Explorminate has made a conscious effort to reach out to as many of 4X studios as possible to find out more about their projects through a series of Q&A’s. That series continues today with Praxis Games and their upcoming title Interstellar Space: Genesis.
Could you start by telling us about your team?
The development team is comprised of two people working full-time on this game since 2014/2015, and part-time since 2012. Myself, Adam Solo and my old friend Hugo Rosado (aka MalRey).
We met in school when we were around 15, but we were never classmates until going to the university. However, we soon realized that we shared a common passion for video games since the ZX Spectrum days and then PC games. We also shared a love for all things space-related.
We both have computer science degrees and are both experienced software engineers, having worked on the aerospace industry for almost 10 years. We started by doing an internship on the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2004-2005 and then we worked for a Portuguese-Spanish aerospace company which specializes in developing critical software for space-ground control operations, among other things. As you can see, our lives have followed a similar path.
Having worked for 10 years in the aerospace industry, we decided we wanted to stay in the space sector, but now as a new adventure. We founded the SpaceSector.com space and sci-fi games news blog, which I ran on a daily basis from 2009 to 2012, and then we decided to embark in this epic voyage through the space 4X entertainment industry, to challenge ourselves and to revive our old days by creating something that would make us proud.
We share the programming load in equal shares. I (Adam) am responsible for the game design aspects and Hugo deals with the art, but in the end we collaborate pretty much on everything.
Besides the development team we also like to think that the team extends to the community that was formed around this game, the writing team, the art team, the people who have helped us with translations, the marketing team and even the accounting team. Everyone’s contribution is important and we take the opportunity to thank everyone for their support and hard work.
Was it an easy decision to leave behind your work on strategy gaming news at Space Sector or did having a chance at producing a game make it easy? Why?
Before I can reply to your question I think we need a bit of background on SpaceSector.com, and why it was started in the first place. I founded SpaceSector.com in 2009 because I felt a strong need to talk about the games I loved to play, which were sci-fi themed, space-based, and 4X strategy for the most part.
Quickly, I noticed that there was a large audience that also loved these kinds of games, and so what started as a hobby quickly shifted to a part-time labor of love. It’s funny that the first blog entry, the article that sparked the entire thing, was named, “Space Strategy Games: What’s next?”.
At the time the latest great space 4X game available was Galactic Civilizations, the first installment. I say it’s funny because here we are now developing our own game having no idea at the time this would happen. So, you never know where your passions may lead you, and seeing how much fun I had since the SpaceSector.com days and now in my game developer days (probably the most fun I ever had), I believe it’s a good thing to follow your heart and dothe things you think you need to make.
From 2009 to 2012 SpaceSector.com ramped up and it was getting a lot of views, also thanks to the generous contributions of a few but great and dedicated community-members that, like me, also wished to contribute to covering and discussing these kinds of games. It was becoming quite clear that there was a lot of demand for the kind of games we tended to cover, and the SpaceSector.com community was growing by the day.
However, there were very few (4X-style space) games being made at the time (around 2012). And that was the major reason why we decided to make a game of our own. The other big reason was that, at the time, the games that were being released were not satisfying to a large section of our community. And so, and since we also had the dream to make a game of our own one day, we decided to embark on this new adventure, that is now seeing the end of its first chapter soon.
Now, replying to your question directly, it was of course not an easy decision to make. We have to realize that work didn’t stop in SpaceSector.com the minute we decided to develop ISG. It was a gradual process. We informed our beloved community and from 2012 up until around 2016 I was not contributing actively to the blog, but the site was still getting content by the other authors. After 2016 we decided that the best was to stop covering other games, since, after all, we were developing a game of our own.
Since then we only occasionally post about ISG there. Actually, seeing the eXplorminate site flourish eased the process and the decision for me as I saw the games we tended to cover now being covered there. I also frequent the site myself, so in a way I found solace in the fact that eXplorminate exists. Now I am a community-member like any other, and a game developer of these types of games now, so I hope we can contribute in this new way to keep these game genres alive and well.
Is there anything about the work you and your team did at Space Sector that you miss now? How come?
I loved to write about games and to discuss them with others; what was good and not so good about them. This was the best part for me. I also loved the fact that most of my work, for a time, was to play and review games, where you can say: “Hey, today I have to play Distant Worlds, Pandora: First Contact, Armada 2526 or XCOM: Enemy Unknown for that review I need to write soon.” Of course, there were also other not as thrilling titles I also had to play and review, but they got the same treatment, it’s just that some games were easier and more enjoyable to play and write for than others.
So, working for SpaceSector.com was a joy for the most part. However, and to mention the whole story, as you know very well, publishing quality content takes a lot of work. So, there’s no hiding the fact that editing and publishing is a very hard business. We did it because we loved to write and talk about games with the community, and I also made a few great friends in the process as well.
After I started developing my own game I play much less games now and don’t discuss them as much as before, so I can say I miss that part.
Are you contracting anyone outside your company for art and/or music? Can you tell us a bit about them?
We are working with several artists for 2D/3D visual art and music. Regarding music, we were fortunate to get Mr. Grant Kirkhope on board for the game’s soundtrack. Grant is a renowned composer, having worked on the Civilization: Beyond Earth, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and GoldenEye 007 soundtracks. He is a great guy and made us some beautiful pieces – you can listen to a sample at our website. We also had the chance to work with Mr. Ryan Mcquinn who has tremendous talent and is helping us create beautiful melodies and the full ISG OST. We hope some of his tracks will not leave your head for days after playing our game. You can also listen to a sample of Ryan’s music at our website. We think music could be the resonance of a great game and we’re very happy with our music team and we hope people can enjoy it as much as we do.
