Of all the MoO games coming out this year, Predestination might just be the MoO-y-est (that a word???). Everything about the game – from its mechanics to its marketing – shows its Master of Orion heritage. Before you write this game off, however, consider the fact that the developers at Brain and Nerd studios are introducing some very interesting mechanics that tackle city and colony spam. Also consider that the devs have been working with the community to help design the game since 2012. They are taking their time to do this game right by their own standards. We’ve been monitoring their progress for a long time, and now that the game has had some major updates, we wanted to interview the devs so they could share with our readers just how far this game has come along.
Question: Could you start by telling us about your team at Brain and Nerd Ltd.?
Answer: We’re an exceptionally close, tiny, wee team from Northern Ireland. Predestination is our first title. The backbone of the game’s terrain engine was actually forged from our Director and Lead Programmer Brendan Drain’s thesis project from university. Apart from Brendan, there’s me, Tina Lauro. I’m Co-Director of Brain and Nerd and I also take on a Project Manager role. The one other regular staffer is Art Director Steven Pollock. We also have a longstanding 3D Modeller contractor called Craig Stafford who has been with us since he started university. Our little team works from my home in order to keep costs down: Steven, Brendan and I live and work together in a modified house in which the upstairs is the studio and the downstairs holds our living space.
Question: Are you contracting anyone outside your company for art and/or music? Can you tell us a bit about them?
Answer: My exceptionally talented composer friend Dr. Daniel Morse is the mind behind Predestination’s music. His inspiration is varied and colourful, and we were just blown away by his creations. We can’t wait until everyone gets to hear the full tracks! Dan completed his PhD here in Belfast, but he’s now back home in sunny Hawaii. I already mentioned Craig Stafford: He’s always been exceedingly keen and talented, but Craig has managed to improve his skills even more during his degree and now handles several game project contracts at once due to demand. Connor Murphy is our character artist and was the first contractor we brought along on this journey with us. We’ve been very fortunate. Several talented students have spent time working with us to develop their skills, but we find the experience benefits us just as much! One such student, Lugh Delaney Boyle, helped make the nuts and bolts behind our 3D ship designer.
Question: What was the inspiration for your game?
Answer: Brendan, Steven and I have all had fantastic experiences with the 4X genre. There are so many titles that have made their mark on us that I couldn’t possibly name them all, but I have to pay a particular mention to Master of Orion II. After the disappointment of Master of Orion III, we kept waiting for a really good, well-rounded space 4X game with all of our favorite elements from MOO2 and it never came, so we took the plunge and began developing it, ourselves. There are influences from the Civilization series and some older Amiga 4x games such as K240 and Colonial Conquest, but MOO2 in particular has inspired us to focus on deeply tactical mechanics and colourful races that make space a wonder to explore.
Question: What about the setting? Could you quickly summarize the storyline and tell us about some big picture details?
Answer: The story begins with humankind first entering deep space as the United Colonies of Earth and meeting several other races. The humans do what they do best and decide that scavenging for advanced technologies across now-unpopulated expanses of space will quickly allow them to “catch up” with their galactic neighbors. The Sauros, a race of very ancient reptilian humanoids, spearhead a cautious movement against this scavenging, fearing what the inexperienced humans might do with technologies that they don’t fully understand.
The United Colonies end up finding a cloaked planet filled with advanced technology and unwittingly awaken the powerful Revenant race who were in suspended animation underground. The Revenants begin exterminating all the other races, who band together for one final battle at the Revenant homeworld where the United Colonies take drastic action: They use a captured Revenant time device to attempt to freeze the Revenant solar system in time, but something goes wrong. Temporal rifts open throughout the star system, pitching ships from dozens of races back in time and scattering them throughout the galaxy. This is where the player picks up the story as they control one ship that has crash-landed on a planet. You have to repair your ship to enter space and rebuild your empire in order to meet one of the various victory conditions.
