Early Access and Expectations
Early Access is one of those phrases you young people like to toss around. From what I’ve seen over the years, it basically means “Buy Our Game – But It Isn’t Done Yet” and well, I suppose that is just fine. Buyer beware and all – when you put out cash for an unfinished product, that is what you’re getting. When it fails, Early Access can implode in spectacle or fade off into obscurity. When it works, you get a game with consumer insights that would be envied in the days long before Steam and GoG.
I was familiar with Little Green Man Games before hearing of Starpoint Gemini Warlords. Having a love for space simulators and getting out into the black, Starpoint Gemini 2 was a game that scratched an itch for me for a while and I had a lot of fun with it. But like them salty tides, interests change over time. However, now I find myself not able to get enough of space simulators – particularly freeroamers.
Prepared to dust the cobwebs and space barnacles off my old hull, a few months back I noticed a new game with the Starpoint Gemini title. Warlords had just entered Early Access and without much thought, I snagged it up and took to the skies. I quickly found myself more confused and bewildered than normal, and soon logged out again. Folks, this illustrates the importance of reading – your teachers were right, it can help. This was no normal space sim. This was a bloody 4x empire building, fleet constructing, freeroaming game with oodles of fiddly bits. I was afraid, and ran away. The whole deal sounded like an unholy hybrid of things I liked. Like Fish and Ice Cream. Great on their own, suspicious together.
But as this beast of a game rose up from the depths, I found myself gazing at it and wondering more and more what it could be. So, as Starpoint Gemini Warlords entered its final weeks of Early Access, I decided to up the number on my 0.1 hours of playtime. And boy did I ever.
The History of a Dominion
Back in the early days of Early Access, the folks at Little Green Man Games were nervous about signing up to this strange program that Steam had created. However, they took the risk and were rewarded. Their experience with Early Access had a great impact on the company, I feel it is safe to say it changed how they set about game design. Being able to see players’ reactions and suggestions to each new build – and listening to the suggestions and concerns – allowed them to forge a generally well received game. But they were not done. Not by a long shot.
While they added many ideas into the game, they were not able to squeeze all the suggestions in. Mostly because some of them were ambitious on a much grander scale and it would take time, money, and another round of community engagement to ferret out how to go about it. This leads us to Warlords, a game that promises to blend many aspects of 4x games, all from the comfort of your flagships cockpit.
Warlords entered in to Early Access around April of 2016. It needs to be repeated that this game is not done yet. Who knows what kind of changes could happen between now and launch? That said, Little Green Man Games has put out there that the core of the game is ready and is pretty much as-is. There will be some fine tuning, tightening up of some mechanics, and a few additions that they haven’t quite finished up yet. So, while it may not be one hundred percent reflective of the final product, I think the game in its current state is pretty close to final. When it’s been launched, I’ll do a full review, going over many of the unlisted and more advanced game mechanics, in addition to plot, writing, and other campaign related stuff.
Ruling the Galaxy from Your Cockpit
Warlords uses a simple WADS control scheme with speed determined by a mouse-scroll controlled slider. While there are lots of fiddly bits to learn as the game progresses, you master the basics quickly. If you’re okay with keyboard controls, you’ll probably fit right in. For my fellows who enjoy the Xbox Gamepad, never fear, controller support is on its way, and from the layout they have provided, it looks pretty sharp.
Combat is rewarding. I am not the quickest spark when it comes to space battles with lots going on, despite my love of the genre. And there is a lot going on in fights in Warlords. Tracking down the biggest threat, maybe needing to hack a satellite while your fleet distracts the platform defenders, or trying to fight off the tiny enemy ships while you’re issuing instructions to your boarding party to help them work their way through a bigger ship. Lots to track, in addition to actually aiming, shooting, and making use of power ups and class abilities. Depending on your loadout, this could be daunting to keep track of. There is a blessing here, however; you can order your crew to take the guns of your smaller arms, and they do the hard work for you, provided their targets are within their firing arc. It is a small thing, easy to toggle on and off depending on the situation, but it is amazingly helpful. It really makes you feel like the captain of a ship, rather than the sole occupant.
Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate: The going definition of the popular and enduring 4x genre. Make no mistake, no matter how much time you spend in your cockpit, this is a 4x game. The road was hard to get here, and Little Green Man Games has pushed themselves to the limit combining these two genres. I spend just as much, if not more time, in my empire map, checking on the status of my civilian ships and the missions I had sent them on. I also had to keep a careful eye on the borders, to avoid any incursions from the local pirates. Maintaining those borders required me to direct my personally cobbled-together fleets to do patrols.
If that was all there was to it, 4x-wise, I’d honestly be satisfied. However, as my time in Warlords expanded, so too did the breadth of the game before me. While at first it wasn’t clear to me that it was even included in the game, as I was checking my status with the various factions I discovered Warlords had a diplomacy angle to it as well. Soon I was figuring out who could offer me the best trade deals and was debating with myself whether I should make peace with the pirates I had long been fighting. Tech trees to research, skill sets to unlock, freelancer jobs available in most ports and planets, I kept finding more and more aspects of the game to draw me in. Not to mention, the random events you ran into almost every trip out. It was a bit overwhelming. But yeah, it was overwhelming in a good way.
Lead to Victory or Not. Your Call
One thing that struck more than any aspect of the Warlords was fleet management. So far, it’s pretty simple. You build fleets, split them into different compositions, and you have a upper limit of ships you control. This limit is based off your empire’s development and the Command Value of each ship. You select a fleet on the map, move it around, have it merge, send it here or there.