Regarding visual art, we are currently working with two talented artists: Mr. Camilo Abelayras and Mr. Dario Dominguez, both from Argentina. Camilo is working with us on the races and the leaders visual conceptualization along with 2D animation and some 2D backdrops for the game. Dario is our 3D artist creating the game fleets and buildings for the colonies.
We would also like to mention the 2D artist Mahnoor Arshad, the 2D concept artist Joanna Materek and the 3D artist Shawn which have all made great contributions for the project and we may have their contribution for Praxis Games’ future projects.
All the art injection is done in-house.
What major aspect or aspects of Master of Orion inspired you to make this game?
The Master of Orion games of the 90’s, especially Master of Orion 2, were the biggest influences and sources of inspiration to design our own space 4X strategy game, but there were other games as well, like Civilization, Imperium Galactica 2, and even Crusader Kings 2.
I have very fond memories of playing Master of Orion and then Master of Orion 2: Battle of Antares in 1996. I think no other game has captured my imagination as much as these two titles. What I remember the most about these games was their ability to transport you to a world where those aliens, those planets that you discovered were actually there and were a plausible reality. Another important thing is that everything in those games, every system and every piece of art felt like it belonged there and were carefully crafted to help with the experience. So, I’d say that the combination of gameplay and theme was perfect, and you actually felt like a ruler of a space-faring civilization, which for a space enthusiast like me was all I could hope for from a great afternoon of gaming.
More specifically, I would say that the space exploration aspect, of not knowing what you’d find in the next system, of what interesting and charismatic races (that you could customize in MoO2!), and leaders you would meet next, and of how you should develop your worlds, design your ships and ultimately control them in battle were the main ingredients, and all you could wish for in a game like this.
In ISG we invested in the space exploration aspect side of the game to capture that sense of wonder. We have a very fresh, new mechanic that enables to you to explore sectors at a distance, allowing you discover new objects on the map, even up until the late game. You can also explore ancient ruins to unlock bonuses, perks, unique techs and even leaders. We also took the extra time to design alien races that would feel plausible and interesting to interact with, with not only different characteristics but also special abilities that would make them feel unique, and that you could customize to your will. We also did the extra mile on the leaders system to give them more substance and richer interactions, to help with the sense that galaxy was alive and full of diversity and lore. We took our time to design an interesting and balanced colony development system that would allow you to experience an alien world up close, to get a sense that aliens lived in that world, and that this world was not just a spot on the map. The ship design feature and combat systems were heavily influenced on Master of Orion 2’s own systems and enhanced to today’s standards.
What about the setting? Could you quickly summarize the storyline and tell us about some big picture details?
As with so many 4X games, the most important aspect of ISG is its sandbox nature, where you start from very humble beginnings and then create a story of your own. To help with that you can choose who you play against, and in which particular difficulty per opponent. You can also customize your own race with many different characteristics, special abilities and even a specific government type so that you can play a very different game each time.
That said, we do have a specific setting and storyline. The game develops right after the Human race has developed the capabilities to become space-faring. Interestingly, other major alien races also seem to be at more or less the same level of development at that time, some more than others depending on the difficulty level you set for them.
So, there’s a reason for the races to be a bit spread apart from each other and to become space-faring more or less at the same time, and that’s a key part of the storyline. This chapter is called Genesis, therefore the title. The Interstellar Space series will be complete when we release the following two expansions, which will be the two following chapters of the story.
Are there multiple factions in your game? Can you give us a few details about each one?
There will be 6 races in ISG at release: the Moltar, Draguul, Human, Sulak, Kaek and the Nova. The first four races are already available in the Alpha build. The Kaek and the Nova will arrive in the Beta.
As mentioned earlier, a lot of effort was made to make the ISG races as interesting and plausible as possible. Each inhabits and prefers a different type of biome, from Lava worlds, Acid planets, Swamps, Terran-type worlds, cold Desert-like planets and Icy worlds. However, they can tolerate close enough environments but find others hostile to them. There are different types of life as well, from carbon-based and water-like, to silicon-based and even ammonia-like. Not all life will probably be equal and we wanted to offer that in ISG.
Each race comes with its own distinctive set of ships and has different characteristics and special abilities, some of these are unique giving them significant differences from a gameplay standpoint. For instance, the Moltar can colonize hostile worlds without the required colonization technology and can even complete terraforming projects quickly from time to time, due to their resilient nature. The Sulak are unstable by nature, so they will undergo periods of restlessness and others of peaceful calm, which will impact relations with the other empires. Each race has a couple of these unique abilities, some of them requiring them to be activated when the player feels is right which makes playing with the different races significantly different.
What is the object of play in ISG? Is there more than one victory condition?
In ISG you will explore the galaxy and attempt to build a prosperous interstellar empire, pursuing the strategy of your choice. Maybe you are more war-like or prefer to be safe in your backyard, or a mix of both. Maybe you just want to role-play and explore the galaxy, or want to see how far you can go on a higher difficulty level. Maybe you want to experience what happens when you fully unlock one of the three available cultural paths, and maybe you will want to design a very peculiar race and try it out.
Ultimately though, and in case you wish it, the objective is to win the game. All the empires are competing among each other and playing to win. Personally, and I think many others, play 4X games for its gameplay, because they like to explore, they like to see their boundaries expand. They enjoy seeing their empire or nation prosper, interact with others and do battle when called for.
That said, winning is part of the game. There are two victory conditions in ISG at the moment: Conquest (when you conquer all the other empires) and Galactic Election (where you are elected the Galaxy’s Leader). So, a military and diplomatic victory condition. There are plans for further ways to win the game, which will be explored in the expansions.
Will there be any endgame cinematics or screens? If so, will there be unique ones for each victory type or faction?
