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Interview with Mike Strobel | Star Trek Supremacy Lead Developer

By on February 6th, 2010 10:41 pm

In the beginning of the year I wrote a post about Star Trek Supremacy, a new 4x space strategy game being developed by Mike Strobel. This game is endorsed by the Birth of the Federation 2 community (shortened to BotF2) as the official BotF2 game and rightful successor of one of the most successful 4x space strategy games of all time: Star Trek: Birth of the Federation. You can read the intro post I did about Supremacy, which is an overview of the current alpha release, here: Star Trek Supremacy – Open Source Free Game in Development.

Since then I’ve been in contact with Mike. I asked him for an interview for SpaceSector.com which he kindly accepted. Here is the interview we did. If you’re interested in getting involved in this project helping Mike with your ideas or contributions there are details in the interview of how you can do this. Hope you enjoy the interview as much as I.

I understand that you started the Supremacy project as a hobby and that you intend to release it for free upon completion. How long have you been developing Star Trek Supremacy, and what are your plans to have it ready for release?

Back around 2004, I started thinking about developing a turn-based strategy game.  During the next year and a half, I played several 4X games and filled entire notebooks with notes and ideas.  In fall of 2005, I decided to bite the bullet and make it happen.  I decided to take a video game design course the next semester as a sort of “trial run”.  I’d never developed a game before, and a semester-long project seemed like good practice to prepare me for a much larger game project.  In November and December I gave myself a head start by getting some of the core code written, and in January two of my fraternity brothers and I enrolled in Georgia Tech’s CS4455 “Video Game Design” class.  We developed a 4X game entitled Galactic Supremacy—the predecessor to Star Trek: Supremacy. I began working on Star Trek: Supremacy in June of 2006, after I shared my work on Galactic Supremacy with the community over at the Birth of the Federation 2 (BotF2) project forums.  The BotF2 project had been going on for some time, but had fallen into a state of limbo when its developer vanished along with all of his work.  Over the next few months, Supremacy was eventually endorsed by the BotF2 project leaders as the “official” BotF2, and the community rallied behind me.  Several members of my creative team had been associated with the BotF2 project since 2004 or earlier, and they have volunteered countless hours of their time to help make Supremacy into a game that is truly something to behold.

The release date is and always has been “when it’s done”—it’s strictly a side project, and it’s hard to predict how much time I’ll have to work on it.  Ideally, I’d like to get to alpha status a year from now, spend another year at alpha, and then wrap the project up with a six-month beta and “release candidate” cycle to filter out the remaining bugs.  Then we’ll throw a big party when version 1.0 finally “ships”.  I have continually made “pre-release” versions of the game available for public consumption, and I will continue to do so through its release.  The game is free and open source, so it will always be free to enjoy, and anyone can take the source code and either modify the game or create an entirely new game based off the Supremacy framework.  The most recent pre-release download is rather outdated at the moment, due to some highly experimental work I’ve been doing, but it can be found at the Star Trek: Supremacy website.  The source code and bug tracker are located on CodePlex.

After version 1.0 is released, I plan to work on a couple “total conversion” mods for the game—one set in the Stargate universe, and another set in the Babylon 5 universe.  Supremacy was designed from the beginning to be easily modifiable—nothing is hard-coded, and all of the content can be replaced fairly easily.  A comprehensive editor will ship with the game.  I am also preemptively adding support for some features which may not actually be utilized in Star Trek: Supremacy, but which might be useful for future mods.  Such features include support for various forms of “point-to-point transport tunnels”, which could be used to implement “supergates” in a Stargate mod or “jump gates” in a Babylon 5 mod.  Actually, that particular feature might be used to implement wormholes in Star Trek: Supremacy.

So I see that the idea is for Supremacy to follow on the footsteps of one of the most successful 4X space strategy games of all time: Star Trek: Birth of the Federation. I believe that Supremacy is also known as the BotF2 project. In which aspects will Supremacy evolve and innovate from its predecessor’s legacy?

