Sins of a Solar Empire Interview

Written by Joe Martin

June 6, 2008 | 09:18

Tags: #copy-protection #drm #interview #ironclad #online #piracy #sins #sins-of-a-solar-empire

Companies: #pcga #stardock #steam

Sins of a Solar Empire Interview

Sins of a Solar Empire was one of the sleeper hits of last year, sneaking up on PC gamers and slowly pulling them in - trapping them within the 4XRTS universe. Part of this was down to the fantastic game design and awesome interface which allowed easy scaling of battlefields.

The rest though may have been down to the utter lack of DRM - the game has become infamously popular among anti-DRM types (damn hippies!) for it's lack of copy protection and effective online distribution model.

Now though, as the game prepares for a retail release in the UK, we pause just long enough to ask Ironclad Games' co-owner Craig Fraser a few questions. Granted though, not all the questions are ours - check the last page to see Craig's reactions to the questions our readers submitted through the forums.

Bit-tech: So, I suppose we should start at the top – can you tell us what exactly your job is and how you were involved in the development of Sins of a Solar Empire?

Craig Fraser: My name Craig Fraser. I’m co-owner of the company. I oversee the creative direction, art and branding of the game. We all wear many hats here!

Sins of a Solar Empire Interview

BT: One thing that always confused me about the game was the title, which is a little odd sounding. What exactly does it mean?

CF: The game’s title refers to each faction's historic and ongoing transgressions in the Sins’ space. The Vasari is on the run for a very good reason, the TEC’s xenophobia will haunt them, and the Advent need to keep their vengeance in check. I can’t give all the details of the lore away. Really we wanted the game to speak for itself and let players interpret the meaning behind the name.

The title’s style was inspired by classic science fiction novels and short stories. We tossed out over 50 possible names for the game. Sins of Solar Empire was ultimately chosen because it highlighted the epic scale of the game and tickled the imagination.

BT: Something that Sins has been especially lauded for has been the fact that it’s practically created a new genre – 4XRTS. Do you think that’s fair? How did you come up with the concept?

CF: We coined the RT4X moniker but don’t claim to be the first to combine the 4X and RTS genres. Digital Reality’s Imperium Galactica might be the first, released in the late 90’s.

The reason Sins is drawing so much attention in the genre today likely has to do with the seamless zoom and advanced user interface, which allows for far greater control over an empire in real-time. Also, the depth of Sins is new to the multiplayer scene.

Sins of a Solar Empire Interview

The concept was first inspired by a TSR board game called Buck Rogers Battle for the 25th Century. The game featured a dynamic solar system, fighting over continents and planets around the sun, and ‘hero’ units with special advantages. We thought it would be cool to see a game like this in a real-time video game. Obvious influences include 4X classics as well as popular RTS heavyweights, Warcraft and the Total War series.

BT: Another thing that made Sins stand out was the difficulty. Strategy games like this can often be very complex and overly-detailed, but Sins was actually quite open and easy to pick up. Do you think this helped the success of the game? Were you deliberately aiming for a more casual RTS market?

CF: We went for easy to learn, difficult to master. We put considerable resources into developing a streamlined Interface that could make the depth of the game much more accessible. We utilized a variable speed zoom, empire tree, auto attack, auto abilities, auto structure placement, auto queuing, strong unit AI, fleets, control groups, a sleek context sensitive UI, audio/visual alerts, glowing animated guides for everything and much more.

I think casual RTS players are open to greater depth in a strategy game, but they are often turned off by the controls - sliders and detailed administrative complexities. Turn-based gamers often shy away from RTS games where the pace is too frantic for true strategic planning and depth. We wanted to find a middle ground that anyone could pick up and play over and over. We felt a variety of speed options, scenarios, and a map generator would give people the flexibility to comfortably jump into any game they want.
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