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Interview with Lee Dotson, President of ZarkSoft Games

By on January 26th, 2011 3:37 pm

Early in the month I made a post about Zarksoft Games announcing Empire of the Eclipse a MMO Space Strategy Game for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Zarksoft Games was founded in 2010 by industry veterans Tina Lawton, Lee Dotson, Jeff Lawton, and Jeff Williams whose previous work includes contributions to Diablo 3, Unreal Championship 2, American McGee’s Alice, Anachronox, Hellgate: London, Star Trek Online and more titles.

In order to find out more about Empire of the Eclipse I contacted Lee Dotson, ZarkSoft’s President, for an interview for SpaceSector. He kindly accepted. Here is the interview we did. Enjoy!

1. In ZarkSoft Empire of the Eclipse (EotE) press release you say that the game will be released in Q1 2011, can you advance a more specific release date?

We’ll be launching Empire of the Eclipse at the end of March.

2. Why do you decided to develop EotE specifically (and exclusively) for Apple products (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch)?

When the iPhone/Android generation of smart phones emerged we were immediately excited by the opportunities these platforms provide independent developers in terms of both self publishing and in terms of providing a large body of people easy, portable access to the internet and intuitive touch interfaces. For us creating an online strategy game seemed like a natural fit for what we see as the most exciting aspects of  the current generation of smart phones.

As for deciding to focus on the iOS specifically it largely comes down to an issue of resource allocation. Android as a platform is very fragmented and would greatly increase our testing time due to having to support a much larger array of hardware. Given that the iOS is a new platform for us and making a large scale online game is an ambitious task on it’s own we decided that it would make more sense to focus our resources on making one game really well before branching out onto other platforms.

3. Do you plan to release a PC version? What about other Smartphones like Android and others, will EotE be released for those at some point in time?

We would like to branch out both onto other platforms including the PC and Android eventually but that will have to wait until after our initially release is well established and supported. I will say though that due to the way we’ve design Empire of the Eclipse we will be able to maintain a unified player base so regardless of what platform you’re using you’ll be able to play with anyone else who has a copy of the game.

Honestly, you’ll probably see the game come out for the Mac before the PC or Android because porting the code over from iOS will be comparatively easy.

4. How can the game be bought, where will it be available for purchase and how much (more or less) will it cost?

Empire of the Eclipse will be available from the Apple app store as a free download and a $1.99 a month subscription. This means that you can install and play the game on any number of supported devices while paying for only a single account.

5. EotE will probably be the first MMO 4x space strategy game ever developed that is not browser based (to my knowledge). At some point did you thought at developing EotE as a browser game? What do you think about browser based games in general? In what aspects is EotE superior to those type of games (like Ogame, Cosmic Supremacy, Dark Orbit, Empire Universe II, Orion’s Belt, among others)?

For us EtoE was born out of the type of game that we really wanted to see on the iPhone so making it as a web game never really came up. In terms of what makes EtoE superior to it’s web based counter parts I’d say it comes down to our portability, not having to pay to compete, and the overall feel of the game. In a 4x MMO empires are being built and destroyed whether you’re there or not but this is less of an issue with EtoE since you can check in on your progress and issue new orders no matter where you’re at.

Empire of the Eclipse also offers a more fluid experience than is usually seen on the web. There’s no waiting for menus to load, you’re able to smoothly pan and zoom across the layers of the galaxy, and you see your fleets warping in and out of solar systems instead of only seeing them as names on a list.

6. In the press release you say that players will not be able to purchase their way to victory. What do you mean by that? Will the game offer some kind of micro-transactions where the players may buy bonus features like how its done with browser games?

One of the big problems we see with most of the strategy mmo’s out there right now is that they’re designed to coerce people into feeding them more and more money instead of being designed to be fun. In Empire of the Eclipse there are no micro-transactions for purchasing in game bonuses and all players start the game on an equal footing. If someone wins it’s because they had a better strategy, not because they spent more money.

7. In the press release you say that you (ZarkSoft Games) are fans of games like Civilization and Master of Orion (both 4x Turn-Based Classics) and that you’ve worked diligently to make (EotE) a game that lives up to the standards set by those milestone titles. In what aspects does EotE lives up to Civilization and Master of Orion classic games? In what other aspects does it innovates?

I’d have to say that one of my favorite aspects of both Civ and MOO has always been that even though combat is clearly a part of the game there’s more to winning than simply amassing the largest fleet the fastest and there are multiple conditions for victory. With Empire of the Eclipse we’ve followed that philosophy both by allowing for victory conditions that cater to a variety of play style (conquest, research, exploration, and economic) and with flexible skill trees that allow players to customize their approach to the game even further.

Lee Dotson, President of ZarkSoft Games

In terms of innovation I’d say the scale of time and players are two of the area where we really start to break away from those titles. Everything in EtoE takes a certain amount of time relative to scale of the activity and that adds a vital component of weight and tension to the game. Let me give an example, in the science tree there’s a technology that allows a player to convert a star into a blackhole – which will instantly destroy everything in the solar system that doesn’t have the technology necessary to navigate near a blackhole. Conversely, this could be a boon if the player does have that tech because that solar system is effectively shielded from any low tech outsiders. So the catch is pulling this off requires building a solar core tap and conversion process that takes 24 hours. During that time you just have to wait and pray that your able to hold off the forces of the system’s inhabitants or anyone else they might try and convince to come to their aid.