Indeed, the goal of the Supremacy/BotF2 project has been to create a “worthy” spiritual successor to Birth of the Federation.  Players will find the basic gameplay mechanics to be quite familiar, but with far more depth and breadth.  In terms of breadth, Supremacy spans a longer timeline, has much larger galaxies, more playable races, and over a hundred minor races (with more evolved tech trees).  Supremacy will also offer a more “immersive” gameplay experience.

My overall design philosophy with Supremacy has been focused around a notion that I call “progressive involvement”.  It’s no secret that individual 4X gamers have vastly different preferences when it comes to game mechanics.  There are players who want to micromanage every detail of their empire, right down to the city layouts of their colonies.  Others prefer to “macro-manage” and focus their attention on the high-level concerns of their empire—guiding the war and peace efforts, deciding where to expand, and so on.  I believe that it’s possible to create a game that appeals to players on both ends of that spectrum, as well as everywhere in between.  We can do this by designing the game mechanics in such a way that players can either “opt-in” or “opt-out”.

For instance, we plan to give players the opportunity to advance their empire’s research by building special science ships, which can be sent out to perform research missions.  These missions must be commenced by the player, and may involve tasks like scanning certain stellar phenomena.  Such a feature gives the player a greater sense of involvement in the game.  However, for players who want to focus on higher level concerns, this feature can be completely ignored.  Further, it can be ignored without putting the player at a disadvantage, because the feature will be designed such that the research gained by these missions is roughly equivalent to the research that would have been gained by simply dumping more funds into automated research rather than building the (rather expensive) science vessels required to perform research missions.  Players will also be able to delegate various managerial tasks to an AI.  For instance, players will have the option of setting their colonies on “cruise control” by allowing a “governor AI” to take over and decide what to build.

Does Supremacy have a main plot or background story? In which time frame of the Star Trek universe does the game take place?

There is no fixed plot for Supremacy.  Like Birth of the Federation, the player assumes the role of leader of a spacefaring empire from the Star Trek universe (the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, or the Dominion).  What happens from that point forward is dynamic—no two games will play out quite the same way.  Unlike Birth of the Federation, which spanned only the Star Trek: The Next Generation timeline, Supremacy spans the timelines of every Trek series from Enterprise through Voyager.

Star Trek Supremacy

Supremacy offers a very nice 2D gridded galaxy map with all different kinds of stars with different colors.  Do the star colors have any meaning in terms of exploration sense?  For instance in games like MOO2 or Armada 2526 the color of the star gives some advance info to the player of how likely it is for it to hold ideal, sub-optimal, dead or barren planets if they contain planets at all.

Yes, there is a complete set of data tables in Supremacy which determine the likelihood of various planet type/size combinations.  These probabilities are affected by various factors including the type of star and a planet’s distance from the star.  Further, each race in Supremacy has different planet environment preferences based on the type of homeworld on which that race originated.  For instance, humans prefer Earth-like planets, whereas Cardassians prefer hot and dry desert-like planets.  Thus, while a planet may be highly desirable to one race (giving it a high max. population level and growth rate), it may be very hostile to another race (giving it a much lower max. population and growth rate).  It is possible to encounter systems without any planets at all, though they will be rare.  Other rarities include nebulae with “rogue” planets within.

In terms of settlements expansion does Supremacy allow the player to colonize every system he finds or does it requires the player to unlock special research to allow the colonization of some systems?

Any system with habitable planets (planets other than Gas Giants) may be colonized, but certain systems may be very undesirable based on the environmental preferences of the player’s race.  At high tech levels, players will be able to unlock special terraforming projects.  These terraforming projects will allow the player to transform a planet into a more desirable environment over the course of several turns.  Terraforming will work very much like it did in Master of Orion 2.

Supremacy presents the following resources: Dilithium, Deuterium, Raw Materials, and Officers.  Can you explain a bit what each is for and how can these be mined or gathered?  Additionally, will all resources be possible to collect only in star systems with planets or also in some special places of the galaxy map?

