After penning an article on reddit’s Top 9 Hidden Gaming Gems, I was approached by dev Andrew Trese of the super popular Space Traders RPG about his upcoming sequel, Star Traders 2 RPG – which has just received the Kickstarter Staff Pick seal of approval this morning.
The Trese Brothers are aces at creating sprawling strategic worlds that span from pirates to cyberpunk, including procedural content and inspiring dedicated and active fanbase forums. Their four titles (Space Traders RPG, Heroes of Steel, Age of Pirates, Cyber Knights) average a whopping 4.7 star rating in the Play Store.
I interviewed Andrew to find out what’s coming up next for this dynamo of a dev team.
Star Traders 2 RPG will be a turn-based 2D RPG in the tradition of the original ST, where you will follow at times your ship and at times your Captain. The ship views will include travel and ship on ship combat, while the views following your Captain will include landing on planets, visiting urban and wild areas, and boarding combat between two ships.
The world will be alive with unique characters, each with their own traits, goals, and prejudices. The game’s Motivation Engine is designed to produce a Dwarf Fortress level of detail on every crew member, officer, and character you can meet on-world. The Motivation Engine will also drive their personal story and character evolution as game events occur – as they gain experience, scars, and stories to tell. In Star Traders 2, your Captain will have a realistic cast of characters surrounding you and helping to build the type of dramatic story you are creating. If your Captain leads as a ruthless pirate, some crew may chose to desert as the lifestyle grinds against their goals, while others will change and adapt to the style of Captain. As a known pirate, you’re more likely to find criminals, exiles, and killers joining your crew than as a merchant.
How’s the Star Traders 2 Kickstarter going?
Andrew Trese: The Kickstarter is going great! We are really excited with our progress, but we have to keep heading up! We’re so lucky to have a big community of people who love our games.
Over the last weekend, we had one backer volunteer to run a pledge match campaign. If you added $1, he would add $1 to his pledge, up to $1,000 for the day. We hit the goal and he tossed in another $200 match. It was amazing to raise 5% of our funding in a single day.
We’re closing in our goal now and we hope you’ll help us by joining in. The reward structure is really exciting, including pre-order of the game, to join the alpha team (which is a very special Trese Brothers experience), or to help create parts of the world.
It’s almost time to start putting the spotlight on the stretch goals, which are all so exciting.
At $150K, your Stretch Goal is “Asynchronous Cooperative and Competitive Multiplayer.” I’m not sure I really have a question here so much as an “Awwwwwwwsome!!”
AT: We’d absolutely love to see this happen, but it is the definition of Stretch Goal. But, Kickstarter is great for making your studio achieve new things. If you look at the games we were making before Heroes of Steel’s successful Kickstarter, you’ll see a very clear and very significant improvement across the board with Heroes.
Enough of that – about the multiplayer! If we hit the goal, we will create a system in which you can match up with your friends or with other Star Trader captains and join into a single universe. You’ll be able to play a certain number of turns per day, and all of those turns will be merged into the universe with some tricky operational transformation algorithms. You’ll be able to hear about, work with or even compete against the other Captains in the quadrants.
You’re all working in the same procedural universe, with the same unique characters, goals, and conflicts. Everyone gets affected by the new solar war breaking out the Delga Spiral between Cadar and Thulun, and if you listen in the Spice Hall for rumors, you can learn that it was Captain Slayer who kicked the whole thing off.
It’s a Stretch Goal, but it would be amazing thing to build.
For you, what was the most successful aspect of Star Traders RPG? What will you keep, what will you change?
AT: I believe the thing that really resonated with Star Traders RPG was its openness. It is truly an open-universe game in which you can choose your own path, your own career, and find your own way in the galaxy. You can tell so many different stories – from the Indiana Jones character who “pushes back the darkness” of space and leads his crew on harrowing missions to planet surfaces to uncover lost artifacts, to the space pirate who preys on the quadrant’s shipping lanes.