We want to offer different cinematics for each victory type. This is something we’re still working on and the level of elaboration on what we will offer will depend on the time and resources available, but we definitely want to offer that as it’s something we believe enhances the experience of playing a game like this.
Let’s move on to combat. How will space combat work in this game?
As said earlier, the tactical space combat aspect was heavily inspired by Master of Orion 2’s space combat system. Its turn-based, I-Go-You-Go (an initiative-based system for the ships may come in one of the expansions). The decision on who plays first is left to who has the leader with the most Initiative skill, or to who attacks if no leader exists. Ships have shields, armor, internal systems and hull, which are normally compromised in that order.
Along with weapons, engines, armor, and shields, ships may also be equipped with special modules, like Fighter Bays, Tractor Beams, ECM Jammers, Automated Repair Bots, EMP defenses, among several other special devices that grant you extra abilities. Different weapons may be designed with different modifications to give them special abilities as well, like shield piercing, armor piercing, the ability to fire more shots or to have bigger mounts or be specialized against missiles and fighters, among others. Different weapon mounts have different ranges and you can design weapons with wider or narrower fire arcs. Firing accuracy is a function of many factors, including the weapon type, leaders that may be present, the ship’s crew experience, the targeting algorithms tech level, among several others.
Combat in Master of Orion 2 could be tedious in the late game when you had many ships to control. In ISG we made an effort to reduce the number of ships in a particular battle while increasing their personality by making them harder to come by.
As said, ISG picked up from MoO2’s space combat model and added a new Spinal type of weapon mount; we separated weapons into three distinct categories – kinetics, beams and missiles (which includes torpedoes). There’s also a new energy overload mechanic where you can overload the weapons, engines or shields for bonuses in that particular system, and the ships are now 3D models. There’s also a novel salvaging mechanic that allows you to salvage credits, research and even capture leaders from debris that are left from destroyed ships. We’ll also do our best to polish the space combat experience to be as appealing in terms of graphics and sound as possible.
What were the advantages of reducing ship numbers rather than developing/adopting a system to combat tedious control of large groups of ships in the late game?
Yes, not having a lot of individual ships you could control in combat was a conscious design decision we made to reduce tedious control in the late game. Turn-based tactical combat is awesome, and most of the fun comes from being able to control your units with a considerable amount of depth involved. So, there’s so many units you can control, or groups, until things start to break down.
So, you either have to go with fewer individual units, or with fewer groups. We decided for the former because we believe it helps give more character to the units we want to play with, a starship in our case. Ships are of different classes, have their own crew experience, had their own history, can have their own name and can be captained by a particular leader. So, I’d say the big advantage with going with this model is to increase the sense of attachment to an individual ship. A group of ships can also work well but it didn’t fit with our vision to give individual ships more personality.
How will ground combat work in ISG?
Ground combat in ISG consists of planetary bombardment, blockades, sieges, raids ,and invasions to take colonies. You will need to bombard the more heavily fortified colonies to soften their defenses, and for that you need to equip your starships with bombs, which can be used for conventional or mass destruction, which is an option during bombardment. To invade colonies you will need to bring assault ships, which are starships specifically designed to carry marines and hover tanks.
To defend from bombardment, you can build planetary shields. To repel invasions you will need planetary garrisons and to help in the preceding space battle, if any. Airspace support facilities will come in handy as they boost the stats to any starship in orbit. There are three levels, or upgrades, available for each of these military installations.
Instead of direct bombardment or invasion, you can opt to do blockades or to siege colonies instead, to try and cripple the colony’s economy and defenses over time. You can also opt to raid the colony, in order to try and capture the colony leader, to steal technologies or to try and bring down the planet’s planetary shields, for example.
You give orders from a Planetary Assault screen for bombardment, invasions and raids, and then witness the results. You can do several bombardment rounds, depending on how many your bombers allow.
Ground combat is really interesting, but it seems like it may lend itself to a rock-paper-scissors situation where some invasions might be easy, others impossible. If a player finds an enemy and needs to invest in different tech, what sorts of options will the player have?
I wanted the ground combat system to have a lot of depth and to be as approachable and fun as possible. The idea is to offer plenty of options that allow for many different strategies – some more blunt and aggressive, others more subtle – for several different outcomes depending on the situation.
So, in some cases the player may opt for a more conventional and focused bombardment, for which bombers and a particular technology are required, to not damage the environment and to spare buildings and infrastructure while taking down POPs to soften the defenses, for example (you can choose between targeting POPs, infrastructure, civilian buildings and military buildings). Or, perhaps not bring bombers at all and go straight to invasion with numbers. Or maybe the player just wants to park and siege a system to reduce production and soften the defenses. You can decide to use nukes or not, for more results over damaging the environment and reducing production for a while, but you get a diplomatic penalty when using them. If you opt for nukes you can augment them further with specific techs and particular strategic resources.
If the odds are low, or you simply want to do a more hit-and-run operation, you can also opt for raids instead, where you attempt to capture the leader, steal a tech or even try to bring down planetary shields if you’re lucky. So, there’s plenty of options on the table.
It’s also worth mentioning that you need a plethora of other particular techs and buildings to enhance your planetary defense capabilities, namely better orbital stations, garrisons, equipment (armor, personal shields, hand rifles), airspace support facilities and planetary shields.
So, many things come into play with invasions and raids, and you have plenty of options and different strategies on how you want you use them. So, I don’t foresee impossible scenarios, and luck is a factor, but I think the system is flexible and varied enough to allow for a good degree of strategy to be involved.
What role does scouting and/or espionage/spying play in giving players and AI information about the enemy’s tech choices (since presumably that plays heavily into the strategic choice layer of the game)?
