Aeon Command Q&A: Casual Tug of War in Space with Lots of Pew Pew
As y’all know, I’m all about supporting the indie game developers who so help keep the space game genre as alive and vibrant as its been of late. When one of devs behind the indie spacey game Aeon Command, therefore, made a special request to do a Q&A in time for a promotion on Reddit this weekend, I happily obliged. Therefore, please enjoy my Q&A with Danny Stracener, one of the creators, after the cut. Also, the first five folks who comment on the article and help get a discussion of the game going will get a free key for the game as well, so get readin’, and enjoy! :)
Brian Rubin: First off, please give us a rundown of your game for people who might not have heard of it, such as its features and gameplay elements.
Danny Stracener: Aeon Command is a casual tug-of-war strategy game. The player is given a mothership that must be defended, while also attempting to destroy the enemy mothership. Each side must gather resources by constructing miner ships. Those resources are used to construct additional miners, purchase plans or upgrades for new ships, and build those ships. Ship movements are automated. The game’s strategy is focused on balancing between research and construction of new ships, and the timing of these decisions.
Brian: Now where did the idea for Aeon Command come from, and what’s the story of its inception?
Danny: Mike and I started developing a games 2 years ago. Our first project, Exiles of Chiron, was a multiplayer arena top down space shooter. Think along the lines of Silent Death Online, but with a MOBA influence. After a year of development, we had completed our first two phases of alpha. We attempted a Kickstarter for the project and gained a small following. The Kickstarter ended up failing, so we took a step back and looked at the project. From a technical stand point we had achieved something incredible. The game was working beautifully, but the amount of time and effort involved with making it a polished product would have consumed the next 5 years of our lives. We both work full time jobs, and we quickly realized that we needed a smaller project. We discussed ideas for a month or so and eventually came up with the idea for Aeon Command. We had been playing more casual games in our spare time, like Cartoon Wars on iPhone and Swords and Soldiers HD on PC. The tug of war genre is one of my personal favorites, and we wanted to stick with the space theme. We kept the top down approach from Exiles of Chiron and started building Aeon Command.
Brian: Now I apologize, but I’ve not yet played the game, so the next few questions will be based on reading about the game and looking at its screenshots. First off, do you have direct control over your ships in these scenarios, or do you give them basic orders and let them have at it without much direct control at all?
Danny: Ship behavior is 100% automated. Once they are built they will head towards the enemy mothership and attack anything in their path. There are also support ships which will do things like shield a fighter or create clones of a bomber.
Brian: What kind of ships will we have available to us during the game, and could you please outline some of the unique characteristics that makes certain ships valuable in certain situations?
Danny: Each faction boils down to the following types; Miner, Fighter, Bomber, Defensive Support, Offensive Support, AOE and Starship. Ship behavior varies greatly for each faction but they each fall into those categories. For an example, the Alliance Defensive Support is a small ship that links itself to a friendly unit and provides a shield that reduces incoming damage. The Cyborg Defensive Support is a ship that deals single target damage to an enemy ship and repairs nearby friendly ships. The Exile Defensive Support links itself to a friendly ship and creates clones of that ship to act as fodder for the front lines. Each of the ships is unique. Also each faction gets three unique “on use” abilities. Those abilities are all targeted and require energy to use.
Brian: It looks like the game has a fairly detailed research and upgrade system. Could you give us more details as to how these elements work, please?
Danny: The research system is fairly straight forward. You must first own the plans to a ship before you can start upgrading it. Upgrades are split into weapon power and hull strength. Upgrading the weapon power will increase a ships attack damage or support rating. For example, upgrading a Shielder would increase the shield strength. Upgrading hull strength increases the amount of damage that type of ship can take.
Brian: Now at the moment your campaign is nearly complete, I’m told. With three races, does the campaign allow you to play as different races, or is it focused on one race?
Danny: We just submitted a patch to Desura with the complete campaign, so that should be live shortly. There are 3 factions, each with a unique 8 mission campaign. You must complete the Alliance campaign to unlock the Cyborgs, then complete the Cyborg campaign to unlock the Exiles. The missions get increasingly difficult as the story progresses. Some of the early missions are a little difficult at the moment, but we’re still in the process of balancing. There is also a persistent upgrade system that allows you to permanently increase your strength. Using these persistent upgrades can help overcome some of the more difficult missions.
