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Interview with Daniel DiCicco on StarDrive, Kickstarter and Indie Game Development

By on November 23rd, 2012 5:04 pm

StarDrive | Real-time space 4X strategy game

Daniel DiCicco is the man behind StarDrive, a real-time space 4X strategy game due for release in Q1 2013. Dan came from being a lawyer to a full-time game developer. Dan succeeded on Kickstarter in a time where this crowd funding platform was still in its infancy. That helped him gain visibility, and eventually the interest of Iceberg Interactive, who decided to invest in Dan’s dream to develop a space game of his own.

I was on the Netherlands with Dan this week. Excellent guy, and a very nice Team there at Iceberg Interactive. Dan went to Holland to show the latest progress to Iceberg Interactive, which is StarDrive’s publisher. In this interview Dan talks about StarDrive, the Kickstarter crowd funding platform, and gives some tips to people who are thinking in developing their own game.


If you prefer, you also have the interview in text form below.

SS: Why and when did you decide: “Hey, I really want to make this game!”? And how different is it now since you first imagined it?

“Actually, I started making a board game.”

Daniel DiCicco: Well, you know, actually I started making a board game and I started designing these mechanics for a board game, I knew I had to design a spaceship and you have a blast of pieces, and I started realizing that the math is way too complicated for a board game, so I have to make this a computer game. I’ve always been a passionate computer gamer, but I really didn’t know anything about making computer games. So, I googled it and I just started learning. I mean I knew how to program, but I didn’t know anything about games programming. So, I slowly started learning the technology.

The difference today from what it was a board game is huge. It’s nothing like it. I knew I wanted to do the modular ship design, that was always the basis of the program. But, early on, it was less of a 4X game and more like a series of challenges, that you’d have a fleet and you would go from challenge to challenge. That still sounds kind of fun to me but I realized that what I really wanted to do was this big 4X game.

When? Was about two and half years ago. I started doing this in my side time, but it came a point where I was about 6 months into it when I kind of developed the final vision, and, I threw out everything I’ve done. I scrapped it and started over, because you know, when you don’t know how to make a game you make a lot of mistakes. Once I had it figured out I decided to start over and that’s how StarDrive was born. So, about 2 years ago.

SS: What about sources of inspiration for developing StarDrive? What other games, films or books do you think have inspired you the most for wanting to develop this game?

Daniel DiCicco: The obvious one is Master of Orion 2. I mean, everybody who really likes 4X games I feel like, you know, loves that game. John Scalzi, you know who he is I’m sure. He wrote Old Man’s War. He’s an excellent science fiction author who really got me excited about the realities of space, what would happen if you’d met other aliens of the same level of technology. It would probably be a pretty brutal competition for worlds and difficult to move resources.

Kim Stanley Robinson, he wrote this book called Red Mars, Blue Mars and Green Mars or whatever it was. It’s about colonizing Mars and the difficulties those colonists would face, and I thought that, well, all those things were inspiration, especially for the economic system because I wanted there to be a real, you know, a real sense of having to move goods into space. It’s not just hope we colonized the planet and now it’s ready to go. So, if you would colonize a planet and just leave it alone it’s not really going to grow, it needs help, it needs help from the home world.

That formed the economic basis of StarDrive. And then, of course, came the bigger concepts of designing ships and how to do diplomacy. I mean, I’m taking a bit of my favorites, Civilization and Master of Orion.

SS: StarDrive is a space 4X strategy game, but you label it also as an action game. What made you go with this mixed action-strategy non-conventional formula for a 4X game? And, what exactly are the game’s action elements?

Daniel DiCicco: Well, you know, StarDrive has evolved over the course of its development and, I think when I first started it, it was a little bit more focused on your flagship. As I love Escape Velocity, that was also a huge inspiration. You can tell by the graphical style immediately if you look at Escape Velocity and look at StarDrive. So, that’s really about where the action part came in.

“You can actually control any ship in your empire, any ship. You can control a colony ship if you want.”

Also, you know, StarDrive is a real-time game, and I suppose you can call StarDrive a real-time strategy game but that doesn’t quite capture the 4Xsness of it. But the action comes from the fact that you can actually control any ship in your empire, any ship. You can control a colony ship if you want. You can steer it with ‘WASD’ just like you would in Escape Velocity, and you can fire the weapons manually, and you can aim at subsystems yourself. Or not. You don’t need to do any of that. And that’s why it ended up an action-strategy. But I suppose if I had to say it today, I would call it a 4X RTS.

StarDrive | Space combat

SS: You already replied to a bit of this, but, what was your approach when designing StarDrive? Was it very iterative or did you had already a very solid idea in your head, and sticked to it religiously?

“I use a lot of paper, real paper, you know, an ancient device.”

Daniel DiCicco: Definitely it was an iterative process. I use a lot of paper, real paper, you know, an ancient device. I would fill all those ideas and bring them home to the computer and implement them, and then playtest. Actually, the community that developed around StarDrive, it’s still quite small but it’s a very loyal following. That has helped me develop a lot of these ideas, scrap the bad ones, improve the good ones.

So, it’s not just, you know, it definitely wasn’t drawn like a blue print and then implemented. It was…, it’s a living thing to me. It’s always changing and always getting better, and sometimes a little bit worse too, it’s part of the design process, it’s a little up and down.

