Squaddies by the Fireside: Endless Space

“I do think the faction affinities are a great way to spill the flavour and background of a race into the game mechanics and, in a way, encourage through attribute osmosis a sense of character. It’s not particularly profound, nor is it subtle, but I get a good sense of what it means to be part of a faction in Endless Space. We’re still seeing the affinities being worked on, so it’s all very much a work-in-progress, but it’s a good example of two objectively disparate concepts within a game – lore/background and hard numerical data — coming together near-perfectly. Like anything in gaming, it’s not exclusive, with a barbarian character — an easy inference — having a bonus to melee or close combat attacks — but it’s the mix of attributes, both positive and negative, that paint quite a telling picture.

“But again, we’re not there yet. There are some quirks and oddities in the faction affinities that either slightly undermine the style, for lack of a better word, of the civilisation or simply don’t take it far enough. Over the weekend, I was thinking of narrative-heavy 4x games and could only come up with one true one, being Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. They simply don’t come along very often! The smallest touches can go a long way, though. I’d love to hear some faction-specific battle-chatter in combat, even if it’s totally indiscernible. Chatter phased through that clipped, tubular filter we heard in Battlestar Galactica. Strange electronic glitching from the Sower faction, static-ridden insectoid chittering from the Cravers…it’s just these final slivers of design that can elevate an experience. And despite being a turn-based game, I’d really appreciate seeing a little more animation on the map. Looking back, one aspect of Imperium Galactica 2 that I appreciated was tiny trader ships coming and going from my colonies. It wasn’t much, but it did help to illustrate a feeling of empire and commerce, of life among the stars. At this moment in the beta, Amplitude have done wonders with upgrading planets to include visual representations of their particular features – things like low-orbit debris to represent Kessler Syndrome or the joy of seeing a Garden of Eden anomaly on an arid planet – but I’m hoping we can see a little more.”

“I’d particularly like to see a bit more distinction with fleets moving around the map,” added Pete. “At the moment, a tiny scout looks the same as a huge fleet of destroyers. It’d be nice to be able to distinguish them visually.”

Pete stubbed out the remnants of his cigar, drained his glass and slammed it down on the table decisively.

“Okay then,” he said. “GAMES2GETHER. I’ll confess I haven’t looked into this a great deal myself yet, but I like the idea a lot. It’s a natural, more controlled extension of the methods under which titles like Frozen Synapse and Minecraft were developed — and the whole “points” system helps prevent any accusations of “entitlement” or “pandering.” The fact that the community can track the dev team’s milestones also helps put a bit of friendly pressure on them while giving the public something infinitely more exciting than a meaningless countdown.”

Pete paused for a moment, stroking his beard in thought.

“‘Pressure’ might be the wrong word, actually, as that calls to mind ‘crunch time’ and executives who don’t really understand the development process bearing down on programming teams to ‘MAKE IT BETTER FASTER!’ But I would assume that it at least provides a degree of impetus for the team to make it as good as they can in a reasonable timeframe if everyone is watching them. Have you actively engaged in the programme at all?”

Alex nodded.

“I’ve done a bit of voting on ship designs,” he said, “and seeing dedicated contributors be recognised via awards of sorts on the forums is nice to see. What’s more, it’s really quite cool to see the developers hosting hero creation competitions on the forums, so the personal community touch can be felt long after the game’s release. They seem like really open developers, but then again, we’re in an age where indie developers ‘get’ community interaction; crowdsourcing ideas, receiving feedback and generally doing a hell of a lot better on the PR front than the big guys. Sure, different environments on some levels, but at the end of the day, why not go that extra mile and include your community as early and actively as possible? It’s not a question of diluting authorial intent if handled correctly, and I think the Endless Space experiment has proven that growing a dedicated community without — as you so finely said — that encroaching feeling of pandering.”

“Even in its unfinished state, Endless Space looks set to be a rather wonderful, deep yet accessible strategy game,” said Pete. “I hope it receives enough recognition from press and public alike to make it a big success. Civ fans in particular will get a big kick out of it — and I look forward to giving multiplayer with friends a shot sometime. In the longer term, I think Amplitude have proven themselves a developer worthy of keeping a close eye on in the future. I look forward to seeing the GAMES2GETHER principles applied to other games in the future — it’s a great way of working, not appropriate for every kind of game, of course, but a fine way to engage with your community.”

“Agreed,” said Alex, nodding. “I hope a lot of folks check it out. Thus far, one of 2012’s strongest strategies.”

Sensing that the discussion was at an end, the two men stood. Alex stretched out his hand, and Pete took it to shake enthusiastically. As the two compatriots parted, a blue beam of light engulfed Alex, and he disappeared. Pete smiled, gathered up his discarded spacesuit and helmet and walked out of the door. As it closed, the last embers of the fire burned to nothingness.

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