Apocalypse is imminent! No, not the Biblical end of all things, but rather the Stellaris Apocalypse. This is the new expansion for the space 4X that will affect everything we’ve known about the game since it launched. With major changes on the way in the accompanying Cherryh patch, we took the opportunity to send some questions to the developers at Paradox Interactive for a Q & A session. We pelted Martin Anward and Daniel Moregard with every question we could think of along with several inquiries suggested by our terrific community. So without further ado, here’s what they had to say.
Stellaris 2.0 is highly anticipated by fans but does come with some controversy. Two of the three faster-than-light starting options are being removed or changed altogether. Can you tell us the motivation behind this decision? What are the benefits of going strictly to hyperlanes?
With 3 different types of FTL, it was impossible for us to imagine a situation where we could design a solid warfare experience. It was simply not possible to build up any defensive systems because you could not guarantee that your enemy wouldn’t simply ignore them. Galactic terrain doesn’t really matter without hyperlanes. Hyperlanes have chokepoints and “regions” in a way that the other FTL types could not provide. Having choke points and “regions” adds a lot of strategic depth.
Many Stellaris fans are new to Paradox and don’t have extensive knowledge of some of the other Grand Strategy games your studio develops. Can you briefly explain the differences between the old warscore that is being replaced with the claims/war exhaustion system?
Warscore in our other games is something you use to “purchase” or “demand” things from your enemies. In Stellaris you declare what the war is about before declaring it, and war exhaustion lets you force a status quo in the war but not a surrender.
On the subject of features and systems, earlier you explained how the warscore system has morphed into the new claims/exhaustion system, and we all know that Paradox mixes various systems and UI elements between games in-house. Could you comment in general on the culture at Paradox when it comes to your various IPs influencing each other? Is that sort of thing deliberately encouraged or facilitated to develop a Paradox “brand” or “feel”? Or, would you instead say it’s more of an organic process?
It’s definitely more organic than deliberate. It is very rare that we look at another game and say ‘We must have it how like it works in X’. Designers at PDS should have a pretty good idea of most of our games, and they do all share a lot of similarities. These common qualities, or pillars, probably act more as a base than as a well-defined framework.
Last year the thorn in Stellaris‘ side was Sector AI which found a good balance between player interaction and simulation by patch 1.8. What is the current technical challenge you and your dev team are facing in patch 2.0?
One of the major challenges of 2.0 was interfaces and usability for the new war system. While the system isn’t that complex to use, there’s a lot of granularity and a lot of possible outcomes for wars, and just something like building good tooltips for all the myriad ways in which a particular peace can play out was something that took quite a few iterations.
With the implementation of the new Starbase mechanic, are there plans to automate/streamline the construction of mining/research stations in star systems you own?
There is a plan to improve the construction of mining/research stations from the galaxy map, but it’s something we may not have time for before 2.0 releases. For the future though, definitely.
We have heard a lot about new mechanics. What about new events and changes to exploration?
There will only be a few new such events in Cherryh/Apocalypse, as this is not the focus of this particular update. We definitely want to add more in the future though!
The changes in 2.0 are huge. Is the AI getting the attention needed to play the game with these changes before release?
There has been quite a bit of work on the AI to ensure it can use the new features.
You personally did a lot of work with the AI in patch 1.8. In fact, many casual fans of Stellaris believe that the AI gets bonuses to its resources and science output on normal difficulty. Is this true? Additionally, are you considering adding a “casual” difficulty?
For the most part, the AI plays with the exact same rules as players. They do not get any sort of direct resource output bonus, but they do get some situational lessened penalties and discounts, like a slightly smaller tech penalty per-pop and a discount on the cost of gene-modding projects, that’s meant to cover up specific weaknesses. There is absolutely no truth to the idea that the AI simply gets piles of resources, free ships or similar, though.
We are looking at adding a casual difficulty mode with a slower-paced AI, as this is something quite a few people have requested since 1.8 came out.
With all the additional features/changes over the last year, the Stellaris UI has struggled to keep up. Has there been any thought to streamlining/simplifying the UI while keeping the excellent functionality?
We disagree that the UI has supposedly struggled to keep up. There is always a lot of things we want to change with the UI, but it usually comes down to a time/budgeting issue. The UI in Stellaris is important and will be updated as the game improves and changes. Something we want to review, but haven’t gotten to yet, are the diplomatic messages.
Are there ideas on giving leaders a greater sense of character?
Honestly, that will probably not happen for Stellaris. That is not the focus. Stellaris is about space empires and exploring the galaxy. A deeper focus on characters would probably be a mistake for this game.
What do you think about adding a specific end date and some kind of score victory?
It’s not among our first priorities, but It’s something we’re looking into as we definitely want to do something with victory conditions in the future.
