Vasari Titans are aligning themselves in battle formation. TEC corvettes are flanking the Ogrov Torpedo Cruisers, standing ready to protect the automatons. Powerful Advent cruisers and frigates ready their cannons, poised to send chromatic pulse lasers across the endless vacuum that has become their battlefield.
The beta for Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is nearing its end, and as the standalone expansion approaches launch phase, it’s clear that developer Stardock is ready to do battle as well. The chief purpose of a beta is to iron out the remaining flaws a game contains, so Producer Chris Bray has been involved with the title’s Internet community since day one.
“We get tons of feedback, and in all honesty, this is the best community I’ve ever been involved with,” he said. “Not only do they give you their opinion on different units and balancing, but they also give the why behind their opinion.
The thorough criticisms that the beta players have sent Stardock’s way are the starting point for changes to the final product. “As a developer or a designer, the detailed problems with units is almost more important than simply saying that one unit sucks or one unit is great,” Bray said.
Much like any great Sins general, Bray has had his fair share of experience, albeit on different battlegrounds. As a former scripter, designer, and producer at Red Storm Entertainment, he has worked on titles like Rainbow Six: Lockdown, Ghost Recon 2, and the recently released Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.
“The switch from FPS titles to RTS was definitely a big change,” Bray said. “At the same time, there are still a few core principles you take with you, no matter the genre you’re involved with.”
Bray’s role as a designer isn’t as prominent at Stardock as it was at Red Storm. “I worked as a designer and producer at Red Storm, so I saw a lot of both roles,” he said. “Coming to Stardock allowed me to really take on the sole role of producer though, seeing as how we already had a team who knew the units in-and-out, so I didn’t want to mess with that.”
The aforementioned design team is not averse to changing units from a design standpoint, and the beta has allowed them to incorporate players’ opinions. As with any RTS title, balancing issues are inevitable, especially in beta phase. Cost efficiency and net damage must be taken into account for individual units, as well as the balance of entire factions.
“We’ve done a lot to balance a few ships, especially the Titans and Corvettes,” Bray said. “We’ve been working on them since the beginning. It was great to see the team balance the Titans especially, because they’re such powerful, massive ships.”
“To get really specific, we’ve scaled how they grow in power when they level up,” he said. “This ensures that players are still combining a bunch of different ship classes in their fleets, and that’s what really makes this game fun.”
The wide spectrum of strategies that can be utilized in Sins is apparent through the variety of play styles each faction sports. Whether it is the dual star base ability of the TEC Loyalists or the Vasari’s nomadic jumping between planets, Bray thinks that Sins has some of the most dynamic gameplay in the RTS genre.
“Every faction has their own really cool tools to take a planet quickly or ally with pirates,” he said. “As a game in the RTS genre, it’s important to really show that variety between units and factions. It really helps us stand out.”
With new competition arising in the space RTS niche, Bray sees the situation much like the generals of Rebellion view their theater of war.
“We’re excited [about the competition],” Bray said. “For one reason, any time another developer is putting out games similar to yours, it’s going to drive your team to become even better.”
Although not in the exact same genre, 4X titles like Endless Space and Legends of Pegasus are threatening to steal Rebellion’s thunder. Although a little deeper than Sins in terms of micromanagement, Bray sees the similarities in a positive light. “It really draws a lot of eyes to the space real-time strategy genre,” he said. “With several great games in the genre, it really increases the popularity for multiple developers. It shows just how epic games like this can be, and we love it.”
Gamers will be manning their battle stations in just a few tweaks, and be able to experience the tweaks Stardock has been applying to the already stellar RTS.