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Epoch Star Interview

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Epoch Star Interview

Interview - posted by Spazmo on Sat 30 April 2005, 18:21:17

Tags: Battleline Games; Epoch Star

Epoch Star Interview

1. Tell us about yourself and your company, Battleline Games. When did you start making games? Why did you start making games? Have you done anything besides Epoch Star?

It's been a dream of mine to write games since my dad purchased a Magnavox Odyssey 2 in 1980 (I wanted an Atari 2600, but my dad was a sucker for slick salesmen. He also owned 2 Beta Max VCRs). I've been writing small games for primarily for myself for about 5 years now. I started with 2D DirectX 7 space shooters. About 3 years ago I decided I wanted to do a much larger game. I have a day job programming mortgage software so development is frequently slow. About 3 months ago I started to make Epoch Star available to more than just my friends. I started out getting 2 downloads a day or so, but after receiving good feedback on how to improve my game I am now getting around 50 downloads a day, and my game is currently the most downloaded game on GameDev.net's game developer showcase. A few months ago, my brother John began to write stories and some missions around the outlines I had prepared for the back story. Battleline Games is Rick Battagline (me) and my brother John, who is currently a student at Ohio State University. This summer we are planning to devote a significant portion of time to attempt to complete the game.

2. Now give us an overview of Epoch Star. What's the game about? How does it play?

Epoch Star is a cross-genre epic space adventure. It has many of the character building aspects of a pure RPG, but is more slimmed down and action oriented like Diablo. It was inspired by older games like Star Control 2 and Starflight.


3. What kind of backstory does Epoch Star's setting have?

This week, I am going to add six to 10 short stories written by John Battagline around the history of the races in Epoch Star. Please check out the website for updates.

Epoch Star is set in a distant Galaxy, in what would be our future. The human race is present in this Galaxy, but is not the focal point of the story. Epoch Star focuses on the relationships between several alien races that have formed a "Union of Stars"; a race of all consuming Serpentine creatures known as "Ignus" who ravage and destroy any planet or life form they come in contact with; a collection of smaller unnamed barbarian races that are oppressed by the Union; And a recent arrival of several new races: one race who worships a god known as the "Epoch Star" and another who claims to be fleeing from the wrath of the "Epoch Star".

The story of the formation of the Union dates back 1000 years prior to the story of the Epoch Star and is documented in a semi-religious text documented by a race known as the Mandralor. The Union was initially formed by all the Space Faring races in the galaxy in an effort to contain the beast like Ignus who ravaged any world they came in contact with. Any race that developed space travel after the Ancient Ignus War was not invited into the Union and became classified as "Goth Barbarians" even after many of these races developed the capacity for space travel. Between the Ancient Ignus War and the Modern Ignus war, the Union held loosely together to protect its members through the oppression and intimidation of the Goth races.

The story of the Epoch Star begins with the arrival of several new races. Initially these races were classified as Goth by the Union and they were hunted as criminals. One race known as the Anthropites became pirates who attacked and plundered Union Mining and Transport vessels. Another race of what appear to be automatons calling themselves "Legion" quickly overran much of the Union space. These ships are easy to destroy, but quickly replenish their numbers. In addition, the Mandralor have inexplicably seceded from the Union and have apparently been assisting the Ignus. Union members argue over what threat should be addressed first. Their once safe systems have been thrown into utter chaos.

4. Is combat the main focus of the game? What other kinds of tasks can players expect to tackle in Epoch Star?

Combat is certainly a large part of this game. But my goal is to make the story of this game the main focus. This presents several challenges from a game design perspective. Initially most players are primarily interested in learning how to play the game. Introducing too much content early on results in a new player missing the beginning portion of the story. In future releases, there will be an effort to create a balance between introducing the game, and introducing the story.

5. At the heart of any good space-faring game is a deep ship outfitting option. What kind of neat toys will players buy for their spacecraft in Epoch Star?

Rapid fire weapons, Powerful slower cannons, Guided missiles and projectiles, plasma flame throwers, shock wave weapons, siege weapons that exploded with large splash damage, Shrapnel weapons, laser beams, shield chargers, hyper thrusters, cloaking devices, mines, space phantoms, tractor beams, repulsive beam weapons, a slew of ailments to be distributed over all classes... I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Oh, and if anyone has any suggestions for other weapon types, email them to me: support@epochstar.com

6. Aside from lots of high-tech goodies, a spaceship needs a crew to operate. How does Epoch Star handle the crew of a ship?

