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Stellar Indie Venture: Star Czar

By on October 26th, 2012 9:38 am

Star Czar | 4X space strategy game by Thomas Eidson

Time for another indie adventure project aiming at conquering the stars. This time I present you Thomas Eidson from Foe Games, and his 4X space strategy game, Star Czar.

Thomas sent word that he’s developing a space 4X game, including a 5th X (for eXperience) which Thomas understands as: “units and individual fleets leveling up”. He says to have plans to incorporate elements of “pen and paper games”. He’s doing all the programming and design work, and he’s being helped by Luke Litman, the game’s art director.

Star Czar | Insectoid race

Insectoid race

Star Czar unfolds on a Universe where your race is nearing the stage where it’ll be possible to build space ships and travel to the stars. But just not yet. Fortunately, one day an alien species leaves a message behind, plus the plans for building a hyperdrive, necessary to fulfill the request included on those plans. Many years later you have built up a small fleet of ships and began your exploration adventure over the galaxy, in the search for these mysterious “traders”, and to find out what their plans are.

Thomas Eidson is the CEO of Foe Games. He calls himself a veteran game developer, having developed many games. “I have developed MUD’s, RPG’s, MMO’s, mobile games, and console games”. Some of these seem to be”triple-A” games, including Star Wars Galaxies, where Thomas was the System Designer. He felt that now was the time to develop a strategy game of his own that would fit his favorite game genre: space strategy.

“My passion is for playing fun and interesting strategy games. However, the golden days of Master of Orion seem lost to us. I decided that a grand space game would fit the bill to sate my ravenous desire to play space strategy games.”~Thomas Eidson (Foe Games CEO)

Star Czar features include:

  • Turn-based
  • Galactic conquest (4x; maybe 5x?)
  • Currently single player with architecture to expand it into multi-player
  • Four playable races (Human, Crystalline, Robotic, and Insectoid)
  • Deep research trees
  • Ship customization through modules (think sockets)
  • Large fleet combat
  • Starbase customization for planetary defense
  • Hundreds of stars (up to a thousand, currently) to conquer
  • Terraforming
  • Remote harvesting of planets and other galactic features
  • Heavy HUD for fast statistical analysis to make decisions
  • Fleet task automation
  • Construction task automation
  • No warp lanes (but you can build your own automated warp lanes, if you wish)
  • And more to be announced.
Star Czar

Apparently, Thomas is still in the early stages of development, but by September 2012 he announced his expectation to reach alpha “in a couple of months”, which makes it end 2012. He plans to release the game for the PC and mobile platforms, although he didn’t specified which.

Thomas seems to have a good foundation here. Having worked in numerous game titles in the past, he seems to have the experience and the motivation required to go through with it till the end. He also seems to have the passion and the desire to make it happen. The features list is ambitious and promising, that’s a good start. Let’s see what the future holds for Thomas and Luke. Good luck to you guys.

I’ll keep you on the loop for developments. In the meantime you can reach Thomas for feedback or questions on his blog, where he announces progress on Star Czar. He also runs a twitter feed and a facebook page in case you prefer to stay updated that way.

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  1. Gary says:

    The graphics aren’t much to write home about, but if the gameplay is good, then the graphics are good enough. I look forward to your continued articles on this game :)

    • SQW says:

      Who else read it as ‘Thomas Edison’? =D

      Personally, I think graphic is very important in a space game in 2012; it doesn’t have to be cutting edge but the aesthetic must be able to stand on its own. Also, Endless Space showed us a clean UI isn’t impossible for a data heavy genre like 4X so hope they really rework their spreadsheet approach.

      • Adam Solo says:

        The name is Eidson, I can confirm that :)

      • JD says:

        Endless Space is pale shadow to the game(s) it is trying to copy. And the UI for Endless Space is not as good as people think. The legability of it is terrible.

        • SQW says:

          Oh I completely agree ES is strictly 4X-lite. However, I do appreciate the attempt the devs made in tidying up the UI which is usually so cluttered with stats, data and etc for this particular genre.

          A for effort but B for actual result. =)

  2. Martok says:

    I’ll need to know more about the game before I jump on board, but it looks good so far. We can never have too many 4x games!

  3. zigzag says:

    Uh oh… The fifth ‘x’.