Regarding knowing a rival player’s tech choices, one of the spy skills we have in the game, Deep Cover, is precisely aimed at gathering intel on your rivals which includes full access to their tech tree, if the undercover spy leader is skilled enough in it, that is. And I can tell you that information is already being used by the AI, for example, when deciding on which planetary defense installations to use and where, the AI checks the rival player’s tech tree to make decisions, if it can.
Another way you can obtain further tech information from your rivals is through the use of better scanner technology. A particular scanner allows you to know which engines your opponent’s ships have, while another type of more advanced scanner also allows you to see your rival fleet’s full equipment (e.g weapons, shields, etc).
Still on scouting, having more sensor range allows you to see more of your rivals further away. If you explore rival sectors remotely or send ships there you will also obtain information on what particular kinds of military installations they have in their colonies, which reveals what types of tech they have access in that domain.
How does empire management work in this game?
In the strictly economical sense, you expand your empire by building colonies and outposts on planets, and by building outposts in asteroid belts, gas giants or accretion disks around dead stars (e.g. black holes, neutron stars), in order to create exploitations there to extract strategic resources, or to boost research, production, tourism or to obtain extra cash from trade tariffs.
In a more general sense, you also hire and manage leaders that will approach your empire from time to time, or as a consequence of some choices (that you make when you choose certain culture perks, for example). You can assign those leaders to your ships, to your colonies or as spies. You will also contact other empires, establish treaties and manage relations with them through diplomacy.
Colonies are your empire’s main powerhouse though, so a big part of the empire management happens there. It’s in colonies that you will build your ships and develop a big part of your economy (other factors include interstellar tourism and exploitations). You can specialize your colonies’ infrastructure to be better at planetary engineering (to improve or transform the planet’s biome to boost population growth and morale); to specialize in constructing faster, more easily maintained, and more numerous buildings than would be allowed; or to build ships faster or with more experience while boosting your ship support for the entire empire. So, you will choose how to specialize your colonies’ infrastructure and then decide where to allocate your production between constructing buildings and ships; improve or transform the environment or to keep developing the infrastructure further.
The game was designed to avoid micromanagement hell, which Master of Orion 2 could suffer from at certain points in the game. For instance, planets have a limited amount of building slots, limiting the amount of buildings that can be built, which can be increased with particular infrastructure perks or a special race customization perk. So, you will need to pick and choose what buildings you will have in a particular colony carefully, and there are plenty of options from planetary improvements, empire improvements (that can only be built in an empire once) and galactic wonders (that can only be built once in the game).
Are there any special resources or locations players will be able to exploit? How will they affect play?
As already said, players will be able to establish outposts in asteroid belts, gas giants and on the accretion disks of dead stars (black holes, neutron stars and boson stars).
From gas giants, the player can extract Helium-3, one of the four strategic resources in ISG. Helium-3 can be exploited to boost production, trade, population growth, or you can go with augmented beams and shields instead since you must make a choice in how you exploit each of your strategic resources in a given game.
Antimatter can be exploited from accretion disks around black holes to increase the number of bomb runs bombers can do, increase missile damage in combat, or for more peaceful means by unlocking antimatter power plants to boost production, planetary gravity generators, personal replicators to boost population growth and can even allow you to construct entire planets!
Neutronium can be exploited from accretion disks around neutron stars, and can be used to either protect your ships armor further and boost your population growth or to cause harm by enhancing bombs’ destructive power and all kinetic weapons’ damage.
Dark matter is exploited in the accretion disks around boson stars and can be exploited to build planetary anti-gravity generators (to lower gravity in planets); to construct ship modules that give special powers to your ships, like invulnerability, allow you to give orders to fleets in transit via transcommunication, create Jump Gates for faster travel or even give you the ability to stabilize wormholes to keep them permanently open or reopen closed ones.
On top of exploiting the different strategic resources, the player may also choose how to exploit asteroid belts which come in different sizes. The player may choose between extracting more minerals to boost production in colonies, transport volatiles from these asteroids to help with planetary engineering activities in colonies or to simply exploit the asteroids to promote trade or for research purposes. You will need to build freighter fleets to exploit minerals and volatiles.
What are the limits to expanding one’s empire in this game? Are there any mechanics in place to limit or disincentivize planet spam?
We designed the game so that expansion would feel rewarding, after all expansion is a big part of playing a 4X game. So, instead of imposing restrictions, limits or heavy maintenance penalties on how the player expands, we allow the player to build and expand with new outposts, exploitations and colonies as the game naturally allows and at what we consider a good pace. Colonization and establishing outposts are very expensive endeavours, so naturally you will not be able to create many colonies or outpost spam in an organic way.
Later on, when your empire is more developed you will be able to produce colony ships and outpost ships faster, however there will not be that many good places left to exploit or expand to, because they were either taken by others or they simply may not justify the efforts anymore and there would be better uses for your colonies’ production output by then.
We have been playtesting the game for a long time now, since the early pre-alpha days, and people have not been reporting this “planet-spam” issue. Moreover, now the AI will be taken to full speed, which will make planets and other potential exploitation sites even scarcer than before.
What about minor factions, quests, heroes, or random events? Are any of these in ISG, and if so, can you explain what they are like?
We have events in ISG, either upon colonization, during exploration, or simply random galactic events that will happen from time to time. You will be presented with the event’s description and then choose between 2 to 4 options for many types of outcomes, both negative and positive, including a good dose of opportunities to shift the gears of the game a bit. Some of these events lead to follow up events depending on what you choose. Some events will unlock hidden leaders, others will give you bonuses or penalties to your colonies or the whole empire, and some will ask that you make a hard choice as some of them impose dilemmas where something will have to give. There’s an option to disable events in case you wish to play without them.
