Gratuitous Space Battles Interview
Interview - posted by Jason on Wed 25 February 2009, 05:46:23
Give us a quick & dirty overview of Gratuitous Space Battles.
The game is still in development so the design is in flux, but basically you are the admiral of a big fleet of spaceships which you design, position and give orders to. You will fight battle after battle against AI-designed and controlled fleets, but will have little control over the actual battle itself. The game is all about the grand strategy, the fleet design and the orders. It’s 2D top-down with zoom, if that helps.
Who is the target audience?
Anyone who likes space battles, which is 99% of gaming kind. The game is more of a management and design game than an RTS, so people who like tank rushes might not be into it. This is a game for people who agonize for ages on the ship design screen of GalCiv2, or the people who put a lot of thought into what units to recruit and where to position them for battle in the Total War games. Anyone who thinks that half the fun in a battle is fielding the better army.
What space games are you using as reference points? Will we see any gameplay elements from the sci-fi 4X subgenre (Master of Orion, Space Empires, Stars!, etc)?
GalCiv 2 and Eve-Online are my two fave space games, but I’m more influenced by them for the visuals than the gameplay. The main influence for the game is the old pen and paper RPG Traveller, but I’m sure that game has influenced a lot of the 4x genre.
You've mentioned that players will build ships on a modular level. How detailed will this building be? About how many modules will the player expect to be juggling on any one ship?
That’s currently something I’m fiddling with, but it’s likely to be between five and twenty modules, although they come in different sizes. The modules on a fighter are light, cheap and don’t pack the same punch as the modules on a frigate or a cruiser. I’m currently getting the large-scale elements of the game in place so I have a limited selection of modules, but the final game will have a wide variety of them.
Will module changes be reflected on the ships visually? If so, will there be any purely cosmetic customizing (i.e. will I be able to build my pink Barbie Dream Dreadnaught with matching Malibu Strikecraft)?
This is something I’m unsure about. I can see how it would be very cool, GalCiv 2 does it superbly, and I’d love to support it, but I’m assuming it won’t be in the game on initial release because there is tons of other stuff to do. I want to be 100% sure that the gameplay is good before I worry about cosmetic ship issues. I’d love to add it later though.
What implements of destruction will we see?
The game is happily a homage to all classic sci-fi, so although I would probably get sued for using the words cloaking device and photon torpedo and so on, similar swirly forcefields and flickering things that go bang are definitely going to be in there.
What sorts of defensive capabilities will be available? Shields are pretty much a given, but what about more “exotic” non-offensive choices?
ECM makes it in there, so you can zap an incoming missile and scramble its guidance. There is also counter-missile point defence stuff. I’m sure I’ll be adding an anti-missile mode for tractor beams too. And of course there is the wibbly wobbly cloaking effect. I’ve toyed with the idea of ships that project holographic decoys, and I’m sure some element of chaff will get added too.
Probably your hardest sell on this project will be the hands-off battles, where you “assemble the troops, tell them what to do, then on the day you pace up and down and see how well things turned out.” Galactic Civilizations and Dominions got away with this, but neither had combat as the gameplay focus. How will GSB handle this and still manage to keep the player engaged?
The thing is, when we see battles in similar games, its often multiplayer, and thus always fixed time. You are so busy giving orders, you don’t have time to analyze what’s going on. GSB will be different. You can hit the pause button or slow down time at any point to see what’s going on, and have a more forensic analysis of why your ships are getting defeated. The battle won’t just be a nice bit of shiny, it is the proving ground where you need to watch very closely to see exactly why your fleet got beaten, and adjust your plans accordingly.
To what extent will GSB be moddable?
Hugely. I always design my games to be very moddable and I really hope this one catches on with modders. All space games should ship with the ability for people to convert the ships and data to their favorite alien race, it just goes without saying. Because it’s primarily a singleplayer game, it doesn’t matter if you let people add their own ship modules etc.
Any multiplayer planned?
Of a sort, yes. But I’m only going to talk about how it works once it does actually work in practice and I’m happy it’s a good idea. Not in the traditional RTS fashion though.
Are there any non-gaming science fiction influences you're looking to incorporate?
The game was originally inspired by a book I read about D-Day, so I’m sure some of that has made it into the game. I’m a huge player of Company of Heroes too, and I would be surprised if that didn’t have some subconscious influence on the way the game plays.
Stupid question, but I have to ask: Is Gratuitous Space Battles the actual name or a placeholder?
It’s the actual name. Far too many games have pretentious name, especially space ones. I could call it “Battlefleet Z’arg IX : Final Redemption”, but those names just make me cringe.
Anything you'd like to add?
This isn’t an RTS. There are plenty of RTS games out there and I wanted to do something different. If you like RTS games, I’m sure you will love GSB, but I’m wary people might see screenshots and assume it plays like StarCraft.
Thanks to Cliff Harris of Positech for the interview.