facing with their planned releases. But this was not so evident mid last year, when most of these announcements were being made. We were excited back then. As were the small developers by the general public response to their announcements. I think what happened was simply an unfortunate turn of events, that in the best tradition of Murphy’s Law, eventually conspired against the small developers.

    2. The MoO formula
    MoO cloning has pretty much established itself as a sort of right of passage among strategy developers. Many of the clones never get to see the light of the day, because they are simply pet projects. But once you did an unfinished MoO clone of some sort, you proved your ability to enter the 4x genre. A MoO clone will sit proudly in any 4x developer resume.

    The MoO formula benefits from two great advantages. On one hand it’s just simple. It’s amazingly simple and effective. Which makes it very attractive for someone wishing to enter the 4x market on a low budget and without many risks. MoO is like the horror genre of amateur movie directors wishing to show their capabilities. On the other hand, MoO has acquired a, probably false, status of incompleteness that leads many people to believe in what has become a holy grail for many a 4x developer: The perfect MoO game. The MoO game that once and for all fixes MoO.

    These two factors combined are what leads many developers to do MoO clones. And this will probably keep on going for years to come.

    3. The Big 3.5 (since we aren’t sure of Civ VI yet)
    We have to consider what is actually being said here. And you know what almost immediately occurred to me? That small indie developers must play accordingly to the supply-demand rules of the video game market. In a market dominated by big studios, with large budgets and capable of tremendous feats of marketing and hype, this raises serious problems.

    What are these small studios going to do now? Delay 12 months the release of their games? That’s one big “ouch!”. To me the issue spells out differently. I could go on a tirade (again) of how immensely important it is for the indie market to have its own digital distribution channel. But I don’t want to go there yet again. I’ve talked enough about that on the eXplorminate Steam groups. Instead, what I think must be realized at this point is that while the small independent developers must understand their presence in the wider computer game market, they should not base their business strategic decisions on it. The moment we look at Lords of Rigel as competing with Stellaris or even Endless Space 2, it is the moment they lose.

    Lords of Rigel exists simply because of the desire of its developers to exist. It is not a competing product, except when compared against other small indie studios releases. Large shopping malls make it more difficult for the local stores. But local stores do not compete directly with these malls. Their subsistence relies on how well they penetrate the share of the market left untouched by the large shopping malls.

    4. Innovation
    “Oh no! Another space or fantasy 4x!”. Yup I know the feeling very well. I share it. But things are starting to look a little bit more promising. Endless Legend and Thea are two games that I think have set a turn in the road that others will eventually wish to follow. Endless Legend isn’t a fantasy land-based 4x. It is a sci-fi 4x. The theme is almost a novelty in land based 4x games. Thea meanwhile approaches innovation differently, by choosing instead to reshape old and adapting new mechanics to the 4x genre.

    The days of new mechanics and new thematic settings for 4x may be around the corner. And I can only hope that even more abstract concepts for 4x strategy game eventually emerge. 4x games that don’t even have swords, space ships, gold, or food, but eventually come up with new and interesting completely abstract ideas.

    5. Nate Requests
    a) My thoughts: Well, that’s done.
    b) Games I’d like see cloned/remade: Populous no doubt. It is a tremendous sin how this game has been forgotten.


  4. I am quite curious how Polaris Sector will feel itself in this environment.
    It will be competing with AAA titles, but in the same time, looks like it will be released before any of them, so it may happen that those who are waiting for other titles will end up playing Polaris meanwhile :)


    • Polaris Sector does look amazing. Rob’s playthroughs on the eXplorminate YouTube channel revealed a very interesting game that, while not having the depth of a Stellaris, or being backed up by a success story as Endless Space 1, is certainly heaps of fun to play. And the game is most definitely being well regarded by the eXplorminate community.

      If they pull it through (but don’t rush it!) before any of the others arrive, Polaris Sector will almost certainly do well with sales. It surely deserves it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great show guys! I really enjoyed the discussion you guys had and got me thinking as well.

