Endless Space is an exciting new 4X space game that seems to have it all to succeed. Among other features it promises a compelling story, a big emphasis on discovery, state-of-the-art graphics, trade, modular spaceship design, simultaneous turn-based gameplay, customized civilizations, multiplayer, different victory conditions, an hero-character system. We had to know more about Endless Space! So, I contacted Amplitude Studios for an interview. Endless Space’s Creative Director Romain de Waubert (SpaceTroll on the ES forums) kindly agreed on reveling a bit more about ES. Here is what Romain had to say:
SS: Can you tell us how, in your opinion, will Endless Space be similar and different from other past games on the genre? That, and also why will we prefer your game over other 4X game options?
Romain: I loved many other games in the genre, but there were two things that I missed a lot:
First: A believable universe. I think too often strategy games are focusing on the mechanics and forgetting that you should create a link between you and the game – one that goes beyond game rules. This is why we are putting so much effort in adding a lot of background to our universe. We want everyone to believe in the universe we create, and feel empathy for its inhabitants.
Second: The battles. I have seen many space battles in strategy, but most of the time I found them confusing and not visually attractive. When I see a space battle in a game, I want to relive a scene from Star Wars or of Battlestar Galactica… and that is what we want to achieve. Beautiful and immersive battles, where you take most of your decisions before it starts and enjoy the show after!
SS: ES screenshots and the trailer seem to suggest a real-time space combat system. Is that correct? You mention a “special game mode” for combat. You also mention different “battle phases”, “one or more actions (up to three)”, “battle ends (…) at the end of the combat phases”. Can you provide more details about how will space combat work and what is its relation with the simultaneous TBS system?
Romain: In ES we want the player to focus on the grand strategy, rather than require them to be mouse freaks. However, we want the battles to be beautiful and remind us of some of the greatest moments of our favorite sci-fi movies and TV shows. Battles are the pinnacle of our strategy and will show us if the decision we took over the past turns hold up against the choices made by our enemies. Did I do the right research? Are my spaceship designs adapted? Are my fleets optimal? Should I have focused my Admiral hero in other branches of his evolution tree?
So when the battle starts, in some ways a lot has already been decided. Yet the battle is computed in real time, and we are giving the players the possibility to alter the course of the battle, through strong tactical decisions.
There are 4 phases in a battle.
The first phase is the preparation phase. During that phase you prepare a strategy for the battle, by selecting the battle actions you want to play during the next 3 phases.
These phases are Long range, best for missile weapons, the medium range, the domain of Beam weapons, and the Melee range, where kinetic weapons will rule (if your ships survived that long…).
Each of the actions you choose will be able to amplify some of your weapons, increase your defense, repair some of your spaceships, or affect the enemy in a number of ways. You can also use your ‘cards’ to counter a whole family of enemy actions. This might not only render their actions obsolete, but also increase the effectiveness of your own actions as well.
So it is not just about thinking what actions will benefit your ships the most (depending on their designs) but it is also about trying to counter the enemy.
There is also one last thing – though it can make it easier for your opponent to read you – which is that if you don’t change your battle strategy after choosing it during the preparation phase, you will have a damage bonus during the melee phase.
SS: I see that the “Dust” is some form of galactic currency you have in your game, but I also understand that this dust also plays a vital role on gaining superiority in the game through other purposes. What can you tell us more about the “Dust”?
Romain: The Dust is a material left behind by an ancient race called the Endless. They controlled it with their minds and made it assemble into anything they wanted… of course it was rare and very valuable, and that is even more the case today.
When the game factions began to explore the galaxies, they started at one point or another to fall upon ruins of these ancients… and their precious Dust. Some people are more capable of controlling the Dust than others, which makes them unique – in fact, it makes them heroes.
As Dust is the only matter that is valuable to all people in the galaxy, it quickly became the Gold Standard of the Future, the Dust Standard. You can use it in-game for all your financial transactions, and heroes use Dust for their special abilities.
SS: I’m sure many people (myself included) are very intrigued by your simultaneous turn-based system. How exactly will that work?
Romain: Basically, it’s a turn-based system where the moves and combat are in real-time. You can therefore do all your empire management while other empires are playing.
In single player the impact is rather small, but in multiplayer it adds a lot as you can play a turn based system at the same time as your friends, with minimal downtimes. However you can also use that real-time to your advantage; for instance, attract an enemy fleet into a trap by moving a hidden fleet after they arrive at your system. Because the enemy has already spent their movement points, they will most likely have no other choice than to face you in battle.
