There are so many exciting new 4X games coming out in 2018. One that we’re really looking forward to is Space Tyrant by developers Bluewizard. We got a chance to do a Q&A with one member of the team: Isaac Aubrey.
Could you start by telling us about your team?
We’re a team of just four frenzied game devs most of the time. We had a fifth member when 3D art was in full production, but we’re beyond that now. The current team has been in the industry for many years and has worked at many companies, but we initially became acquainted at PopCap games. We’re all much more hardcore gamers than what was suggested by PopCap’s output, so it’s been enjoyable for all of us to sink our teeth into something more complex.
Are you contracting with anyone outside your company for art and/or music? Can you tell us a bit about them?
Space Tyrant music has been composed by the illustrious Skaven from Finland. He’s a popular musician in his own right, but he’s also well known for doing music for the first Unreal Tournament, Max Payne and more recently, an Alan Wake game. He also did tons of music for PopCap games, so we’ve been pals for some time. Beyond that, we’ve done everything else in-house.
What was the inspiration for your game?
Early on our approach was ‘can we do something like Master of Orion 2, but more fast paced and fun?’ That approach kicked things off, but we quickly realized it wasn’t going to be quite so straightforward. It would be safe to say we leaned on Starchamber and FTL for inspiration as well, but we’d wandered into enough of a forest by not following any exact approach that there’s a fair amount of Space Tyrant we had to fill in with just ‘what sounds like fun.’
What about the setting? Could you quickly summarize the storyline or tell us about some big picture details?
It’s fairly straightforward – you’re a big asshole Space Tyrant, taking over the galaxy. You start off playing with a warlike bunny race you’ve subjugated and spread out from there. With each completed Campaign, you conquer other empires and their unique abilities become yours to master. Eventually, you take over the entire galaxy.
Are there multiple factions in your game? Can you give us a few details about each one?
As mentioned above, you start out with a warlike bunny empire called the Hoplites. They’re pretty tough in combat and are geared to get you off on the right foot. When you complete the Hoplite campaign, your reward is the subjugation of the Bzzerk empire. They’re a race of mechanized bees who are easy on the bankbook, but require a different approach in Combat to be successful. Swarming the enemy ends up being a most rewarding approach with the Bzzerks. Lastly, you unlock a race of drugged out techno slugs. I don’t want to give too much away here, but their synthetic sleeplessness allows them to go the extra mile on every turn.
What is the object of play in your game? Is there more than one victory condition?
There are indeed numerous ways to win each mission you go up against. In some cases it’s simply Capture and Hold two planets, in other cases it’s taking a large percentage of the map, earning a certain number of credits, play five cards in a single turn, etc. Along with these different win conditions, the player will find the enemy and game mechanics also change somewhat to counter the effort toward a particular type of victory.
Let’s move on to combat. How will that work in this game?
Combat exists under whatever commanders you start with, hire or unlock from Prison planets. Commanders usually start at level one with six available ship positions in a fleet. With each battle your Commander will grow in power and eventually expand to 21 positions available in a fleet.
During battle, the Commander has an energy resource that fuels each volley of shots automatically as well as a single power shot from each ship that you trigger manually. So – while part of the battle is happening automatically, a critical piece of it is controlled by what powers you choose to trigger, what ships you target with them and at what point in time you use that power. You also get to choose a Tactic at the start of each round that can greatly influence the direction of a battle. While combat may seem simple up front, there’s a fair amount of strategy involved in being consistently successful.
We know empire management is light in Space Tyrant. How light is it?
We’ve made a point of not bogging the player down with complex research trees and number crunching, but at the same time, there are a great number of empire specific items you unlock while playing. Your management is mostly geared toward what Artifacts, Cards or permanent Empire Unlocks you go after. Each mission you play will reward you one or several of these and you’ll find they’re geared toward certain styles of gameplay. At the end of each mission you also unlock a Perk. If you lean in an Economic direction, more Perks of that sort are likely to show up. If you lean in a more Combat or Science based direction, more of those types of Perks will appear at the end of mission. So – it’s not about analyzing huge amounts of data and carefully picking a direction from there, but more about picking from a few very obvious enhancements and trying out different approaches as you see fit.