Dilithium is required for building the warp core during ship construction—each ship requires x units of Dilithium to be built.  Dilithium may be found in any system with habitable planets (planets other than Gas Giants) or asteroids.  If a system with habitable planets contains Dilithium, the player may colonize that system and build a permanent Dilithium refinery to produce Dilithium consistently each turn.  We may also allow players to use mining ships to mine Dilithium from unclaimed systems containing Dilithium deposits on either planets or asteroids.

Deuterium is required to fuel your ships.  One unit of Deuterium is consumed for each sector traversed by a ship, and each ship has an onboard Deuterium reserve.  When a ship is within its “refueling range” (a certain number of sectors from the nearest allied shipyard or space station), a ship’s Deuterium is automatically replenished from the empire-wide stockpile as it is consumed.  Thus, movement within refueling range keeps the onboard reserves fully stocked.  If a ship ventures beyond its refueling range, its onboard reserves will not be replenished, and a ship will become stranded if it depletes its Deuterium reserves.  At that point, the ship will need to be towed back to friendly space.  Deuterium is always produced in minimal quantities at any colony, but production is higher for each Gas Giant present in the system.  Ships beyond their refueling range may also replenish their Deuterium reserves by stopping to gather Deuterium from systems with Gas Giants or Nebulae.

Raw Materials are required to construct the hulls of your spacecraft, and thus each ship or station requires some quantity of Raw Materials in order to be built.  Raw Materials, like Deuterium, are always produced in some minimal quantity at any colony, but production is greatly increased in systems which are marked as being rich in Raw Materials.

The concept of “Officers” as a resource is being scrapped and replaced by a revised personnel system.  I won’t say any more than that for now, but the idea is to create a personnel system that feels like its based more on people and less on raw numbers.

Regarding on how to win, what are Supremacy victory conditions?  Time?  Special achievement?  Alliance domination, Full conquest?  Are there specific victory conditions for each race?

Victory conditions have not yet been finalized, but you can expect to see—at minimum—victory through conquest (controlling a certain percentage of the galaxy), with the option for allied empires to win together.  Time-based victories will likely be implemented to facilitate shorter games when desired.

The current pre-alpha version of the game does not provide space combat yet.  But judging from the YouTube videos these will be fought in 3D.  Will the player be in control of every single spaceship?  In other words will space combat be highly tactical, only allowing the player to set formations and make small adjustments during combat, or will it be completely cinematic?

The YouTube videos you refer to do not actually reflect the combat system that is planned for Supremacy.  They are demo videos of a standalone game being developed by a member of the BotF2 community called cdrwolfe.  Those same videos are erroneously presented on the Supremacy website, and I need to have them taken down.

3D tactical combat in Supremacy will be turn-based.  Since players in online games may be staring at a blank screen while others engage in combat, we want to keep combat time reasonable, and I believe turn-based combat with limits on planning time is the best way to do that.  During each combat turn, players will be able to give orders to individual ships or to several ships at a time, but orders will be limited to a target and a maneuver.  In addition to curbing combat time, this approach will also enable us to utilize all three dimensions in space combat.  Since the player chooses from a list of predefined maneuvers, he or she is not required to plot the actual movement.  It is very difficult to plot courses in three dimensions when you are stuck with a two-dimensional screen and input device, which is why most space combat games are based on 2D or “2.5D” planes.  We can lift this restriction since actual ship courses are projected by the computer instead of the player.

What about ground combat and systems invasions?  What will be the mechanics?  Will special transports with troops be required for the invasions?  Is Supremacy going to offer tactical ground combat, cinematic or just a report is presented in the end?

