This week we bring you another Q&A with an exciting developer. Amidst the sea of space 4X games hitting the market this year, there are a few islands that hold games in other genres. Last Days of Old Earth by Auroch Digital is a post-apocalyptic 4X-like game. It might be among the very first 4X type games to use that sort of setting.
Auroch is also the producer of games like Chainsaw Warrior, Narco Guerra, and Plague Inc.: Evolved. LDoOE will be their first 4X-style game. It employs a unique deck-building system that allows players to customize what units and heroes they’ll get to play with during a campaign or skirmish. We got in touch with their community manager, Jake, to find out more about this and other unique facets of the game.
Question: Could you start by telling us about your team?
Answer: Our team is Auroch Digital. We’re a Bristol-based independent developer specialising in strategy, board, and card games. We’ve worked on all sorts of titles, and you can find them listed here (http://www.aurochdigital.com/games/). Our publisher is Slitherine (http://www.slitherine.com/), a team that truly understands strategy games, and what makes strategy gamers tick.
Question: Are you contracting anyone outside your company for art and/or music? Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Answer: We’re extremely fortunate to be working with Red Panda Audio (http://www.redpandaaudio.com/) for our soundtrack and sound effects. They’ve really helped deepen and expand the richly dark atmosphere found in Last Days of Old Earth.
Question: What was the inspiration for your game?
Answer: There have been loads of inspirations for Old Earth, as with every game you’ll ever play, but a key one that formed the starting point for what we want to achieve was Armageddon Empires. AE had a really complex, tactically sophisticated approach to strategy, and it wasn’t really interested in holding the player’s hand.
I’d like to think we’re slightly more upfront with how the mechanics of our game intertwine, but we’ve definitely taken a few cues from AE when it comes to allowing the players to discover a lot of the depth in the game for themselves.
Question: What about the setting? Could you quickly summarize the storyline and tell us about some big picture details?
Answer: Our campaign mode is coming as part of Early Access. It contains the majority of the story we’re telling, so I can’t be too specific in case I end up giving something major away…
What I can tell you, however, is that Earth is in pretty bad shape, and the humans that remain aren’t doing great either. They’re called the Skywatchers, and they’re trying to find warmer land near the equator as the sun continues to inexplicably cool. Along the way, they run into a mysterious and fiercely protective race of sentient robots: the Automata.
The Skywatchers are thrown into a conflict they desperately don’t want. The campaign mode follows their struggle to survive, along with revealing more about exactly who the Automata are, and what their motives might be.
Question: The campaign mode sounds very interesting. Is there also a Sandbox mode in LDoOE?
Answer: At launch of Early Access, we have the tutorial, multiplayer, and skirmish mode, with other features, including the campaign that will be added later on. The skirmish mode allows players to set up matches with AI opponents and tweak various settings such as map size, the amount of resources available, and so on.
Question: Are there multiple factions in your game? Can you give us a few details about each one?
Answer: The main factions are the Skywatchers and the Automata. There are a couple of other minor players during the campaign mode, but by and large the game focuses on the battle between humans and androids.
Question: How does empire management work in this game?
Answer: A huge part of the game is acquiring and managing resources. Each card you play costs resources, and most come with an Action Point (AP) cost too. If you have a decent line of resources coming in, then you can play more cards, more quickly, allowing you to expand your faction out further or overwhelm your enemies.
You can loot a small amount of resources from encounters (tiles where you find an encampment, for example). But the most reliable source comes from resource hexes which, when you’ve built a collector on top of one, produce resources each turn.
You’ll also need to ensure that you keep expanding your supply range. This is essentially the area in which your armies operate at full effectiveness. It can be expanded with new buildings, such as outposts. Again, you’ll need resources to build these, but doing so ensures that you won’t be at a disadvantage when your opponent comes looking for you.
Question: What are the limits to expanding one’s empire in this game? Are there any mechanics in place to limit or disincentivize city/planet spam?
Answer: The main limit is the deck you enter battle with. The game forces you to make careful choices on what options you want going into a skirmish.
There are obviously limits on map sizes too, but aside from this, you can grow as much or as little as works best for your strategy. I favor getting out and expanding quickly, but that’s just me.
Question: Are there any special resources or locations players will be able to eXploit? How will they affect play?
