I was made aware of Xeno Galaxies a little bit ago, and was impressed by this ARPG that combines elements of spaceship combat and first person shooters into what looks to be a pretty fun whole. I therefore reached out the developer, Simon Lebettre, to get more info, which turned into the Q&A you’ll see after the cut. What I didn’t know is that this Q&A would launch hot on the heels of the launch of their Kickstarter campaign! I therefore hope that, after you read the Q&A, you head over to Kickstarter and throw some greenback Simon’s way. Now, on with the show! :)
Brian Rubin: First off, could you give us the background of how your game came to be, such as what inspired you to create it and when you began working on it?
Simon Lebettre: After I played Elite 2: Frontier on Amiga in 93, and with the ill-advised quantity of SF book I was reading (all of Frank Herbert in one summer for example) I had this recurring dream of a game where you can fly ships, and get on foot inside stations, land on planets, for some in character action and RPG.
Then there is River World from Philip Jose Farmer, a world where people “respawn” and everything has to be built from the ground. Made me think of a game world where everything is built with Lego blocks…seemed impossible at this time.
Later there was Fallout 1 and 2 that left a big imprint in my mind – especially the concept of random encounters. I remember being at a LAN party where everyone was playing Fallout single player instead of actually playing on the LAN. :)
And of course, there is Star Wars. The sounds in space, rolling spaceships, force fields, tractor fields, simple gravity model, all that cheesy space physics that makes things so simple and action oriented – I’m using a lot of it in my game. I take inspiration from the movies, the Jedi Knight games, the lego ships, the books, everything.
So, that’s the creative background. Let’s talk about gamedev stuff and minecraft clones now:
October 2010 : I discover ardorcraft – a Minecraft clone, before the real minecraft, because I was following the opensource 3d engine it was made with – I’ve been fiddling with hobby game projects and tutorials for years.
I was fascinated by the concept of player modifiable worlds and objects, and procedural landscapes. So much cool content doable by programmers without a team of artists like for standard games (but nowadays I evolved from that, I’m mixing the 2 ways of doing games)
February 2011: I got involved in Techcraft, a minecraft-like open source engine.
To be brief and skip the drama, I’ve been fiddling on code 25 hours a week at night and on week-ends most months of the year, with few other guys, all programmers from the business world, trying to do a voxel fantasy game – without any direction. It went nowhere, but we all got a lot of new coding experience.
Then I took a job at a game publisher startup as web developer – I ended designing and installing game server architecture and managing a web team, with lot of interactions with producers, pro game developers, marketing, game QA…
The result of all that: I know a lot about coding and producing games now, even on the professional side.
June 15, 2012: Birth date of Xeno Galaxies – the ugly version :p – got the domain name purchase receipt :)
May 2013: Switch to unity 3d – The intermediary colored cubes design.
Aug 2013: Final reboot – that’s when I started working on Xeno Galaxies as it is now (smooth terrain, multiple block shapes, construction tool, professional assets). I started slow – still working at the game startup at first – and over time I worked more and more on it, and now I’m working full time.
It’s been quite a complicated birth story :)
Oh and one more thing : I discovered “Saga of the Seven Suns” form Kevin J Anderson just recently – I did take a break from my evening Xeno Galaxies coding sessions to read all the saga, and it is a very important source of inspiration now.
Brian: This is a game where you can build all sorts of things, such as ships, cities, space stations and so on. How easy is it to build a ship, for example, and will the game include pre-made designs for folks like me to don’t have the patience to build stuff?
Simon: With the blueprint design system – the “engineering console” – it’s super easy to design things. It has things like copy/paste, undo / redo, a mirror tool, line tool, and a magic wand to grab a whole construction and duplicate it. It’s like having a modding tool included in the game.
But it goes farther than that: blueprints are trade-able in game. Even in single player mode, there is a web based blueprint store integrated in the game. So you can purchase official blueprints and blueprints made by other players. It’s all in game galactic credits, no real $ involved at all.
So concretely, you can use a cheap blueprint of a ship hull and customize over it, or just use a blueprint of a whole ship.
