Interview

Sword of the Stars II Interview (PC)

So, with only four months to go, we decided to catch up with Martin Circulis and the guys over at Kerberos to see how Sword of the Stars II was getting along...

Strategy Informer: So - until recently all you guys have had is really some tech demos and some pretty impressive talk (no offence). Now that all the different systems of the game are coming together towards a more complete and fully featured build, has anything changed since you guys announced the game over a year ago?

Martin Cirulis: No, not really. The thing to remember about Kerberos is that we tend to walk the walk. All that impressive talk has translated into a very busy year of implementing features and laying in the architecture that will support not only this game but all the features to follow in the expansion arc for the game. Priorities have shifted over time from things that were easier than expected to things that have more thorns than anticipated, but most of the changes are in the realm of tuning; things like the relative size of worlds and orbits, how much supply aboard a ship is enough and areas where more player feedback can be given.
 
Strategy Informer: Last time we spoke you mentioned how there will be abstracted land combat in the game - are you ready to tell us anything more about that?

Martin Cirulis: Speaking of the entire arc of SotS2, we mentioned that ground combat will be part of the SotS2 era, but I think it’s pretty easy to see that it’s a detail focus that deserves to be a key part of an expansion and more importantly, a new race that’s all about the taking and holding of ground. (insert evil cackle) Players are just going to have to wait for that expansion to see it for themselves, but I think it’s safe to say they will have more than enough new things to keep them busy until then.

Strategy Informer: In terms of setting up a game - we understand you've removed the different 'shaped' Galaxies and instead just stuck with three pre-made map, and not only that but the position of the stars are now fixed. Granted, the specifics of the individual planets are still randomized, but do you not think this takes away from the flexibility the first game had in terms of what your 'map' looked like?

(ED: Seems there was a misunderstanding during the demonstration - the demo only had three presets available, and we thought it was said that those would be the only three. We were mistaken, it seem, but I've left this exchange in anyway as it's still quite interesting.)

Martin Cirulis: I suspect you may have gotten the wrong impression from a dev build with 3 test maps in it, but rest assured there will be far more than 3 maps in SotS2 when it releases. While we are moving away from random star positioning, this is mitigated by the fact that with the contents of those star systems being completely random, it means that with every game, the strategic weight of the map changes. As an added benefit of this more crafted system for maps, SotS2 can utilize a fairly powerful scenario editor that will not only allow us to create more interesting “historical” setup maps with more varied victory conditions.

And no need to worry, there will still be plenty of maps based purely on shape where the use of the game set up slider for number of stars will dictate how dense and how large the map is.

Strategy Informer: On the surface, there seems to be no major changes done to the planet management part of the game (bar some UI enhancements). Given the games apparent new theme of "smaller, but more detail", seems like there could have been an opportunity to add content here.

Martin Cirulis: Actually the way you have phrased this question means we are on the right track because while there is quite a bit of new planet detail, we didn’t want it to become this cumbersome mini-game in of itself. So while you may not have noticed that planets can have biospheres that rise or fall based on your choices, have 3 stages of development that can eventually lead to powerful Gem or Forge worlds and that some worlds even have special characteristics like being Primordial in nature, all those things are there humming along. Basically we wanted to create details that were interesting and helped the player identify with his worlds, but weren’t just micromanagement disguising itself as gameplay.
 
Strategy Informer: The Suul'ka, despite being a playable race, sound like (in lore terms) your a-typical sci-fi 'Ancients' who could wipe everyone out just by sneezing. Considering they've had direct influence over a number of the SOTS races, how do they compare technologically to everyone else, and what steps have you taken to make sure they're not over-powered?

Martin Cirulis: Well if there is one thing that I think Kerberos has established as a design house by now, is that we take great pains to subvert “typical” every chance we get. In fact the whole point of Suul’ka in the first place was that we wanted to do something different with the typical space game sequel in which the ol’ Big Bad shows up and wreaks havoc. Or more accurately THREATEN to wreak havoc by making a lot of sound and fury off-screen, but never actually overthrowing anything significant in gameplay.

Instead, both in terms of gameplay and background, we have tried to create something that puts the very real power of Galactic evil into player’s hands and shakes everything up. Since you asked, the Suul’ka are very advanced, but that in itself is not the core of their power nor does it mean the answer to fighting them is simply to survive and “tech up”.

In fact, they are very powerful, but that is not the be all and end all of any war. To give you some insight, the design nickname for Suul’ka units is “Fascist Battleships”. As if they had the historical Bismarck or the Yamato at their disposal, players will revel in their power, but at the same time they will be loath to lose them. In the end, a successful Suul’ka will not think they can curb stomp all other players at will, but instead will know when it’s time to use their cannon fodder and when it’s time to commit serious power.

Strategy Informer: Your benefactors and overlords at Paradox Interactive obviously launched their flagship Paradox Connect platform this year - are you tying SOTS2 into that that in any special way? Especially in terms of multiplayer or maybe achievements?

Martin Cirulis: You can expect a whole host of wild and woolly achievements that not only will let you brag across the breadth of Paradox Connect, but even unlock badges or graffiti for your own ships.