Brian: Speaking of, could you give us more detail about the races in the game, such as their unique abilities, strengths and weaknesses?
Danny: The Alliance are the pushers, with their biggest asset are their Shielders, Tractor ship and the Repair ability. The Shielders are perfect for making a strong push. They enable the Alliance ships to take a heavy amount of damage. Using Shielders with the targeted AOE Repair ability makes for a fierce combo. The Tractor ships have very little hull strength but can capture and drag any size enemy ship back to their mothership. The mothership then destroys the captured ship, freeing up the tractor ship to go capture again.
The Cyborgs have rely on brute force rather than utility with Sappers, Carriers and the Assimilate ability. The Sappers will charge towards the closest enemy unit and explode on impact dealing heavy splash damage. Sappers can easily dismantle an entire wave. Carriers, the Cyborgs’ late game unit, unleash a set of small, quick fighters capable of shredding enemy units. The Assimilate ability allows you to ‘mind control’ any enemy ship with the exception of Miners and Starships.
The Exiles’ biggest strength is range. Their Bombers and Frigates are equipped with rail guns that can pierce enemy units. The Frigates’ rail guns also push back enemy ships. The Exiles have an incredibly strong ability that drops a wall of explosions from the top of the map to the bottom, dealing heavy damage to anything caught in its path.
Brian: Now, besides the campaign, there’s a skirmish mode as well. Could you give us more detail on this, such as how many game modes are available, what some of them are, and how much control we have to set up our matches?
Danny: We’ve tried to mix up the Skirmish mode quite a bit to add a lot of re-playability. Currently you can select your faction, the computers faction, 3 difficulty levels, and 3 modes: Classic, Resources, and Close Quarters. You also have the option to ‘Scramble’ a faction, which shuffles the ships based on type and essentially creates a randomized faction. Resources mode ups the Miner limit from 10 ships to 25 and increases the number of resource nodes available, which usually results in some lengthy but epic battles. Close Quarters mode shortens the distance between the two players and increases the income rate, which results in a quick but brutal match. We’re also adding a new game mode currently being called ‘Push the Nuke’. The idea is, there’s a ship in the middle of the map that contains a Nuke. As your ships damage it, that ship is pushed towards the enemy’s mothership. If the Nuke reaches either mothership then it will detonate. All the game modes, with the exception of ‘Push the Nuke’ are available in patch 0.1.519 which is awaiting approval from Desura.
Brian: It looks like this is single player only (which I’m a fan of, but correct me if I’m wrong). If that’s the case, how much work has gone into the artificial intelligence in order to make it challenging, and can you give us any details?
Danny: Correct, the game is currently only single player. We’ve toyed around with ideas for multiplayer, but we’re still on the fence. We’re both experienced with network code, so that’s not a concern. The big issue is, do we focus on that and let the single player quality slip or focus completely on the single player? Currently we’re leaning towards focusing on the single-player experience.
There’s AI built into two places: ship behavior AI and computer build order/ability usage AI. The ship behavior AI is the more complicated logic at the moment but we feel that it’s pretty solid. We’re still ironing out some corner case bugs but it’s getting there. The build/research/ability/counter attack AI is something we’re still working on. For the most part it works well and the game is relatively challenging, but it’s definitely an area we’re focused on improving. The AI should be able to throw a curve ball at the player from time to time to change things up.
Brian: Are there any plans for follow-up pieces of content, such as DRM campaigns, new skirmish modes and so on?
Danny: We would absolutely love to add an additional faction and possibly more game modes. We have some ship ideas that just never got fleshed out because we ran out of space in the current factions. We’ve laid out the code in such a way that dropping in a new faction is relatively straight forward. The biggest time sink for is the artwork. Game modes are something that just happen randomly while we develop the game. An idea will pop up, and we’ll start to play around with it. We’ve currently got 4 game modes for Skirmish which we feel is pretty good. We’ll see what happens once we officially release the game.
Brian: Finally, what’s the one thing you’re most excited about in regards to Aeon Command that you’d like to share with my readers and potential fans?
Danny: We’d like to make a big thanks to our family and friends who have been crazy supportive. This whole thing has turned into a second job for us but we’re loving every minute. We’d also like to thank everyone who’s tried the game and provided feedback. We’ve made a lot of great improvements because of user feedback. We’ve still got a ways to go but we’re making great progress!