(Sword of the Stars is a ground-breaking Space 4X game that uses a hybrid design to bring players deep turn based strategic play and combines it with rich real time 3-D battles where every shot counts as fleets clash above contested worlds. Sword of the Stars was released in August of 2006 and was followed up by 3 expansions, Born of Blood which introduced the brutal Zuul, and A Murder of Crows which added the ancient Morrigi to the Sword of the Stars Universe, and Argos Naval Yard which brought a host of new weapons and ship sections. )
It’s hard to believe more than four years have passed since Kerberos Productions brought a new 4X contender to life in the form of Sword of the Stars. While we have pretty much stuck to the grand plan of how we thought the franchise should grow and evolve, there is no doubt it has been an amazing ride filled with a ton of surprises and a lot of satisfaction. We had hopes of course, but to actually see the fan base come across our game and then embrace and run with the entire universe we had crafted was both thrilling and humbling. But to paraphrase the American philosopher, Stanley Lee, “With great success comes great need for a sequel” and so we find ourselves in the exciting, but often dangerous world of trying to top ourselves.
(An updated Morrigi Dreadnaught in the MARS2 engine - click for full size)
On the one hand, parts of making a sequel are pretty easy because success has meant the world has changed over the intervening four years. Kerberos Productions has nearly tripled in size, we have a cool and ambitious publisher in the form of Paradox, who really get the franchise and love games like we do, and the average home computer has gotten powerful enough that we can indulge our love of bells, whistles and chrome without melting the computers of half our fan base. So making a bigger, prettier game would be the standard agenda for any sequel, but it doesn’t seem right to just leave it at that. We wouldn’t be Kerberos if we didn’t look at what everyone else does and say “OK, how can we do this in a way that is more interesting, more daring and more work for ourselves?” And the answer to that question is, of course, Sword of the Stars II: The Lords of Winter.
From the start we promised ourselves that we didn’t simply want to repackage the same old game with new graphics and a couple gameplay tweaks, but on the other hand, we didn’t want to lose the clean but deep gameplay that made Sword of the Stars (or SotS, for short) unique in the first place. So when I, Chris Stewart and Arinn Dembo sat down to work out the exact details of Sword of the Stars 2, (an event farther in the past than most would suspect) it was a two-stage process. The first was to identify what core experiences defined “What SotS Was”, both for us and the fan base. This came down to a lot of things but the most important were the detailed Races that turned clichés on their head; their unique drive systems that make playing each race like playing a different game, the random tech tree that makes each game a different experience, the clean strategic gameplay that doesn’t force you into busy work, and the multitude of weapons and defences which encourage devising tactical counters WITHOUT resorting to the same old Rock/Paper/Scissors mechanics seen in so many 4X and RTS games.
(As in Sword of the Stars 1, it's the little things that make a race alien - click for full size)
The next part though was a little trickier as we now had to remember that we had promised the fan base a game that evolves and grows like the universe it is set in. Just as each expansion and update of the original SotS took the player further into an evolving universe, Lords of Winter had to take players into a new era for the SotsVerse, where the age of gunboat diplomacy had come to an end in favour of the struggles between established empires. While starting again at the beginning is pretty standard for a 4X sequel, for the SotS franchise it made no more sense to make players research pulsed fission in SotS2 as it would to make a WW2 game where players have to developed the internal combustion engine before making tanks. And of course it just can’t be limited to weapons or drives, SotS2 updates mechanics and gameplay across the board to give you the feeling that you are an Empire from the start of the game and that the stakes are even higher now. It is not just worlds that burn but entire provinces at the risk of collapse. It’s not just a group of ships charging off to battle but a Fleet rich in history with a job to do and your best Admiral at the helm. It’s not just a planet, but a whole star system, a thriving civilian economy, and hidden bases to ambush attackers. It’s not just a peace treaty, but a guarantee to only build 12 dreadnoughts in order to keep the peace. It’s not just picking a government type, but your actions declaring what type you have become. And it’s not just another 4X game sequel with an evil race, but something never seen before.
Anything less than this just wouldn’t be us and, more importantly, it wouldn’t be what our fans have come to expect from a new Sword of the Stars.