Are there any special resources or locations players will be able to exploit? How will they affect play?
In a Space Tyrant mission, everything is exploitable. The majority of planets either come with an unlockable way to exploit them or offer you an Oppress button as soon as you conquer it. The win conditions often push the player toward exploiting planets for money or research or more cards to play, etc.
At the metagame level, players will want to go after Empire Unlock missions. They’re highlighted in gold and will reward the player with greater ship types and additional commanders that will stick with them whether they lose a Campaign or not. We also have a Skirmish mode available for people looking to get their fill of Steam achievements or play under a specific set of conditions.
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?
At the Empire level, the player is incentivized toward different regions by the presence of the Senate. After each mission is completed, Senate forces in that region are destroyed, causing the Senate to send out forces to other regions to challenge you in. Your goal is to hold them at bay and keep them from taking over any particular region while you build your collection of Artifacts, Cards, Perks and Empire Unlocks. Eventually, you’ll unlock a War mission in the Senate star system. So – you can’t just let the Senate run willy-nilly or you’ll lose. You’ll want to unlock that Senate War mission and crush those bastards or you’re done-for.
At the mission level, there are several mechanics in place that will keep the player on track toward a win condition. In an Economic mission, Oppression is a force that is constantly pushing against your Tyranny meter. You’ll also find that bigger and meaner fleets start to come after you the longer you hang out on a map, so sitting at a planet and trying to exploit it might not only trigger a rebellion, but it also gives enemy fleets a chance to become huge and ruthless. There are also Disaster events that have a chance of happening late in many missions. If you don’t get right to the point, things will get much more difficult. Lastly, if all planets are owned by the player or the enemy, all-out War can break out and you’ll be faced with an onslaught of the biggest, meanest fleets. All worth avoiding. Get to the goal, wayward Tyrant!
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?
With each planet you take over, there’s an attempt to Explore it. Explores yield all kinds of good and bad things, but in some cases your decisions will earn you a trait that opens more elite options in subsequent Explores. As for random events, Explores can generate some of these, but there’s a chance in many games that you’ll trigger a Disaster randomly. Disasters come in numerous flavors and none of them do a Tyrant good, but there are ways to divert a Disaster if you have the position and resources to do it. You could look at the Disaster event as mini-quests, but we’ll also be shipping with quite a few Steam Achievements that will send a player on some wild rides.
Could you describe the nature of Research in your game?
Research is accumulated every turn and grows with each Science planet you conquer. There are also Interlink Node planets that provide Research in a different way based on how many Interlinks you can acquire. Research can go to a number of things, but primarily it feeds your ship tech. To stand a chance on mid level to harder missions, cranking your tech up is essential. Research can also be cashed in via cards to temporarily boost other resources if you need to. Worth noting, Research exists entirely within each single mission and resets for subsequent missions. There is no metagame function for Research.
Outside of planets, will players be able to construct other fortifications such as bases, stations, observatories, etc.? If so, how will they affect play?
We don’t have any base building or construction mechanics in the game in the traditional sense, but some of the benefits of such functionality can be attributed to other aspects of the game.
Can you describe the basics of diplomacy in your game?
Diplomacy doesn’t really exist in Space Tyrant. Fleets are destroyed, planets are bombed, masses are oppressed. Anything else would be cumbersome and not very Tyrant-y. You might have the option to be diplomatic about something in an Explore, but it’s not the traditional 4X diplomacy you’d imagine and it’s probably not the best option for a progressive, forward thinking Tyrant.
How much will players be able to customize their units, factions, and game maps in this game?
Ship customization will seem like a linear upgrade path at first, but alternate techs randomly work their way in and you’ll have a choice about what direction you want to steer ship tech at certain levels. At the loadout level, you’ll be collecting Artifacts, Perks, Cards and Empire unlocks that will give you a chance to customize your approach before each Mission.
In regard to custom maps and setups, we’ve recently plugged in a Skirmish mode where the player can define many specific aspects of a mission and use any Empire they’ve unlocked during their Campaigns. It’s going to be a great way for players to take their best shot at some of the harder achievements we’re plugging in.