  4. salvo says:

    well, the more they come, the higher the chance the true one will eventually appear :-)

  5. Kyle Rees says:

    M.I.L.F. (Missile Id Like to Fire) HAHA!

    Game looks interesting. Like others said I will see how this fleshes out more. Though personally I don’t like the insects in space sometimes included in games.

  6. Thanks for the feedback so far and thanks to Adam for the article! We’re still in pre-alpha and a lot of features are coming online. Since I last mailed Adam, we have posted a design video of my approach to making user interfaces (the video demonstrates a basic research layout, which I have since updated with more statistics).

    @Gary: What exactly do you think is wrong with the graphics? We’re using the latest shaders for our star map. The animated nebulas with lighting look spectacular, if you check the second video on our facebook page. I’m very curious as to what you would believe the graphics should be updated to.

    @SQW: I firmly believe a heavy HUD is something that I miss in video games. If you have gone through UI customization for players on many games today, you will notice the trend for the top players to put as much data in front of their eyes as they can (Eve Online, World of Warcraft). Of course, I’m also a system designer, so I love spreadsheets. :)

    • Evil Azrael says:

      Using the “latest shaders” is nothing that will make everything look great automatically. the whole UI looks a little bit old. But it’s hard to tell if it is good working and easy just by looking at a movie. But like it was said i join the “it may look old but as long as the game play is good i don’t care” group.

    • Gary says:

      It’s what Evil Azrael said, the UI looks a bit old, I guess. And contrary to what JD posted, I’m 50 years old, so not a “younger generation” :) Well, unless JD is 70+ :)

      I guess I’ve gotten used to UIs that take up much less space on the screen, with slide-out controls, empire lists, etc. However, while the UI looks a bit old, it certainly looks serviceable, even if the main game screen doesn’t take up as much space as I’ve gotten used to. And like I also said, if the gameplay is good, that’s what matters :)

      BTW, JD, if you’re reading this, it’s “legibility” from the word “legible” :)

      • JD says:

        Haha 70+ ohh man not by a longshot. I’m 35. Ohh you ment the UI taking up a lot of space. Hmmm that is true, but for some reason I like this UI. I think it has character and I find it easy to read.

        Legibility yes, I just noticed I wrote it incorrectly. Which I should’ve known even though English is not my native language.

  7. Ashbery76 says:

    “space 4X game, including a 5th X”

    The 5th X gimmick was used before in the MOO3 build up.

    • Adam Solo says:

      The thing is, MoO3 people tried to coin the 5th X (eXperience) but it didn’t stick out. As I understand, didn’t work (yet) because as we’ve been realizing by now, 4X games are by their own nature open sand-box, meaning that you’re supposed to invent your own story as you progress, and not really to experience a campaign or a stict storyline. That’s more for the RPG realm (nothing against having some RPG elements in 4X games though). I think this is what MoO3 people intended with this 5th X.

      Campaigns have been tried in the past but never sticked out. GalCiv had “campaigns” or scenarios. Who played them? Legends of Pegasus also offers a campaign. Nice, but … we know that the game’s real part is the sandbox part (when it works properly …).

      I don’t think that the 5’th X is eXperience in the sense of leveling up or gaining “experience”, that you already have in Master of Orion 2. I think eXperience was meant for deeper lore, narrative, and basically having a campaign or side questing. I may be wrong of course, I don’t know what were they thinking.

      • Ashbery76 says:

        Alpha Centuari told a story in the sandbox game tied into the game mechanics and it worked great.Emperor of the fading suns also tied gameplay to lore.It can work.

        • Adam Solo says:

          It may work, but maybe more in particular, more restrictive circumstances. Not so easily on more open games, like MoO2 or GalCiv2. What I mean is, if you want to go with a campaign, and restricted storyline, then you will probably have a hard time tying all things together. It’s hard to combine sand-box with strong narrative, because they are by definition almost incompatible. Look at XCOM:EU. We like to have randomness and openness and react adversely when things feel “too scripted” to fulfill the story elements.

          Alpha Centauri is a case study. But then, Alpha Centauri is not really like MoO2. It’s a 4X game on its own right of course, but just not as open as MoO2. SMAC is special, because everything happens in one single planet, an enclosed environment, not on an entire galaxy! I’m sure that if the factions in SMAC were present in different planets the devs would have a harder time inventing a story that would fit in that scenario.