SS: Tell us about the development Team. I understand that it all started just with yourself, but how many people have contributed directly to the StarDrive project so far?

Daniel DiCicco: Well, directly somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 to 10 people have contributed. I mean, I’m designing it and programming it, and then we have a very talented artist that made all the ship models, his name is Ariel Chy and he’s been critical to helping lead the art direction of the game. Jeff Dodson is the composer who’s made not only all the music but all the sound effects on StarDrive. He’s also had a strong hand in the visual design.

And then we had a number of artists who made the visual art and the motion graphics for the animated diplomacy scenes. And then the Team here at Iceberg, you know, they don’t have creative control but they have creative input though. They have the experience and the wisdom. They are people who really know and love these games. And, of course, the community of StarDrive. So, there will be a long list of credits.

SS: In which way do you think you have evolved the 4X genre and dealt with some of its shortcomings, like let’s say the excessive micromanagement, or boring late game stages?

“Diplomacy can be somewhat shallow in 4X games. Some areas will push the ball forward on the diplomacy aspects.”

Daniel DiCicco: The way it evolved the genre? It’s an interesting difficult question. Let’s say some areas will push the ball forward on the diplomacy aspects. Diplomacy can be somewhat shallow in 4X games and the AI can be schizophrenic almost. I remember in early builds of Civilization 5, you know, the AI would declare war on me and I would thought we were allies, I thought we were friends. So, I really tried to bring a consistent design for the AI to the table, to try to make it understandable and have their motivations be clear.

StarDrive | Diplomacy

And also to provide deep characterization for the AI. One thing I’ve seen, and there’s not a lot of examples of this in the genre, but when someone tells me that they are angry with me for x, y or z, it’s usually just a boilerplate type of thing that the AI is saying. The characterization that I feel we brought to the table here is that each race has its own way of saying why they’re angry or what they’re happy about, even in a simple thing like rejecting a trade offer they have their own kind of unique flavor, so that’s something that I think is pushing it forward.

Dealing with the conventions and some of the shortcomings of 4X, so, we provided automation options, so, governors will take care of managing your colonies in the late game. You can even turn on things like auto-colonization, auto-exploration, various infrastructure building can be totally automated. And, really you needn’t even be in direct tactical control of your battles if you just want to send your fleet into action it will take care of itself, it doesn’t require a micromanager. It will benefit from micromanagement but it doesn’t require it. So, if you want to be a tactical player it’s there, if you want to be a strategic level player then that’s it, then you can do that also.

SS: Which is your favorite 4X phase and why?

“Extermination! Yea. For me it was always been about the combat.”

Daniel DiCicco: Extermination! Yea. For me it was always been about the combat. I mean, I like the ship designing too, so I suppose you could call that the exploitation phase. I really love getting that new laser beam or whatever that is to equip my ships and upgrade them, ultimately it always came down to crushing my enemies.

And that’s why the emphasis in StarDrive is so much on ship design and combat because that’s what I love and you can see my passion shine through there, because it looks you know…. Yea, I think that’s it, the extermination phase.

SS: Tell us a bit how the 4X phases play in StarDrive and how they may play different from other 4X games.

Daniel DiCicco: Well, the exploration phase involves – you can do this manually if you’d like – sending your ships out to explore new star systems and when they get there and they fly close enough to a planet and then its qualities are revealed. Some planets will have anomalies on them. Ground based anomalies. Things that you can’t just detect with a starship, so you need to send an away team. You need to build a ground troop and deploy it to the planet to explore, say, it’s a mysterious ruin or some other ancient building. And this will unlock maybe a small quest or just for some flavor. So, that’s one thing.

StarDrive | Star map

“I feel that you can’t really have too much exploration elements.”

Another phase of exploration are more space-based encounters, so there’s some factions that exist in space. Some are friendly, most aren’t, at least the ones you run into. Of course you also run into other players, other computer controlled opponents, and begin doing the diplomacy there. You know, in a lot of ways StarDrive is just very classic. You’re slowing discovery the galaxy and what’s there, but we’re trying to spice it up with as much randomized elements as we can fit in there. And, the sky is really the limit when it comes to that type of thing. I feel that you can’t really have too much exploration elements.

For expanding, what we’ve added is this economic systems where we got to bring all these goods and colonists out in space. You need to design these trade routes, in such a way as to maximize the growth of your colonies. It’s not enough to just colonize your planets. You need to make sure that you’re supporting them from the home world. But, other than that, it follows a very classic model. You need to build improvements in the planets and you need to focus the planets you decide where you’re going to specialize a colony.

StarDrive | Colony Management

“You could actually play out the ground combat as a little chess board type of thing.”

The extermination phase, I know not necessary, you can be a peaceful race. But, some combat will be absolutely necessary. For instance, in Master of Orion 2 – a great inspiration – the best systems always had Guardians, being it a Space Amoeba, or a Space Dragon, or whatever. The same is true in StarDrive. There’s something there that is going to block you from getting that nice world. So, you’re gonna have to clear it out.

But, maybe you’re a war-like race, and when it comes to that then you’re going to get all the options you would expect. There’s tons of different types of weapons, different beams, cannons, missiles. There’s disabling weapons, EMP, and of course all the counters to all these types of weapons: point defense weapons, fighters, fighter bays. We’ve got tactical ground combat, so you could actually play out the ground combat as a little chess board type of thing.

StarDrive | Tactical ground combat

“In all ways, StarDrive is a true 4X.”