Question: Are there multiple factions in your game? Can you give us a few details about each one?
Answer: There are two human factions and four alien races that we’ve designed and we also have seven backers from our Kickstarter campaign who will design their own races, too. The humans fractured after they stumbled across the Revenants: The Renegades decided that the humans had gone too far, but they were left without any monopoly over the resources held by their United Colonies counterparts. While the United Colonies favor technological prowess and military dominance, the Renegades are hardy innovators and scavengers who can make the best out of anything.
The Sauros are an ancient reptilian race and kind of the peacekeepers of the galaxy, though they are fiercely protective over their hatchery planets due to their slow reproductive cycle. The Zl’oq are a warmongering, almost unintelligible aquatic race who lay claim to the oceans on all habitable worlds, and the Kazzir are bright felines with a love of celebrity, diplomacy, and high-speed flight. The most curious of our races is The Starforged, a robotic race that became self-aware upon being abandoned that has now adapted to life in space, even burning fossil fuel pellets as a power source. We’re not revealing anything about the backer races until they’re ready, so there is plenty to come!
Question: What is the object of play in your game? Is there more than one victory condition?
Answer: All of the Victory conditions in Predestination relate in some manner to the Revenants and time travel, and you’ll find varied win conditions that should appeal to virtually every 4X fan. Your goal is to first rebuild your chosen race’s empire to its former glory – whether by crushing your enemies or by making allies of them – and then to solve the Revenant problem by some means. You might choose to seek out the cloaked Revenant planet and destroy it, or to conquer the galaxy so that you can let the Revenants slumber until you’re ready to take them on. There are also diplomatic victories and scientific victories and the endings depend on whether the Revenants have awakened in your game or not. Each single player scenario will have its own specific victory conditions and ending too, of course.
Question: Let’s move on to combat. How will that work in this game?
Answer: Fleet Combat in Predestination takes place on a 2D hexagonal grid. We wanted to bring back the old-school tactical combat gameplay of MOO2, and using a hex grid opens up the tactical gameplay considerably. We like to think of fleet combat kind of like fully customisable space chess, tying in nicely with the 3D ship designer. You can make your own ship designs and choose what weapons and defensive modules to equip, so you have a great deal of control over how battles will play out. Once there are no ships or defensive structures protecting a planet, the bombing interface becomes available from which you can bombard cities, roads, and other pieces of infrastructure on the planet’s surface.
Question: How does empire management work in this game?
Answer: This is an absolutely huge part of Predestination, so I don’t know how well I’ll summarize it in one paragraph, but we have some pretty interesting empire management tools! You can set up Trade Routes to move resources from one planet to another each turn, so, for instance, you could send all of your metal to a central shipyard planet or send food and energy to Barren planets to keep them going. You also have colony blueprints to help reduce the micromanagement in the mid- and late- game stages, and we also made sure that you must be very intelligent about where to colonize. The game definitely rewards you for pre-scanning planets to ensure they’re what you need before moving in, and you’ll quickly deplete your fragile resource balance if you dive right in and colonize everything in sight.
Question: Are there any special resources or locations players will be able to exploit? How will they affect play?
Answer: There are rare resources such as uranium that can pop up on any planet, or ancient ruins and crashed ships that can boost your research or further your race technologically. We also have a number of strategic resources in the game that grant empire-wide boosts upon extraction, such as Helium-3 deposits that increase ship speed. There are a number of rare specials that can spawn in a star system – an ancient civilization’s ruins could crop up, making for an excellent research base, for example – or you can find a major ship crash site. Wormholes allow for instant travel across the starmap and I’m sure we’ll add even more as time goes along! Throughout the game, temporal rifts will also open and spit out ship wreckage or other fun stuff from the future. Ships can go and investigate the rift to claim its wares, so this is something you might end up fighting over. If you’re lucky you might find friendly ships or valuable scrap, but if you’re unlucky then enemy ships or even the dreaded Revenants could come through, so it’s a risky business.