          The same with Civilization games. They have a storyline! We never see it because it’s our story, of the human race. But, it’s there.

          This is an interesting topic. How to integrate story elements more in 4X games and still keep its sand-box nature. Maybe you can have a campaign mode separated from the sand-box part. It’s something we here have not yet managed to crack. LoP people tried to do this, merge a campaign mode and sand-box mode in a single 4X game. They failed to deliver, … but for other reasons, so we need to wait for the next attempt.

          \Edit: By the way, let’s not forget that Distant Worlds successfully manages to merge the sand-box nature with story elements. They achieve this through side-questing, where you unlock some events that tell you a bit more of the story but are really not required to play the game. Maybe that’s the answer. MoO2 also had story elements (Antarans attacks) but that was part of the game itself, not optional. That’s another example right there of how to merge some story elements in a 4X game and still make it feel completely sand-box. So, I would say, for now, that adding a 5th X to the equation is not really necessary, at least not explicitly. Storyline elements can be already present in 4X games through the use of side-quests and endgame events.

      • Gary says:

        Adam, when I read “5th X = experience” I was thinking of it in terms of leveling up, as in ships gain experience. Or maybe he’s got leaders that gain xp?

        Instead of guessing, perhaps we can get a clarification from Thomas of what he meant?

        • Adam Solo says:

          Thomas stated the following on this matter:

          “Most strategy games focus on 4x’s, but ignore the 5th element of units and leveling up individual fleets.”

          So, he interpreted the “5th X” as units leveling up, although I think that was not what MoO3 people had in mind (I think they were the ones that came up with this) was for eXperience to be about your experience with the game being more in-depth, with more narrative and story, and not the “exp” gained (RPG aspects) to level up units. But, I’m not sure about this. Only they know what they meant.

        • I am considering adding in experienced fleets as a perk for playing with the same fleet for a campaign. I considered putting in fleet commanders, but I have a lot to do on my plate. Fleets that level up and get bonuses would be a great incentive to deep space exploration and combat. The distance between systems can be massive.

          If you played Stars!, you sometimes had fleets that were deep into enemy territory that weathered many combat encounters. I liked to think of them as sort of “on their own” and their history of exploring and combat made for a great story for that particular fleet. It was something I fantasized about, such as the fleets in Ender’s Game. They spent fifty to a hundred turns (years, maybe?) getting out to their destination and then fought epic fights. :)

  8. JD says:

    @Thomas Eidson:

    Gary is probably of a more younger generation that is prone to believe that graphics matter a bit more. I for one do not share that opinion.

    I watched the second tech demo, very promising. Your using Unity, does that mean your thinking of perhaps supporting other platforms besides Windows?

    I for one like the art direction inclusing the UI, besides your UI has a much better legability then Endless Space does. Folks who don’t understand this, read this by John Shafer:

    Keep up your efforts, I understand how hard it is. Nice to someone actually showing something real instead of throwing out ideas via kickstarter.

    • If you watch my UI time lapse, you will notice that the UI is actually race based. The UI changes, based on the type of race you play.

      I asked for the “wide border” type of UI for the art director to design. That’s why a lot of it may look as if it is an older style. The borders are definitely not minimalist and that type of art style allows us to put in bug pinchers, crystals, robotic parts, and pipes. Those types of embellishments lend to a little bit of immersion. That’s why you may consider it old, but that is the thinking behind why it looks that way.

  9. Zeraan says:

    I like the name, “Star Czar”, a subtle twist on “Star Lords”, an original name for “Master of Orion” :)

    • I wrote a pen and paper game called “Star Lords” in the 1980’s. I later wrote an LPMUD called Star Raiders around 1992. I wrote some of the code for Star Lords (working title) in 2005, which has been incorporated into Star Czar. The game’s original title actually is Star Lords and much of the code has that name in it.

      I think about the gameplay as “King of the Stars”, but with a Russian accent. :)

  10. Evil Azrael says:

    What about empire-wide experience? An empire constantly at war could get used to the constant fight and losses and become more experienced at war production/technology while getting a penalty on everything else (pure research, peacetime production, population entertaining, diplomacy with non-fighting empires). Same for planets with/without much military.

