Earlier last year Blind Mind Studios announced they will be releasing a sequel to their space 4X title Star Ruler. Aptly named Star Ruler 2, the game is slated to be released near the end of this year or early next year. With no official release date slated the developers have none the less begun offering sporadic developer diaries and have already aired a live stream of actual gameplay footage. We’ve approached the developers of Star Ruler 2 for an interview focused on better understanding their reasons to take the decisions they did in making this sequel.
The studio is a small company of only three people and a few contributors that help out. The three members are: Andrew “Thy Reaper” Ackermann (Owner, Lead Designer, and Programmer), James “Firgof” Woodall (Graphic Artist and Quality Assurance Director), and Lucas de Vries (Programmer). All three were kind enough to answer our questions.
SS: Thank you to agreeing to this interview. Let us get to know you a little better. What can you tell us about yourself and about Blind Mind Studios?
Andrew: Thanks for having us. I founded Blind Mind Studios about four years ago as a result of working to create Star Ruler. James Woodall joined me shortly into its development. After the release of Star Ruler, Lucas de Vries offered to work with us, and he’s been cooperating with us working on Star Ruler 2.
SS: Were you always a fan of space 4X games or science fiction in general? Also, I recall it was mentioned elsewhere one of the developers did not know what a 4X game was despite the fact this is what he always wanted to develop. Can you share that story with our readers?
James: Ever since I got my hands on X-COM: UFO Defense, I’ve had a hankering for mechanically complex games. Once I discovered the Civilization series, and later Master of Orion and Alpha Centauri, I was hooked. Before that I was way into Sci-fi though: Dune, Rama, etc. I’ve read and watched a lot of sci-fi (and still do today!)
Andrew: When I was younger, I always imagined playing games with large scale management, especially ones set in space. It’s where the idea of Star Ruler started about 13 years ago. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered my first 4X game, Space Empires IV, and loved it. I had played Civilization III before that, but never considered it to be close enough to what I’d wanted to think of it as a 4X.
Lucas: I grew up alongside games more like the early “The Settlers” series myself, and combining detailed management with sci-fi space battles puts two of my favorite things into the same genre of games.
SS: What prompted you to start working on Star Ruler 2 and what do you think you have learnt from Star Ruler? What are the main improvements we will see in the sequel?
Andrew: We’re working on Star Ruler 2 because there is so much that we wanted to achieve in Star Ruler that we simply couldn’t for a number of reasons, mostly due to lack of experience and funds. Star Ruler taught us how to make a game from a technical standpoint. Star Ruler 2 gets to be a better game in every regard as a result. I would say there is no main improvement moving to Star Ruler 2 – you can expect virtually every aspect of the game to be better.
SS: Which of the four X do you believe tends to get underdeveloped in recent space 4X games, and what is your approach on making a compelling and interesting 4X game?
Andrew: I think it’s easier to talk about the X that is overdone (and Star Ruler was not an exception): Exterminate. It’s certainly the easiest to do well, but it’s also possibly the hardest to do in an exceptional way as well. We tried to take a fundamentally different approach to our mechanics, such that no mechanic exists for its own sake. We started with a shell of a game, and have been carefully adding in mechanics where and in ways where they are best suited.
Lucas: I’ve always felt that the way that the Xes are generally used is a little destructive to the evolution of the genre. It makes it so games are developed from a static perspective: “We need an eXploitation mechanic.”, “We need to make some cookie-cutter diploXmacy mechanic because people will be expecting it.” Fun games are mostly built organically as the interactions between their mechanics. Having preconceived notions about what a ‘4X’ needs has made many recent space 4X games play and feel very much the same.
These are some of the same traps Star Ruler 1 fell into, most notably in the design of diplomacy and the economy. In Star Ruler 2, we’ve been taking extremely harsh looks at the shortcuts space 4X games often take. We strive to make our mechanics meaningful beyond just “this is our eXploration mechanic”, instead we wonder more about how it affects the game as a whole, and what fun and interesting decisions it allows players to make.
SS: In your most recent Dev Diary you spoke about Star Ruler 2’s different FTL drives. What encouraged you to explore using different FTL drives within the same game and what do you believe it will bring to the table for the player?
James: We want our Empires to not just look different but feel and play differently. It’s important to us that players have a sandbox of options to choose from; that sort of availability of basic options really helps in keeping the game fresh between sessions and empires.
Andrew: Space is big. Where you are able to deploy your military and civilian assets, and how quickly, determines your approach to the game in such a major way that it’s difficult to express. When we added the alternative FTL drives, it was immediately apparent to everyone how important this decision is to your play.
SS: Race customization was mentioned; I presume that this is a feature of the game then? Also, will there be pre-made races and what sort of distinction will each race have? Will this affect the player’s play style?
Andrew: We have races, though exactly how they play is still being decided. There will be both pre-made races and the option to create your own. We have the intention of making these race decisions as important as your choice of FTL, but the added freedom in customization makes that more complicated.
SS: What sort of victory conditions are we looking at in Star Ruler 2? I recall the live stream mentions winning a crucial vote in the senate. What other roads to victory can players expect?
Andrew: What forms of victory will be available is also still being decided. There will definitely be a military domination victory, but that’s all we can be sure about.