And then, so, explore, expand, oh exploit, sorry I missed exploitation. I mean, the exploitation phase in StarDrive is really more about the technology. I suppose, this is always how I would always define the exploitation phase. I mean, you need to leverage those worlds that you find in the expansion phase into creating the economy to both unlock new technologies and then build ships with them. And, there’s really no big surprises there, as long as you’re using the tools we give you to build a strong industrial base you’re gonna be moving forward there. But, some of the ways that you can keep that going kickstarted and move faster is through the diplomacy, exploiting your allies to trade with them, having them giving you technologies you don’t have, and ganging up on enemies that may be trying to stop you.

But in all ways, StarDrive is a true 4X, you know, we’re not skipping on any of these elements.

SS: How important do you think your successful Kickstarter campaign was in the overall game development progress? And, looking back, do you regret having set such a low goal barrier at the time? $7,500.

“I’ve gone from the guy with the dream to a guy with a game.”

Daniel DiCicco: No, not a tall. Kickstarter was not then was it is today. It was like a different world. If a game got $15,000 out of Kickstarter it was a great success. So, I figured, you know, I ‘ll just see what I can do. I didn’t really know where it would lead. But, in less than a year I had a pre-alpha concept of the game to having almost a completed game with publish support here at Iceberg, and, you know, we’re ready for the world stage. So, I’ve gone from the guy with the dream to a guy with a game.

So, Kickstarter was totally responsible for that. Because, if it wasn’t for Kickstarter, for instance, I wouldn’t ever met Iceberg Interactive, you know, there’s the publicity, there’s the funding. I mean, Kickstarter works as advertised.

SS: What’s your take on Kickstarter and the crowdfunding scheme in a general sense? What advice would you give to others that may be on the fence thinking if Kickstarter could be a good idea?

Daniel DiCicco: Well, you know, I was in a situation where I was working full time, and also making StarDrive on the side and I thought, boy if could get a little extra funding it could very well help me make that transition from being a lawyer to do what I was going to do. So, what I realize now looking back, is that the amount of money it takes to make a video game is a lot more, then what I asked, A LOT more.

“I’m remaining totally positive about Kickstarter and I think it will be a cool tool that I’ll probably use again.”

The advice I have is, have a financial plan to make a game done if you’re going to do it. Don’t aim too low. But then again if you aim too high you may miss your goal. So, I think if you’re going into that, it’s nice to have other options too. Kickstarter can be part of your funding plan. You can also get a loan to help finish it, or get a publisher investment. But, my advice is don’t put all your eggs into one basket when it comes to Kickstarter.

And the other side of that is, you know, maintain a healthy skepticism when analyzing a project in Kickstarter because since it’s gone up it’s been, hum, a lot of so so, not really sure if it’s really a real project type things. But overall I’m remaining totally positive about Kickstarter and I think it will be a cool tool that I’ll probably use again.

SS: StarDrive is being highly anticipated by space strategy and 4X gamers. Some hope it will be the best 4X game of the year, or of recent years. Do you feel that responsibility? And, if so, how do you deal with it, and how does it affect your working process?

Daniel DiCicco: Well, it’s terrifying (*laughs*). You know, I started off with this humble idea about making a game, and to hear that people are anticipating it that much is humbling and I, you know, and I feel a strong duty to make it happen. It’s interesting coming from being a lawyer, we have this code of professional responsibility, that is very much drilled into us, you know, there’s even the board that reviews to make sure you’re following things.

So, I almost feel that same level of professional responsibility. To deliver the product that I’m talking about and that people are expecting. I have to do it. I want to be successful. Not only for the people who are playing this game but because I want to continue making games too, so, the best way to doing it is to follow through on your promises.

SS: If I remember correctly you said to have quit your previous job so that you could dedicate yourself solely to this project. What do you see yourself and your company doing in the next years after StarDrive gets released? Is the plan to keep evolving StarDrive with expansions, or even sequels, or do you have any other plans?

Daniel DiCicco: We’re going to stay in the StarDrive Universe for a while. That’s so much I wanted it to be, and, I think we could work on expansions. But, I really want to do more substantive type expansions. Things that add new gameplay modes and features, not just new races and things like that, though that certainly would be in the works. And that could be over the next year. So, say we release, and then take a year to keep building all of what we’ve got, and then re-evaluate.

“From a business point of view, making space games is relatively inexpensive compared to say, a simple role-playing game.”

I mean, I’ve got all kinds of ideas ticking around in my head about where I want to take things, but I think no matter what I do it’s gonna be in the StarDrive Universe. Doing different types of space games. Because actually from a business point of view, making space games is relatively inexpensive compared to say, a simple role-playing game, because the art assets that are needed are basically space ships and effects and some aliens, but not this big environments that are rich with tiny details. And those are the things that take many man-hours.

So, actually, space games, for a small studio like myself, with the artists that I have, we could make a quality product for a small amount of money. So, we’ll stay in space and in the StarDrive’s Universe.

StarDrive | Ship design

SS: Developing a 4X game can be a very complex undertaking. And, we had some failed launches in the recent past. What do you think you did or are doing different that will make sure StarDrive will not be a failure?

“We’re totally aware of the recent failures, in 4X space, and we are absolutely committed to not being one of them.”

