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Interview with Horizon Designer and Producer Raffi Parsekhian

By on August 28th, 2010 1:47 pm

A couple of weeks ago I made a post about Horizon, a space strategy game under development by L3O Interactive, an Indie developer being lead by Raffi Parsekhian. I asked Raffi for an interview for which he kindly accepted. Here is the interview. Enjoy!

1. Tell us a bit about the game. It’s characteristics, features, innovations from other titles.

Horizon is a 4x space strategy game with a heavy emphasis on exploration. It introduces the player to a galaxy that feels alive and more complex than other games in the genre. Playing as the humans you are at the beginning of interstellar exploration but the galaxy is already mature and races much older and more advanced than you inhabit it. There is a great deal to discover while you plot humanity’s course of action and slowly engage in first contact situations, hopefully coming out of them stronger to expand ever more and prosper!

From a more technical view we have designed the game around the concept of making it a more open and more interactive space strategy game. To lessen artificial design limitations on important components of the game with the aim to make the whole more seamless and more ‘real’, to accentuate that exciting feeling of managing a space-faring race in a dynamic galaxy. And let’s not forget to engage in kick-ass space combat!

2. Does Horizon have a main plot or background story? Or is it completely a sand box create-story-as-you-go game?


Horizon does have a background story and it all begins in present time with the Voyager 2 probe exploring the edge of our solar system. Launched by NASA in 1977 it is currently more than twice as far from the Sun as Pluto and moving outward. Until the game is released more information and other reports are available on the web for those curious about Voyager 2 go to this Voyager 2 Wikipedia article or to UK Newspaper or to NASA weekly reports.

To get back to your question, the galaxy and all the races have their own story and their actions are influenced by their history and culture.

3. What type of game is Horizon? Is it a 4x game? TBS, RTS or mix of both?

Horizon at its heart is a traditional 4x game and plays very much like one. If you have played Master of Orion 1 and 2 you will feel right at home.

We designed the game completely turn-based because we feel it gives the player more control in almost every situation including combat and a big part of what 4x gamers really enjoy. There is a certain pleasure being in control of your ship and actually firing its weapons that an RTS based combat system cannot quite deliver.

4. What about the game mechanics? You say in the FAQ that the game will be turn-based, does this means that tactical combat will also be TBS or will it be RTS? Or will it be completely cinematic as in Galactic Civilizations series.

Yes tactical combat is also turn-based. One important distinction I want to make here is that the combat is not a separate phase in Horizon and occurs seamlessly because you are in essence always in tactical view when the game is running (when ships move etc.) After 20 rounds of tactical view the game is ‘paused’ as the turn ends and you then switch to a strategic view to review or make decisions, manage all facets of your empire before starting the next turn.

5. What about planetary invasions. Will there be planetary bombardments? And the assault invasion, will it be tactical or will be completely cinematic?

Planetary bombardments are handled through tactical view. As long as your ships are in firing range of the planet you may inflict planetary damage at any time. Damage is applied to both infrastructure and the population. The standard planetary weapon types all exist in the game so if the always popular nuclear bombs don’t suffice you can always consider bio weapons.

Defending your colonies from such attacks is extremely important because in Horizon we take the view that you can’t just forcibly shuffle population from one planet to another (a method used in many games to increase population on new colonies). So developing and increasing the population on colonies is a long process and they are truly your biggest assets. And your homeworld is your biggest asset of all, orders of magnitude more important than everything else and can never be replaced.

In terms of how invasions work, once your troop transports are near orbit of a colony you can then land troops on the planet for the invasion. You control the logistics and timing of the invasion and then watch the results when the assault is started. Like many other games this part is done in abstract fashion.

6. Could you elaborate a bit how ship design will work?

Our ship design focuses on the selection of 4 ship hull sizes followed by the selection of components from the three groups: Weapons, Core and Specials. Each group has 8 hull slots reserved.

Core systems are automatically populated with default components that every ship needs such as the engines, life support, power generators etc. If you have 2 or more of the same core component then you can choose the desired option otherwise it’s already setup.

For weapon systems the slot positions actually correspond to their mounting location on the ship hull which should be considered carefully when installing large weapons with small firing arcs. Also for weapons you get additional customization options such as the mount size, number of emplacements, etc.

Ship Specials are things like cargo bays, fighter bays, troop pods, colonizer pods, etc. Anything that is not a weapon or core system falls in this group.

7. What about research, tell us a bit how it works. Will it have random aspects, that is, will it unlock random techs at times or is it completely linear?

A pet peeve of mine with many 4X games is how research is handled. I tend to think an advanced space-faring race with a billion+ population would be able to research more than just a handful of projects simultaneously.

With that in mind, each race starts with a custom tech list at different levels. All discovered techs are available to be researched simultaneously. You can also set a focus for each category so techs that you want to advance more quickly can receive more resources. And finally you may disable tech projects you don’t want to develop further.

Research is divided into three phases in Horizon: Discovery, Breakthrough and Refinement. You must first discover or become aware of a technology before you can begin researching. Once you can research a tech you then have a chance to make a breakthrough at which point the tech becomes usable in your empire. Through refinement a tech can also be improved further increasing its efficiency or benefits.

With every refinement level a tech has a chance of unlocking a random new technology. Along with some other discovery methods and the fact that discovered techs are not automatically usable (requiring a breakthrough) these add a lot of variables so no two games develop the same way.

8. 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?

We have no plans for space monsters currently while random events are on a low priority list of things we would like to do. We are focused on the core game elements so it may not happen.

9. Will there be espionage options in Horizon?

Espionage was part of our original design but it’s currently in the same boat as the random events so it may not be in the initial release. But at some point it surely will be because I have some great ideas I would like to implement and it would add yet another layer of strategy and complexity.

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

This is still a work in progress. Alliance victory is the easiest victory condition and the typical way to finish the game. It is also technically possible to fully conquer the galaxy but it would be extremely difficult if not impossible in practical terms. Other specific victory conditions such as story/plot based we are still considering.

11. In terms of settlements expansion does Horizon 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?

This may yet change but as it stands we have not implemented any research requirements for colonizing different types of planets. Currently colonies get penalties if the environment is not native to your home planet.

12. How long have you been developing Horizon, and what are your plans to have it ready for release? Will there be a demo or an alpha version around soon?

A long while… Full-time development of Horizon started in 2001 and stopped in 2006 due to financial reasons. I have since been working on it part-time toward completion. The game has been in alpha (playable but not feature complete) since 2006. My current plans are a return to full-time development within the next 6 months and to continue working on getting all the features completed.

There are no plans for a public demo at this time.

13. Do you need help from the community in some way to contribute to the project? Is this an open source project (open and free to the community)?

As a small Indie outfit (based in Toronto Canada), the support from the game community is a source of inspiration for us and we have had a very supportive and loyal following since we started. For now the continued interest and encouragement from the community is all we ask for. I am sure there will come a point later on where we will need more involvement.

Horizon is closed source software.

Thank you very much for your time Raf.

It was my pleasure and thank you for the questions and interest in Horizon. For those interested in keeping track of our progress via email we invite you to subscribe to Horizon mailing list.

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1 Comment

  1. pizzapicante27 says:

    Sounds interesting

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