    I agree with Troy, in the sense that these new indie space 4x games need to “flip the script” and pull a Thea. They need to do something different that no other game has thought of.

    I remember many years ago we were all still searching for the next MOO2. In 2012 you started hearing about these new indie developers that were working on just that. Like Troy said, they all mentioned they were a successor to MOO2. At the time, it was Horizon, Lords of the Black Sun, M.O.R.E, and Predestination. Throw in StarDrive if you want, but those were the indie devs that were trying to make something like MOO2. Horizon and LotBS failed pretty bad at that. Both were trying to be different in a way, but none of it worked out. Meanwhile Stardrive 2 has already come and gone and M.O.R.E and Predestination are still in the works. Stardrive 2 is pretty much a clone of MOO2, and also tried new things, like ground tactical combat. In general, it pleased a good amount of people looking for a modern MOO2. More than ever, M.O.R.E and Predestination really have to make sure they are not just making a clone of MOO2. We already got that in StarDrive 2, so we need them to pull a “Thea”, and do something different. This could very well be why it is taken them so long, besides having a small studio.

    I don’t see many indie developers trying their hand in the 4x genre in the future. The market is going to be flooded with AAA titles, as well as indie titles that have been in the works for many years. I think we will all wait and see what we get with these games, then someone might jump in with new ideas.

    As what games I would like to see a remake of? Well they have already made, or are making equals to the 4x games I played back in the day. I played a lot of RTS games and would love to see a remake of Dune 2000 and do another Warcraft RTS.


  6. Let’s Play videos on youtube has dramatically improved the ability of niche and new market genre games and their ability to not only penetrate into existing market shares, but also create entirely new markets from gamers that normally have no idea that they like this kind of game. The youtube videos are very low barrier and low entry cost. And there’s variety.

    Part of marketing a game is ensuring that the basic gameplay fits with the audience you have access to, the market share that knows about you and might buy your stuff. The other part is drawing in the X% of the human species that might like your game, but has no idea you exist, at all.

    And the reason why advertisements don’t help to sell niche games very well is because… people who watch ads, aren’t the gamers you want. Gamers want gameplay, not sitting around getting fed a drip of propaganda they can easily discern as a selling point. So interactive gimicks and tricks, like Endless Space 2’s trailer video, is what interests people and often gets shared online via word of mouth. Free advertisement. Set that up, and the rest of humanity does the job for you.

    There are also keywords and other tricks a website can use to ensure that any relative searches on google and search engines, lists their page in the top. Again, free advertisement.

    For me, it was never Moo1 or Moo2, it was Master of Magic, due to the turn based combat difficulty/deep gameplay, as well as the in depth role atmosphere in strategy, spell powers, different gem colors for diplomatic emotions, little stuff like that. Of course Xcom old 1, Elven Legacy, King’s Bounty, Thea even, all fill that tactical combat niche, and does very well. Banner Saga too, for different reasons. So it’s not like I need a remake of these old games. Just improve on the design and gameplay, the market is not going to “bear” too many “old gameplay mechanics” at this rate. It’s already saturated.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I replayed most of Alien Legacy, old game, right before I started reading Stellaris DDs. I also noticed that they were going to do emergency stories in Stellaris, which was only scripted gameplay and stories in Alien Legacy. AL is about the only old game left, that I would like to see a reboot of. XCom 2, new edition, did a good job on the xcom formula. I got the sense that people who had bought the Xcom license, just did not realize what OCD was present in the players that they enjoyed tactical turn based combat. It’s a war game thing, perhaps, like chess. If you don’t play chess, well, perhaps they just don’t get it.


  8. Good discussion guys. Troy makes some good points about market saturation etc.
    A game I have some nostalgia for is Imperium Galactica 2.


  9. Hiya, Tina from Brain and Nerd here, the wee home of Predestination. Thanks for the shout-out firstly (it’s very much appreciated!).

