Darkstar One interview

Developer talks space games and consoles

Following on from my look at upcoming space combat/trading title Darkstar One I had a chat with Daniel Dumont from developer Gaming Minds.

Why do you think there are no other games of this type on the modern consoles?

To be honest, I really don’t know. Maybe developers or publishers think that gamers are more interested in identifying with a character rather than controlling a ship. Also, flying through space is a different gameplay proposition than a ground based ‘run and gun’ one and might be new to some of the younger gamers as this space flight sim genre is rare on consoles. However, PC savvy gamers are used to this genre and I am sure that pure console gamers would be interested in some space exploration. The Xbox controller works great and during our testing with younger console gamers we saw that they were absolutely fascinated by the gameplay.

Why do you think there are relatively few games of this type on PCs too?

Space shooters were at their peak at a time when games started releasing with 3D graphics but the graphic cards were not powerful enough to display complex ground scenarios. Space shooters and flight simulators were developed with 3D graphics and were successful as depended less on real world-complexity.

Later, when the first Ego-Shooters came out, the studios concentrated their attentions on them, adding more involving storylines, player guidance, complex level design and movie-like atmosphere. The idea of the ‘space’ genre got lost in the mix.

To be honest, at the moment I am not sure that the space sim genre will attract many studios to finance a big budget development the same way first person shooters can as fans of the genre are smaller. However, there are lots of possibilities in creating games for far less than 20-50 million $ and I think there’s still a market for space games if you keep the budgets to a realistic size.

What were the main challenges in bringing a PC-based game like this over to a console?

The biggest change is obviously the change from keyboard/mouse to controller-based play. We’ve taken great care to ensure we’re not just porting controls over but are customising them to the Xbox gameplay so they are intuitive for players to get to grips with.

The game is also now rendered in full 1080p HD, so the visuals have received a significant upgrade and look gorgeous, and the engine is running at a very solid frame rate.

What changes did you make to the gameplay between the PC and 360 versions?

A couple of areas we improved on were balancing the battles with enemy ships and also the introduction to the game making sure that the player could ‘learn the basics’ before heading off on their own. We have also added a slicker time acceleration mode for longer space journeys and we made it easier to collect the special artifacts which are required to upgrade the DarkStar One ship.

In the game what is the balance between combat and trading? Is progression gained solely by combat?

You can use both combat and trading to earn money to be able to buy better weapons and equipment. However, as DarkStar One has a strong action element to the gameplay, you cannot avoid all battles by trading alone. There are lots of battles throughout the story, missions and side quests. However, if the player wants to avoid as much combat as possible, he could completely bypass the combat-oriented assignments or side quests and make all his money through the trading ones (buy low, sell high) or mining meteorites. However, I guess a mix of both is more fun! For example you can attack a freighter, shoot his shields down to make him drop his cargo containers, steal them and tow them to a friendly trade station and sell them on for a healthy profit.

How do you get the balance between having an engrossing story and letting the players go off and complete side missions/trading etc?

We have implemented two game mechanics to ensure this. Firstly, the player has to improve his jump drive to progress through the storyline. New jump drives are only offered after certain story steps have been completed. With new jump drives installed you can travel deeper and deeper in the galaxy and find more artefacts for upgrading the DarkStar One. However, enemies and missions will become tougher at the same time.

The second mechanism is that the player has to accept side quests, fulfil assignments, hunt for pirates, trade between star systems etc to earn money to buy better equipment and weapons for their ship. Whenever they feel ready and to face tougher enemies in the next story segment, they can continue by jumping to the next story star system.

The player can decide at any time to upgrade their ship using any technology acquired or parts purchased using credits earned from missions etc. The more credits they have the better the upgrades available so they can choose to take on more difficult missions or progress through the story.

How much real difference can you make to your ship? And do your decisions mean you may not be able to “finish” the game? Ie if you focus on trading rather than combat?

In DarkStar One Broken Alliance, trading has less of an impact on your ship upgrade choices. For trading, the player will need to purchase better cargo computers to be able to tow bigger containers with cargo drones. These computers can be installed on any ship design. This makes DarkStar One – Broken Alliance so attractive for fans of ‘open choice’ gameplay. There is no other space game on Xbox360 that allows the player to one minute be fighting tough space battles and the next be trading with new alien races. In many games you have to choose between cargo space and agility or bow weapons. In Broken Alliance for example you have a very low agility when towing cargo containers but if you run into trouble you can drop the containers any time, get into the fight and collect them afterwards.

The other differences you can make to your ship shape the way you play the game. As an example, upgrading the wings and hull can change the DarkStar One into different ships for different needs. By upgrading the wings, the ships will acquire more mounts for bow weapons and the ship’s agility will significantly increase. By upgrading the hull, it will secure more hull points and more mounts for automatic turrets but lose some of the ships agility. As these turrets automatically aim and fire on nearby enemies in combat, the player won’t miss the loss in agility the ship has by these turrets being equipped.

I guess most players will combine these two aspects, to get a more rounded ship, but the more action-oriented players will go for the wing upgrades and the more tactical oriented players will go for the hull. During battles, tactical players have more time to think about and use other tactical elements such as boosts and rockets to defeat their enemies.


Greg Howson

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