    • I would like to package war fatigue as part of the political system. I am not planning on shipping with a political system, but I want to put one in later on. I have written up a design for a semi-unique political system, though.

      • Adam Solo says:

        When you say not planning for a “political system”, you mean that your game will not have diplomacy?

        • War fatigue would be driven by your internal politics. However, diplomacy is communication with other races. I have not planned on putting diplomacy in for the single player game, either.

          Stretch goals for after single player launches are:
          – Storyline with a new race
          – Diplomacy/politicial systems
          – Multiplayer and multiplayer combat (a la Star Control 2 and SPAZ)
          – 40% more space ships
          – Over the top research (black hole creation, space stations that can be moved, star busters, etc)

  11. Njordin says:

    i like the graphics, ui looks a bit oldschool but i like that too.

    but i play games like dwarf fortress too. gameplay > graphics. always. even in 2012.

    • A zombie owl took out my entire fort in Dwarf Fortress, once. :(

      I have played a lot of strategy games. I know I’m biased, but I really do like the art style we have come up with for the game. I am definitely open to changing the art style, but it takes a lot of work to change directions (especially with four different UI’s for the game) to accommodate a slimmer and more modern look.

      I am definitely considering critiques folks have brought up. I will notify Adam, when I have a beta demo available for testing for more feedback.

      • JD says:

        Don’t change a thing, the artstyle reminds me of the golden age of space games in the 90’s. I think it’s really cool. The more I see it the more I like it.

      • Gary says:

        Thomas, I was just commenting on how the UI looked, not it’s functionality. If the gameplay is good, then as long as the UI is functional (i.e. doesn’t require too many clicks to get to what you want), the game will succeed :)

        Just be sure to have a planet list (to use in colonizing) and a colony list (for managing colonies) from the start :)

        • I know this is probably going to be a negative point, but I have limited planets habitable in a solar system to one. That way, you don’t have to drill down into the solar system itself (and saves quite a bit of memory). You focus on the stars on the main map only. The stars shown on the map are only shown, if a habitable planet is available. This makes galactic domination a lot easier to manage, from a player standpoint.

          I wrote the solar system inventory system a couple weeks ago. You can page through solar systems you own. I haven’t written up a galactic quick sheet, yet. However, that is only a day or two worth of work.

  12. TanC says:

    The more space 4X games the better! I like the UI race-based…not many games have that now. Mr. Eidson, any plans for crowdfunding, alpha pre-orders or the like?

    MILF. Ha! That’s one MILF I’d like to have! ;)

    • JD says:

      Assuming your a dude, you have a missle you like to fire ;-P

    • I am considering crowd funding, but only if I get outside support of at least a thousand people interested. I would also make sure to have specific processes in place, before even attempting to do so. So far, the single player game is fully funded. I would like to have crowd funding for multiplayer and politics.

  13. Dan says:

    StarDrive has units that level. Just put the system in last week.

    Anyway, this project looks ambitious and it seems like he has a foundation laid out. Lets see where it goes!

    • Thanks! Your space combat looks sweet! I expect our game combat will look a lot more like SPAZ, with colorful lasers, large missiles, etc. However, I’m still trying to envision what our gatling lasers will look like. :)

      I want our multiplayer combat to be much along the lines of SPAZ combat, except not as twitchy as SPAZ.

      Our avatars are not animated, yet. I salute the effort you took to do your animations.

  14. Diego L says:

    I, for one, love this HUD! Are the individual boxes movable or could the player arrange them to however they’d like? I noticed the little gear icon on each box so it made me wonder. I really like the look of it!

    Also, and I know this is pre-alpha so the star map will most likely be changed, but I am wondering if you plan on keeping the stat bars under the names of the planets when selected or on mouse-over? I think they look a bit clunky as bars and hope that perhaps you’ll implement badges with the planet names and numerical statistics with an icon representing each statistic or something else that’s a little cleaner. I also hope there will be visible sphere of influence of some sort.

    • Diego L says:

      Sorry, I meant to direct my comment to Tom since I noticed he was active here.

    • The HUD automatically resizes itself, based on your screen size. That’s to accommodate mobile devices (tablets). Currently, they cannot be repositioned. It’s a good idea, though.

      The stat bars in the video are pre-alpha. I hooked them up as a feature test, so that I could make sure the habitable planet is generating valid statistics. Our art director has a spiffy version of those bars, but I have not hooked them up. I have moved all the stat bars to the right of the star, though.