    I wanted to add my two cents to the “MoO clone” debate and provide you with some context to dubbing Predestination a spiritual successor of MoO 2. When we began development, the big titans weren’t playing in our ballpark, and there wasn’t even a hint that a new MoO title would ever happen. Our lead developer Brendan in particular wanted to recreate that spark that MoO 2 had, but Predestination is not what I’d call a clone. I hope our extensive work on the planetary level, the unique blueprint system, and entirely freeform 3D ship designer tool all go a long way towards proving that. Calling something a spiritual successor doesn’t mean to say that we are cloning what came before, but rather that we couldn’t make a 4X game without giving a very respectful nod toward one of our largest inspirations.

    The classic gameplay speaks to our whole team, and we’re making Predestination because we grew up with that gameplay, not because we want to clone any particular previous success. The spiritual successor descriptor simply served to let players know what type of game we were planning on making: Remember we are from the Kickstarter days when conceptual works were getting funded, so we needed to paint a picture that our contemporary progress couldn’t convey on its own without that context. If we had just shown our concept without talking about games we thought it’d play like, I doubt we would have seen the success we did. In reality, Predestination is a very different game than MoO or MoO 2, especially since our stretch goal success took us by surprise and pushed us well beyond our original plans.

    Our team, and many of the other indies you mention, take so long to develop such complex, ambitious titles that it does throw timing and affect the competition levels and general market saturation… this is the unfortunate reality of indie development. The way we see it, a load of fresh-faced indie and smaller devs saw the gap in the market and tried to fill it around the same time we did, and that’s what got the bigger fishes interested again, and those big fish are able to release either before or at the same time as us now. We wish we could release a year or two into development, but to do so, we would have lost so many features that make Predestination unique, perhaps making us even more clone-like. We hope that our work is successful on its own merit despite whichever games it turns out to be similar or dissimilar to… it really is our baby at this stage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some of what Tina wrote painted a different picture of Predestination, so I went and looked up the kickstarter page via search engine. This allowed me to read the original pitch, preserved via the single page itself. Many websites, like Endless Space 2’s, seek to do the same, but Kickstarter itself has a very good information flow. Even after the kickstarter has ended, for people like me who want all the open source information we need to analyze, but without the constant page relays and links. Text heavy is not a problem for people like me that use wikipedia for research and keyword searches.

      So what I found was this line: A 3D galaxy map that works, real planetary exploration, streamlined micromanagement, realistic spying and planetary bombardment mechanics, and many other revolutionary features.

      Streamlined micromanagement is important to me, and it was something Stellaris developers dealt with in detail due to their background in Crusader Kings II vassal system, offloading the management to an AI, which plays like the player, because what the AI can do, the player has already done. While I would love a UI system for programming my own AI in game instead of having to mod various things, CK2 has their AI system influenced by traits and other gameplay elements, which is almost as good.

      In Baldur’s Gate series, the infinity games, I wrote my own party AI, which drank potions, kited away from enemies, but the moment I input my own command for the round ,they would delay their next AI action until my action was completed. And the timing to get that done was helped by the six second round, although the round system itself was rather un intuitive and Pillars of Eternity replaced it with a more intuitive real seconds system. Making the AI do what I want it to do, is pretty powerful for “automation”. An automation that doesn’t do what I want it to do, because I have no idea what parameters it is running off of, might make the game more complicated, rather less, initially. That was a problem Distant Worlds started with, but I hear modders tackled that pretty early on. While it is useful to read the code for what the AI does, it would be better to expose the code to the gameplay user interface, if feasible. It is not significantly more complicated for the user to grasp than the other mechanics in these simulation type 4Xs.

      Kickstarter is a known brand, combined with the keyword “Predestination”, it allows people an easy one gate portal to get the information they need, make a decision about it, etc. Less complicated OODA loop. Shorter OODA loop even.