Daniel DiCicco: Well, for one, we retained a professional quality assurance team. Basically, we modularized the game to find the various game components, and they are currently testing them thoroughly. So, everything from bigger oversights, like crash bugs, those are dealt out as quickly as possible. But then the polish, it’s not only about making sure the game is stable, of course that’s the highest priority, but also making sure that icon is tool tipped, you know. Or, making sure that this or the other thing is easily understandable to the player.

We’re totally aware of the recent failures in 4X space, and we are absolutely committed to not being one of them.

SS: I think you already talked about this, but I absolutely love the music in StarDrive. Where did it come from?

Daniel DiCicco: Jeff Dodson. He composed it all. So, you have 8 different tracks, one for each of the races, to provide them with a unique feel. We have a title theme and a title reprise which you’ll hear in various points. We got some ambient tracks that go along with these things that are on the background while you’re playing the game. Very unobtrusive. He wrote them all. His company is called Rainfall Films and he’s also, you know, part of our company working on StarDrive.

SS: What advice do you have for other indie game developers that may be thinking in developing their own game?

“Don’t chase your dream. Implement your plan.”

Daniel DiCicco: Well, you know. I was thinking in the other day. Don’t chase your dream. Implement your plan. It’s two different things. If you have a plan and it’s sound than execute it. There’s no magic to any of this. It’s just figuring out what it’s gonna take and decide if you can or can’t do it. You should be able to know. You should be able to look into your plan and know whether it’s possible. And, if it’s possible, all it takes from there is the dedication to anybody that wants to do this. Make a plan and do it!

SS: What’s your favorite game?

Daniel DiCicco: Well, you know. I have to say it’s a tough question to answer. Honestly, I think of all time it’s got to be Civilization, and I’m talking about every iteration, because I’ve been playing Civilization in one form or the other for 20 years. And I’m always playing it, and I always get back and play it, and they are always iterating and it’s getting better and better and better. So, it’s the best franchise that I think exists. Yea, so, I think that’s it.

SS: And favorite book?

Daniel DiCicco: Uh…, that’s a tough one. Let me think on that…. I would have said Cloud Atlas, but then this movie came out and now it’s too so cliché “Cloud Atlas this”. But, you know, mostly my favorite books are always science fiction or fantasy. I really like George R.R. Martin. Hum… if you let me think on this one. That’s probably too many to say.

SS: What’s your favorite film?

Daniel DiCicco: Hum… I don’t think I have a favorite. I can tell you that the answer to both of these questions to me is science fiction and fantasy that takes itself seriously, that tries to create, and successfully does the best works, a believable world, even if it’s got some sort of fantastic elements, as long as it really tries to create a consistent world. Those are the books that I always love. Because there’s some fantasy novels where, you know, the characters’ motivations don’t seem correct. Like even if there’s Dragons or Fairies or whatever, what’s more important to me is that the characters behave like I think they would in the real life. That there’s usually a dark or kind of grey element to the story. Because that’s what life is about, you know, there’s a darker current to a lot of politics and conflicts. And, I like books that capture that. You know, Brandon Sanderson is probably my favorite author. I don’t know if you read anything by him, but he’s done a number of awesome novels, and I think he’s the king right now.

SS: Who’s your favorite character from game, book or film?

“I like Malcolm Reynolds, like, its character makes those tough decisions, these dark decisions, and, you know, that’s the kind of character I like.”

Daniel DiCicco: I always liked Malcolm Reynolds, I know a lot of people like Malcolm Reynolds, but, he’s a very solid character. I like how he’s just … you know, there’s this story about some episodes that they didn’t make on Serenity. So there’s one and this one thing where the crew, they visit this planet, and the planet is dying, it’s like the planet is gonna get destroyed for whatever reason. And so the people are begging Malcolm Reynolds to take them on the ship, but if he takes all the people on the ship then there’s a chance that they will run out of air and that they will all die unless they meet some other ship. And the crew is like, you know, they are all debating this moral problem, kind of like a Star Trek type of moral dilemma, right? So, alright, look, let’s just sleep on it. So, like they close out the ship and Malcolm like takes it off, and they leave all the people there, and the crew doesn’t actually get to vote. And, at the end of the episode, they realize that – they never met another ship – so everybody would have died. But I like that Malcolm Reynolds, like, its character makes those tough decisions, these dark decisions, and, you know, that’s the kind of character I like.

Thanks a lot for your time Daniel, and good luck for the final stages of development!

StarDrive’s Beta is scheduled to start in the beginning of 2013, probably mid-January. Pre-orders are expected to start by then on Steam. StarDrive will also be sold in retail form in some European countries. Desura is also another possibility, where actually you can find more information about the game, and also on the StarDrive official website

For more information on StarDrive’s gameplay have a look at our hands-on preview.

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  1. JohnR says:

    Great interview Adam, it definitely leaves me optimistic about the game. It seems like Mr DiCicco and his team are focused on all the right things. I especially like the colony management options and ground combat. The only place I can recall seeing ground combat before was in Star Wars: Empires at War. Also, I’m relieved to hear that they are making it real-time. Distant Worlds has convinced me that a real-time grand strategy system is superior to turn-based in a big 4X game, as it nicely avoids the late-game tedium you usually find in turn-based games. My only concern is that StarDrive might turn into too much of a war game like Civ5. That’s another thing I love about Distant Worlds. That is, all play styles are viable, not just the military war-monger.