What role does randomness play in your game?
There’s quite a bit of randomness going on from one end to the other. Map size is specific, but the planet locations, the starlane directions, the types of planets and fleet placement is randomized. Planet types, their modifiers and enemy/neutral fleet placement is all set within specific boundaries, but within those boundaries, they’re randomized. The Explores you get from planets, the cards you’re dealt and the die rolls you get upon planet invasion are also random. So each mission can kick out some very unique challenges and no two Campaigns will ever play out the same.
Even at the meta-game level there are randomizations. The Perks you’re offered (until a categorization is determined) and the Artifacts/Cards/Empire Unlocks offered for the various missions are randomized for that Campaign.
Sometimes you’ll run into some seemingly impossible situations, but you never know when you’ll get an Explore or Card or Combat Tactic that will turn the tables in your favor.
What does your game have/do that no other similar game currently on the market can provide?
We’re fairly confident this is the only 4X game on the market where you can get through a game in under an hour. A “beer and pretzels 4X that you can play on your lunch break” if you will. It’s built by 4X fans who’ve played games in the genre for decades and know exactly what fat to trim away and what’s needed to keep it tasty.
What do you hope to accomplish with your game? What do you hope people will remember most about it?
We hope people can get deep enough into it to enjoy the hidden complexities. It may seem simple at first, but if you stick with it, you’ll find yourself making one sly move after another to beat seemingly impossible missions by the skin of your teeth. And what do we hope people will remember? We hope that it will be remembered as not only an extremely fun take on the 4X genre, but as the unique labor of love that it is. We’re not just some corporate entity cranking out another sequel for a tired franchise; we’re a sweltering pile of grognards casting spells into the unknown with limited people and resources.
Where does development of the game stand as of now?
We’re just polishing and bug fixing at the moment. The game will be done and officially released at the end of February, so we’re just about to call it code and content complete.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the game’s development so far?
It got pretty rough early on. Designing a game that’s not exactly like any other game out there can lead you into some dark forests of no return. We did a little of that but somehow made it back. And while we were still getting it all figured out, we lost two members of the team in the resulting fray. We had to keep the faith, keep designing and find two new people to fill the void before it imploded in the womb. It also didn’t help that we were only marginally familiar with Unity at the time… Mistakes were made…
On what operating systems do you anticipate releasing your game?
We’ve only got Steam in our sights for now. So – PC, Mac and Linux. People often remark at how it looks like it could be a mobile game, but we’ve had no intention of putting it on mobile. If the demand is there and it looks like it wouldn’t break the bank then maybe we’ll undertake a port to other platforms? Maybe one of those would be mobile? It’s so far down the road that I can’t imagine how it will turn out; we’ll have to wait and see.
When might it be available for people to start playing?
It’s been available to the public to play in one form or another for more than a year now. Currently, it’s on Steam Early Access for $19.99 and it’s very close to being the finished product.
Of all the aspects of your game, which are you the most excited about?
I’m excited about its uniqueness and addictive gameplay. We’ve worked on a lot of different games in the past and always made a point of finding the magic in it before committing to full development. This meant throwing a number of different games in the trash, but we were proud of what we decided on. Even early on, Space Tyrant had that magic in its core design and it’s been tremendously rewarding to see it follow through on that. Whatever happens from here, we know we’ve made a fun game.
Before closing, is there anything else you’d like to tell the fans about your game or your company that we haven’t mentioned yet?
As with many roguelikes (which this game is in-part), Space Tyrant will not go easy on you. We all grew up with games that gave very few free handouts and usually crushed you to death in the end. Space Tyrant isn’t entirely that brutal, but we wanted to make a game that could elicit true excitement upon winning. The only way to achieve that is to make it difficult to win. You can sometimes bash your way through the earlier missions, but to be successful throughout, you’ll need to master all the knobs and levers at your command and know just when to use them. Buckle up Tyrants – victory goes to the merciless!
We’d like to thank Isaac and everyone at Bluewizard for answering our questions. Look for Space Tyrant to fully launch later this year.