After 35 years as videogame player it’s quite difficult to find a game capable of surprise me at first sight.
It’s almost a miracle, but sometimes even miracles can happen!
I remember that the first time I saw Stellar Tactics I thought: “Why hasn’t anyone done this before?”. The charm of Stellar Tactics for me is all in this unanswered question.
The game starts from a simple yet amazing idea: mix together XCOM, FTL and a little bit of Elite. The result of this amazing union is an endless list of features! In Stellar Tactics, we will find: space fights, trade, space exploration, factions, ground combats, crafting, a lot of quests and so on.
And, believe it or not, behind Stellar Tactics there is a solo indie developer!
In conclusion, my personal and final opinion is that you can find far more ideas in this game than in any other AAA game out there.
And now, without any further delay, let’s start with our interview.
1st Turn) Reading the features of Stellar Tactics we can get the idea of a huge game and I read that part of the content is procedurally-generated. Now my question is: can we hope to find also some hand-crafted content, like missions or dungeons?
Every area is hand crafted – that is, whenever you enter a procedural mission area, the level, placement of objects, placement of enemies is fully hand crafted. In each area, the engine selects hand placed enemy “sets” and a number of chests, lockers etc for loot. These mission areas are then assembled into a series of areas to create a “dungeon” for players to explore. These range from 2 areas to as many as 10 which tend to be very long missions – 3-5 hours each.
Right now, there is about 10 – 12 hours of hand crafted story content, each area designed by hand including the characters, dialog, mission structure and object placement.
2nd Turn) The game boast a “massive living universe with over 160,000 star systems”. Don’t you fear that, in spite of it, the game could be too repetitive and grindy?
No fear of the grind here – I like to grind and Stellar Tactics is a grind-fest fit for the best of the grinders if that’s the way you want to play it. However, you can choose to explore, take missions/bounties, engage in space combat, mine, trade, refine, develop your crew, earn enough for a new ship and do things any way you choose. If you decide to take a break, you can come back and start right where you left off. There are no save game “wipes” planned for the game – ever.
I think the word “grind” is really just a way of defining burn-out completing repetitive tasks to reach a goal. The key is to provide enough alternative activities (and ways to make money) in the living universe so players can switch from one activity to something else and break things up. If you fixate on a single goal in any game that takes a lot of work to achieve, you are going to feel like the game is a grind. Eventually, every one burns out on a game. Happens to me all the time – then after a few months I come back and get back into it.
3rd Turn) Your game seems to be able to fill a niche in the market. At the moment of the final release, we will find in Stellar Tactics space combat, ground combat, planets exploration and trade. How hard is for you to balance all this features, considering that this is essentially a single dev project?
It’s not easy. The game has been a labor of love for years. The most difficult thing I find being a solo indie developer is anticipating all the possible edge cases for the various play styles. You think you have something that works well, you put it out there (and cringe a little when you do it) and hope for the best. In most cases things work fine – occasionally I find that I’ve overlooked something – an exploit – a bug if you do x-y-z in a specific order or, in general a system is a complete fail.
I do have a very specific set of features in mind for the game, so I don’t really worry about feature creep. I’ve also developed my own form of iterative development that works for me. Implement content, gather feedback, revise, bug fix and then back to the beginning for the next feature. This system works for me, however, it can be frustrating for players in some cases.
One example is that some players want crafting in the game right away. However, to get crafting in the game I need items to deconstruct, mining, mining perks, drones and refining to all work well. Each of those is a dependency for the crafting system. Right now all of those systems are in the game so I can get started on the crafting system. As a solo developer I generally do not work on things in parallel.
4th Turn) I know that Stellar Tactics can be played easily like a sandbox game, but I’ve also read that you can follow a main story. So, in this regard, my questions are: how long will be the main storyline? What will be its importance for the player? And, lastly, there will be also articulated secondary quests?
I can’t say exactly how long the main story will be. The story will be released in chapters, there will be meaningful engagements related to your main character (the character you create who comes out of stasis at the beginning of the game.) Right now the game has about 10 hours of story and that is just the prologue that brings players to the sandbox.
There will be side quests for various factions in the game, a few key character quests and some larger universe altering missions. And then, of course, there are unlimited bounty’s/missions you can take right now in the game. I’ll be expanding on that system during BETA to make it a more “personal” experience.