Stellaris is fast approaching its second birthday. What is one highlight of being game director in that time? What has been the most challenging?
It’s hard to choose just one highlight, but I think I have to pick getting 2.0 to a properly playable state and getting to really play it with all the significant new features last autumn. Seeing all the design and changes and concepting come together into what I feel is such a vastly improved gameplay experience was a very significant moment for me.
I’ve often heard you reference the Dominion Wars (Star Trek Deep Space 9) when talking about the new border system. Was the goal on a design level to re-create a similar feeling when at war?
Going hyperlanes-only has been discussed internally in the team for a long time, even before the game was released. There has been no specific inspiration for its design goals other than knowing it will improve gameplay.
Paradox has a reputation for constant development of its titles. One side effect is a never ending wish list from fans. Can you give us a rough idea of what direction Stellaris is going next?
Economy, diplomacy, and espionage are some of the big remaining topics that have not been tackled yet. We intend to give them a similar treatment that we did empire customization in Utopia and war in Apocalypse.
Are there plans for more events like the worm/Horizon signal?
Nothing I can comment on at this time, but I can say that we loved working with Alexis Kennedy and certainly would be happy to have him write more events for the game.
What is your favorite space 4x game apart from Stellaris? Why?
Tough choice, but I have to give it to Sword of the Stars (the original) for its ship design, combat and incredibly distinct factions.
For decades, PDS has focused on a particular type of reality-based, historical grand strategy games. Stellaris is the first real deviation from that mode (Sunset Invasion notwithstanding). Given this experience, is there the possibility of further exploration by PDS of either other strategic genres (like 4X) or other game settings or both?
Making Grand Strategy-like games is our niche, and will most likely remain our focus and strong-point for a good while. That said, it doesn’t exclude us ever doing something different again, however.
Is there one feature from other games that you wish you could add to Stellaris? Something where you played and said, “Wow, I wish we had that!”?
In terms of gameplay features, there’s no big thing that stands out. We have a pretty good idea of what we want to do, but it is mostly a matter of getting there in the right time and with the right velocity. Something many people at PDS wish for are more UI features and more UI animations, so I guess that would probably be a nice wish. Looking at games like Hearthstone, you can really tell how much a well-polished UI adds to the experience.
What is your favorite way to play Stellaris?
Anything with strong character or flavor, that is what Stellaris does well. Going for megastructures is always fun too though, of course.
What is one part of game development you wish more fans understood?
Honestly I’m not sure most fans understand most parts at all. Time and budget are probably the hardest bits to understand for players and how those things affect what gets done and when it gets done.
Different professions can also work on different things without one side slowing down or preventing the other from making progress. Artists working on 3D models will not stop programmers from fixing bugs, for example.
EU4 will turn five years old this August and Stellaris is coming up on 2 years old. Where do you see Stellaris when it’s as mature as EU4? Knowing that thoughts will change as players play 2.0, what are the absolute must-implement features, types of expansions, and changes you think are likely over the coming years?
Stellaris is still a very young game, and its future is still not entirely certain – there is still a lot of room for Stellaris to grow. A difficult question the game will face in the future is how complex it can be. We still believe Stellaris should be less complex than our other games like Hearts of Iron or Europa Universalis, but what level of complexity that means in the end is really hard to tell.
How did you guys feel about the game going into initial release with other Space 4X games like GC3/ES2? How do you feel now that you have largely taken the crown (at least for the time being)?
I’m not sure if this sounds overconfident or not, but we don’t really adapt or change because of the competition. We prefer our real-time format to turn-based games, and we have a recipe of success that works for it. We may not always get the mix right, but our core ingredients are still the same, and we are confident that they work.
Compared to other Paradox GS titles, Stellaris has a rather low learning curve. Are you concerned about “feature bloat” where Stellaris becomes too complex for the average gamer?
Yes, like described earlier, Stellaris needs to find a good level of complexity. If Stellaris becomes too complex, it is no longer Stellaris. The game would benefit more from finding additional ways in which we can help players tell their own stories. In the end, Stellaris is about player stories, not about deep and complex game mechanics. Right now, those two have not come into conflict, but at some point in the future they probably will.
Everyone loves unicorns. Right? :)
No, there are two factions locked in eternal struggle over The One Question™.
As always, there’s some really interesting information revealed to us here. And, of course, we’ll learn even more when Stellaris: Apocalypse launches on 2/22/2018.
We’d like to thank the Paradox PR team for making all of this happen. We’d also like to thank Martin Anward and Daniel Moregard for answering all of these questions.
We are very excited for the coming of the Apocalypse, so stay tuned fellow eXplorminators. We will have even more to come in the near future.