Strategy Informer: As you've mentioned previously, there's a lot more depth and tactical options available to the player in terms of real-time combat. Are you worried that it might be too much too quickly for players? Even vets? SOTS after all did have a comparatively simplistic system compared to some of the stuff you've highlighted recently (as awesome as it sounds).

Martin Cirulis: Not really worried on two levels; the first is that while SotS prime combat allowed you to play at a very simplistic band-box-and-move level, it also contained the elements for subtle manoeuvres or positioning that could mean the difference between victory or defeat against even a numerically or technologically superior opponent. And when it comes to the SotS2 level of this idea, new elements are accompanied by new feedback and control features as well as adjustments in the speed and pacing of combat. So while you will still be able to control combat at the “hey, go there and kill anything you can see”, there will still be room for players to stretch their tactical brains, adjust speed and damage control on a ship-by-ship basis and set groups of weapons to prioritize certain targets over others.

Strategy Informer: We know you're still in development - but you could say (especially once E3 has rolled by) that we're approaching the final leg. I'm sure you guys have given some thought as to what happens next by now - any hints or teases you'd like to drop?

Martin Cirulis: As I pointed out with ground combat, you can see that we have the expansion arc of the SotS2 era already planned with much of the tech and gameplay features we are looking to add in a cohesive fashion. This process is why a SotS expansion feels far more like a new chapter in a book than just every random thing that could be piled onto a disc at the right price point.

As for a hint or a tease... hmm let’s see… gotta think up something good, I have a burgeoning reputation for fan torture to protect….ok! How about this? “The arc that carries players from SotS2 to SotS3 will teach many people to be careful what they wish for.” (insert overly long cackle that kind of fades out into awkward silence)
 
Strategy Informer: Are you guys still on schedule for your September release date?

Martin Cirulis: Yep… on track and going like hell!

Strategy Informer: Finally - You've mentioned many times that there are bits of the game you're saving till last - Suul'ka for instance. Is there anything that you've kept completely secret? Do we have any true surprises left in store for us?

Martin Cirulis: Well, as you may have noticed, we haven’t done a lot of talking about new random system events or new Grand Menaces, so it’s pretty safe to assume there are more than a few “WTF?!!” moments (in a good way) lurking in the darkness between the stars, safe from the light of preview articles. And even though the term Suul’ka is known, and that they are the Big Bad for SotS2, they are a big enough concept that I think there are still a few things about them that people haven’t even considered.

Thanks for your time guys. Well, we're certainly excited to say the least - how about you guys? Don't forget to check out our latest hands-on preview!

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Comments

By Evrett (SI Newbie) on May 13, 2011
Evrett
Just remember Kerb has yet to release a product or patch without frustrating or game breaking bugs. I lol'd in the interview when the developer said "we walk the talk" since their past products show a lot of ambition but rocky follow through. Take whatever date your expecting it and add 6 months.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on May 13, 2011
SirRoderick
Yeah, because the majority of games released these days run perfectly from day one.....oh, wait. That's that other universe, in this one they all have bugs and non-AAA studios (like Kerberos) aren't expected to deliver the same amount of polish as a Blizzard game (which still have bugs).

Dismissed.
By jp161 (I just got here) on May 14, 2011
jp161
Hi there Evrett \o

Didn't notice you had copypasted that message in two places. Nice seeing you again.

Hmm, on a second thought...
By Evrett (SI Newbie) on May 14, 2011
Evrett
Agreed we cant expect things to be bug free - no one is perfect. We can expect thoroughly tested and timely patches. Sots was released buggy and remained so patch after patch, often fixing one thing but breaking another that would take another cycle of months to fix. Kerb also doesnt bat an eye at releasing products missing critical pieces like the Zuul Ai or ..well everything about FZ.
By erdrik (SI Newbie) on May 15, 2011
erdrik
Zuul AI was not missing during BoB's release.
I pretty much snatched BoB up within the first hour of release, and the Zuul AI played fine.
There were bugs in the AI, but it was a far FAR cry from "missing a critical piece".
Since all you seem to be capable of doing is repeating the same stuff Im just going to summerize my responses from Preview Article's comments:
SotS was not buggy at release, nor was its updates any more buggy than any other games.
Most likely your PC was crap. Or your just lying.
Buyer Beware. Don't listen to the Evrett.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on May 15, 2011
SirRoderick
Seconded
By Kres (SI Elite) on May 17, 2011
Kres
Looking forward to any space empire games. Not that there is anything more then SotS2 coming though. Hence I hope it will be good. Sounds interesting for sure. I like the fact that there is no overly complicated micro present for planetary management.
By bollo (SI Newbie) on May 19, 2011
bollo
At last, it's a good notice to see that the developers are going to release it on September....about the bugs and patches, that's what differences a good developer from the bad one....I like to see the dedication to their creations meaning that they care for its products and customers...no one in the whole earth released a product without bugs, at least if your not programming the "Hello world!" phrase....

Whatever.....anyway I would like a lot of micromanagement, since that makes a game more challenging and it's the basis of any 4X game...quite sad that there is no news about an incoming Space Empires 6 or Galactic Civilizations 3 or Sins of a Solar Empire 2....like those games, too.