Question: What are the limits to expanding one’s empire in this game? Are there any mechanics in place to limit or disincentivize infinite city/planet spam?
Answer: The basic limits are hardcoded: Each planet has a finite number of cities it can hold that is dependent on planet size, and each city can have a maximum of six pieces of infrastructure attached to it. You have to prioritize how you want to use your planet based on its type and native resources in order to get the best out of your cities. Money most definitely limits your growth too since it costs money and metal to build and thus expand, of course. This is particularly important in the early game: Economic balance is critical here and is one of the main limiting factors early on because each piece of infrastructure or city has a maintenance cost and that cost is significantly higher if you choose a hostile environment that requires a biosphere. Every race has a preferred environment and you’re encouraged to find suitable planets that you can thrive on to further your expansion rate. Exploration and expansion are also limited by your empire’s sensor range, which extends out from all of your planets. We don’t have star lanes to artificially limit your ship movement, so you can move ships to any star in range.
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 legendary commanders who can sometimes show up throughout the game, and you can rescue them from temporal rifts occasionally. They will work for your empire – for a fee, naturally – giving bonuses to the planets or ships they are assigned to. We have a single player story campaign with its own narrative and objectives, which sort of mirrors a quest system. We have a few different kinds of random events: Disasters can happen such as nuclear meltdowns or disease outbreaks, and, of course, there are those temporal rifts we’ve talked about. Aside from spewing shipwrecks and escape pods into the galaxy, rifts can release temporal energy that alters the history of a nearby planet, causing more ancient ruins to appear on its surface or even freezing it in time for a period of several turns. Imagine a planet suddenly fast forwarding 100,000 years, and all its cities turning to ruins in the blink of an eye! More random events will come with future DLC and expansions.
Question: Could you describe the nature of Research in your game?
Answer: Research is split into four simple trees: Physics, Construction, Biology/Geology, and Sociology. Each tree has its own tech web that the player progresses up and choosing one of the many branching options closes off any alternate choices. Locked technologies can be gained through espionage, diplomacy, or through exploration mechanics such as rift investigation. Races with the Creative racial trait, such as the United Colonies, don’t have this issue so they can go back and research all possible technologies as they wish. We have a fifth tech tree in development, the Synergies tree, which will enhance the existing technologies and reward players for the strategic combinations of certain research points in two or more trees. Applying laser technology to improve solar power points is one example that comes to mind. This should encourage people to explore all of the tech trees rather than maxing out only one.
Question: Outside of cities, will players be able to construct other fortifications such as bases, ports, observatories, etc.? If so, how will they affect play?
Answer: We have lots of different types of starbases, and those are modular like the ships, so we’ll be able to add a wealth of player-designed ones too. They provide some bonus to the planet depending on the selected modules, and they also act as a weaponized defensive platform for your planets. Enemies must destroy these to bomb a planet, so they’re a great defensive ward. We also have ground cannons, missile silos, and fighter garrisons that are used in fleet combat but reside within cities, so you need to make a strategic trade-off to facilitate them instead of housing or industry buildings. Weapons also use the planet’s reserve energy, so you have a limited firing capacity in fleet combat to balance. City shields are also buildings, and these help to block bombs fired at cities at the cost of energy reserves. Once the energy runs out, these shields collapse. We’ve had ideas for deployable orbital cannons and moon bases, but these will wait for future DLC or expansions.
Question: Can you describe the basics of diplomacy in your game?
Answer: Diplomacy is roughly split into trade and treaties: you can trade techs, money, and can share access to strategic resources. For treaties, you have peace, sensor, research, war, or trade. Treaties tend to improve over time due to the continued relations between races and to incentivize long-term relations. The coercion system isn’t in yet, but it will allow players to use military strength to not-so-subtly bully other races into unfavorable actions such as cancelling relations with other races. When you make first contact with a race and open diplomatic channels, they will have formed an opinion on you depending on how you made that contact: for example, warship detection would make them wary, but ambassador ships would make contact much more comfortable.