Going to raid an enemy convoy, take over a star base, just want some back up on a mission? Fly to your fleet’s location (or have them come to you, whichever) and order them to follow your lead. Soon you’ll going through space with your hand crafted fleets flying in formation, and I have to be honest – that’s a bit of a rush. They fight, display an adequately-designed AI, don’t seem to attack ships I’m actively boarding, and respond to targeting requests quickly.
But maybe you you don’t want to worry about all that dirty business and just want to go space mining. That’s fine. Build your fleet and compare their power level to that of the enemy; when you feel confident, send them out and wish them luck. Enjoy your space mining in peace, and don’t bother yourself with the death screams of all those soldiers. They knew what they were signing on for.
One thing I’m looking forward to seeing developed with Warlords is the Planetary Assaults. They look big. They look spectacular, in fact. But how will the impact the game? As described by the folks over at Little Green Man Games, these planets are not sparsely inhabited by a few thousand colonist. Some of the planets you will encounter are home to billions – taking them is going to be no easy feat, the devs promise. While exact details on how it will function are yet to be released, the Proxima technology will be the key to planetary subjugation.
Did I say subjugation? I am pretty sure I meant “alternative convincing.”
From the Commander’s Chair
I had the pleasure of getting a chance to pin down the very busy Mario Mihokovic, CEO of Little Green Man Games, and he graciously answered a few of my questions. Here we discuss a few listed features, questions of support, and Warlords’ coming departure from the shipyard that is Early Access.
Old Man Mordaith: Under future features, you list ‘Global Events that can be influenced by the player.’ – When you say Global, do you refer to the galactic affairs in a single player universe? Or does this hint at interaction with the global community of players of the game?
Mario Mihokovic: Under “global events influenced by players” we strictly mean global events in a single player game. Meaning, Gemini Universe doesn’t offer different events happening only in your vicinity or closely connected to you. There are global things happening (in economy, wars, influence, diplomacy), and if you muster enough strength, you can actually start shifting these events that have an impact on all factions and overall situation. We don’t refer to any sort of multiplayer of online stuff. That is something we’ll have to leave for some better time. We might regret we’re unable to add proper MP component at this time, but first task is to be clear to players and avoid any kind of “No Man’s Skyish” miscommunication.
Old Man: Full controller support is also mentioned. How high of a priority is that post-launch? Will you be focused on the more common console like gamepads? Or will you be adding support for HOTAS controllers?
MM: At first, common console like gamepads will be emphasized. Most important of those are already supported. HOTAS is something a number of players use and it is interesting to us, but it won’t be priority immediately after release.
Old Man: Player support of Warlords seems to be very high. With your company listening to the players though early acsess and the inclusion of a growing modder community, do you feel that post launch the concerns and suggestions of players will still have an important design impact?
MM: Indeed, community impact was extremely important to us. In fact, Warlords is a standalone game that has just a few things in common with Starpoint Gemini 2, and entire Warlords project was proposed and basically designed by all the huge suggestions left after Starpoint Gemini 2 was closed. After release, this impact will still be felt, either through patches, adjustments, imagining things for DLC’s… or if players propose enough ideas that are “too good to be ignored”, we might design another entire game based on these suggestions. Wouldn’t be the first for us.
Old Man: While the 4X elements are likely one of the biggest shake ups in the design of the game, is there anything else that you think is going to surprise players that will be included in the final game?
MM: Well, along 4X elements that shifted the concept of the entire game, I think two more things will be a nice surprise to players: First – the way 4X is merged to direct combat tactical game. We spent a lot of time to bind strategical and global mechanics, and not losing direct immersive simulation feeling. These are very hard to couple together but I think we did a pretty good job, greatly thanks to all Early Access players that helped us with thousands of small advices on how to merge “unmergable”. Second thing is that we added another layer of immersive elements – there are landscapes of planet surfaces when landing, station interiors, extensive customization. They were all requested by community and we tried to accommodate them as much as possible within our manpower and budget restraints.
Old Man: SPGW went into Early Access on Steam back in April of 2016. When do you anticipate an official full launch of Warlords? When it happens will there be any kind of special event or celebration planned to correspond?
MM: Official release date is set for May 23rd 2017. So, within a month basically. Our internal version is advancing nicely, there is a lot more work to be done (especially on campaign part), but we are positive target will be met. Regarding celebration – we’d love to, and we’ll definitely organize something for our awesome players, just not maybe on the direct release date. On that day we’ll be exiting a 3 month crunch time and we’ll likely be as active as an average zombi.
A Peek into the Future
The folks a Little Green Man Games took the time to send us some never-seen-out-of-the-office screen shots. These are very much works in progress and shouldn’t be considered reflective of the final product. But they do show off the work they are doing with God Rays and with the concepts around Planetary Landings.
Watching From the Depths of Space
So with that, we have a good first glance at a game that has been brewing in Early Access for the better part of a year. I look forward to giving this a full review and biting into the larger concepts when the game officially launches. Until then, I haven’t an ounce of buyers remorse, and Little Green Man Games is company that isn’t afraid to take risks in design. In addition to that, they also listen to the concerns of their fan base.
So far, what I see is promising. This melding of Space Simulator Freeroamer and 4x Strategy isn’t something I thought would – or should – work. But here we are.
People who like their games to have variety, fans of both 4x and Space Sims, and people who just like seeing an experiment in game design, are bound to want to watch this one closely. Keep an eye out for my full review that will come sometime soon after they officially launch. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for Mario and all those on the LGM team. Looking forward to uncovering the mysteries, both scripted and not, of Starpoint Gemini Warlords.
Rating Withheld until EA departure
Early Access Look by Old Man Mordaith
Edited by Jesse Roberts
Lots of stuff that couldn’t fit into the article. Take a look at what is and what is to come!