When Stellaris was announced a little while back, just about every corner of the Internet I hang out in was abuzz with talk about the game. As someone who was DYING to learn more about this game — as I’d been hoping Paradox would do their own space game for ages now — I too was thrilled at the prospect of a dynamic 4X from the folks behind the Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings games. When I reached out to Paradox for more info, they offered the opportunity for a Q&A! Since I’m horrid with coming up with questions my own self, I tried something different and asked you folks to come up with the questions instead. What I sent was an amalgam of what I thought were the best questions given, and below, you’ll find the answers provided by Paradox’s Development Studio director, Henrik Fåhraeus! Thanks for reading, and enjoy!
Space Game Junkie: What mechanisms do you have in place to keep micromanagement in check as an empire expands from one system to dozens or hundreds of systems?
Henrik Fåhraeus: We have several different mechanisms in place. Most importantly, we do not have a ton of different buildings that you can (or even should) build on every single planet you acquire. The economy is more about choosing which planets to develop, and how to specialize them. Sometimes, it is even a smarter choice not colonize a planet at all, but to mine it from orbit instead.
SGJ: Are random research trees in? If so, to what degree? Do different types of species have unique research options, maybe?
HF: Stellaris does not have tech trees. Three new research options are presented every time a technology has been researched in a process similar to drawing three cards from a deck and picking one to research. However, the selection of “cards” you are presented with is not entirely random, but based on many factors, such as your empire’s ethics, the skill and traits of your department head (scientist character), etc. Of course, some technologies are rarer than others, and some are very likely to appear at a certain level of advancement.
SGJ: Are there going to be more interesting techs than the usual spread-sheetish types found in other space 4x’s (+1 to resource X collection/+1 to weapon type Y/+1 to speed of warp drives/etc)?
HF: Well, it is hard to completely avoid the usual kind of improvement technologies, but we certainly have many types of “unlocks” as well. For example, technologies that control which political edicts you can issue.
SGJ: Do characters have meaningful connections between them or even to pops, which maybe tie into internal politics? And if there are relationships between characters within a faction, does this extend to interactions with other empires’ characters as well?
HF: This is an area still in development, but of course, if a character is a member of a species that seeks independence, he or she is likely to be sympathetic to that cause. I could tell you more, but I am not sure if everything I want to do with the characters will actually make the cut.
SGJ: How many different Ideologies will citizens follow? Also can rebel factions break off and become independent states?
HF: There are eight Ethics, and each can have two levels (normal and fanatic.) Each empire has a governing pick of Ethics, and so does each population unit. For example, you might see a Fanatic Individualist, Xenophile population unit. Yes, of course Rebel factions can rebel and split off.
SGJ: With such an open-ended game how can they keep the AI competitive? Is the AI going to cheat like crazy or did they design certain mechanics with the AI in mind? How serious are they about the diplomacy and making the AI races seem like they have actual goals?
HF: The AI will be comparable to that seen in Europa Universalis IV.
SGJ: Is every game going to have an “end game” scenario play out, or will some games play more static? What is the potential variety of “end game scenarios?”
HF: Basically, there is a very high chance of an end game crisis occurring before any player can win. That is not to say it will happen every time you play though. At this time, I can’t say how many such scenarios we will have in the finished game… as many as possible.
SGJ: Can multiple catastrophes occur?
HF: Yes, but each crisis diminishes the chances of another occurring.
SGJ: Some people say one of the reasons that Crusader Kings is so good is that it makes it fun to lose. I don’t agree. I find Crusader Kings very frustrating sometimes, because I don’t enjoy a game when losing is inevitable. I start over a lot. Will Stellaris appeal to someone like me, or will it set up situations where it is impossible to win?
HF: Stellaris is not much like Crusader Kings II in any respect except for the presence of leader characters and a reliance on scripted story elements, or “storylets”. It is extremely unlikely that you will suffer some kind of catastrophic setback in the early stages of the game.
SGJ: Can we play custom species?
HF: Yes, and you are strongly encouraged to do just that, although we do provide a few “quick start” races.
SGJ: How much influence are you pulling from Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis and dropping into this game and if, how much, and how that influence is going to set Stellaris aside from the other SciFi grand strategy/4x games that are out there?
HF: Stellaris is a hybrid between a 4X game and a classic Paradox Grand Strategy game. The early game will feel more like a 4X (though with more storytelling) and the mid-to-late game more like Europa Universalis or Victoria. For example, simply occupying a planet does not mean that it is immediately yours; you need to negotiate for it in the peace treaty. That said, we are not aiming for quite the same level of complexity you would see in our historical games, with their wealth of rather arcane mechanics like “Legitimacy” in Europa Universalis or “Decadence” in Crusader Kings II, etc.
SGJ: How much do you plan to have interaction between different characters and character types, perhaps even across empire borders?
HF: Not much. Characters in Stellaris are important, but they do not interact with each other.
SGJ: Can you elaborate on pops – do they interact meaningfully with characters, for example politicians?
HF: Yes, they do. Population can form or join Factions that have a leader who can be elected president in the next election, etc. The Faction leader can, in turn, affect the member Pops.
SGJ: How far are you taking the concept of different species, especially as regards migration and integration?
HF: Quite far, I would say. :)
SGJ: Have you considered other non-historical scenarios, for example a Cyberpunk themed CK2-like game in which you play characters within megacorps, politicians etc.?
HF: There is a whole pile of cool ideas for games being tossed around at the office. So, yes.
SGJ: Why did you limit the research categories to “Physics, Social and Engineering”, especially in the absence of research trees?
HF: For many reasons; mostly it was about having a suitable amount of associated resources and buildings on the map, which controls the required amount of player focus and the pacing of the game. It also feels natural to categorize research that way.