Answer: Apart from the aforementioned resources, players also have to manage Action Points. AP are tied to lots of different facets of the game, from drawing and playing cards, to movement, to creating buildings, and so on.
The only way to have more AP than the opposing team is by winning the Initiative roll at the start of each round. Each player begins with the same odds of winning, but they can use resources to purchase a greater chance too.
Winning the Initiative roll not only gives you more AP, it allows you to go first, which can be a deciding factor in how events will play out. I’ve seen the best of plans decimated by a combination of great strategy and a nice little boost of AP.
Question: What about minor factions, quests, heroes, or random events? Are any of these in your game, and if so, can you explain what they are like?
Answer: We have random events (or encounters), and we have the odd minor faction too, but Heroes are absolutely critical to our game.
Heroes are special units that don’t actively participate in battles or in the management facets of the game; rather, they strongly boost other aspects of your plan.
Their main role, other than giving an army the ability to construct buildings, is enhancing the capabilities of other units. You might pick a Hero that can lead large armies, if you plan on having lots of troops, or focus on one that has a lot of Fate – a resource used to sway the tide of battle by adding or subtracting hit points, for example.
Heroes are named units. They will add options to how you’ll approach the game and try to win. The art for them is just fantastic too!
Question: Could you describe the nature of research in your game?
Answer: We don’t really have a concept of research in the game, which is a deliberate choice. It doesn’t really fit with the narrative or the style of strategy game we’re aiming for.
Question: Outside of cities, will players be able to construct fortifications such as bases, ports, observatories, etc.? If so, how will they affect play?
Answer: Yep! Collectors suck resources out of the ground, and outposts expand your supply, for example. There are more to come, but that’s what we’re kicking off Early Access with.
Question: Can you describe the basics of diplomacy in your game?
Answer: Sure: this is a bleak future, there is no diplomacy.
Question: How much will players be able to customize their units, factions, and game maps?
Answer: That’s a great question, and one we’re going into Early Access to help us get an answer to.
When the game launches at the start of March, we’ll be providing set decks with specific units. The Skirmish mode will create procedurally-generated maps to keep the game feeling fresh. Later, we’ll be bringing in a deck builder that gives players access to every unit released thus far, so players can begin creating their own strategies for skirmish and multi-player.
But beyond that? If our community wants us to bring a specific feature into the game, then we’re more than happy to consider their suggestions as the game develops.
Question: Let’s move on to combat. How will that work in this game?
Answer: During the management and overworld strategy phase, you will be forming armies made up of individual units (represented by cards). In combat, these units square off with one another in turn-based battles.
As well as being able to directly attack enemies, units have abilities that trigger special effects. A straightforward example is that a more defensive unit can buff the attack of an adjacent unit. Some are more complicated, such as a particularly nasty Automata unit that gets more powerful for each copy of it that falls in battle.
There’s loads of depth here, and even I’m still finding combinations of units that produce surprising results and developing tactics based on those results.
Question: Can you give us some more specific details on how tactical combat works?
Answer: Sure! Before you even enter combat, we calculate various bonuses for whether you’re attacking from a ruined city, or from a base, or what-have-you. After this, you position your units in the formation you’d like and then enter turn-based combat that pits your army against the opponent’s. Players roll to see who goes first, and the battle begins.
You’ll can tell your units to attack enemy unit, or have them buff a friendly unit. When damage is worked out, the game checks to see if you have a hero with a relevant ability with your forces. It then checks whether or not you also have a small allocation of Fate Points to assign, which can turn the tide of battle by adding to (or negating) damage dealt (or received). If the battle starts going poorly, players can choose to retreat, but should the final unit fall, the army is wiped out. Any hero within that defeated army can choose to flee, and, if successful in their escape, it is returned to their owner.
Question: What role does randomness play in your game?
Answer: There are semi-randomly generated maps. Initiative is mostly down to the “luck of the dice”, and just because a unit can deal six damage in combat, it doesn’t mean it always will.
That said, this is a deep, tactical game, so the best commanders will be able to mitigate these swings, if they know what they’re doing.
Question: Some 4X gamers may groan about LDoOE using cards because they figure that not only are they going to deal with the regular learning curve that comes with any new 4X game, but also having to learn the rules of the card game as well. How does your game help players learn how to use the card system so they don’t get as frustrated by the learning curve?