5th Turn) Looking at the screenshots, it’s almost impossible not to notice resemblance to some cornerstone of the past, like the X-Com series and Freelancer. Besides these, is there something else in particular that inspired you?
Sure, I’ve been a gamer and game developer (Sr. Producer) in the game industry for many years. A few of the old games inspire me the most. It’s one of the reasons Stellar Tactics has an old-school feel to it. I’m finding the number of these games dwindling and I’d like to keep them alive. As big publishers continue to look for big dollars, these games have fallen off their development roadmaps and been replaced with high production value experiences that in some cases (not all) tend to feel a bit threadbare.
–Elite, Sentinel Worlds, Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday, Baldurs Gate, Eve Online and the list goes on. Many of these have been inspirations
6th Turn) Compared to games like Elite, how deep will be, in the final version, the trading system?
It’s fairly deep right now – however, it will never compare to games that focus on trading. As it is, there are 100 goods that can be traded from general trade-goods, refined ore and various ore types including rare earth minerals. I may expand on that – it wouldn’t be hard to do – however, for now I’m going to move on to other things including smuggling.
I think smuggling will be a great addition for the game. The contraband items are already in the trade database and I’ll be working on a side mission and a few items specific to smuggling that players can unlock, including some new AI needed to make this a risky and profitable trade.
7th Turn) OK, now let’s talk about space combat. Reading the early access feedback, someone found this feature a little too passive with very little interaction opportunities. Are you thinking to do something about that? For example, to make the experience more entertaining, have you considered the possibility to add a “boarding option”?
Boarding is on my long list of things to do. Really, space combat is not the core of the game – it’s more of a alternate money making money right now and the means to setup boarding. I do plan to expand on space combat a good bit in the future when I take a second pass at the system.
I know a lot of people really want the boarding system and I’m hoping to move that up in priority after I get a few of the remaining core systems in the game (crafting, stealth, traps and a few other odds and ends).
8th Turn) Do you think to release a modding tool-set for the game?
If I do, it will be related to story content – the ability to create missions and story content for the world rather than modifying the game assets. Perhaps some tools around adjusting stats and game balance. If I do this, it will come after the release of the game.
9th Turn) Now let’s talk about enemies: how many enemy types we will encounter during our adventure? Will we fight against both humans and aliens?
Right now there are humans of different factions (Shikaru, Halamis, etc.), Raiders, Scavvers, Phage (a parasitic species), Mutants of various types and several humanoid mutations (Kchor, Fabricants and the Coven). Speaking of which, the Kchor and Fabricants should be getting their own models soon and be playable characters that can join your crew. I’ve been working on that for a while and will turn my attention to finalizing them.
Of course there are a few other enemy types and I’ll be expanding on that quite a bit over time including new mutations, a few species left over from the Geno-Wars and more.
As far as Aliens (without spoilers) – we know they exist, you meet one species in the prologue, others are “on their way” headed towards your part of the universe.
10th Turn) I’ve to admit that I’m really impressed. A so big game developed by a single person in a so professional way it is very rare. Can you tell us when your little gem will be released?
Thank you, and unfortunately no – see #3 above. Iterative development makes it impossible to give a date. I’m asked all the time.
If I set a date, it would mean that I would need to schedule and define a feature to be completed. Doing this would mean I need to make compromises and a feature would need to be finished even if it doesn’t work well or eventually scrapped in the system as a whole.
So, all I can do is ask everyone to be patient, follow the road-map on the Steam website and help me spread the word. The game is very playable right now, relatively bug free and I have a wonderful following of supportive players that make me want to work long hours on the project.
Bonus Turn) Before leaving you, just a bonus question, Which is the latest turn-based game you’ve played or still playing?
I don’t get to play games often these days. I’d say I still enjoy Jagged Alliance 1-2, XCom: Enemy Unknown and I also enjoy games like Age of Wonders III. I do try to work in a bubble – that is, I’m not trying to innovate as much as I am focused on making the game I want to play. So, lately, I’ve been playing games that are not necessarily in the general.
Thank you so much for the time you have dedicated to us.! Obviously we will continue to follow your amazing project.
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