We like talking to people. We like finding out what makes them tick, what makes them make the choices they make. Not only is Endless Space shaping up to be a good game, but the people behind it seem to have the right ideas, and that’s worth exploring.
To find out more, we spoke to studio co-founder, Creative Director and winner of the Strategy Informer longest name award Romain de Waubert de Genlis, along with his partner in crime (and Director of Marketing and Communications) Max von Knorring:
Strategy Informer: First off, let's talk about Amplitude itself. You're a new studio, only formed in April of last year... where have the people come from? What games have they worked on?
Romain: Basically on my part I started at DICE as lead designer on BF42 and after starting BF2 moved to Ubisoft as producer where met Mathieu, who after various career moves ended up as a producer there as well. Whilst at Ubisoft I produced, among others, Dark Messiah, Heroes of Might and Magic and Clash of Heroes, whilst Mahtieu did RUSE and we did also Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. This also how we met our team leads, Art director Corinne billon (rayman / GRAW) and Max here, who joined us as associate producer / designer on Might and Magic games.
Strategy Informer: Endless Space is Amplitude’s Debut game – why make it a space 4X game?
Romain: Personally, there are a few genres that I love, but being a gamer, my tastes are broad: 4X strategy is my number one favourite genre (Civ, MOO, etc…) then Strategy in general, shooters mainly in multiplayer, RPG’s… I’ve worked on all these genres to some degree, but never on my favourite until now, and it was one of the reasons to create a studio for it.
Mat and I were long-time fans of 4x games and we dreamed for a long time of making our own, but it was obvious that the only way to do it would be the indie way. When we decided to create amplitude Max and Corinne, as well as bunch of other veterans decided to jump on board as well.
But when we decided to create Amplitude, there was one other thing that we really wanted to do: work closely with our community in the creation of the game. That’s how together with Max we came up with the Games2Gether idea. We wanted to concentrate all that creative energy around our future game to make it part of the creation process.
One last thing that really made us want to go the indie route: digital distribution and editorial independence. We realized that, thanks to digital distribution, we could be in direct contact with our player base without going through distribution or publishing, which gives us full editorial independence. After 15 years of development in big companies on big projects, that’s certainly a bit of a dream come true.
If we hadn’t made this move, I feel like I could have waited all my life, as big publishers are not only not very much into PC gaming, but not very much into 4X strategy which is seen as very niche. I loved all the games I worked on (but one) and one of the reasons I also left DICE was to be able to work on many different styles and not stay stuck to only one brand for all my career.
Strategy Informer: Was that a subtle dig at EA or Ubisoft?
Romain: I wouldn't dare, as I loved every minute of my time working with them, but it is normal that if you are seen as being good in one thing, why would anyone want to take the chance to have you do something else?
Strategy Informer: What were the elements that inspired the Endless Space Universe? And the mechanics used to create the game?
Romain: One thing that for us was important was to drag the players into the game and in order to do that we really wanted to put some special effort into creating a universe that is both something you can recognize and feel a connection to, and at the same time, something that can stand on its own. With our lead writer, Jeff Spock (another co-founder of AS and main writer on Might and Magic), we worked a lot on it while with Corinne was trying to compile a long list of historic and architectural references that would give depths to our universe.
As actual influences though, we could cite: Dune, Wheel of Time, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, amongst other books and movies. Game mechanic wise, our fathers would be Master of Orion, Civilization, a tiny touch of Total War. Of course as we play a lot of games, and many others could have very well influenced the design at some point.
Strategy Informer: The space 4X strategy niche isn’t too crowded right now… has that meant less pressure to be creative? What is Endless Space’s unique selling point?
Romain: A bad game does not entice that many players... so if you are not that creative you will not get very far anyway. Our goal with Amplitude and Endless Space is to open the 4x genre to as many people as possible, so we worked a lot on the game's accessibility through game design choices, interfaces, attractive visuals and even generally the universe as we mentioned before.
But of course we wanted to please our core audience of 4X space strategy fans, and we knew that these players would be very demanding and you can't use marketing tricks to please them. They need substance as a unique selling point, and we hope they get that through playing our game: We don't have top of the range technology, we don't have an unlimited amount of budget and we built the studio around the project so we mainly wanted to create a solid gaming experience.
When you have played a game of Endless Space, we want you to come back as if you lived the life of that emperor, you were really in and nothing pulled you out... except your victory or defeat. To support that experience we have the strategic depth, the cinematic style battles, accessibility and that combination is combined with the game mood and ambiance to be our key selling point.
Strategy Informer: Speaking of combat – it’s already proven fairly divisive when it comes to your existing followers – what was the thinking there? As a bit of a war monger myself, I can certainly appreciate more robust combat mechanics, although Endless Space is fairly unique.
