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CS: The Suul’ka faction, with their Zuul minions, will largely move around the galaxy the way people remember, namely by ripping open artificial subspace paths akin to the naturally occurring ones the Humans use. Within the Suul’ka faction, the Lords of Winter themselves move in a way very unique to themselves. They do not travel as the Zuul do. More of their history with the Liir will come out in the background materials and the SotSopedia, but in short, yes, their weapons seriously threatened the Suul’ka as a whole, who then scattered to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. Why they are returning now was hinted at in the last scenario we released for the first Sword of the Stars game, in which players rushed to find and collect four pieces of derelict technology – the same ones that had been hassling players with their automatic defense systems from the very start. And once collected, your scientists put it back together again, because that’s what silly little upstart empires do – only once reassembled, it sends out a signal to the Lords of Winter, who aren’t happy that the rabble is still out there, that they’ve developed to a point where they can tinker with Suul’ka technology, and mostly they’re upset that you’re touching all their stuff, meaning planets in the galaxy.
The Suul’ka have a certain amount of diplomacy, the kind you’d find when dealing with Genghis Khan or other huge hordes. You’re not going to open up trade alliances or anything like that, but you can pay their danegeld (it’s a real word, kids – wiki it) to keep them happy enough not to hassle you. Which is downright civilized compared to the Zuul, when you think about it.
Avault: Speaking of the game’s lore, it’s my understanding that the Zuul are no longer an independent species. They have now joined both the Liir and the Suul’ka. This doesn’t surprise me, as I always thought that if any species could pacify the Zuul, it would be their own creators or the Liir. Is there anything you can tell me about the game lore surrounding this change in the universe and why your team decided to end the independence of the Zuul?
CS: It wasn’t a decision so much as it was written into their story – a nice piece of drama, which we always add throughout the game and backstory where we can so that the races have a depth and something for players to connect with. Or in wrestling terms, it’s a good bit of storytelling when our heel from the first series becomes a face.
Basically, after years of searching for their masters, some came to realize their own self-worth as well as an appreciation for being independent. When the Lords of Winter began to signal their imminent return, many Zuul were overjoyed that their faith and perseverance had been rewarded and the masters were returning. But for those that didn’t want to go back to work as thugs for Dad, they had a complicated dilemma with a simple answer. If you want to stand up to the Suul’ka and not get destroyed outright, what do you do? You ally yourself with your former enemies, the one race that managed to hurt the Suul’ka. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that.
All of SotS is laid out like this – an empire of aliens can be treated like a character and characters can grow. When you combine lead designer Martin Cirulis and lead writer Arinn Dembo, I can honestly say that everything in SotS has a purpose and a future laid out. Like the alien derelicts from the first of the series turning out to be Suul’ka technology all these years later…
Avault: Also speaking of the game’s lore, I was wondering how many of your design decisions were made in terms of the lore. Has Kerberos’s design team been busy making gameplay decisions for SOTS II while Arrin Dembo gets to write up the lore afterwards? Or have considerations of lore had a greater impact in developing the game mechanics this time around?
CS: I guess I answered part of that above. We’ve always seen the lore and design as working hand in hand. Arinn is a crucial part of the development team, and the universe we have created as a studio belongs to each of us, though she gives it her own special voice. Take ship design, for example. Empires with certain racial attributes like larger size or weight will require more crew space than a smaller species would. This affects how you design your vessels or approach them in combat. The tech tree, the way governments and diplomacy work…none of these game design decisions are made without reflecting on whether it makes sense in terms of the game lore as written. It’s not that lore and backstory are gospel, but they guide our every decision. We want this to be a world that makes sense.
Avault: I’ve heard a rumor that there are minor races to be found throughout the galaxy with which your species can have relations, besides the major powers. Is this true? If so, what else can you tell me about these minor species?
CS: There will be minor powers in the game, either splinter factions of your own race or races that never really got the chance to conquer the galaxy because they never discovered faster-than-light travel. Like every other civilization, you can conquer these minors, but you also have the option to absorb them peacefully into your empire. Showing you can do that will increase your stature among the large imperial powers – after all, you’ve demonstrated a shrewd diplomatic hand and used persuasion more than force. But these planets are never really completely yours; you get access to some of their powers and tech, but they are still independent enough to have control over their own purse strings. So deciding the best course of action in dealing with these races is a tradeoff.
It appears that Chris didn’t want to reveal all of the surprises in store for us when Sword of the Stars II is released, although I can hardly blame him. Exploring a dangerous cosmos and learning about it is part of what the original SOTS did so well. We’ll have to wait until September 20 to see what some of these new elements are.
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