Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar Interview

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posted 7/31/2006 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager

Galactic Civilization 2: Dread Lords is one of our top games of the year so far.  It’s easy to use interface, cool custom ship builder, and deep game play have been the source of many late nights and early mornings for various GN staffers since the game came out.  The folks at Star Dock haven’t been asleep at the wheel since the game has come out as they have been cranking out a few patches that go beyond the standard bug fixes and game play tweaks.  Since they game was released the folks at Star Dock have added modding tools and a few new game play modes which meant more late nights and early mornings just so we can squeeze out “one last turn”.  We were a little giddy when we heard Star Dock was already working on an expansion pack and we were able to get a short interview in with one of the fine folks at Star Dock.

GamingNexus: First of all, congratulations on the success of GalCiv2.  I’m glad that so many people have realized what a compelling and entertaining franchise this is. 
Thanks! We’re really pleased by how well the game has been received by everyone so far.

GamingNexus: Can you introduce yourself and describe your role on the team?  How long have you been with Stardock and how did you get into the game development business?
My name is Brian Clair and I’m Stardock Entertainment’s Director of Games Publishing. My job is to get our games into retail, run our TotalGaming.net digital distribution service, provide feedback to the team on areas that could be improved, handle game marketing and to work with third-party developers on publishing their titles. I’ve been with Stardock for about a year and a half, joining up in early 2005. Prior to working for Stardock I was the publisher/editor of the Adrenaline Vault website for over nine years, which is how I got into the industry.

GamingNexus: What sort of decisions did you find your selves making when it came time to determine what content to place in an expansion?  How do you determine which content is better as a patch, and which is worthy as release in a separate product?
Brian Clair: This is a good question since Stardock’s updates add so much new content that they practically qualify as expansion packs in their own right.  For full-fledged expansions, we look at what features we can add that will extend the game in ways not possible through a patch.  These features simply require more development time and testing than we could offer as part of a patch.

GamingNexus: Getting in specifics, what sort of changes to gameplay are going to be made with the expansion?  More importantly, how many of my tried-and-true strategies am I going to have to throw out the window when Dark Avatar arrives?
Brian Clair: Dark Avatar is going to make a lot of great changes to the gameplay of Galactic Civilizations II, many of which were requested by our fans. For starters, we’ll be expanding the Custom Race system so that players will be able to design their own opponents and then play against them.  The new Espionage Agents will give players the ability to sabotage opponents, so that you can “switch off” powerful wonders like the Economic Capital. The new Special Worlds we’re adding will slow down the initial colony rush strategy and add a whole new gameplay dynamic. We’re adding Asteroid Fields that players will be able to construct bases on in order to give new benefits to nearby worlds. The updated Diplomacy system will give gamers the ability to make trade and research treaties. The AI is getting a boost as well with a host of new options to provide an even greater challenge. Plus we’re adding in a bunch of new ship parts and hulls to give gamers the ability to create even better ship designs. Your strategies will probably need some adjustment. :)

GamingNexus: You mentioned Special Worlds in your press release, which I find intriguing.  Can you explain how these are going to work?  Are we going to have certain races that are just better with specific types of planets?
Brian Clair: In Dark Avatar, planets will be labeled with certain classifications including: Universal (Earth-like); Barren (rocks in space, like Mars); Toxic (worlds like Venus); High Gravity; and Radioactive. Universal worlds can be colonized by any race, just like in GalCiv II. The other planet types will require certain technologies before they’ll be able to be colonized. So, for instance, to colonize a High Gravity world, you’d need to research Gravity Normalization.

As for making races better with certain types of worlds, that’s something we’re still thinking about.



GamingNexus: I found myself enthralled with the ship generator, as did many players.  What sort of improvements are we going to be seeing here?  Will it just be more ship components and ship designs or something else?
Brian Clair: Dark Avatar is going to add a number of new ship components (jewelry) and new hulls. The art team has become very good at creating new elements for ship design, so we think gamers will be quite happy with what they find. The Ship Design screen will also be getting better sorting and other tweaks.


GamingNexus: On to the campaign.  The end of the Dread Lords campaign left for some…interesting problems for a certain race.  And now we see that the Drengin are going to be the good (or less-bad?) guys.  Care to spill any beans about the plot?
Brian Clair: The good guys didn’t end up doing so well at the end of GalCiv II’s campaign and I’m afraid things aren’t going to get much better for them in Dark Avatar.  The Drengin now dominate the galaxy and a splinter group, called the Korath, have started to advocate the utter extermination of all non-Drengin in the galaxy. Obviously, the more mainstream Drengin are against this; after all, slave races fufill a need and are tasty too. In Dark Avatar’s campaign, the player will take the role of the Drengin as they try to stop the Korath from exterminating the rest of the galaxy. During the campaign, two races from GalCiv II will be wiped out, but others will take their place.


GamingNexus: And for all those times where I just want some simple wanton destruction…any chance of playing as the Dread Lords in a scenario or two? 
Brian Clair: Not in Dark Avatar. The Dread Lords are just too powerful to be play-balanced for this expansion.


GamingNexus: Where does Galactic Civilizations go from here?  Are you considering another expansion pack after this or is it on to Gal Civilizations  III/new IP?
Brian Clair: We’re considering doing one more GalCiv II expansion pack after Dark Avatar, if sales do well. Past that we’ll be working on a new fantasy strategy game, The Political Machine 2008 and then Galactic Civilizations III


GamingNexus: Stardock is now getting into the game publishing business, what was the impetuous about deciding to publish other titles besides your own?  Do you have any titles already in the pipeline or are you just now starting to look for titles to publish?
Brian Clair: One of our big motivations for getting into publishing was our own experiences, as developers, in working with publishers to get onto store shelves. What we want to do is concentrate on a very small number of high-quality titles in order to give them the same kind of attention and focus that we gave to Galactic Civilizations II.  We’re always looking for prospective games to publish, so the hunt never ends.


GamingNexus: Are you going to stick with publishing only PC titles or would you consider publishing something for a console or maybe even trying to get a title on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade?  Are you looking for any particular type of title or just games that you like and think will have a market? 
Brian Clair: Right now we’re planning to stick with PC games only, though we’re not closing the door on consoles for some point in the future. Initially we’re looking to stay in the strategy-game market for retail publishing, but are also looking to expand into role-playing since we think that genre hasn’t gotten much attention by publishers/developers in the past few years (outside of MMOs).


GamingNexus would like to thank Brian for taking the time to answer our questions and Tom for helping to coordinate the interview (and dealing with our constant nagging).