Romain: Basically our vision is that the combat is the tip of the iceberg of your strategy. We will never want to see micro-management combat in our game, and we see Endless Space as more of a ‘Civilization in space’, not a game about space tactical battles. Yet we want the battles to be rewarding because there is nothing more beautiful than space battles in movies: How many of us are still fond of the Star Wars space battles or the Battlestar Galactica space battles? Our battle system is made to fit in with the global experience we want to give, quick intense beautiful battles where you don't need to be a mouse ace to win and definitely not a micro-managing freak.
Saying that, there are many things we want to keep improving as far as combat goes that might go a little towards giving more control on the outcome, without being micro. We’ve also worked on better information and camera angles during the battles so generally combat will keep evolving.
Strategy Informer: There is a light narrative to Endless Space when it comes to the Universe’s ancient race, but these elements seem a bit light at the moment – do you plan on expanding on that? Also, have you considered scripted, more story driven scenarios?
Romain: I agree with you, and we want to do more on that area, but for now we'll add more visuals to strengthen these events, introduce the factions and so on. After release I really hope that as part of our modding support we'll give the ability to script events in order for our modders to create mini scenarios, but it will depend also on what our players will want to see.
Strategy Informer: Speaking of Mod support- are you doing anything special there? Special tools? Or are you just making sure the code is relatively open and then saying to the community 'go nuts'?
Max: We'll definitely go for the later. We are still working on mod support at the moment so it is hard to tell you how far we can go, but we'll go as far as we can go with our engine to unleash the creativity of our community.
Strategy Informer: What is your future vision for Endless Space? Expansions? DLC?
Romain: Honestly, we are not fully set on the details of post release content, business wise, but we are very ambitious on what we want to add. There is so much more we want to do... but all will depend on the success of the game. We will keep adding free content, that is a definite, especially those features that are asked for by the community. If ever we go for a paid-for expansion, it would add major features and have a lot of content.
I like to consider the game at release as only the foundation upon which we'll build in the years to come, and this where the whole Game2Gether concept will be taken to the next level. Obviously if we sell well enough, that will allow us to stick to our plan to keep a live team fully dedicated to Endless Space. At the moment we haven’t decided what our next big move is yet, and that’s something we’ll work with the community on.
There are several elements we cut from the initial release of Endless Space during development because we were not satisfied with how it turned out, and we wanted to spend more time on them. These include things like: ground combat, fighters and bombers (carriers), boarding parties and espionage.
Strategy Informer: Let’s talk about Games2Gether then, your own scheme for getting the community involved… why did you make it such a ‘formal’ process?
Max: There are two main reasons we made It in such a ‘formal' manner: first, we wanted to concentrate our community's creativity. We wanted to give them all the assets to be able to participate in a constructive way to the development of the game. That's why we started by giving out our game design documents, that way we all had a common basis from where we could start discussing gameplay elements.
We also wanted everyone to be able to participate, that's why we have the forums for the people that were really into discussing each feature in detail, but we also have the votes that are more friendly for people not aware of game development or simply don't have enough time to spend on the forums. The second point is that we wanted the creativity to be fun, that's why we included all the XP and award/achievement system into the forums, the G2G points for votes etc... we want to build on that, today we're a very small team and we really tried to find funny ideas to reward the community.
We hope to bring all this to the next level if players allow us to continue this adventure. We can't imagine coming back to the traditional model, now that we've been in touch with such an amazing community!
Strategy Informer: Are you worried about giving the community too much power?
Max: Well, we've been clear with the community since Day 1: We have a global creative vision and we want to stick to it, otherwise the game would never come out. We were also afraid of what you mention, but the community has been amazingly mature and understanding on this.
Moreover, since the beginning we told ourselves, this won't work if we're not totally transparent with the community, that's why we try to give them as much info as possible on the development of the game, via the forums, the progress bar, the early version access, etc... If there are features that we'll be unable to do, we'll simply explain why (technical issues, budget issues etc...)
If there are features we’re unwilling to do, we'll try to explain why it doesn't fit into our game experience and flow, but we'll always do our best to answer all requests.
Strategy Informer: Is this something you will use for all Amplitude games? Will you try and get other studios on board?
Romain: Well it is a company philosophy, that's how we want to work, but honestly we never thought of opening it to other developers.
Strategy Informer: And what do you think your future projects might be?
Romain: Well, all the other game we never had the opportunity to make before!
Thanks again to Romain and Maz for taking the time to speak to us. Endless Space is shaping up to be a real gem of a strategy game, and we hope it gets the recognition it deserves to so we can see more. Keep an eye out for our hands-on preview.