I like that mode because it allows you to play at your rhythm, yet in multiplayer it provides that real-time stress that adds to the thrill.
SS: Many 4X space fans love to be able to customize their races at game setup. The more the better. ES does seem to offer something about this aspect. What sort of customization options will the players have at their disposal? Will there be a modifiers system (bonuses and flaws) to choose from. Will it be possible to customize a race from ground up ? (i.e. race characteristics, victory conditions, government styles, etc)?
Romain: Yes! Obviously, part of the fun in these games it to really be able to create a “what if” faction and see how it handles itself against others, created by you or your friends. You want to feel a bit like a mad scientist who can create the DNA of his minions, searching for the perfect being. The faction system works similar to creating a character in an RPG. You are given a certain amount of points, and can spend it among dozens of traits in order to make the perfect nation that will go out and conquer the universe.
Each faction will also have a unique “trait” to pick; this special trait will have a big impact on the gameplay like being nomadic or not requiring food. For the visuals you will have to stick to the 8 predefined factions, but that already provides a lot of variety.
SS: One feature that is eagerly waited by 4X players is a great character system (ala MoO2). Till this day it seems that nobody has exactly nailed such character system. You mention a hero system with fleet admirals and system governors. Will there be more of these hero classes? I understand there will be skills and skill trees involved. Care to tell us a bit more about your hero/character system?
Romain: Heroes are not the focus of our game, but they are still a very important strategic element. We want them to enrich the possibilities you have to specialize your economy, or heavily influence your wars. To put it simply, heroes inherit a set of abilities from one of two base classes, and they have five main statistics that affect the solar systems or fleets they are assigned to. Each time they go up a level, they can pick a new ability. Some of these abilities can even be unique active combat abilities that could tilt the balance of power in a battle, if you have enough Dust to fuel your heroes…
SS: We don’t seem to know much about ES’s research system. Could you please tell us more about it? Will it feature random elements? Will there be specific techs for each race? Any particular innovation from the usual tech-trees system present in other 4X games?
Romain: Our tech tree is split into four distinct branches: Science and Industry, Exploration, Social and Diplomatic, and Military.
Each faction will have their own set of technologies that will be mixed within a common tech tree. Some will have early access to certain techs, improved versions of existing techs, or simply brand new unique technologies.
SS: What about game modes? You stated that multiplayer has a strong focus on ES. Does single player gameplay also has such a big focus? Will there be a campaign of any sort or will ES offer the usual open sand-box gameplay style only? What multiplayer options will be available then?
Romain: Basically, looking at some of the fascinating discussions in our forums I think that saying that multiplayer (MP) is a strong focus may have been misleading. Let’s say that we try not to sacrifice one for the other. We want to create a deep, atmospheric game that could totally absorb you in single player (SP), yet each time we create a game mechanic for the game we always want to make sure that it will be great and fun in MP too. 75-80% of our players will probably never play
MP, so there is no reason to sacrifice SP, yet we also want that 20% that are MP lovers to have an incredible experience due to great interactions with other players and no down times. I personally love chess; playing against someone, is for me, nothing in comparison to playing it against a computer.
I also think that today, if the ratio is 80/20, the multiplayer proportion can only rise if the games are properly made to support it.
SS: As I understand the main game unit you can manage in ES’s universe is the Star System, correct? So, what sort of development can we do in the game with respect to individual planets/colonies? Will Endless Space feature more of a “light” or “heavy” colony management system (structures construction like mining, industry, labs, other buildings…)? What about off-world? What kinds of exoplanetary structures will be available to build and manage? (star bases, mining operations at asteroids, etc)
Romain: The systems are definitely the center of your empire, and will be where a lot of your strategy will take place. It is all about how you will attribute your population across the planets, the system infrastructure that you will build, planetary politics you will choose – these factors should already heavily influence your empire.
Each system will also be quite unique in its way, and I doubt that you could find two games of ES in that will be identical in that aspect, so all should offer different management challenges.
We have decided not to go for star bases for the initial version, but it does not mean that we are against it for a later stage…
SS: Judging from your site’s progress info you seem to be about 80% finished (mid-alpha stage), is that right? Are you still accepting ideas and contributions from the community to be injected on your design at this phase? What special requests do you have for space 4X fans reading this interview? In other words how and in which areas could people help you at this stage?