Minor factions as concrete species or minor races seen in the galactic map in particular planets that you can interact with in some way are not yet in the game. However, we like that feature and we may introduce it in one of the expansions. Complex quests lines are also not yet in the game, but they are one item that was asked for by the community and is even part of the Community Feedback List, to be considered for one of the expansions.
We’re proud to have a leaders system (akin to heroes) that we consider to be quite interesting, varied and deep. We picked up from MoO2’s own leader system but we wanted to take that to a whole new level. So, leaders can govern colonies or captain ships and have stats that upgrade over time, just like in Master of Orion 2. But that’s where the similarities end. We fleshed out the leaders further to have primary skills, secondary skills and traits. They also have an opinion of the empire, that has an impact on their loyalty and on how they behave. Leaders also have desires, or ambitions, that they generate from time to time according to the circumstances, like the ship they captain, the colony they govern or even which leaders happen to be in the same fleet.
We took inspiration from Crusader Kings 2 for the leaders system, so you will see that there’s more to it than simply allocating them to ships and colonies. They will request audiences with you and make requests, which you may or not attend at the time. Another layer on top of the leaders system is that espionage was integrated with leaders so they may go in espionage missions, a bit like in Star Wars: Rebellion/Supremacy. You can send leaders with spy skills to sabotage colonies (very handy before an invasion!), to try and steal techs from rival empires,and to work undercover to reveal extra strategic information about your rivals – including access to their tech tree and the leaders they have. You can also send your spy leaders to bribe other empire’s leaders.
Could you describe the nature of Research in your game?
The research system consists of researching technologies which are organized in a tech tree structured into six different fields: Defenses, Weapons, Propulsion, Economics, Planetary Engineering and Construction.
Each of these fields has several levels, each level consisting of between 2 to 5 techs. To unlock a level 3 tech, the player must first research a level 2 tech, and so on. Also, each tech in the same level becomes more expensive each time you research a tech in the same level, to increase tension on what you should research next and what tech to pick in a specific level.
Not all techs are available in the tech tree at first, namely some technologies linked to the strategic resources will only unlock for the player according to the decisions that the player has made upon each strategic resource reveal. So, for example, the dark matter discovery and decision will unlock either three “Beyond Light” techs: Jump Gates, Transcommunication and Tachyon Drive; Or three other techs in the context of the “Into Shadows” choice, namely the illusion Materializer and the Subspace Distortion ship modules. You either have the first or the second bunch of techs in that game. The same goes for all strategic resources, which increases the options and replayability.
One important point about the tech tree is that it is the same tech tree in a game for all players unless the player chooses to go with random tech trees (an option at game setup) which creates a differently arranged tech tree for all players. So, all techs are present, but they are arranged differently from a normal game and all players will get a different tech tree, as well.
There are six research artifacts that can be found while exploring ancient ruins. These are called “Research Core Artifacts” and each will boost one particular tech field. This also hints at the game’s storyline.
Research allocation can be increased by diverting income to research activities. POPs generate research naturally, some buildings and wonders also generate extra research. Extra research may also come from events, interstellar research (from outposts in accretion disks), orbital stations, planet specials, culture perks, infrastructure perks and leaders skills.
Instead of researching techs directly, you can also acquire techs through espionage, after invading a colony, by raiding the colony, by unlocking certain culture perks, via diplomacy and from some events.
On top of the tech tree, there are also techs that cannot be researched in any way and are only be acquired by exploring ancient ruins. These are unique super techs that can have a dramatic impact on the game after they are found. One example of these super techs includes the Chaos Chain, an extremely powerful beam weapon that can strike multiple targets at once. Another example is the Nano Swarm, which unleashes a swarm of nano ships that envelop and steal health points from a designated target and then transfers them back to the host ship.
Outside of colonies, will players be able to construct other fortifications such as bases, ports, observatories, etc.? If so, how will they affect play?
The player can establish outposts to expand the empire’s reach, which act like observatories extending the empire’s supply range and extended “visibility” to conduct remote exploration further away from the core worlds. Outposts can also be used to exploit asteroid belts, gas giants and accretion disks. With respect to fortifications, the player can build star bases in colonies, which can be upgraded to battle stations and star fortresses.
Also outside colonies, the player can deploy tourism sites (tourism exploitations) in accretion disks around gorgeous boson stars or neutron stars; and can also deploy research stations either in asteroids and accretion disks.
Can you describe the basics of diplomacy in your game?
Sure. Our main goal with the diplomacy was to make the system as reliable and transparent as possible, so that the player can have a very good grasp of the diplomatic situation at all times. We also wanted to offer meaningful alliances and real cooperation between empires, and at the same time offer a lot of personality from the interactions with the other species.
As for the actual diplomatic interactions in ISG, they are what you would expect from a 4X game, but with some twists and novelties. You can make proposals for trade treaties, mining treaties, research treaties, alliances and you can declare war and make peace.
As for treaties, a trade treaty will generate income for both parties and at the same time unlock the ability to exchange strategic resources among the involved empires. Agreeing on a mining treaty allows you to establish outposts in each other’s territory to exploit resources (in asteroid belts, gas giants, accretion disks). By forging a research treaty you obtain extra research points for both and also unlock the ability to exchange techs with that empire.
An alliance brings empires closer together and allows them to colonize each other’s territory. Allies will support each other on the Galactic Council when voting for the Ruler of the Galaxy. Forging an alliance unlocks the “Let’s Coordinate our Efforts” diplomacy option. This special diplomatic option allows allies to coordinate attacks or to defend a specific system. Allies can also ask each other to go after a specific ship, to research a specific tech, to capture a certain leader or to break a treaty, declare war or make peace with a third party.
You can also offer gifts (ships, credits and systems), ask for a certain fleet to be removed from a system and make demands for tribute.
Many aspects of the game will influence how others see you, and this can be easily checked via tooltips at all times, helping you understand why a particular faction may or may not like you.