There is a ship design demo/tutorial here.
Blueprints are just recipes, you need the raw materials to actually build the ship and use it in game.
Having design separate from actual construction allows very interesting gameplay ideas, like scanning other ships to reverse engineer a blueprint.
It’s like Sci-fi 3D printing (yet another inspiration from a sci-fi book: Diamond Age from Neal Stephenson)
Brian: So tell me about the missions you can complete in the game. Will you be able to complete missions while flying in space (such as destroying another ship) as well as on foot (like the infiltration mission in the remix video)?
Simon: Yes. And I’m focusing on the on foot content first. Clearing a ship of Insectoids, defusing a bomb, destroying a rogue IA that turns turrets on you, liberating hostages.
Brian: Will you be able to control larger, capital style ships such as cruisers with turrets, or even carriers with fighters, for example?
Simon: Yes. But that’s not the primary focus in the first alpha releases.
Brian: How large are the galaxies you’ll be flying around in, and will they contain populated elements such as populated planets, space stations and other ships?
Simon: Infinite. Using procedural / pseudorandom generation and a system known as ‘floating origin’ or ‘futurama principle ;) ’: the ship stays at 0,0,0 it’s the universe that moves. But you don’t see the difference as a player. :)
The game will spawn space stations, ships and outposts on the planets, randomly from the blueprint database. Btw player made blueprints will be moderated.
You will have lootable navigation maps, holodisks indicating destinations, and a good navigation / radar system.
Brian: Can you please tell us about the AI that will be flying around the universe with and against you?
Simon: I can tell you about the global trading AI: it will simulate market fluctuations between stations and outposts, like if ships were traveling, buying and selling stocks from point to point.
And I can tell you about the FPS AI plan :
- Dumb AI first to be sure to release something early ( by Dumb AI I mean animals / robots / zombie-like / turrets that lock on you and attack recklessly )
- Then Soldier AI with retreat to cover and calling for help.
Space combat will come later. If I get funded I will be able to hire some help on this.
Brian: What can you find by landing on a random planet? Loot? Materials? Can you claim planets? I saw you can build cities, so what does that entail?
- Loot: crashed ships, outposts/caves empty or inhabited
- Materials: you can mine at will. But you can’t move all the cargo. So just take the rare elements.
- Cities: You can build at will – but you need the materials :)
Brian: Your site mentions you can board an alien mothership? What can you do when you board other ship? Do you just loot them, for example, or can you take them as your own?
Simon: It depends if you can understand the technology. So at first you won’t be able to take it, you will need to do some research. If you don’t break everything.
Brian: I’ve not seen mention whether this will be single player, multiplayer, or both, so which is it? ;)
Simon: Single player at first. Cooperative small scale multiplayer in a future update, depending on funding (kickstarter extended goal). It will never be a mmo, and I doubt I will be able to balance a PVP mode with a game so dynamic.
Brian: What kind of weapons will be available to you both in first person and in space combat modes?
- FPS: pistols and rifles that switches from stun to star wars laser to bullets, Rocket laucher, grenades (concussion and EMP)
- Ship: real lasers / star wars lasers / armor piercing bullets / rockets / EMP
Brian: As the game is coined a role-playing game, what kind of stats can the player improve themselves in?
Simon: Something simple.
- Hacking skill – chances to hack successfully doors and terminals
- Fighting skill – weapons proficiency / critical hits chances
- Building/Mining skill – nano bots efficiency (you can burn your bots / break what you mine)
- Morrowind style – the more you do it, the better you become.
Brian: Finally, how far along is the game, and when do you see it being final? Can one buy into early access now?
Simon: The game is in pre-alpha, there is a huge amount of work but the core engines are ok (the code is even multiplayer ready for the long term)
The dates depend on the success of the Kickstarter – I need to be able to continue working full time on it and to have a budget for hiring some punctual help. But if it fails I will not cancel the game, I will find another way!
Alpha in iterations – 1st one estimated in august, exact scope to be defined.
Beta estimated in October (same thing – To keep the date, you need a flexible scope).
Final: no estimate at all.