    I totally agree with Mr. DiCicco about the annoying AI civs in Civ5 being very inconsistent and stabbing the player in the back at the drop of a hat. Hopefully the StarDrive civs will be a bit more consistent. Also, any fan of Firefly is alright by me. :o) Firefly is the best scifi series since the 90’s Canadian remake of The Outer Limits.

    I think I must be the only person in the Western World who has never played Master of Orion. lol

    BTW, the human in the top pic looks like Vice Admiral Stukov from StarCraft: Brood Wars. ;o)

    • Adam Solo says:

      Thanks John. It was my first interview done in real person, and it really paid off. It’s really something different to be there talking to people face to face. And Dan made it all so easy by being such a great, and interesting guy.

      Doing this interview, and all that it involved, was surely one of my favorite moments since I started this blog.

      Yes, surprisingly enough, (pausable) real-time seems to be a good mechanic for 4X games. I love it on Distant Worlds, and now on StarDrive things are also shaping up very nicely.

      Yes, Civ5 vanilla (release build) was a nightmare, now looking back. At least to us veteran players since I know folks who just loved the game in that state (not surprisingly they were new to the franchise). Civ5 G&K with the latest patches is sweet as honey and I can’t wait to play it a bit more this weekend.

      I know other people who didn’t play any Master of Orion and Master of Orion 2 and are also big fans of 4X games. So, you’re not alone ;)

      • JohnR says:

        I actually did watch the whole thing, and the sound was very good. A lot of Youtub vids have muddy sound, but yours’ was quite clear. Also, I do like Mr. DiCicco’s attitude. He seemed very personable, professional, and above all unpretentious. ;o) All this definitely gives me a cozy feeling about the game. I don’t know, I may have to purchase the beta after all and not wait for the official release.

        It’s interesting to note that a few of the things he mentioned are present in Distant Worlds. For example, when an AI race is upset with you, you always know exactly why. Ditto for the big, living galaxy full of surprises. Similarities to Distant Worlds are by no means a bad thing though. In fact if Mr. DiCicco delivers all the great things Distant Worlds has and adds prettier ships and more fleshed-out space and ground combat, then StarDrive may turn out to be truly great. Certainly he has risen my expectations and optimism.

        Yes, I mostly like Gods and Kings. I love playing the Byzantines. And I agree with Daniel in that the Civilization series is one of the greatest ever despite its occasional shortcomings.

        BTW Adam, I had sort of assumed that you were a Brit. Are you Italian? Belgian?

        • Adam Solo says:

          I’m Portuguese. And, I’m flattered that you thought I was a native English speaker. I’m not, and you can spot occasional typos and other English language shortcomings here and there from time to time. But, I do my best. I also worked abroad for a while, and I always talked in English there, that helped. And the fact that we don’t dub films in Portugal also helps, and as they are mostly American, we all grew getting quite acquainted with the English language, which is a plus in my view.

  2. Ermdog says:

    “Don’t chase your dream, implement your plan”. Wise words

    • Adam Solo says:

      Yes, indeed. Those words stroke me like lightning the moment he spoke them. There’s real wisdom in them I agree.

    • JohnR says:

      I like what General Dwight David Eisenhower had to say about plans: “Plans are useless, but planning is absolutely essential.” lol

  3. Kyle Rees says:

    Andy Garcia?

    Seriously, great interview though.

  4. JD says:

    Made my weekend. Dan has such a relax and down to earth personality. Great interview Adam.

  5. Keith Turner says:

    Really enjoyed the interview. I knew a lot about the game itself, but I wasn’t as familiar with the back story behind it’s creation and early development. It really is an inspirational story for any aspiring developers out there as well.

    “So, I’ve gone from the guy with the dream to a guy with a game.”
    Awesome quote.

    • Adam Solo says:

      It’s very inspirational indeed. I mean, any guy thinking in developing is own game has a real life example here of one guy who made it (or is likely gonna make it). And, although there’s a lot of work involved, and some luck too, Dan makes it sound quite attainable. Dan is really a down to earth guy as JD said. You can really feel his passion. It was really a pleasure to make this interview.

  6. Cem says:

    After the big disaster of Legend of Pegasus, our last hope is Stardrive.

    If they can do it with all the promises they give, Stardrive will take the 4X throne from the Distant Worlds.

    No one was close enough to take throne from Distant World, in 3 years.

    • JohnR says:

      Yes, I’m new to Distant Worlds and have been playing it for three days now, and have to agree with you that it is an amazing game and the current 4X king. Definitely Mr. DiCicco and his team have a very hard act to follow.

  7. Mathias says:

    Excellent interview Adam and Dan! Really enjoyed it. It would have been even better, if both of you were visible, maybe even with a two camera setup. Looking forward to StarDrive and future interviews :)

    • Adam Solo says:

      Thanks Mathias. Yes, we would need two cameras to capture both of us. That’s a good tip and I’ll try to get a second one next time. This was my first face-to-face interview, so, not everything was that perfect. But, I learned a lot from the process, and next time it will be even better from a production point of view :)

  8. Edward Ryan says:

    Yes great interview highly admire this guy and I hope he continues with kickstarter for future products because I will definitely help fund any stardrive expansion or future release!.

  9. t1it says:

    Pleasant interview! It’s clear this guy knows 4x games and what players likes and dislikes and the shortcomings of previous 4x games. Everything looks so great!