Question: How much will players be able to customize their units, factions and game maps in this game?
Answer: Beyond our deep planetary customization through the planet colonization and terraforming systems, we also have plenty of scope for customizations with our 3D ship designer. Ships are both visually and mechanically customizable using a simple drag and drop interface and a huge set of strategic modules and cosmetic elements. This designer tool doesn’t rely on click-in-place hardpoints, so you can place these things anywhere on your design. The only limit on how much you place on one ship is due to the ship’s power core capacity, so players can get very creative here. Players will also be able to design their own races using a point system and the option to use your own race artwork, but that feature is not quite ready yet. We wanted to leave quite a lot of the game open to easy modding with text files and image files, and we’ve already had people tinkering with this in alpha.
Question: What role does randomness play in your game?
Answer: The game maps are procedurally generated in sandbox mode, so of course everything is random there. Each star type has a particular chance of having certain types of planets in certain orbits, so there’s a limited amount of predictability there. Random events and temporal rifts wrinkle a game in progress by rewarding some players and punishing others, and randomly awakening the Revenants will entirely change the flow of a game. Hit chances and damage ranges add a little bit of randomness to combat, but we hope that solid designs and strategic employment of fleets diminishes that for the most part. Consistency is important to us whilst still maintaining replayability, so we use systems that are intelligible for the player but that still change up how the game plays each and every time.
Question: What do you hope to accomplish with your game? What do you hope people will remember most about it?
Answer: I really hope that people remember that a game with this amount of depth came out of our front living room, with a tiny team and a tiny budget. We want our players to feel that we’re not just rehashing old mechanics and we’re very proud of our planetary gameplay even though it’s a big risk since it’s not really been done on this scale before in a space 4X. On a studio level, we just want to secure enough sales to keep developing: It’s a crazily competitive market with some real titans reemerging in the genre right now, and this is our very first game, so we’re really humbled by our progress so far. We really want to keep making this sort of meaty, deep game in Northern Ireland because the local industry is very underdeveloped and depends on small studios like ours to keep it going.
Question: Where does development of the game stand as of now?
Answer: The game is currently available on Early Access on Steam. We’re still referring to this as alpha testing because we are still adding major features such as the single player campaign and victory conditions. We’re rapidly approaching version 1.0 of the feature-complete game, though, and we’ll be polling our existing players continually about whether we’re at the point where we can launch. We can’t give hard deadlines, mainly because we have only one programmer and every time we try to estimate, we’re really very far out, so it’s most definitely not an exact science! We don’t have the experience to accurately project this, and in fairness most large games have this issue behind closed doors too.
Question: Of all the aspects of your game, which are you the most excited about?
Answer: It’s hard to pick just one aspect when we’ve had such a broad approach to the genre, but if we’re pinned down and forced to choose just one feature, I’d go with the planetary colonization gameplay because it’s so unique to Predestination. We hope we add something to the genre by looking so heavily at the planetary mechanics, and we’d love to see future 4X games that take our offerings at a good starting point and run away with what can be done on the planet surface.
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 really just want to get the word out there that we exist: We don’t have a marketing budget to speak of or a long history in the industry to call upon, and when you add that to our location and the amazing quality of our competition, you can imagine that it’s hard to get eyes on our work, so far. We want to thank everyone who has given us support along the way, especially those who have put money in our pockets to make this happen. It takes so much trust to take a risk on newbies like us, and we definitely take that to heart each and every day. Talk to us wherever and whenever you can: We love to write back to each and every person who puts a line our way.
We’d like to thank Tina for her willingness to answer all our questions. She is an active user of our site, so if you have any additional questions for her about Pedestrian or Brain and Nerd Studio, fire away! I’m sure she’ll be glad to answer them. Predestination is available through Steam’s early access program for $29.99.