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I recently had the chance to do a quick interview with the folks at Kerberos concerning Sword of the Stars. Producer Chris Stewart was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions amid the team’s busy development schedule. Since I have a real interest in game mechanics and story elements, I pressed him on a number of issues that went beyond simple considerations of graphics.
Avault: I’m glad I’m getting the chance to interview the Sword of the Stars team. Back when I reviewed SOTS: Ultimate Collection, I was impressed with how Kerberos managed to create a 4X game that was as interesting as it was nuanced. I’m sure some of my readers are chomping at the bit to hear all about the Lords of Winter in the upcoming Sword of the Stars II, but before I ask about aliens, I want to talk about game mechanics. SOTS utilizes an approach that gives each race its own unique way of traveling the stars. I’m guessing we’ll see a return of that mechanic, but I’m wondering if the races we’ve seen before will return with their unique drives? Will the Hivers be using jump gates and the Humans node drives? Or have you planned some surprises for us with the returning alien cultures?
Chris Stewart: Part of the balance of creating new surprises, while keeping things kind of familiar to players of the first game, was to stick to the same drive systems for each race as they were in the first game. Keeping the drives familiar and then adding in those new surprises to the rest of the game means that players automatically have some new strategic challenges facing them. The new race of course has a new drive surprise for players, which I think will give people goose bumps, but at the same time, their Zuul minions are still tearing around using their ripping Node drives.
Avault: Speaking of technologies, I’ve read that SOTS II will assume a starting position for the various empires that is more advanced than the initial starting positions in most SOTS scenarios. Since the empires will be more developed at the start, there might not be any more researching of such basic technologies as waldo units and so on. However, will we see a return of non-drive technologies that are fan favorites, such as assimilation plague, heavy beam weapons, and my personal favorite, impactors? And will the tech tree still be randomized like it was in SOTS?
CS: The tech tree is still randomized – if we were to change every single thing about the game (which we didn’t, but hypothetically speaking…) the randomized tech tree would still be there. The amount of replay through randomization, not to mention the universal leveling effect (you might not get the big bad weapon you want each game, but that just means you know the other guy might not have it either) is too effective. New players find the game more accessible, even after the game has been out for a long time and there are a lot of established veterans out there. It works way too well, and even when bad luck strikes, that’s more interesting than a static tech tree with optimal paths.
You’ll be happy to know bio-weapons are still on the table, as are heavy beam weapons, and your fave is still there, too.
Avault: I’ve also read that how you play your alien race will determine how its government develops. War-like gameplay will develop your politics differently than peaceful coexistence. I’m very curious about this particular design choice. Could I develop the peaceful Liir into a jingoistic juggernaut that only desires conquest, or take the Tarka on a path that leads to their forming a peaceful interstellar organization not unlike Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets? And how does this impact other parts of the game, such as trade and planetary industries?
CS: You can look at it like that. To put it another way, you as a player – all players – have a favorite style of play. Some people are very aggressive and ruthless, others are more cautious – if we let you pick your government, you’re still you, meaning if you’re an aggressive player, you’ll just use the pros and cons of a particular government as an aggressive player. Instead, we let you be an aggressive player or a cautious player or a sneaky player or a diplomatic player, and over time your actions will shape the pros and cons of your game as you move towards a particular type of government. Once your actions have moved you into a particular area on the game’s political map, the pros and cons inherent to that type of government changes. These pros and cons affect everything from production to population to research…not all at once, but pretty much everything in the game.
Disclaimer: Kerberos Productions has released this game for entertainment purposes only. It does not represent an actual evaluation of your leanings towards plutocracy!
Avault: Let’s talk about menaces and grand menaces. I confess to a love-hate relationship with the menaces from SOTS. It can be great fun to try and stop the Von Neumann machines or Locusts from wiping out the galaxy. On the other hand, every once in a while I would spend time swearing at the screen when a Peacekeeper Enforcer or Puppet Master would show up at an inconvenient time. Will any of these menaces be making a return to terrorize players yet again? Do you have any hints for us on new menaces? And will that damn Herald finally stop attacking my planets now that the Lords of Winter are finally here (assuming that the Herald was, in fact, heralding the arrival of the Lords of Winter and not some greater, more ancient threat)?
CS: I’ll start with the good news. The Herald will finally stop shouting at your planets while attacking. The bad news is that he now has backup, now that the Lords of Winter have returned. Old familiar menaces have returned to menace again, while some new surprises are in store. For the sake of maintaining a level of delighted surprise/screaming terror in players, I can’t say much more than yes, the randomized menacing will continue until morale improves.
Avault: Let’s talk about the Lords of Winter, or Suul’ka. I’m sure you don’t want to reveal everything, but I’m interested in hearing about their method of traveling the stars and why they have chosen to reappear now. Have they just been hiding, as the Morrigi have been known to do? Did the bioweapon the Liir used to liberate their own planet actually seriously threaten the Suul’ka as a whole? And can they form diplomatic ties with other races in the game, or are they even less prone to friendly relations than the Zuul?
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