  10. DevildogFF says:

    I haven’t been inspired to truly participate in a beta and really get down and dirty with fishing out bugs until I found this game. Zero’s attitude, his humbleness, and innate wisdom shine through a great deal in his interactions with the community and I really respect the guy. Not to mention, the gameplay, AI and diplomacy have had me interested since day 1 (hence why I bought it on Desura when it was still available).

    This game is one to watch. I wish there was more to do to get the word out. This is a better game than DW, SOTS, SOASE, and pretty much any other 4x game I’ve played in years. Maybe even since MOO2.

    You can watch my gameplay videos through the forums. They may not be the best, but it starts to really give you a good feel of this game’s potential:


    I may sound like a fanboy, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the way this game is shaping up.

    • t1it says:

      Nice video!
      If you say it’s better than all those games…well I suspect myself but I just can’t get too excited I’m not in beta :P

    • JohnR says:

      Yes, it does look nice, it seems to cover all the 4X bases, and I like the eerily ambient music. I did learn, however, with the disappointing Endless Space about getting caught up too much in the pre-release hype machine. Having said that, at this point I’m ‘guardedly optimistic’ about StarDrive.

      So you say it’s better than the wonderful Distant Worlds? That is high praise indeed. All I can say about that is we’ll have to see. I mean, all kinds of wild and off-the-wall things can happen in Distant Worlds, like having an empress that is a corrupt drug addict lol, or a splinter faction that breaks off from an empire during a civil war. How often do you see things like that in a 4X game?

      • Ashbery76 says:

        DW is unique and a acquired taste for sure and is unmatched in the living galaxy feel and that will not change but “What’s your favourite” this and that is based on moods at the time in my view.

        Stardrive looks to have lovely graphics,great ship design and diplomacy,espionage system.The planetbuilding and groundcombat looks bland and uninspired.Small linear tech trees like DW are also not my cup of tea.

      • DevildogFF says:

        I had no idea those kind of things happened in DW. Perhaps it’s time to give that game another try…

        It originally just didn’t do it for me. Maybe you can fill me in on how to make the game “fun”?…

        • JohnR says:

          DeviDog, as someone else wrote here at SS, you just need to concentrate on playing the kind of game you want to play and automating everything else. In fact I think in my next game I’m going to take command of a single fleet and let the AI do the rest.

          Ashbery, so you think that DW has a small tech tree? Wow! Are we playing the same game? I’ve played a lot of 4X games and the tech tree in DW is as a deep and rich as they come. If not for the fact that you can trade techs, it would be way too big.

          Anyway, back on topic, I look forward to seeing how StarDrive develops in the coming months. If it can combine features comparable to DW with better looking ships and a more fleshed out space and ground combat system, then it should be very special indeed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

        • JohnR says:

          BTW DevilDog, to be fair, your vids do give me cause for being optimistic about StarDrive. Thanks for posting them. :o)

  11. pbk says:

    Wow, 2012 has been a really bad year for 4X games. I might get distant worlds but I would have to get all the expansions as well which does not come cheap!

  12. sly ostinato says:

    So, here it is two weeks AFTER their set launch date of January 29, 2013 and NO STARDRIVE!! Not good! Not good at all…

    When you are a new start-up gaming studio, missing your premiere start date, even for a much hyped beta, does not bode well.

    First impressions are lasting impressions.

    • Adam Solo says:

      My perception was that the Jan 29th date for the open beta on Steam was always a tentative one. Neither the dev or the publisher have set a firm and precise date yet, from what I’m aware of.

      The official word from the publisher is: “for sure in Q1 2013”. Iceberg also said: “the QA plan extends to shortly after the new year (2013). So, a couple of weeks later we’ll probably release the Beta. But I’m not gonna say: this is THE date (laughs).”.

    • Keith Turner says:

      Delays aren’t uncommon in the game industry. While certainly a disappointment for those eager to get their hands on the game, it isn’t necessarily a sign of bad things to come. I agree that first impressions are lasting impressions, but the first impressions left by a failed launch are much worse than those left by a launch delay.

      I have been following Stardrive very closely and can comfortably say that Daniel is VERY aware of the frustration felt by some gamers regarding the delay. In truth, there are multiple factors involved including his expectations, the expectations of Iceberg Interactive, and the expectations of Steam. I don’t think it will be long now before the open beta/preorder period will begin though.

  13. sly ostinato says:

    Well…well…well…here it is, a whole month after the missed launch date and STILL no StarDrive. I reiterate my contention that this does not bode well for the game or ZeroSum. I recognize that the staff for SpaceSector has a soft spot for ZeroSum, but as a mere consumer of PC games, I don’t have that luxury. It has been said that the date was tentative. Well, that is not totally accurate. Dan DiCicco made the date of Jan. 29 official enough to post it, himself, on the StarDrive forums. My point is…actions speak louder than words. A date was given for a launch whereby they were going to charge for a product (beta or not) and that date was missed. If you don’t think that gives consumers pause, you would be wrong. It does. When release dates are missed, people start to question everything, more importantly…is this a sign as to how this company will operate in the future – over-promising and under-delivering? Dan may be VERY aware of a lot of things, but that hasn’t fixed the problem of missing an advertised release date. And what is also troubling is how his moderators handled this at their very own forums…by being very heavy-handed. Instead of answering people’s questions and assuring them that things were moving along, what did he allow his moderators to do? Lock the discussion thread and say, “Stop asking about our missed release date and quit bothering Dan. He’s busy.” (in a roundabout way) No…something is very amiss here. I don’t foresee a release anytime soon. Why? Well, it doesn’t even appear on Steam’s “coming soon” list. I’m guessing that Iceberg Interactive doesn’t have the pull that they may have led Dan to believe that they have in the gaming industry. And while some may assert that a delay or missed launch date is not a bad sign, I disagree completely. It speaks volumes as to how a company handles their own self-imposed deadlines and goals. It’s a shame, actually; as I’m sure this will impact interest and sales of this developer’s very first release to the gaming world.

