Interview: Pandora: First Contact Wargamer.com interview
The Wargamer talks to Lorenz Ruhmann of Proxy Studios about their new 4X game Pandora: First Contact
- science fiction, outer space, turn-based, 4x (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate), intermediate, pc, mac, isometric, english, 1, 2, 3, 4, yes, moddable data files, printed - color, operational
The Wargamer talks to Lorenz Ruhmann of Proxy Studios about their new 4X game Pandora: First Contact.
Firstly, many thanks for giving us the time to ask you these questions, and taking the time to answer them.
OK, first question is a bit inevitable I’m afraid, but it has to be asked. Do you see this as the successor to Alpha Centauri?
While I wouldn't go as far as calling it a successor, we were definitely heavily inspired by it. Our philosophy at Proxy is to make the games we want to play, and there hasn't been anything like Alpha Centauri in ages. On top of that our team loves science-fiction, and from an engineering point of view it was a natural step forward from our previous title Conquest: Divide and Conquer (http://www.conquest-game.com/).
Right, with that out of the way we can continue with the other questions. What inspired you to make Pandora? And what inspirations did you draw on?
Apart from Alpha Centauri and the Civilization series, we also drew inspiration from games like Master of Orion and Deadlock: Planetary Conquest, as well as books and movies like the Hyperion Saga, Dune, Aliens, Starship Troopers, Avatar, etc.
Can you give us a quick overview of the game for those who are not yet familiar with it? What are the key gameplay mechanisms?
It is a turn-based strategy game on a planetary scale. You explore a new world with threatening alien life, build an empire, manage your economy, research new technologies and command vast armies against your enemies.
What would you say are the features of Pandora that will set it apart from other 4X games? What will grab the player and keep them playing?
Our technology tree is randomized, so you have to adapt for each play-through instead of following a few viable and established research strategies. The workshop allows you to customize your units with different weapons, armours, and special devices. A player can deploy powerful operations like drop pods and nuclear missiles onto the battlefield. The economy system has some cool features as well. You can highly specialise your cities due to shared resources and rapidly shift gears by reallocating colonists. We fixed city sprawling by making the growth rate population based, and we added migration between cities. Also, the alien life responds based on your actions and how you interfere with their ecosystem.
How did you come up with the ideas for the different factions in the game? What inspired them? Also, which do you identify most with if any?
The factions are based on different themes, and we have tried express those via their ideologies and beliefs as well as game mechanics. You have your scientific faction that seeks knowledge, fanatic and war-mongering zealots, peaceful tree-huggers etc. While I definitely like all of them, the Imperial war machine commanded by Admiral Heid with strong and resilient units is simply bad-ass.
Related to this, how did you develop the alien life forms in the game? What were the inspirations here and what challenges did you face in coming up with them?
We wanted a high variety of land, water and air creatures, each having their unique mechanics and roles. Our artist had a lot of freedom designing their looks, and I think he did a great job.
Do you think it is easier or harder to define a completely made up life form? On one hand you can do what you like, but on the other hand they, presumably, have to be somewhat believable otherwise it all gets silly.
I agree one has to walk a fine line between realism and imagination, even in a science-fiction game, but as long as you don't go too crazy it's not a problem.
Similarly, what inspirations (if any) did you draw on for the look and feel of the alien world, Pandora? What are the challenges of defining an alien world?
On the one hand, since Pandora is a terrestrial planet, there definitely should be some resemblance to Earth - also to make it more accessible for players. On the other hand, you want your planet to look alien and exciting. There were some lengthy discussions about it in the beta forums, and in the end our artist went with a mixture of green/yellow and purple which makes for a very attractive contrast.
Oh, and which is your favourite alien life form in the game?
The Leviathan, ruler of the Pandorian seas! He looks a bit like a massive Kraken, and his movement range exceeds the vision range of naval transports – making early exploration of the oceans quite scary.
Same questions about the future tech in the game – how did you come up with the ideas, and what were the inspirations? How hard was it to keep things believable?
It was a mixture of what mechanics we wanted to have in the game (e.g. deploy troops behind enemy lines or disable a city) and cool effects (e.g. a black hole wiping an entire army). Since our theme is high science fiction, we really have a ton of cool options, especially in the mid to late game.
It’s an important, probably key, part of the game, so could you run through how the tech-tree works in Pandora? What challenges will it provide for the players, and how do the different factions affect tech?
To give a high degree of flexibility between deep and broad research through the tree, each technology can lead up to multiple new technologies and does not require more than one technology. That means a player always wants to find good paths to technologies helpful for his current situation in the game. To not overwhelm new players and add some mystery, we also introduced a game option to select how many research tiers are visible down line. Certain technologies interact particularly well with faction bonus’, so if the Noxium Corporation researches Qan Bargaining, they can purchase units and buildings at half the price!
Which bit of the future tech do you think will really catch the players’ imagination?
My personal favourite is the orbital deployment. The tactical possibilities are just awesome - landing your troops behind enemy lines and capturing under-garrisoned cities.
Likewise, the economy of the world. How do you go about creating a plausible economic model for a future society on an alien world?
The key word here is abstraction: I've always felt that the Civilization series went a bit far in that regard by merging minerals and production as well as making city resources highly localized. In Pandora you can have a research outpost in the middle of the desert next to an alien observatory, and by assigning your population to science and building laboratories; this can become a highly efficient city.
What would you say are going to be the key parts of the economic model that the players will have to master, and what challenges will they face in doing so?
While not mandatory per se, Pandora allows you to truly maximize your efficiency by specializing colonies and reallocating colonists to different tasks. Doing a strong research push for a certain key technology and then shifting gears heavily into production felt pretty awesome in our single- and multi player test sessions. Also, because of the random research tree as well as growth being based on your total empire population rather than city count, expansion timings differ quite a bit between individual games.
It would be an unusual development project if some things you initially wanted to include did not make the final game. So what did you have to leave out, and might we see them in a future update?
The biggest thing is without a doubt the alien invasion in late game. Our native life slowly goes extinct over the course of the game, and we did not want to artificially buff it up or drastically increase the spawn rate to become stronger. Instead, we wanted to have an alien race (that the player can directly interact with) with advanced technology return to the planet. However, during development we discovered we simply have not the time to balance and tweak it enough before release, and if not done properly this could have totally ruined game-play. So we decided to make it expansion content and rather balance and polish the core mechanics before release.
Are there any ideas for the future, any planned additions you can tell us about?
Pandora is designed from the ground up to be fully expandable. There is no real limit to how many new factions, territory features, units, buildings, operations etc. one can add to the game. Our ambitious goal is to make the most complete science fiction 4X turn-based strategy game on a planetary scale. We will keep iterating and publishing changes just like we did in beta, and every player who has bought the game has full access and can easily change between the beta and release version via our automated update system.
Finally, this would be a good opportunity to give the development team a name check; so who has been involved and what did they do?
I want to give out a huge thanks to my friends and co-workers for this title, namely: Rok Breulj (Design and Programming), Soheil Khaghani (Graphics), Charlie Armour (Music), Mikael Andersson (Sound) and Daniel Griliopoulos (Writing). I also want to thank our publisher Slitherine and Matrix Games for their support and faith in us bringing this game to life.