Sword of the Stars Interview (PC)

Si: First off, could you tell us a little about yourself?
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Kerberos Productions: Well, the little version is I've been working in video game development here in Vancouver for nearly a decade. I was a designer on Homeworld: Cataclysm and Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon with Martin Cirulis at Barking Dog Studios when Take Two Interactive bought them and turned the studio into Rockstar Vancouver. After working with Rockstar for a year, we saw that the mandate for the studio wasn't to keep us working on what we do best and rather than see the team scatter to the four winds, which often happens in the wake of a company purchase if care isn't taken, we decided to strike out on our own. We formed Kerberos Productions, set up office and began work on a strategy game that we knew gamers had been looking for - and thus, Sword of the Stars was born.
Si: Give us a brief introduction to SotS for those who don't know anything about it.
Kerberos Productions: Sword of the Stars is a 4X title in the grand tradition of 4X titles, but rather than follow directly in the footsteps of recent games, we've gone back to reexamine the roots of the genre and then worked forward. The basic idea is, if the 4X genre had begun in the 3D era, and not the 2D era, what would be done with it? The game will be familiar to old school players, as you take control of a space-faring race, move out into the stars, colonize, and go toe-to-toe with anyone or anything that gets in your way.
Si: By your own admission space strategy is a little tired. What does SotS do, exactly, to reinvigorate it?
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Kerberos Productions: The genre is tired because of a lack of innovation. Volume of content has become more important that the quality of that content. SotS is an attempt to go back to the roots of the genre and then build forward while questioning everything that has become rote. Things like space RTS's are beautiful but thing tactically. Space strat games are detailed but have dismal graphics. Why? Space strat games should let you micro-manage everything and let the AI do it if you don't. Why? Why encumber a game with decisions so trivial a human player would entrust them to an AI? What's the point of 600 technologies if the player can only really see the results of a 100 of them? Why have 16 races if all they are is a collection of plus and minus stats in a spreadsheet somewhere? SotS is about relevant, rewarding and challenging choices both strategically and tactically. It will be up to the public to decide if SotS is the second coming of 4X, but if nothing else it should stick in peoples mind as a breath of fresh air.
Si: Who can you play as in the game?
Kerberos Productions: There are four species in the game that you can play as; the humans, plus the insectoid Hivers, the simian lizards of The Tarkas race, and the waterborne Liir. Each race has a unique style of ships, not only by simple design, but the engine technology they rely on to travel between stars is quite different, adding to the challenge of both working as a particular race as well as working against another race. A quick comparison would be the humans, who can travel very fast, following set space-time stress fractures called node lines, which only run between certain stars. On the other end of the spectrum are The Hivers, who can travel to any star they want, but at sub-light speeds. Their destination options are wide open, but getting there very slow, but once there they can set up teleportation gates, allowing them to move in other ships in a single turn.
Si: How easy is it to learn and to master the game?
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Kerberos Productions: Thanks to a very efficient and intuitive interface, some of which can be seen in our latest trailer, SotS is relatively easy to learn. It's about the X's and not the minutia. The real time combat is also very straightforward and is a matter of left-click to target, right-click to move. This being said there are an enormous number of strategies and tactics that can be pursued in this game, so mastery will be hard. Between the random tech tree and the way weapons and defenses interact in battle, there is no easy and dependable path to victory that will work every time. In fact the game will keep track of the victories a player achieves as each race and unlock badges for empires and ships based on one's track record. So if you are online and come up against someone using the 4 Race 50-Victory badge, you will know you are facing a real master.
Si: Is there a multiplayer?
Kerberos Productions: Of course! As fun and nasty as it is to play the AI in SotS, nothing beats playing against another human. We designed the game to make multiplay as flexible as possible. There are up to eight player slots in a multiplayer game and they are malleable, making it a snap to put the game down and then picking it up again at a later time. Players that have to leave before everyone else does can be replaced by an AI or even a new human player swapped in. Games can play out like speed chess or be carried out on an epic scale, whatever players like, and we made sure SotS would accommodate them.
Si: Which other games inspired the making of SotS and why?
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Kerberos Productions: Many games I suppose; we are after all a company of gamers. Mainly I would say games like the first couple MOOs and Spaceward Ho! gave us our taste for a clean interface and smooth play. Ancient things like Imperium Galacticum on the C-64 gave us a taste for a ship design system that let you build ships to your own tactical tastes. And I suppose Starcraft and even board games like Web and Starship were an influence on our desire to create alien races that really meant something in terms of gameplay and player choices.
Si: Is it all just shooting at and blowing up ships?
Kerberos Productions: Not at all - it wouldn't be much of a 4X game if that were the case. When anybody says they're taking a second look at the common wisdom of strategy games, the question that always comes up is if the game is going to turn into an action game. We are challenging the either/or notion. We have hardcore, tactical, ship-to-ship combat in SotS, but that's not the game. The turned-based empire building is still there, and not just as token fluff stuffed in between combat, just so we could call it a 4X title. The strategy challenges in building your empire impact combat and the outcome of your combat impacts your empire building.
Si: What are you most proud of in SotS?
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Kerberos Productions: It would have to be just how damn much fun SotS turned out to be. And the fact that the entire team believed enough in the concept of making games that we enjoy to risk their futures on it. Now that it has all come together, we really hope you all enjoy it as well because it is just the first of many games to come from us.
Si: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about the game? Any snippets that nobody else knows?
Kerberos Productions: Welllll, that's hard to say. We don't want to give away all our surprises before the game hits the streets. I suppose something that most people don't realize is just how tight and dedicated Kerberos is. And that a game that looks this good and plays this deep was made with less than a dozen people. When we say Kerberos is about the games, we are not just making up a clever slogan. Everyone here works on the game itself. There are no pure administration posts, no strictly human resources person. We all work on the game and then wear our business hats on top of that. At the end of the day, when we discuss future projects, we don't talk about what genre is selling more, or which console will rule the rest or whether WW2 can be milked for one more game. We simple sit back and dream of the games we would like to be playing in the future and then talk about what it will take to make them.