It's difficult to gauge just how long children have grown up hearing stories of the stars. Common-place with amateur telescopes, elementary school science lessons and even mobiles hanging above the cribs of new-born babies; we're told of space, the stars, and astronauts almost as soon as we come into this planet orbiting just another star.
So it should come as little surprise that the dawn of video games has meant we're able to somewhat realise our childhood ambition of shooting off into space and discovering all sorts of unexplainable phenomena, black holes, and the site of the moon landing. Conjuring up such experiences comes Croatia-based game development studio Little Green Men Games - a fitting name for a team so heavily invested in space-based video games. Whether they're actual aliens wasn't a question we dared ask.
Having put out Starpoint Gemini: Warlords back in May of this year, we sat down with Mario Mihoković - CEO/Sound designer/Story Writer extraordinaire, community manager Zeno Žokalj and Igor Gajic, their head of PR/Marketing to ask about the past, present, and future of the Starpoint Gemini franchise.
GameWatcher: It's been a number of months now since the release of Starpoint Gemini: Warlords. Has the game been growing to meet your expectations? Are players of Starpoint Gemini 2 reluctant to start fresh with an un-numbered sequel?
Igor: We had a bit of a rocky start like many games out there, but the community has been strong, the sales are steady, and we're pretty satisfied with the results so far. Our fans are aware we are listening to their wishes and feedback, so basically, everything we did in Warlords is the result of their ideas and demands. But, that doesn't mean we're abandoning Starpoint Gemini 2. Far from it. We're still supporting the game with new fixes and content patches.
Mario: Since Warlords eventually became a game offering rather different experience then SPG2, we plan to support previous game even more
GameWatcher: Did you go into Starpoint Gemini: Warlords expected to have to keep working on Gemini 2? Do you forsee a time where you'll be focusing your attention on one over the other?
Igor: Yeah, we always knew we'd have to - or to put it better - we'd want to keep working on SPG2. Naturally, we would want to support it forever, but the day will come when we'll have to say "Alright, it's time to move on". But not today.
Mario: With time, focus will shift to Warlords more and more, and eventually to new projects, but we do have a history of supporting a game for quite some time.
GameWatcher: Before release, you mentioned how DLC plans for Starpoint Gemini: Warlords would be mostly down to player requests and feedback. You've demonstrated this strategy continously with the recent release of the Titan update. Is this philosphy carrying over into the next planned update?
Igor: Basically everything we do for Warlords is the result of player requests and feedback. The next DLC follows that philosophy. Code-named "Aliens", the next DLC brings new factions, alternate starts, challenge modes and a lot more. Actually, this will be the biggest DLC we've done so far, because, you know, when it comes to DLC content, we create full-fledged expansions that are really worth your money.
Furthermore, when we bring the new DLC, the core mechanics of the new DLC is free to everyone. For example, with Deadly Dozen DLC we introduced Bounty Hunting mechanics, which was free to everyone. Likewise, with Titans Return, everyone got one Titan for free. LGM wants to be fair to our customer, because our customer has been fair to us.
GameWatcher: Are there plans to eventually incorporate your own ideas and vision into the game's DLC in the future, or are you planning to stick to solely implementing player requests until the very end? What are some key features you'd love to bring into the game that players haven't specifically requested?
Mario: I would personally love to see more fleet options and more features concerning strategy movements. That might yet happen in the future. From other desires, I'd love to see co-op multiplayer and VR support, but these are rather unlikely to happen in this sequel. Many other wishes we have within our team are definitely happening with future projects.
GameWatcher: There wasn't a huge gap between the release of Starpoint Gemini 2 and Starpoint Gemini: Warlords, but you continue to support past games. Is there a cut-off point in mind for either of the two, or would you expect to continue support for both titles even when working on something completely new further down the line?
Igor: We are willing to support both Starpoint Gemini 2 and Starpoint Gemini Warlords as long as we can, and as long as we conclude it's necessary. Starpoint Gemini 2 is a very "mature" title available for both PC and Xbox One, and we are still supporting it rather actively. Naturally, there will come a time when we'll tone down support activity on SPG2.
GameWatcher: Will Little Green Men Games ever develop something outside of the Starpoint Gemini universe?
Igor: We are always looking for more challenges, so if the right time comes, who knows!
Zeno: Probably yes, but even those potential new projects will be influenced by everything we talked about with our community in the past few years, not just Starpoint Gemini related, but other genres and games as well. We're all gamers after all...
GameWatcher: How about VR support? While we constantly hear stories about how there's little benefit to VR development right now, its inclusion in games like Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen highlight the intrigue of floating through space as a ship commander. Are there talks to add VR support further down the line?
Mario: In short – yes. We will definitely work with VR support in the future. We already had partial support for SPG2 in some builds, to check the potential of the device. It is possible that VR support will not be added to any of the existing projects, but we are counting to use it in future projects. Technology is still in its infancy and has a lot of problems, but we strongly believe it has a future in gaming market. Plus, types of games we create are very suitable for VR usage.
GameWatcher: We suspect making a hybrid strategy game of this size would have some major engineering issues to overcome. Are there any specific systems that posed a real challenge for the team to implement?
Mario: Actually, there were a lot of problems. During this development we realized why almost no dev team decided to go down this line. It requires we combine very different mechanics and consequent testing can be a nightmare. For example, two different genres require two different resource types, two different economies etc... We are happy how it worked in the end, and a lot of small solutions were suggested again by the community.
In the end, we have a huge game that starts more as tactical simulation, and slowly turns to a lot more strategy game as you advance. Still, one style of gameplay doesn't exclude the other. If you play the entire game, it feels as if you played two games. It was an interesting experiment but result is quite nice.
GameWatcher: It feels as if Starpoint Gemini: Warlords was built to appease players of Gemini 2 who thought it tried to build upon the classic Freelancer gameplay. Would you say you've managed to convince them that it can be done?
Igor: We're huge Freelancer fans. It's a timeless classic, so it's safe to say it inspired us in a large margin, of course. Starpoint Gemini 2 is a game we always wanted to make, while Starpoint Gemini Warlords is a collection of new and fresh ideas from ourselves and the community. Warlords was actually imagined as a big expansion, but the engine it was supposed to run on (Whale Engine 2) just couldn't support all the new features. So we had to make significant upgrades to the engine, which finally had the groundwork ready for gargantuan amount of content we "threw" at it.
Zeno: And it's not just Freelancer. Some of us grew up on Elite and the Wing Commander series, Star Trek Bridge Commander, Starfleet Command and many others. All those games influenced not just us, but our community too so I think that's the main reason why our game was received very positive by our players. Most of them are mature gamers born between 1975 and 1985, but of course there are older and younger players too. Considering that many people call SPG2 a "spiritual successor to Freelancer“, I think we succeeded, but of course we can always do better.
If you're a current Starpoint Gemini fan, the future looks bright for you as an individual. Give some solid feedback and vent a feature you'd like in the game and, should the extended playerbase be on your side, you'll get your wish. As expected, Little Green Men Games have ideas of their own too, but they're putting the player first with this particular space-based outing for now.
And they're right on the money with VR. Looking at games like Elite: Dangerous and tacked-on support in other space games leaves something to be desired. The feeling of spatial awareness is there, but the relatively low-resolution screens used in both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift at the minute means space just isn't quite as crisp and clean as we dreamt. Paired with the obvious need for a radical UI overhaul to support VR, Starpoint Gemini: Warlords likely isn't a viable candidate for the tech. Rest assured, the team are constastly following the VR space.
Now let's just wait on more news of that next expansion.