Epoch Star handles the crew, in the same way that Diablo handles the player's stats. The crew has 5 different capabilities. Engineering, Tactical, Science, Navigation, and Communication. Each one assists you in your quests in different ways. In addition, the ability to equip many weapons and devices is dependant on a certain level of Crew Statistic.
Engineering: This helps you repair your ship after it has been damaged. Structure points increase at a higher rate the higher this stat is.
Tactical: This stat increases the damage all your weapons do when you are attacking a ship.
Science: This stat increases the recharge rate of your engine batteries, as well as your shields.
Navigation: This stat increases the Velocity and Acceleration of your ship.
Communication: This stat increases your crews ability to negotiate prices with Alien races. You can purchase weapons and devices for less, while at the same time selling them for more.
In the future, we will be adding a popup description to our stats screen to inform the player of the meaning of these stats.

7. Right now, Epoch Star is a free download from the game's homepage. When the game is officially released, will you start charging for it with a similar scheme to other shareware games?

I haven't decided this yet. One thing is certain: the version that is out now will always be free. My current thoughts are to complete ACT1 of the story and allow people to download that for free. Then offer an Upgraded version that included ACT2 & 3 for a fee. The bottom line is, my brother and I would like to create games for a living. I am open to other options and suggestions if anyone has any. Our primary goal is for people to enjoy our games and stories. Our secondary goal is to be able to do this for a living.

8. What's left to be done in Epoch Star before it is released? What improvements are you planning to make to the game in the coming months?

Not in this order, but this is what I would like to accomplish in the next few months:
1. Configurable Controls.
2. Better hardware support.
3. Better glow effects.
4. Improved Ailments.
5. Improved AI.
6. Improved GUI.
7. Redo much Artwork. Possibly hire an artist.
8. Mission dialog rework.
9. More weaopns.
10. More missions.
11. More ships.
12. More popup messages to describe gameplay.
This list seems to grow almost as fast as it shrinks. I'm always looking for ways to make the game more fun.

9. What are your plans for post-release support of Epoch Star? Will there be content updates? Expansions? Regular patches? Sequels?

The first release will be the free ACT1 version. A few months later, I intend to release ACT2 & ACT3. After that, I have ideas for at least one more story.

10. Epoch Star uses a fairly spartan 3D graphics engine to represent the gameworld. Why did you choose to go 3D instead of 2D? What advantages does it have over 2D in terms of gameplay mechanics?

The 3D aspect is useful for cut away dialog scenes. 3D allows the user to zoom in and out easily, as well as allows for a smaller download. Diablo 2 has a 115 meg download because each player character had to be rendered in 16 directions, and every NPC had to be rendered in 8 directions. Each ship in my game takes up about 50K uncompressed and compresses down to about 15K for the download. The engine is also constantly improving. Right now I'm working on improving the glow effects using techniques similar to those implemented in Tron 2. Although the engine is currently quite "Spartan" there will be significant improvements by the time the game is officially released.

11. What other games inspired you to make Epoch Star? How do you think your game compares to them? How does it differ from them?

The three largest influences for my game were Star Control 2, Starflight, and Diablo/Diablo 2. Star Control 2 was my favorite game of all time. I loved the detailed story, the huge galaxy, the plethora of weapons. I also loved the Diablo games, and I frequently desired for someone to build a game like SC2 with a more modern interface, and an entirely new story. I eventually got sick of waiting and decided to create the game I'd been waiting for.

12. One of the more interesting things on the feature list is a deep story. Does the player get to choose a race at the outset of the game? If so, what are the advantages of the different races? Are there separate storylines for each of the game's races?

My initial idea was to create an entirely different storyline for every race in Epoch Star. Unfortunately, the time it would require to do this is far more than I have working on this game part time. Right now the player can choose between three different races in the game. All of the races follow fairly similar paths through the story with slight differences based on the race they choose. In the future I plan on adding more races the user may play as, with completely different storylines and paths through the game.

13. Once you finish Epoch Star, what's next for Battleline Games? What's your dream project?

This is my dream project. Epoch Star is the game that I've wanted to create since I first played Starflight on my friends 286 in 1987. The next project Battleline Games will undertake after we've completed Epoch Star and the desired expansions is a more traditional RPG called "Age After". Age After will be based on a novel written by John Battlagline, which is a story of a post apocalyptic earth in which the Human race has splintered into a large number of sub-species who live in a cavernous underground world.

Thanks a bunch to Rick Battagline for putting up with our questions!

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