    • Adam Solo says:

      It’s your opinion and I respect that, however I don’t agree with many things you’ve said.

      I don’t know if you read the interview with Iceberg on StarDrive, but here’s a clip regarding the release date issue (in the context of the beta release):

      Erik Schreuder (Iceberg CEO): “Now, the problem with release dates and communicating them is that you also have to disappoint people again. We had an internal planning that we discussed with Daniel. But then if you don’t make it, people start to become disappointed. But, for sure in Q1 2013 (…) I’m not gonna say: this is THE date (laughs). Because it can become a week later. We’ll see”.


      “And then [after open beta release] we intend to stay for a decent period in Beta to give players the time to supply feedback and to actually do something with that feedback. So, it’s not going to be like it’s a couple of weeks and then we go full launch. But we do intend to have a very polished beta that we are going out with.”.

      To my knowledge there isn’t, and there never was, a precise and official release date set for StarDrive. All we have, again, to my knowledge, is Q1 2013, which you’ll also find in the games page for StarDrive in this site.

      As you may know, release delays are normal in this industry. And, I tend to think that it’s preferable to have a better product later than a poorer one on time. We’re still on the release range for the beta (Q1 2013), so, why so much wrath?

      To my understanding, both Iceberg and Daniel seem to be more than ready to release the beta to the public (again, beta, not official release). You also have to take into account Steam’s own will, which in this case seems to be what’s blocking the process, but I don’t know for sure.

    • DevildogFF says:

      This isn’t on Zero, good sir, but it could be an Iceberg/Steam miscommunication or issue. Zero was ready when the time came. Hell, the game was ready for beta testing on a larger scale months ago, but the desire to get the base mechanics working as well as they could before the open beta influx kinda messed them up a bit.

      I’m a fan of Iceberg, Steam and certainly Zero, but I’m willing to bet there was miscommunication at the very least here. I don’t think the moderators were out of line deleting very negative threads, but I do think that this has set them back a little bit.

      And Adam, there was an unofficial date of Jan 29 on the forums, so while Iceberg was keen to say that there was nothing official, that date was definitely thrown around a lot. Again, these things happen, but I think that Iceberg needs to figure out a way to fix this and provide a solid date soon to appease the fans.

      Just my two cents…

      • Adam Solo says:

        I was aware of Dan’s tentative Jan 29 date. But, as you say, I also got the impression that it was an unofficial release date.

        You see, when there’s a clear publisher for a game involved, the date that counts to me is the one in the publisher’s page. And right now, there isn’t one (or there wasn’t the last time I went look).

        So, what the publisher says (since it’s the publisher’s duty to release) there is no date, except the reference to Q1 2013. When there’s no clear publisher it’s a different story.

  14. sly ostinato says:

    As you have given me the courtesy, Adam, I will do the same by saying that I respectfully disagree with your position. Mr. DiCicco DID give a hard release date and it is publicly viewable on the StarDrive forums. If he did so erroneously, then he and his publisher need to get on the same page and present a unified front on what information they want to share with the general populous. You have Iceberg saying one thing and the developer saying another. I will be watching this closely. I have my doubts that this beta game will be released by March 31 – the end of Q1 2013. You seem to put a lot of stock into what Erik Schreuder says. I do not. He is a well-polished mouthpiece for Iceberg and will always find a way to spin a situation to downplay any missteps made by the company. As a business owner myself, I’ve come to learn over the years that talk is cheap. And while I may not hail from Missouri, ‘show me’. Don’t tell me what you are going to do (or in this case, make excuses as to why it isn’t getting done), but show me what you doing. With Dan being an attorney, I’m sure he has experienced his fair share of BS being shoveled around, given the nature of the legal profession. And I’m sure he, too, would probably agree that talk is cheap. If Steam is truly the one holding them back, then my suggestion to Dan & Co. would be, from a business man’s perspective, to reevaluate the relationship he wants to have with Steam. Since you defend Iceberg so much, Adam, let’s just hope they meet their Q1 2013 deadline as you believe they will (unless you have inside information which would then make this an unbalanced argument); because on April 1, 2013, which will be Q2, I’ll be the first to come here and say…well, we’ll have to wait and see what I say then. ;-)

    • Adam Solo says:

      Sly, I don’t know what your business is, but mine is on the games industry.

      I already replied to Devildog above but I will repeat myself here again for the sake of clarity.

      This is the same text but I will repeat it here again. And, this is my position.

      “I was aware of Dan’s tentative Jan 29 release date. But I also got the impression that it was an unofficial release date.”

      “You see, when there’s a clear publisher for a game involved, the date that counts to me is the one in the publisher’s web page or written somewhere attributed to the publisher. And right now, there isn’t one (or there wasn’t the last time I went look) except for the Q1 2013 reference. So, what the publisher says regarding a release date (since it’s the publisher’s duty to release) is what counts in my opinion. When there’s no clear publisher involved then it’s a different story.”

