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Thread: Sword of the Stars II - Developer Diary #1 - Re-Inventing the Future

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    Kerberos Productions castewar's Avatar
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    Sword of the Stars II - Developer Diary #1 - Re-Inventing the Future

    (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.
    Last edited by Regina; 21-12-2010 at 15:59.
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    After playing the first game and its expansions I have eagerly awaited this game. And it seems you are not going to disappoint. Can't wait to get this game!
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  3. #3
    I've loved the original Sword of the Stars since my friend stumbled upon this gem of a game all those years ago. One of the nicest things I like about it is its over-reliance on macro-management, and not micro-management. Something I wish RTS games would actually do for once, honestly. It's nice to see that that is considered a core part of SotS. And that Morrigi Dreadnaught looks absolutely amazing. Can't wait to see how all the currently-playable races shape up, as well as the entire game as a whole.

  4. #4
    I'm undecided as to whether I'll get the sequel, I like the first one, but you're going to have to convince me that I need another 4X to fit in with all my other games that I tend to play more.

    And with that in mind, you're doing a good job of it so far. Some interesting ideas there - governments, admirals, detailed treaties (and presumably trying to hide breaking them?), ambushes, star systems rather than planets. Speaking of which, it'd be nice to see star systems with no planets, but other uses - liveable planets aren't common, but that doesn't make all the other places useless.

    Just as long as it doesn't turn into a micro management mess, it should be good. I don't want a clone of the original, because then I don't need it - but then I don't want it to be wildly different.
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  5. #5
    "the age of gunboat diplomacy had come to an end"
    I hope that means proper diplomacy options have been expanded. That was my biggest gripe in original, it was pretty much impossible to stay at peace with your neighbors or sign a truce once you were at war. Although if those two year old polls on the Kerberos forums are any indication, neither majority of the fans or the devs see any need for change.

  6. #6
    loved SotS I, will love SotS II

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    Kerberos Productions castewar's Avatar
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    This is very much an overview of the project, something that is aimed at people who are both familiar with the game, and perhaps discovering it for the first time. Over the coming dev diaries we'll get into the nitty gritty, which will better inform those of you that need some convincing (in my books, you can never have too many games on a shelf.)
    For now, suffice to say that our intentions are to keep micro-management to a minimum, no worries there.
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    I am very much looking forward to SotS2. I will surely be a treat
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    Captain Devilmay's Avatar

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    Sots is propably one of my favorite games, and I'm sure this will be awesome! Those pictures are just stunning, but I hope you guys dont simplify the game or mainstream it too much like many other game makers are doing. It ruins the games :/

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    Quite the challenge you've set yourselves there, looking forward to future diaries with more details. That dreadnought looks great
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    SotS is one of my favorite 4X games ever, and I'm looking forward to SotS 2. I hope we get to play it still in 2011!

  12. #12
    Castewar, I admit while my sister has gotten SotS and loves it, I've had one MAJOR problem with it, only really one... the Random Tech Tree, I want to turn it off, I hate it with a passion. It's the one thing that's keeping me from buying my own copy. Now, I am Not asking it be removed in SotS II...

    What I would, very much request, is there is some kind of Optional Check box in SotS II to either randomize the tech tree, or turn off Randomization and give us the full tree. Is this at all possible?
    Last edited by Alex Moldovia; 21-12-2010 at 18:20.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Moldovia View Post
    Castewar, I admit while my sister has gotten SotS and loves it, I've had one MAJOR problem with it, only really one... the Random Tech Tree, I want to turn it off, I hate it with a passion. It's the one thing that's keeping me from buying my own copy. Now, I am Not asking it be removed in SotS II...

    What I would, very much request, is there is some kind of Optional Check box in SotS II to either randomize the tech tree, or turn off Randomization and give us the full tree. Is this at all possible?
    Give an option to turn off the randomized tech tree, fine, I don't care, but please put a randomizer in the SotS 2 tree. This would be a deal-breaker if you didn't include this, as it really adds a new element of strategy to every game played and helps prevent powergaming nonsense.

    Idly, I'm denied access to the dev diary from the main news page even while logged in. AFAIK there's no registration for SotS, so what might be preventing this?

    EDIT: Oh, and I very much look forward to the development of this title. Love what I'm hearing so far, and the new graphics are pretty. (I don't want this post to be entirely negative. )
    Last edited by Aulus; 21-12-2010 at 18:52.
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    Very cool. I'm looking forward to the new version.

    As to the notion of a randomizer being included in the TT. I'm all for it as an option. That will serve both camps well methinks.

    BTW: Can read the article from the main page. It tells me I dont have proper permissions - odd to be sure...
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  15. #15
    Oh I think you misunderstand me Aulus. I in NO WAY am asking for them to remove the randomizer, to many people love it, it is new and dynamic, and everything... I just don't want it EVERY time.

    I want an Option to Randomize or not, that's all.

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    There is a mod that turns off randomization (and even makes the entire tree accessible to all races [minus the race-specific tech]).

    There is also a scenario included in the stock game that has all tech accessible (Tourney Space).

    But the sadorandomizer in the tech tree is an integral part of the SOTS experience: it forces players to have to adapt, to learn new aspects of the game, to not get overly reliant upon certain "tried and true" techs or approaches to winning the game.

    I'm certain that the randomizer will be there in Sots2. I'm sure there will be modders making even more experiences possible for Sots2 as well.

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    Kerberos Productions castewar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Devilmay View Post
    Sots is propably one of my favorite games, and I'm sure this will be awesome! Those pictures are just stunning, but I hope you guys dont simplify the game or mainstream it too much like many other game makers are doing. It ruins the games :/
    It's always a fine line between streamlined and too simple - it's a hurtle that every dev team has to contend with. But I think given the unique angles we're attempting in the game, which will make the game similar to, but something other than Sword of the Stars 1, will ensure the game is always a fun challenge, even to hardcore players of the first game.
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  19. #19
    The strategic game in SotS was great: the level of detail was just right and the 3D CAD feel of the map was both unusual and intuitive. The tactical game, on the other hand, leaved lots of room for improvement (I usually auto-resolved most battles from mid-game on).

    I'm guessing it's a bit late for major changes but I've got one smallish bell/whistle on my wish list: the ability so select colours, and perhaps patterns, for your ships. Not just signature colour but all of them. For instance I quite liked the brutally utilitarian look of the Sol Force vessels but always though that they'd look better in a paint job like an F-22A or Swedish naval vessel. The new models and texture effects look great - but even more "disco".

  20. #20
    Kerberos Productions castewar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Moldovia View Post
    Castewar, I admit while my sister has gotten SotS and loves it, I've had one MAJOR problem with it, only really one... the Random Tech Tree, I want to turn it off, I hate it with a passion. It's the one thing that's keeping me from buying my own copy. Now, I am Not asking it be removed in SotS II...

    What I would, very much request, is there is some kind of Optional Check box in SotS II to either randomize the tech tree, or turn off Randomization and give us the full tree. Is this at all possible?
    Turning off the Tech Tree in the average game is not something we've considered - the randomized tech tree does two very important things in the game; it eliminates the otherwise impossible to avoid Perfect Path To Game Dominance seen in other games with a static tree. And it removes racial tech weighting, which is part (not all, but a not inconsiderable part) of keeping the aliens races from being carbon copies of one another.

    There are ways, like a specific scenario, that a player can try that kind of game (with the predictable "under these circumstances, particular races are unbalanced good/bad"), but it's something we have to be very careful about allowing in the core of the game. Hopefully that makes sense - I'm reading the boards on the run today!
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