Ground combat has not been finalized yet, but it will likely be similar to how system assaults were implemented in Master of Orion 3.  Special troop transports will be required for an invasion, and we will probably present the invader with a screen showing his or her forces, as well as those of the enemy.  The player will then choose whether to attack or retreat.  After this selection, the screen will update to reflect casualties and destroyed buildings.  The player may continue this process for a few rounds, at which point the ground combat will be won, lost, or inconclusive.  If combat is inconclusive, this process will be repeated during the next turn.  If victory is achieved, the system will fall under control of the invading player.

Player curiosity and surprises are important factors that a game must satisfy to keep the player focused and engaged.  In your opinion, which features will Supremacy offer to satisfy this?  Will the game provide random events like space monster attacks or mega events (e.g. plagues, disasters, revolts) that can surprise the player to take action?

Yes, a rather flexible random event system will be implemented, and there are already somewhere around 120 proposed random events.  Due to time constraints, only a couple dozen of these are likely to make it into version 1.0 of the game, but many more may be added later on.  As for the type of random events, pretty much everything you mentioned is fair game, as well as appearances by the Borg.

I’d also like to add that I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about how the player’s focus shifts throughout the game.  To me, most strategy games become weakest during the late game, when the map has been completely explored and the tech tree has been exhausted.  I’ve been thinking of ways to keep gameplay interesting by “unlocking” new objectives late in the game.  I’m not ready to reveal any of those ideas yet, but it’s important to me that Supremacy stays interesting up until the end of the game.

I believe that you are not developing the game alone.  Are you in need of help for development?  What kind of support do you need and where should people go to start helping on Supremacy development?

Since the beginning, I have been the only “permanent” programmer on the project.  A couple others have come and gone over the years, but none have stuck around.  Fortunately, there have been many members of the community who have contributed in other ways, like producing graphics, music, dialogue, and other creative content.  This has freed up more of my time to focus on programming, which is what I would rather be doing anyway :).

We are doing pretty well at the moment, but we’re always looking for people with a talent for graphics or music composition.  The BotF2 Forums are a place to go for offering to contribute.

The current Star Trek: Supremacy version available for download is a pre-Alpha build from last year.  When do you plan to release a new version, and what new stuff will that include?  Will it already include space combat for example?

The delay between releases has been largely due to a lack of time to work on the game, and the highly experimental nature of my more recent work.  I’m hoping to get another update out around March or April of this year.  We are also working very hard to get the game ready for basic multiplayer gameplay in time for us to demo the game in a booth at the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas (August 5-8).

3D Tactical Combat will not be implemented any time soon—the plan has always been to get as much of the game in place as possible before beginning on 3D combat.  This will enable me to shift my focus almost exclusively to combat development, as the rest of the game will be more or less complete.

For which platforms are you planning to release for?  Only Windows, or are there any plans for a Linux and/or Mac version?

We will be supporting the Windows platform exclusively.  However, by the time the game is released, I suspect it will be possible to compile most of the game framework against the Mono platform, which is available for Linux and Mac.  Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the graphical client will compile on Mono.  Thus, in order to play the game on anything other than Windows, a cross-platform client would need to be developed.  I would be willing to assist in the development of such a client as a “consultant”, but I have no plans to develop such a client myself.

I understand that you’re developing Supremacy as an open source project and that it is non-commercial, in other words you plan to release it for free.  Have you ever considered in the past, or currently, the possibility of approaching the Star Trek franchise for a possible game licensing or do you promise the fans that you intend to release the game for free in the end?

This question has come up many times, and many people have encouraged me to find a publisher to take care of the licensing.  However, I am firmly committed to releasing Supremacy as a free and open source game.  Supremacy is a game created by the fans, for the fans.  The recognition of my fellow Trek gamers is compensation enough for me.

Thank you very much for your time Mike.

You’re welcome Adam.

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3 Comments


  1. reikhart says:

    keep us posted please! This is a top 10 classic 4x of all time. (Compare with Star Wars: Rebellion)

  2. Skyliner90 says:

    Keep up the good work! I really love the game its defenately one of the best Trek/Stategy games out there.


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