How much will players be able to customize their units, factions, and game maps in this game?
You can play with one of the 6 races that come with the game, or you can create your own using our quite detailed race customization system, which allows the player to manipulate many aspects about the race they want to play with, or the races to play against, as well. You can choose a name, a description, pick the appearance/affinity and choose an ideal world for your race. You then have several points (or picks) you can spend among 8 different categories of race modifiers, like the industry capability, to ground combat strength or skill in space combat and special abilities.
You can also pick a government type, which affects several aspects of the game, like morale, prefered research fields, and war or peace aspects, among others. Special abilities range from if your race is subterranean in nature, if they are exceptional architects (bonus to infrastructure), if they start with a rich or poor homeworld, if they are charismatic, creative, good traders, warlords, good in spying, etc. There are a total of 20 special abilities to pick and choose from. Then, there’s also unique abilities, which are like special powers that are unique and thematic for your race. When customizing a race, you can pick 2 of these unique abilities that you can use from time to time during the game after you fulfill their unlocking requirements.
Regarding the map, you can pick the size of the galaxy, if the distribution of planets is balanced across the map and if the start should be more favorable or not for you and each of the other players, by manipulating the difficulty level you set for everybody. We want to offer other options, like mineral abundance, or ecological maturity, among others, but that will have to wait for the expansions.
We also allow you to design your own ships. We wanted the ship design system to be flexible and deep to give room for your imagination, but without requiring too much of your time or that you’d need to fiddle with too many things. So, you can choose among several ship modules, aka special systems, like fighter bays, tractor beams, and eco jammers, among others. You can also decide to equip a shield of your choice (if any). Then you can choose your weapons. You can choose between kinetic, beams, and missiles. You can choose the amount of any special modifications you’d like to go with for the weapons, like the capability to bypass shields or armor, shoot several times, specialize against missiles and fighters or go with a heavy mount for extra damage and range, among others. You can also choose the firing-arc for your weapons. An important point about the weapons is that they tend to have something special about them apart from only doing more damage, so that also helps with the decision of what weapons to go with.
We also have equipment miniaturization, so the more you invest in research in a particular field, the smaller and less costly that type of equipment will become, and you will be able to fit more systems in your ships, also creating interesting decisions on if you should go with your new shiny weapon or with a proven, smaller and less costly one instead. Equipment miniaturization applies to weapons, shields and ship modules.
Another important aspect of the ship design system is that you can tweak your engines, armor and shields, to be more maneuverable, stronger or have more or less shield facings, respectively. So, you can go with a highly maneuverable frigate, with reinforced armor and only 1 shield facing at the front, if that suits your particular use of that ship, among many other combinations.
What role does randomness play in your game?
That’s an interesting question. I see randomness as a great tool to be used in particular circumstances where you want to add a bit of unpredictability, to simulate reality when you need it and to keep things fresh. It also helps in surprising the player, helping create a different experience each time you play. So, in a good dose I think randomness is useful and can go a long way in helping simulate a certain aspect, to make it more believable and interesting, helping create different experiences each time.
As a designer you have to define what constitutes a good dose of randomness for you in each particular circumstance, so that may help the experience and for players to have fun. For me, randomness can and should be used to enrich the experience, but in a way that the outcome doesn’t feel completely outside the player’s control. I know that may sound paradoxical, since, after all, randomness is about creating unpredictable outcomes, and therefore outside the player’s control. What I mean is that the player should have a say as much as possible on the outcome created by a random event, or at least be aware that such an event may happen and what should be done to avoid or deal with it in the best way possible.
So, for example, we have random events. An event will often be generated after you colonize a planet. You may also get events while you’re exploring a sector fully and even get what can be seen as “out of the blue” events, the so called Galactic Events, from time to time. You cannot predict when these events will fire, although when colonizing a planet you pretty much expect one from time to time, but you will have a strong say in the outcome of such events. So, it rarely will be the case where all options available to you in an event – and the events were designed to always give options – where all outcomes are bad, or very bad. There will be the occasional dilemmas, but you will always find a way to get something out of the event, even if that costs you in some other aspect. So, you have a choice. Therefore, by design, we made a conscious choice to not have random events that don’t give you a choice of some sort, and that’s what I meant by randomness not being completely outside the player’s control.
Other examples of the use of randomness still in the player’s control to some degree are the outcomes of exploring ancient ruins, or of what sector to explore next. You have the call on what you should do next, and you know beforehand that some sectors will have more chances to unlock some things than others. In ruins investigation, you know that you can have a good or less good outcome, and even when the outcomes are bad they are not catastrophic in nature. I also believe that as designers we should reward the player more than punish, and punishment should be used sparingly and as a result of a choice by the player as much as possible.
Other uses of randomness include galaxy map generation, which is never equal and that helps with replayability, to keep things fresh. This is probably the aspect of the game that is more random in nature, but the player can still influence the starting location a bit by choosing a particular difficulty level, for the player and the AI players, as a higher difficulty level will tend to generate more favorable starts for the AIs, and you can also go with a lower difficulty level for yourself and also get more favorable starts, or vice versa for the highest difficulty level. You can also decide to go with a more balanced or less balanced map, which is an option in the game settings.
Then you have randomness in the AI, espionage outcomes, research (if you choose so), bombardment, raids and invasion decisions, if weapons hit or miss, etc. But again, and excluding the AI which is a very specific case, all other uses of randomness were always carefully considered and thought out to give the player the best information and a say in the outcome of each situation as much as possible, so to avoid frustration and to allow for the most informed decisions possible, while keeping things surprising and fun.
What were some of the inspirations for the lore in ISG?