SS: The diplomacy system that you have showcased looks unique and interesting. What inspired you to take a new look on how diplomacy is handled in a space 4X game?
Lucas: We are always looking for challenges as a studio, both technically and in game design. Diplomacy and player interaction is something we think very few games really do well, or even acceptably. Games usually defer to the age-old ‘dialogue’ system from the Civilization series, taking the simple approach to interaction without thinking about how to make it a fun mechanic of its own. All three of us are avid board gamers, and the sheer depth of player interaction in good board games is something we’ve all found sorely missing in video games. Our diplomacy system is a result of wanting to create an engaging system like that.
James: Tackling Diplomacy this way also gives us the means to implement other cool and unique features.
SS: The game seems to have an interconnected network of resources within your empire to increase the development of your planets. What were the reasons to look at creating such an economic system for Star Ruler 2 and what effects will it have on gameplay?
Andrew: We wanted an economy that provided meaningful decisions throughout the game, but which didn’t bog the player down at the same time. Creating that has been a monumental task for our studio, and took up a huge amount of our time in designing the game. Every facet of the progression of your empire will rely on the resources you have available, and the decisions you make in colonizing and developing those planets. Each game ends up distinct in its play style as a result and requires a ton of skill to be able to adapt to on the fly, while remaining simple and clear enough for anyone to be able to play at all skill levels.
SS: Planetary conquest seems to use a sort of ‘siege-down’ mechanic. Will there be other ways to conquer or seize planets, or more importantly, will there be ways to ravage or ruin planets as a whole?
Andrew: The shape of our economy leads to the result that losing planets can easily be game changing, so we are very careful with how and how quickly planet ownership changes. The current state is such that planets may only be sieged, and any alternatives that we consider must be added carefully to avoid serious disruptions. We want players to be able to destroy rather than conquer, but what form that will take is still up for consideration.
Lucas: In terms of both gameplay and the game universe, glassing or destroying planets is no small matter. We do plan to let you commit unspeakable acts of genocide, but there will be serious and direct consequences for doing so in the galactic senate. Killing billions of civilians is not something they will stand for.
SS: What can you share about the scope and limitations of your ship design mechanics? Considering Star Ruler and things mentioned, it seems like we can build vessels that will make the Death Star look like a golf ball.
Andrew: Our fleet mechanics have given ship design a very different set of scopes, so it’s difficult to compare it directly. Massive vessels are still possible, though they are more difficult to field than in Star Ruler 1. Simultaneously, small vessels are far more common in Star Ruler 2, but they don’t have the same freedoms, being restricted to fleets and planets.
Lucas: Star Ruler 2 has a more natural ‘fleets’ system than the simplistic one present in the previous game. Fleets consist of a large flagship to lead them, and a number of completely customizable “support ships”: frigate and cruiser-sized escort ships that act in concert with the flagship, being incapable of prolonged independent operations. Designing blueprints for the ships you build is of course still a big part of the game, and we feel that some of our new ideas on that front are going to make ship design even more varied than you’ve seen before.
SS: How friendly will the game be to modding and what levels of support will mod creators have?
Andrew: In many ways, Star Ruler 1 was a mod for its engine, and that is even truer for Star Ruler 2. With our new engine, we changed how scripts are able to interact with the game state, making it easier than ever to develop even more complex mods for the game. We want nothing to stand in the way of our modders, and I hope that we’ll be able to implement Steam Workshop for mods, ship sets, and anything else we can think of as we near release.
Lucas: We’ve had the privilege of having some great modders create mods for Star Ruler 1, and we’ve always enjoyed interacting with them and the community as a whole. We definitely feel that letting players and modders easily change the game to their liking is something every game deserves to have.
SS: The live stream hinted that the game will have multiplayer. Will it be enabled at release and what sort of support will the game receive for the MP community?
Lucas: As a matter of fact, the game we played during the live stream was a full 4-player multiplayer match. Multiplayer has always been something we wanted to get right, as there are few things we find more fun than spending an evening playing 4X games with friends, whether through LAN or online.
SS: Any rough estimate when the game will be released and will you take advantage of the Early Access program on Steam?
Andrew: We’ll be available on Early Access as soon as we’re satisfied that it’ll work well for both us and our community, Valve permitting.
Lucas: A lot of recent games have been coming out in extremely early alpha states, and while that’s fine for some games, it’s caused some problems with others. We try to work on a looser schedule for Star Ruler 2, and while we do hope to be able to release into an Early Access beta this summer, in the end it will be ready when it is ready.
SS: Thank you for this opportunity and we are looking forward to hearing more about Star Ruler 2.
James: Thank you. We’re looking forward to showing more of it off!
Star Ruler 2 is slated to be released some time later this year but there is no confirmation (so it can be easily delayed till next year), with possible plans to be made available on Steam Early Access before official release. More information about the game can be found on the Star Ruler 2 official website.
Edward Varfalvy has been gaming since the early days of the Atari 2600. He started playing strategy games on his NES with Romance of Three Kingdoms, but soon graduated to playing on the PC with titles such as Civilization and Master of Orion. He loves sci-fi and fantasy, as well as historical strategy games, be it turn-based or an RTS. His true love is the 4X genre. Interested in covering these titles he hopes to bring reviews, previews, and news updates for the site.Subscribe RSS
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