      Spheres of influence are determined by your scanning research tree. You cannot see enemy scan distances, but you can see your own. I do not want to give that tactical information away, as it would give a huge advantage to you. However, I am considering putting in research to allow a rough estimate. I do have a sphere of influence visible and functioning in the game.

  15. Njordin says:

    StarDrive, Star Czar, Star Lords, Starforge, Timber and Stone, Gnomoria, Castle Story, MORE, BlackSpace, GA 2.0 Mod for Star Ruler… 2013 will be a very magic year with a lot of “Stars”.

    Now i get that whole Maya 2012 thing…

  16. Serge says:

    Good luck to Thomas! I’m still not having my fix for MOO successor, I – “Distant Worlds” which Adam love so much found not satisfactory – not only spreadshitty, but also poorly coded.
    Old style graphics is not a problem IMHO – if performance is great and game is fun :)

  17. Edward Ryan says:

    Hi just look at Imperium Galactica 2 that had a really good storyline running through it, you could zoom down to planets and really build structures, the tech tree was good and story was introduced by just placing a derelict ship in space and having cut scene as you approached! that is a good way to introduce story in a mostly sandbox genre.

  18. Jeff P says:

    My problem with story-centric games (specifically Imperium Galactica 2 as I recall) was that you could “break” the story, leading to a very unsatisfactory experience. It was very easy to inadvertently trigger story events early or without completing prerequisites leading to either an overwhelming enemy sweeping the volume, or the player defeating the “invincible” foe with little effort.

    I prefer sandbox 4X games, with random events (cataclysms, breakthroughs, anomalies, pirates, monsters, etc.) providing variety. Let the player imagine his own storyline rather than rely upon scripted or triggered events that may limit re-playability.

  19. Ashbery76 says:

    Imperium Galactica 2 gave you a sandbox option too so that was no issue.

    I do not recall beign able to brake the story in that game anyway.The Krakhen would always get huge and attack.

    • Edward Ryan says:

      Ya just like with the Antarians in Moo2 this is a feature much needed in a game come the later parts where you feel that the challenge is gone, and you are so far ahead technologically, then The Antarians would come and make you feel really small and stupid for being so arrogant!, that i think is a necessary Component that should be in all 4X or 5X games.

      • Evil Azrael says:

        AFAIR the Antarians were only a problem in early games when an assault could be devastating, but in the later game they were not even an annoyance.. Worst case were ground batteries/ships with Ion Pulse cannons.
        At the end, normally Galactic Council, Simple conquest or destruction of the antareans were all equal easy to achieve.

    • Jeff P says:

      In IG2 you were expected to form alliances which would then destroy the Krakhen when you stumbled over them. In more than one game, I was at war with some of my “allies” (who weren’t always amenable to peace) when the baddies arrived, and they cleaned up the neighborhood. In a couple games, I figured out where the Krakhen would spawn and quickly conquered and built-up planets away from them, then attacked the Krakhen. All in all, you could “game the game” once you figured out where the triggers were.

      I had a similar gripe with both Homeworld and Homeworld 2: there were areas that triggered enemy fleets to show up, and once you figured out where they were they could be avoided until you were ready.

      My complaint is not with the presence of a nemesis, but programming triggers and scripted events that play out the same way each time and can be exploited.

      • Evil Azrael says:

        Recognizing the triggers can spoil the whole experience. The worst casee for me was a MechCommander mission where when you discovered the triggers you can change the sequence you do the submissions and have a much easier mission and even worse “when you trigger this event the enemy will spawn these unit at was that point and you want to have your units at this point”.
        Sometimse it can be bad to be a programmer on the lookout for event and triggers in games ;)

  20. Edward Ryan says:

    Then maybe the appearance of an all powerful empire should be random at anytime during the game!, and if it’s too early and if you get overpowered so be it, that would make things more interesting and that victory is not certain just as in real life.

  21. Keith Turner says:

    It’s great to see that there won’t be a shortage of 4x titles in the coming year. :) Every time the well starts to run dry, someone has announced that they are working on another one. I hope that these new space 4x titles take a look at what is already out on the market and can find a niche that works for them. Don’t be afraid to be imaginative and think outside the box devs!

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