There was not a specific resource we based the lore of ISG on. Most of it came from our own knowledge and experiences, of watching movies and reading books. I’d say that fictional books like Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card), the Foundation series (Isaac Asimov), Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson), and also the non-fictional books like Entering Space: Creating a SpaceFaring Civilization (Robert Zubrin), New Earths (James Edward Oberg) and Intelligent Life In the Universe (I.S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan) were books I enjoyed reading a lot, some of which I used as research during the game’s development, so they undoubtedly had a big influence on ISG’s lore and game design.
What does your game have/do that some of the other games inspired by MoO1/2 currently on the market don’t provide?
I believe all games in a given genre, 4X games specifically and even games that claim to be inspired by the same titles in particular, allow for a broad range of significantly different game experiences so that each game can be enjoyed on its own terms. All these different games were designed and executed by different people who have had different experiences in their lives, different skills, different visions and different opinions on what the best aspects of a particular genre or game were.
So for the sake of example outside the 4X genre, you can have two games that were inspired by the same game, or series of games and end up with almost completely different experiences. The cases of Xenonauts and XCOM: Enemy Unknown for example. They both are spiritual successors, clones, evolutions, re-imaginings or remakes, as you like to see them, of the X-COM game series of the 90’s, but in the end it’s pretty evident that although the setting and the mechanics are more or less the same, the end result is pretty different, because the devs valued different things more, and in the end you have two very different games that more than deserve to be enjoyed, and they are both great games.
In a general sense, I’d say, and even without having played all the space 4X games in the past, and in the market today for long hours (although I did quite a few), I’m pretty sure that the ISG experience is very different from those, even from the title that we took as primary inspiration in the first place. Because the idea was not to make the same game again, but to pick up from it, improve it, add our own ideas, fix the worse aspects and then have our own take on it. People who have played the ISG pre-alpha and alpha builds have been reporting that it does capture and feels like playing Master of Orion 2 back in the day, in many aspects, but at same time they say it’s also different in many aspects because a lot has been changed, improved and added that ISG is now its own thing. And that was what we proposed to do.
Now replying to your question more specifically and objectively, our idea at the time we started developing ISG (2012) was to pick up from what we considered to be the fundamentals of the game we were taken primary inspiration from, namely Master of Orion 2: Battle at Antares, the pillars of the basic formula if you like. And these were: a) turn-based tactical combat; b) ship design; c) free space-based movement with range limits (no starlanes); d) race customization; e) a leaders system; f) deep and close colony management; and g) an espionage system from the get go. We believe these were the features that were most requested at the time and to my knowledge there was no new game that could satisfy these requirements back in 2012 and I don’t think we still have one today with all these ingredients, at least not to the extent of what Master of Orion 2 offered and certainly not released from the start.
So, the starting point may be the same, but the journey is completely different, and the outcomes, invariably are pretty different as well. The designers have different experiences, philosophies and sources of inspiration. In the end you have very different games. So, for example, consider this. All these games series: Endless Space, Predestination, Sword of the Stars, Stars in Shadow, StarDrive, Armada 2526, Galactic Civilizations, Horizon, Starbase Orion and the Master of Orion reboot itself, among others in different degrees and shapes you can say took inspiration, or at least have several ingredients that took inspiration or are very similar to the classics of the genre, which unavoidably includes Master of Orion 1 and 2. Would you not say that these games are and feel very different from each other even sharing many aspects and even sources of inspiration? Don’t they all have their place in the 4X collection? I think they do. I believe the same will be the case for ISG. So, I’m sure that our game has and does many things differently from other games inspired by MoO1/2 currently on the market to be considered an worthwhile addition to the 4X genre.
What do you hope to accomplish with ISG? What do you hope people will remember most about it?
We aim at offering a new take on the 4X genre that appeals to both the people who enjoyed playing the classics of the genre back in the day but who also liked to play other 4X and strategy games since then, because we also took inspiration from many other games we played, naturally. We want to offer a game that does justice to the Master of Orion series of the 90’s and that can be considered a great 4X game that people find worthwhile of their time.
We also hope that people remember our game as a fun and complex strategy game, that was carefully crafted to be enjoyed in every detail. From the music, the content, and pace, we want you to immerse yourself in the ISG universe. We want people to know, young and old, that these longer and deeper gaming experiences are alive and well and that you can obtain great satisfaction, fun and knowledge by playing them, just like we did back in the 90’s.
It was also very important to us that the game had a foundation in reality as much as possible, with a very strong scientific background, where all the aspects can be as close as possible of what is known today in the science community about space and space exploration, and the possibilities for life outside Earth, including other sentient species. With that in mind we also have a didactic aspect in the game where we describe all stars, nebulas and all the other exotic objects, including plausible alien races, technologies and even the strategic resources to exploit in the near and far future. We also wanted to be thought provoking in the sense of making you think why we should explore and expand into space in the first place, and therefore the game offers three very distinct cultural paths that portray the way one day we Humans may decide to explore space and why. Is it because of the adventure? Is it for wealth, or for the knowledge? A mix? What will drive us to the stars and why, and why that could that be our salvation, which is also linked to the game’s storyline and title.
So, in summary, and aligned with the values and vision for our company, Praxis Games, we want our games to be remembered as fun and inspiring. We also wish Praxis Games is well know for product quality and excellent post-release support.
Some (including me) have questioned the wisdom of doing a Master of Orion 1/2 spiritual successor in the current marketplace. Do you have any concerns about being able to stand out? Why/Why not?
Regarding the type of game we’re making I believe I already replied in the question above about what does our game have that others may not. We are totally not concerned about that, we think there is always a market for good quality games of this type, that no game is equal and we’re confident that ISG will be well received and enjoyed by the 4X game community at large.