      And why so much drama in any case?

      Yes, if the Q1 2013 date is missed, then I think you’re entitled, as any other consumer interested in StarDrive, to request an explanation from the game suppliers. Since after all, an expectation for a product was created, and I think it’s reasonable to seek for that explanation.

      • Keith Turner says:

        Based on prior comments made by slyostinato in the Interview with Iceberg Interactive post, he seems to be very vocal is in dislike/distrust for both Iceberg Interactive and ZeroSum games. He formed negative opinions about both several months ago. He even states “Nope, I WON’T be buying this game!”. He also stated ” I’ve had bad experiences in the past with Iceberg’s customer service – as in atrocious and unresponsive. Anytime I see something published by Iceberg that I want to try, I usually hit up a buddy to see if he can loan it to me.”

        Since he has already established that he has no interest in the title, I can’t see any legitimate reason for his continued comments. In my opinion, his comments are based primarily on his personal feelings about Iceberg and his bad support experience with them.

        • Adam Solo says:

          I agree. I didn’t went after his old comments about both Iceberg and Zerosum but looking at the ones you dig up it makes perfect sense why, and how, he made these new comments now.

  15. sly ostinato says:

    Mr. Turner and Mr. Solo, is this how your run your website and business? By insulting commentors in public? If so, that is truly sad. You are right – I WON’T be buying this game. But over my past 20+ years in business, I have amassed many professional contacts, quite a few in the gaming industry; and after making a few phone calls, I usually get a demo version of something sent to me within 30 days, if I’m really interested in it. So, allow me to understand this…only people who PURCHASE a game have a voice on your website? So, people who get a game gifted to them would not be welcomed to comment on your website? People who get a demo version, for whatever reason, would not be welcomed to comment on its gameplay and value? I am very suspicious of both of you at this point that you must be investors or friends/family members of someone who works at Iceberg Interactive. If so, you should try not to display such cronyism in public. It doesn’t flatter you in the least. Your extreme defense of Iceberg is well-noted, but unless they are cutting you a check every month for these efforts, you may want to temper how you speak to commentors of your website. Why? Well, I have purchased 2 games from your website, as a way to support your efforts, which undoubtedly gets you some money or you wouldn’t be advertising as you do. But insulting me and attacking me for my opinions, that won’t garner you any future business from my wallet.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I do value every reader’s opinion and time on this site. The opinions, even when different, are important to me, so that I may know how better can I serve my readers. Replying to your every comment, no matter if I agree with them or not, is more than proof of that. Believe me when I say this, all opinions are important to me.

      Keith made a valid point. You seem negatively biased towards StarDrive in one way or another. And, I also feel that you’re biased negatively towards it from your comments. This doesn’t make me a Zerosum or Iceberg buddy. This isn’t a “you’re on my side or you’re on their side” kind of thing. It doesn’t work that way. These are MY opinions, and I always try my best to be as neutral as possible. And if you are in this site for a while now, and took my advice into consideration sometimes in the past you should know that already.

      I’m moderating these latest comments of yours because I find them unfair, not that I’m defending anybody in particular. And, I gave you my point of view about the matter, which you may or not agree of course.

      So, nobody here wants to insult anybody, but I (and Keith) and other site members must keep moderating comments. I’m sure you can agree with the need to keep discussions as civil and assertive as possible. Otherwise things can get confusing, and we don’t give the best information to people. And, nobody wants that.

  16. sly ostinato says:

    My comments were very civil. I did not attack you personally nor any other poster. They were critical of how Iceberg Interactive, ZeroSum and Daniel DiCicco are poorly handling the communications of a missed release date. And because that critical evaluation did not agree with Keith Turner’s high praise for Iceberg Interactive, he decided to then turn the conversation negative and go on the attack; and because he is a ‘team member’ of SpaceSector, you decided to jump on the bandwagon and defend his position. You had a great opportunity to diffuse his aggressive comments but chose not to. And now, your only recourse is to say that you need to moderate MY COMMENTS?? I see… So, if I am a member of your “team”, I would get carte blanche to lash out at someone else’s posts? That’s very telling. If civility is your concern here, you best have a talk with your ‘team member’ about how not to escalate a situation to a point it should have never reached in the first place. Yes??

    • Adam Solo says:

      I felt offended more than once by your comments by the way. If you were by mine too I apologize.

      I think we already discussed this topic to a good extent. I expressed my point of view and you did also. So, I see no reason to continue this exchange of comments regarding this topic.

      • sly ostinato says:

        Fair enough. Perhaps the last 6 posts we could all do without.

        On a more constructive note, personally, I don’t have anything against Dan DiCicco or his gaming studio (or you, Adam). I’ve never met the man. I’m just very disappointed on how he is going about trying to gather a following for his new game – which does look quite impressive. I’ll give him that. And if it didn’t remind me so much of MoO2, I probably wouldn’t be so passionate about its potential.

  17. annikk says:

    Don’t buy this shambles.

    The developer has moved onto a new project called SDU despite many game-breaking bugs such as the ability to clone ground troops, the ability to give orders to enemy ships, etc.

    Critics on the forums are silenced with deleted posts and banhammer.

    The game does not belong on Steam. Don’t waste your money on it!

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