Monday, January 16, 2012

Stardrive Q&A

Last week, I posted about an upcoming 4X game called Stardrive.  The creator of the game, Daniel DiCicco, was kind enough to take some time and answer a few questions.  It is a very promising game, which I cannot wait to get my hands on.  Read on for the Q&A.

1)  Can you give us a high level overview of your upcoming game, Stardrive?

StarDrive is, at its core, a hardcore PC 4x with deep ship design and empire building.  I am to provide today's PC gamers with a beautiful looking, fun to play space strategy game that scratches all of their space strategy itches.  We have research, ship design, diplomacy, exploration, and great RTS/Arcade combat with a lot of depth.

2)  When I was reading about Stardrive, the thing that really got me excited was your inspirations.  Master of Orion 2 and Escape Velocity are two of my favorite games.  How have they influenced Stardrive?

Masters of Orion 2 was and is the gold standard for 4x games.  It remains immensely satisfying to me to this day to build a fleet of specialized ass-kicking ships and to go on a rampage through enemy territory, conquering planets and stealing technology, repercussions be damned.  While there have been many noble efforts at recreating this experience in recent times, these games have not been able to satisfy me in various ways.  To me the most rewarding aspects of MOO2 were designing my ships and then actually commanding them in the battles with all of the many various options to customize my experience.

Escape Velocity was another awesome space experience for me in my youth and what I took from EV was that arcade ship combat is deeply satisfying as well.  I believe that the marriage of the 4x concepts from MOO2 with the arcade action of EV will make for an excellent game that many old school gamers like myself will enjoy.

3)  Will players be able to mod or customize the game?  For example, add new stock ships or races?

Definitely.  I spent countless hours modding EV and I am absolutely supporting modding right out of the box.  Races and ships will be easy to add to the game, as well as new weapons, adventure dialogs, planets and planets types and so on.   Most of the game data is stored in plain-language XML files, so no coding knowledge is necessary to tweak the stats on something or to add some new things entirely.  I will support modding to the fullest extent possible and it is my sincere desire to see a Star Wars mod made as soon as possible:)

4)  Since there is a focus on shipbuilding, will there be a way to simulate battles in order to try new designs out?

Not in the 4x game, but instead inside our challenge mode.  For players who don't want to do a full 4x experience, we have a simpler challenge mode where you get a certain amount of resources to design and build a fleet and then you take that fleet against ever more challenging combat situations.  If you're familiar with Gratuitous Space Battles, this system is similar to what was seen in Cliffski's game.  Challenge mode is just a kind of quick-play mode to let you load up StarDrive and have a nice fleet battle without having any consequences on your carefully planned empire.

5)  What kind of multiplayer options will Stardrive feature?

StarDrive will feature an arena-like team deathmatch mode where, much like challenge mode, you have a set amount of resources with which you can build a small fleet.  As you destroy enemies you earn more resources to call in new ships.  The ultimate objective is to destroy the enemy base.

There also will be full campaign multiplayer support.

6)  How big of a map can players expect to see when Stardrive launches?

This is a variable that can be set when you create your game.  I find that 50 star systems works well and gets conflict going pretty quickly, but we can support maps that are 10 times that size very easily.  We also have a "star cluster" map option where a map consists of several regions of space that are separated by long wormholes, the entrances to which are guarded by what are essentially "creeps".  When you beat the creeps, you can access more of the galaxy map and potentially be the first race to discovery some unique goodies we have hidden throughout.

7)  When it comes to 4x games, the AI is very important.  First, in providing a challenge.  Second, taking care of micro-managing the player may not want to do themselves.  How has this been going for Stardrive?

I can tell you that AI is a big challenge, but I don't have to reinvent the wheel here.  I'm using a pretty standard goal-oriented approach to programming the AI for high-level strategic decisions.  The ships themselves have a separate tactical AI that is used to evaluate combat situations, and this provides a pretty nice emergent combat model.  There are a number of different AI strategies as far as their research priorities and fleet strategy (i.e. big and heavy, small and fast, swarms of crappy ships versus lower numbers of quality ships, etc).  My goal in developing the StarDrive AI is to make it not cheat, and to make an AI that can beat me at my own game, literally.  When I've done this, I'll know I'm done.

As far as micro-managing goes, we've got a lot of clever systems in place to minimize the burden on the player.  For instance, the player makes a few high level decisions about what type of colony a planet will be by setting production/farming/research ala MOO2.  And like in MOO2, if a planet was say an industrial planet without food production, then you would build a freighter fleet to bring food to your industrial planet.  In StarDrive, you can import and export not only food but production as well, and the player just chooses between import/export/store for these resources.  The player has to build freighters as well, but the freighters aren't abstractions -- they are ships in your empire, and they have cargo limits and so on.  The AI knows what to do with this information and it coordinates your freighters to move goods throughout the empire according to your high-level commands.  Some research technologies reward the player with cash for moving goods this way. All the player has to do is make sure that his freighters are protected.  So the micro-managing is handled by the AI, but the strategic management of what to build, what to protect, where to import or export, those decisions are made by the player.

8)  It looks like the Kickstarter campaign was a great success.  For people who may have missed it, will there be another way to gain early access to the game?

Yes there will be, for sure.  But with Kickstarter where people are pledging money to help fund development, I know that I don't need to provide a polished product right away to them.  People understand that this is a game in development.  For me to charge money for early access, I want the game to be relatively complete so that people don't buy it, see an unfinished product, and write us off.  That said, I am toying with some more alpha funding on Desura so stay tuned for that.

9)  When do you hope to launch Stardrive and for which platforms?

I am aiming for a mid-late summer release on PC only.  We should have a feature-complete beta ready by the end of March for our Kickstarter beta testers, and at that point I will likely open it up for pre-order/early access as well.


Thanks Daniel!