Romain: The GAME2GETHER initiative is something fundamental for our studio. We had to start the development of our game earlier on as we needed to build the studio and the dev team but also a community around something tangible. We are definitely still accepting ideas and contributions from the community.
We think that to make this work we need to be the ‘keepers of the vision’ of the game and control the main direction we are heading to, otherwise you could be guaranteed that the development would never end because you have as many great ideas as you have members in your community! But given that, and even still today, a lot can be added, modified and improved by our community, and that is why we take all this time to bounce concepts for the game off them. What do they like, what don’t they like? How do they suggest improving it, realistically? I mean, why would we insist on doing something that only we like?
We’re consulting the community over most of the meaningful art we are finishing, over some important elements of lore like the Space Raiders (who they are, where they came from, their name, their look…..), and over other gameplay-related key questions, game options, etc. And this is just the beginning… In the end, as we get closer to our shipping date, we will start to add the remaining community requests in priority for post-launch in order to keep adding content to the game after release. For us, the release is the just beginning for Endless Space… definitely not the end!
We’ve only started this G2G experience for a couple of weeks now, and it’s been amazing to see the enthusiasm of the community. I guess it’s the first time something like this has been done, so we’re ourselves learning, reacting and adapting the whole concept to make us all (the community and the dev team) as close as possible to each other. In the long run, we hope that we’ll be able to make the community participate in the creation of a new title starting day 1.
SS: What about the game’s victory conditions? What sort of options are you providing or planning to provide?
Romain: We’ll have 7 ways of winning the game, 5 of them that are archetypal: Dust, Science, Population, Warfare, and Building.
Then we added a kind of “King-of-the-hill” victory where you need to “collect” and control all the home worlds of the current factions.
And finally if you did not manage to win with one of these victories, the one with the best score wins at the end of a given number of turns.
SS: Ship design is one of the 4X gamer’s dearest features. What will ship design be like in ES? I understand that you will offer a modular approach for designing ships. Will it be possible to spot and destroy individual systems in-battle for example. Will there be different hull sizes available? Unlocked by research perhaps?
Romain: Ship design is both simple and powerful. The simple part is that you have a set amount of free weight on your ship hull for modules, and you can install as many modules as will fit within that weight limit.
Where it becomes more complex is in your choice of ship class, with each class having their advantages and disadvantages, unique modules, fleet-wide modules, ship specific modules, weapon types, defense types etc… We prefer that the player focus on what to put in their ships, rather than where to put them.
For most factions, research will be the best way to get new modules to equip your ships.
SS: Can you tell us some of your lessons learned in developing Endless Space? Successes, failures and doubts you have bumped into, so that other people may benefit from your experience in developing even greater 4X space games in the future?
Romain: I think our biggest success was involving the community as early as possible in the project. Feedback so far is amazing, and contributions are priceless. Part of that success is also due to chance that skamaks, who designed bits of the game, and who is involved in the development since the beginning, is fully dedicated to supporting that community and being the bridge between the team and them. It takes time, and needs to come from the team, not from an intern you just hire too look good…
It is hard at this stage to say what went wrong in terms of development, as we are still so deep down in the trenches. Ask me again in 4 months, I am sure I will have 10 pages of things to tell you on that topic!
SS: How will the game be released? Both in physical and digital form? If digital which digital distribution platform(s) are you planning to sell it on? Do you have a precise release date in mind? Is the game coming out still this year? Is there a price tag already defined?
Romain: The game will definitely be released on PC and Mac through online retailers, and our goal is to make it available on as many channels as possible. We are also looking into retail distribution.
The game is still on track for a summer release, and we will reveal more about pricing a bit later. The main difference with other games is that we will offer a strong rebate for pre-orders, and plan to give access to the current version of ES to everyone who pre-orders the game. Our goal with that direction is to encourage the community to get involved as soon as possible.
Obviously the more successful the game is during the preorder stages, the easier for us it will be to improve and implement requests coming from players’ feedback.
I would like to thank to the Amplitude Studios Team, and particularly to Romainde Waubert, the Creative Director of Endless Space, for taking the time out of their busy days to do this interview. You can check out the official Endless Space website for more info. You can also check the Amplitude Studios’s website to know more about the company behind the game.Subscribe RSS
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