We’ve also built in a number of incentives for players to work together which sets a politically complex stage for the game to play out on. As a player you’ll rarely be able to defend all your territories from every possible attacker so forming alliances is a necessary component to staying alive. On top of that Empire of the Eclipse includes options for setting up automated trade routes with any players that you’re on peaceful terms with allowing both players to receive economic bonuses – of course in the end there can be only one winner so you must choose such alliances carefully.

8. Now regarding the game itself. Will EotE have a background story or will the game be completely sandbox where the players are given complete freedom to create their story? Does the game has an ending?

Empire of the Eclipse is more of a sandbox experience. I’ve always found that the most interesting stories in games come from those told by players of their own exploits or of those around them. An average game runs about two months in length with one player eventually emerging victorious.

9. Will EotE have colony management (city building)? Is it possible to custom design ships (customize and upgrade components)?

There are some colony management aspects to the game but due to scale of the galaxy (a large game can have hundreds of thousands of planets) we’ve tried to keep this process streamlined. There are an assortment of structures that can be placed in orbit around a planet to enhance it’s capabilities such as refineries, defense platforms, jump gates, shipyards, etc. and planets can be terraformed but you won’t have worry about the citizenry revolting or having to build housing for the population to grow.

We originally had a modular blue print system in the game for ship design but found that it made the game more confusing for new players. As a general philosophy we want to keep players from getting bogged down in micromanaging every aspect of their empire so they can spend more time interacting with other players and focus on large scale tactical decisions.

In addition to this we currently have 17 ship types that all have a distinct role in the game and being able to recognize the strengths and weakness of each ship type is critical to using them well so clarity in this area becomes very important. An example of this would be that dreadnoughts are great for dealing with destroyers and bombarding planets but are relatively weak against swarms of fighters. Destroyers on the other hand aren’t really intended for planetary siege but are great at cutting through swathes of fighters.

10. How is EotS space combat? Is it “auto resolved” or will it have some kind of tactical battle involved? Are there any pre-battle or during-battle tactical aspects involved like formations or other special orders?

Combat in EotE is auto resolved but not instantly resolved. Behind the scenes a full scale battle is being simulated and depending on the size of the battle and the relative strengths of the fleets may take a while to resolve and during that time those units will be locked in battle. One of the interesting parts of this is that during this time if you or one of your allies has other fleets that are nearby they can be sent in to help push the battle over the edge.

In terms of pre-battle tactical aspects there aren’t formations, but fleet composition is very important and more over doing proper reconnaissance so you can know what you’re up against is also very important. While there aren’t any specific commands issued during battle there are some ships that do have special abilities and are used manually outside of combat such as the planet killer’s planet buster skill.

11. What news can you advance about EotE (the latest we have was on the 5th January press release)? Will you be releasing a beta version and/or a demo?

We don’t currently have any plans for releasing a demo but we will be pulling some individuals from our community once the time for beta arrives.

Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview, Lee. I’m sure many readers will look forward for Empire of the Eclipse. I’ll certainly do!

Thanks also Adam.

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2 Comments


  1. Thiago says:

    hi,

    I am really enjoying the website, but one thing caught my attention, there are literaly hundreds of 4x space games that are browser based. Just to mention the most classic one:Ferion (has been running for what? 12 years???)

    Just search the web the are literally hundreds….. most not worth mentioning, but some are somewhat good.

    Ps… check my 4x Space game game for facebook/browser: http://www.alienpowers.com (under development….)

    • Adam Solo says:

      Hi Thiago,

      It’s a very good point you make, there are many 4x space games out there that are browser based. I agree with you that some of them are good to very good (examples: Astro Empires, Orion’s Belt, Ogame, Cosmic Supremacy, Empire Universe 2, Lacuna Expanse and many more), others are … not so good. However all of them have their “space” in SpaceSector.com. In fact the indie community most definitely also has its space in spacesector.com. All the community and industry has its space in SpaceSector.com. The site motive is to do press, to provide news, to review, to preview, discuss and promote all 4x space strategy games in general (browser-based, AAA, indie, free, commercial, open-source, iOS, PC, facebook, 4x, RTS, TBS, everything about space/sci-fi strategy games as the logo of the site proclaims).

      The reason I don’t go check one by one of these browser-based games and make an article for them is one of manpower shortage. I’m just one guy running the site, that I happilly update in my freetime as a hobby. I don’t get enough money from the site yet, I just barely get enough money to pay the host not even thinking in going pro yet, which I would really like). In the meantime I mention Galaxy News for browser games and I have a forum dedicated just for that (however that forum has not been very discussed).Galaxy News it’s an excellent source of all types of browser games, the best source in my opinion: http://www.galaxy-news.net/

      I promise to have a look into your game Thiago. I cannot promise to do press for it. You, and all people, can make press for your projects in the forums.

      Till today however I did covered space browser based games with the following articles:

      Ogame Review, Tips and Strategy Guide
      https://www.spacesector.com/blog/2009/07/ogame-review-tips-and-strategy-guide/

      Astro Empires – MMOG – First Impressions
      https://www.spacesector.com/blog/2009/09/astro-empires-first-impressions/

      Can MMO games be the future of 4x space strategy?
      https://www.spacesector.com/blog/2009/10/can-mmo-games-be-the-future-of-4x-space-strategy/

      The Lacuna Expanse: A New Free MMO Space Strategy Game
      https://www.spacesector.com/blog/2010/12/the-lacuna-expanse-a-new-free-mmo-space-strategy-game/

      Much more needs to be said, but I will need your help to do that.


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