      Something Indie developers might want to keep in mind, that by referring their already ended or even failed Kickstarters, and telling people to go there, they can bridge some of the communications gap that is present. Even amongst AAA titles, expectations often do not meet supply or hype, due to a communications gap. Any single page like a Kickstarter page, helps humans online make their own decisions, because that’s what many of us do. We go on Amazon, read reviews, watch youtube reviews, look around, in and out, for data points to cross reference the hype or personal expectations. It’s how some people have grown up using the internet for, even. It used to be mass media was enough to fool the masses, because all they did was sit in front of the TV indoctrination box. The only interaction needed from the target audience was clicking on their remote or pushing a button or turning a dial.

      As for the blueprints system, that sounds like an interesting take on the problem. Having the game copy your own playstyle, then reproduce it, is a real governor. Not what is normally called a governor, an AI automaton that may also be an RPG stats hero.

      You manually design every part of it through a drag-and-drop interface as if you were setting up a colony normally, and you’ll be able to see stats like power usage and maximum population at every stage. Each blueprint includes:

      One notable difference is that I would have programmed in the AI to watch how the player manages their colony, and produce a template off of that. That way you don’t need the introduction cost of creating a blueprint if the user prefers to just play the game, with a separate AI to record what the player is doing and reproduce it for later tweaks and modifications, sort of like a secretary.

      Starcraft 2’s skirmish AI was improved by copying the exact build order of good human players, down to the last second and timing for attacks even. Then you have part of the ingenuity of a human, plus the OCD micro speed of a CPU working together.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for that insight Tina. Very interesting to hear it from your point of view. That does suck for the indie developers now, since there are a few big dogs in the mix again.

      When these indie developers say they are successors to MOO2, we know they aren’t cloning them (except Star Drive 2). Most are big fans of that game and genre, and want to try and take that concept and add to it, or try something different.

      I’m curious to know if you guys had to stop for a min, look at all the 4x titles that recently came out, and are coming out, and had to make any changes because of it?

      I do hope Predestintation turns out as you have planed. We would love to see an indie developer make a great space 4x game.


  10. Great podcast guys, was a pleasure listening to it as I worked.

    Question: am I the only old fart that wishes Deuteros was rebooted ?

    I played this game a lot on my Amiga (yes, yes, that rickety thing), and its a bit of a grandfather for all 4X games (the privilege of the oldest ancestor would be Reach For The Stars on the Apple 2E, I presume).


  11. I enjoyed the format. It sounded a bit more researched than your “eXtemporaneous” title suggests, but that may just be you two being such desperate 4X nerds. ;-) And even if folks may end up disagreeing with you, it gets the discussion going in an interesting way – these comments are awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m honestly still waiting for a good and real MoO2 successor. (And one for Sword of the Stars 1) You see, Tactical Battles are one of my main motivations, is it turn based or realtime, it just needs to be good. ;-) Tactical Battles are (for me) the climax of a game, where research, ship customization, the economical capacities of your Empire culminates together. In this regard falls nearly anything flat, probably all of your Big 3 or 4.

    For all the Devs perhaps reading this. Keep ship designing simple, But make it matter and versatile! Filling your little boxes on multiple levels and in all directions is maybe fun and interesting in the beginning with small ships, but it gets quikly tedious and annoying later and with big ships. IMOH did MoO2 a wonderfull job. ;-) if you want to have damage models with multiple sides then just make sections to fill instead of the whole ship. ;-)

    Right, where is Space Empires VI? (better AI would be welcomme)

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m Kickstarter backer since the first campaign. ;-)
        I will wait for the final game, then i decided not to play any Betas or Early Access anymore, because i have in genarel not enough time to play games. And i kind of ruined Fallen Enchantress for me that way, i was already fed up with it when it was finished. ;-)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, and i’m putting high hope into Stars in Shadow. Sounds quite like a game for me, kind of MoO2 and SotS mix with battle focus, great art and should be out in an reasonable time.

        Liked by 1 person


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