Answer: You should think of the cards as an abstraction for a unit. A little way into Early Access, players will be able to build decks of units around specific types of tactics that they favor. That deck is randomly shuffled, so the units that are available to you are semi-random. Once the cards are on the battlefield, you control units much like you would in other strategy games that use 3D units. LDoOE’s turn-based combat should be very familiar to fans of the genre. There’s a good tutorial in the game too for anyone looking to familiarize themselves with the basics!
Question: Once the development for the game is finished, will all the cards be available for players to build decks with when they first load it up or will players have to unlock certain cards through play?
Answer: As the game progresses through Early Access we’ll be adding more and more cards to it, and everything that is in the game will be available and unlocked from the very beginning. We don’t want to lock card access to progression, because we know a lot of players will want access to their favourite units immediately to build their dream decks.
Question: With LDoOE’s emphasis on strategy, quick play, resource management, and multiplayer, it seems well suited for tournament play. Did eSports enter into your thinking at all when you were designing this game?
Answer: I think any development team would be thrilled for their title to turn into a regular feature on the eSports scene, and perhaps ours eventually will – it’s certainly a deep enough game.
And, of course, we’ve always known multiplayer would be a big thing for us, so we’ve spent time really differentiating the factions: their units, their facilities, and so on, and also ensuring that we’ve been balancing everything to perfection.
But we’re mostly concerned with making a fantastic and intriguingly complex strategy game that you can approach in the manner you see fit.
Question: What is the object of play in your game? Is there more than one victory condition?
Answer: It depends what game mode you’re playing, and at what stage of Early Access you’re playing. The main victory condition is taking your opponent’s home base, but we’re mixing things up too, especially in the campaign.
Question: What does your game have/do that no other similar game currently on the market can provide?
Answer: I think the way we’re blending strategy and card elements is unique and will really get gamers invested.
Imagine how intensely rewarding building a deck and obliterating an opponent is in a CCG [Collectible Card Game] / LCG [Living Card Game]. Now add that to a rich strategy game with tons of tactical variety, and you’ve got what Last Days of Old Earth offers.
Question: What do you hope to accomplish with your game? What do you hope people will remember most about it?
Answer: We’ve intentionally made LDoOE as a game to obsess over, so I think we’ll know we’ve been successful when we start seeing guides online on various card combinations, deck strategies, and when players begin to dig into the expert-level nuance the game offers.
Question: Where does development of the game stand as of now?
Answer: When you go into Early Access your work is never done, but what we have right now is a fantastic playing game: the skirmish mode, a tutorial to get players up to speed, and multiplayer are all in and ready for the launch. From now until launch and beyond, we’re hard at work on the next batch of content.
Question: What has been the most challenging aspect of the game’s development so far?
Answer: Finding the right blend of telling the players enough information about how the game works so that they don’t feel lost, while not giving away so much that there’s nothing for them to discover by themselves. Finding that balance has been really tough. We want to rant and rave about some of the abilities in there, but doing so would definitely ruin the surprise.
Question: Of all the aspects of your game, which are you the most excited about?
Answer: I’ve played loads of LDoOE at this point, and I know our gameplay is top-notch. I suppose what I’m most excited about, or perhaps most anticipating, is how people will react to the campaign mode when it’s added later in Early Access. We’re going to be telling a different kind of story from your vanilla strategy fare, and I think some of the revelations in it are going to pleasantly surprise our community.
Question: Are you guys planning to eventually release your game on GOG Galaxy as well as Steam?
Answer: We’re focusing on Steam for the time being, but we’re always happy to hear feedback from fans if that’s something they’d want.
Question: Before closing, is there anything else you’d like to tell the fans about your game that we haven’t mentioned yet?
Answer: We’re genuinely really excited for our community to be a part of the development process throughout Early Access and beyond, so definitely visit our Steam page to find out even more about the game. After that, feel free to get in touch via comments and suggestions on our Facebook and Twitter.
We’d like to thank Auroch Digital for spending time with us. We’re always glad to put developers in touch with our community. Last Days of Old Earth will hit Steam Early Access on March 3rd which is just around the corner.