Regarding the general sense of the question, of how will we be able to stand out and if we have any concerns about it? It’s an unavoidable question these days when so many PC games are released every year. It was not the case back in 2012, when being on Steam was almost a synonym and guarantee that you’d have success, but it is definitely a concern now. So, the importance of PR and marketing on a successful launch cannot be underestimated and that’s why we hired a marketing firm to help us with the PR and marketing activities.
In that regard, we hope many YouTubers, editors and other influencers pick up the game, give it a chance, and spread the word about it. As I’ve said we’re confident it will be well received, but it will only be so if people know about it, so we count on you and other outlets to help us with that.
I have to admit that I have become more and more interested in your game as development has progressed. Am I alone, or have you noticed that trend among other skeptics?
The overall impression and reaction of everyone who has tried and played the game so far, and even since the early stages of development, is very positive. Our community has been telling us that the game is fun and that it definitely has that “just one more turn” feeling, which is the most important feedback you can get in a game like this.
We don’t blame people for being skeptical of a pre-alpha or alpha game, especially one that is being made by a new and small indie studio. 4X games are very difficult games to make. You need to have many skills and wear many hats to be able to tackle every challenge that a game like this imposes. That’s why it’s not uncommon for these games to take 5 to 7 years or more in development, obviously less if the team is large but even there I’d argue that it’s not so easy because I believe many aspects of developing a game like this are actually simpler to accomplish and can even produce better results when your team is small because you can iterate faster and you’re on top of whole design-programming process at all times.
So, the reception so far has been fantastic. We obtained great feedback from several sources: from the community that has been forming around this game, including a veteran game designer, YouTubers, hardcore fans, editors, or simply from gaming fans in general saying that the game is fun and addictive. That has given us great confidence that we’re on the right track. Even we the developers like to play our own game already which is quite something.
We’re positive that the more people play and talk about the game the more interested others will become leading to a successful launch, we hope, and the opportunity to keep expanding the game and at some point start thinking on the next game coming from Praxis Games.
What contributions from the community have been the most helpful so far?
We can’t thank our community enough for the support and feedback that they have given us. They have been there since day one giving us thorough feedback when the game was still very ugly and incomplete. So, a big thank you to our VIP group and to all who have believed in us and pre-ordered and played the Pre-alpha and the Alpha. The game would never have been this good without you. Without the pre-orders we would also not have access to the funds we’d need to elevate to game to the standards it deserved. This was possible because of you.
Besides playtesting and feedback from the community at large we also got support for the writing and lore of the game, which is provided by a few community members. They helped create the events, leaders, the game’s backstory, the ruins investigation text and many other things. Other community members also helped with the translation work for the game’s descriptions for the Steam store. We also got specific ideas from the community, documented in our Community Feedback List, some of which were already included for the release while others will come only for the expansions. A few community members also helped more directly with the design work in certain areas. So, it was and is a collaboration in many aspects.
We also got helpful contributions from YouTubers and editors, such as eXplorminate. You have been covering the game since the early stages of development and we’ve been listening to all the suggestions and criticisms you had about the game. We’d like to thank you for that as well.
Where does development of the game stand as of now?
We’re currently in Alpha. We had many builds and iterations during Pre-alpha and then we finally launched our first Alpha build in November of 2018. The game can be considered feature-complete at this stage. We’re finalizing the AI and then it’s about polishing in preparation for the release in Q2 2019 on Steam and in a DRM-free store, which may be the Humble.store and/or others, still to be decided.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the game’s development so far?
We faced several major challenges during the course of development. Since you ask for the most challenging one I’d say the art procurement process, in its entirety, was probably the most challenging, requiring a lot of effort to conceptualize and communicate our vision and to then find the right talent to help us with the art side of the project. That was probably the most challenging aspect of them all. That said, it was probably the most fulfilling as well as we had the opportunity to work with incredibly talented people in the fields of music and visual arts. There’s nothing like the feeling when your vision was understood and cherished and then see it come to life in the final product.
The other big challenges, for me, were on the design front, on how to craft systems that combined could produce something that felt right, that was cohesive and fun. The technical aspects, the programming, was actually the easier part of the project for us since fortunately both of us had a lot of experience. The design of some of the systems however, were actually quite a long process of constant iteration and prolonged and thorough thinking that we constantly put to scrutiny over several iterations and milestones. This included the AI design and implementation, which are like a different project on its own (the AIs don’t cheat by the way, they play by the same rules as the human player). Fortunately, both me and Hugo have acquired a good academic background and work experience in artificial intelligence as well, so that helped.
On what operating systems do you anticipate releasing ISG?
Interstellar Space: Genesis will be released first on the Windows PC (64-bit) but we’d like to explore the possibility to release for the Mac and Linux as well some time after release.
Of all the aspects of your game, which are you the most excited about?
We are very much looking forward and are excited to see and play the final version of our game. We’ve been playing ISG since the early pre-alpha days and have witnessed how much better and fun the game has become with each iteration. So, we can’t wait to play our own game when it’s finished!
The experience and fun of playing a 4X game comes from how interconnected all the game subsystems are, which combined, like an orchestra, may produce a wonderful experience. Basically, we’re excited to see how good the final result will be. We are confident and have high hopes that the end result will be much bigger than the sum of its parts, and we can’t wait to try it out, when all the races, and the polish, music and final AI tweaks are finally all in.
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?
One of our strongest commitments for the future is to fully support ISG and to create two expansions and some DLC, and we’d like to say that we already started talks about the next company title, as well. Let’s see what the future holds. If the launch is very successful we may start working on the next title sooner than later. One thing is certain though, Praxis Games is here to stay and produce the games our fans would like to play for years to come.
We’d like to thank Praxis Games for their time. Interstellar Space: Genesis is certainly taking shape, and we look forward to its release later this year.