A little while ago, I discovered a new 4X space game called Deep Space Settlement, which looked quite modular and also quite pretty, two very positive things. To learn more about the game, both for my sake and yours, I reached out the game’s sole designer, Stephanie Rancourt. After reading her answers to my questions, I now want to play this game even more. Like, yesterday! ;) Check out my Q&A with Stephanie below, and I hope you enjoy it. :)
Brian Rubin: Thank you for taking my questions. First off, where did the idea or inspiration for Deep Space Settlement come from, and what steps did you take to make it a reality?
Stephanie Rancourt: I’ve always loved science fiction and the idea of traveling through stars has always fascinated me. So creating a game that takes place in space has come naturally to me. There is a lot of games I’ve played that influenced DSS, I’m thinking about The Settles for how the resource system works, Galactic Civilization for empire development and more recently A.I. War for it’s strategy elements.
I’ve started working on DSS two years ago, I made everything from scratch so it took quite a lot of efforts to get DSS to the state it’s in. At the time, I was working as an engine programmer in a game studio. But I decided to quit and work full time on my own project. It’s a hard decision to take, but I’m glad I did.
Brian: Now not only does your game look quite pretty, but it seems to allow for quite a lot of detail through ship/station customization. What can you tell us about some of the technical capabilities of your game engine?
Stephanie: The graphics engine features specular lighting, normal maps and bloom as well as other more basic features like anti-aliasing. But the greatest challenge for the engine is, without a doubt, to handle a huge number of units at real-time i.e. 30 frames per second. I really need to get creative to optimize the code to get that 30 FPS.
Brian: Speaking of customization, could you give us more detail as to how it works, how detailed we can make our ships and so on?
Stephanie: You can build a ship or station by putting parts together in predefined sockets, most of them are fixed but some are mobile like the weapon turrets. Each parts have attributes like mass, armor, power production/consumption, etc that add up to the design by a fixed amount or by a percentage. Some components have special capabilities like studying space debris and singularities for new technologies. There are also support functionality like shield booster that increases shield regeneration rate of friendly ships within a fixed range of the host ship. Weaponry consists of 3 main categories: lasers, guns and missiles. Lasers are stronger against armor, guns against shield and missiles have a wide variety of effects, some does direct damage, other could simply disable a ship’s main systems.
So to build a functional design you will need minimally : a reactor to produce energy, engines to propulse your ship, a warp drive if you want to move to other star-systems, some armor or shield to defend itself and weaponry. Capital ships will required more components as they are more complex than corvette ships. For instance, they have docking spaces for corvette ships that can be fitted with different docking bays, some have more space to accept more ships, others can apply basic armor repair to the docked ships.
Brian: Now, say there’s a player that wants nothing to do with ship or station building. Will you give them options to allow the AI to build ships and stations, and if so, how competent is the AI in this regard?
Stephanie: There is no plan regarding automated ship design. The player will however get access to default design templates when he unlocks the required technologies. These will be accessible to build directly or as a basis for a new design.
Brian: Speaking of the AI, some recent games have gotten slammed for their atrocious AI. What can you tell us about the AI in your game that will hopefully make it superior to other games in your field?
Stephanie: The default AI has its own race and will have different behaviors in each sector you will met him. He has an history in the part of galaxy you are settling in so he will have some structures already built at your arrival i.e. when you start a new game.
In some sectors, you will face an aggressive force, in others you will be in the middle of an ancient battlefield wasteland. I think this is one of the best features of DSS, you’ll never know what there’s going to be in the next sector you will discover. Carefully choosing which to conquer first is part of your strategy to overthrow the AI regime in the galaxy.
Brian: Now, please tell us about the universe the game takes place in, such as some of its history, the races you can play and so on.
Stephanie: Your first interactions with the AI race will uncover parts of its history. They are the remnant of a great war between two civilizations that torn apart the galaxy. You will learn how that happened as well as why you should fight them. So it’s a bit of a post-apocalyptic universe where you will find an aggressive opponent as well as raiders, scavengers, traders, etc.
There will be only one playable race at release, the humans.
Brian: About the gameplay, is Deep Space Settlement a pure sandbox 4X game, or will there be other modes like focused missions, campaigns and so on?
Stephanie: DSS will feature a story game mode in which you will discover the past of the sector you are settling in and contribute to shape its future.
You will also be able to play sandbox games with or without AI civilizations in singleplayer or multiplayer coop or versus. It’s interesting to mention that new stories or missions can be modded in as well.
Brian: Real-time strategy games can succeed or fail based on the competence of its interface. Please tell us about the interface using in the game to help the player juggle everything efficiently.
Stephanie: I try to use as much icons as possible to represent concepts or attributes. I find it helps identify things more efficiently than just plain text. There is also a lot of mouseover tooltips, descriptions, unified color coding, drag and drop functionalities, shortcut keys, etc. A lot of this stuff is very subtle but it really makes a difference for our brains to filter information quickly.
The GUI is not at its final stage at the moment, most of what we can see in screenshots are just placeholders. There will be a prettier version eventually and will be moddable as well.
Brian: Your website mentions that the game takes place entirely in space. Does this mean there’s not any kind of colonial development at all, or is it abstracted like in many other games?
Stephanie: I decided to focus my efforts on space, so there will not be any planet colonization. But there’s still colonial development in your colony station. You will have to take care of your colonists so they grow and train to work as pilots and workers on your ships and stations.
Brian: So how far along is the game now, and when will I be able to play it? ;)
Stephanie: I have a working engine with network functional. In terms of game mechanics, some of the core elements are functional as well, you can design and build ships and stations, unlock technologies in the tech tree, explore other sectors, etc. I’m also currently working with a 3D artist to get the graphics assets done.
There’s still a lot to do, I have big plans for DSS. :) As of now I’m focusing on getting an alpha release with essential features in. If everything goes well, I should get the alpha out by Q2 2013.
Brian: Finally, what excites you most about the creation of Deep Space Settlement that you would like to share with existing and hopefully new fans?
Stephanie: I want DSS to be a very deep experience. I want the player to face unexpected situations and have to come up with new strategies of his own. Creating a deep and complex universe to explore and conquer is what gets me excited about DSS. I’m also putting a lot of effort in modding features, so DSS could become something even greater than initially designed.