Around your story, Star Traders builds an exciting world of events, political conflicts, economic turmoil, and merciless aliens. But most important, in that universe, you tell your story. The freedom to tell your story, whoever you wanted your Captain to be, is what really resonated in Star Traders RPG.
Talk to me about the balance between tactics, RPG, and simulation.
AT: Star Traders RPG is a mix of space RPG, and a political/economic simulator. The simulator part is very important. It provides a realistic backdrop to your activities, and gives you opportunities and challenges you weren’t planning on. We’re looking forward to deepening the simulation with procedural content in Star Traders 2. The more deep the simulator, the more your veteran players can start to predict and use the big swings of the quadrant to their advantage – so its a very important part of mastering the Star Traders games.
Role-playing is all about telling your story, and we’ll be extending that part of the game a lot in Star Traders 2 as we focus on the friction, friendships, and relationships in and between your crew members. Two officers might not get along, and you might end up in a “It’s me or him!” situation. Maybe you could placate them with pay boosts, or find other ways to work it out. If you’re a pirate, then crew who dislike violence or law breaking are going to desert you, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by criminals and blackhearts.
There’s a real beautiful blending point between RPG and simulator that we are trying to hit, and its really exciting!
Talk to me about procedural content.
AT: We will use procedural content for a lot of systems within Star Traders 2. We are very excited that using this approach means that you never really know what you’re going to get. While the player may start to know the rules of the system, every play through can be unique, and something you have never seen before might be right around the next corner.
Another big advantages of procedural content is that it can allow the game to react to players actions in ways that are simply not possible with hand-crafted content. In a game that is all about exploration and your choices as a Captain, procedural content allows us to have endless worlds to explore, unlimited cast of humanized characters and crew, and allow each game to have a realistic, yet unique political and economic climate.
What’s your inspiration for the artwork? It’s a major step up in detail from the earlier retro-pixel-style.
AT: We’ve come a long way with the artwork. It has been a big personal journey for me, and probably the most challenging thing about coming over full time into game development. I first picked up a Wacom four years ago and drew the first ships for Star Traders RPG. When I drew the original officer, the First Mate of your ship, the community lovingly named him “old turd lip.” You could say the art was retro… if you’re being nice.
I have always loved 2D games and lovingly rendered 2D worlds, characters, and animations. I didn’t start there, but I have put in years of training and I am finally getting where I want to be.
My inspirations are all over the place – from Frazetta to Firefly. As an artist who recently started, I don’t have a big body of work of inspiration, so much as many little pieces I’ve built up over the years.
What mobile games are you loving as of late? Have you tried 80 Days, the dynamic fiction release from inkle? What about Out There, the cruelly difficult CYOA from Mi-Clos?
AT: Oh wow, you caught me. I feel like kind of a fool, but I have to admit … ever since we added Leaderboards to Heroes of Steel about two months ago, the only game I am playing is my own. I probably sound insane, but we added Ironman Leaderboards for the three highest difficulties, including Nightmare the most difficult of all. One death, and your final dying score is posted to the ladder and you’re done. It really got the community fired up and climbing this crazy hard ladder. I’ve run a couple of groups up into the 46 million range and suffered some really nasty deaths. Always a lack of discipline on my fault, not playing carefully enough. Let’s just say, I’m not able to keep up with the pros in our community.
Ha ha ha, listen to me go. I haven’t tried 80 Days yet, but I am climbing my own ladders. I should pull my head out of the sand and check out the games you just mentioned!
How do you take the pulse of your gaming community? You have super activeforums – how often do you head in there to check on what players are talking about? How much of ST2 is based on player suggestions?
AT: I head over to check out player forums about once an hour. I’m a total community nut.
Honestly, I think Cory and I make games only because we have a community. If we didn’t have someone to talk to, debate rules with, get new ideas for updates and enhancements, and impress with our games, we would have stopped doing this a while ago. So, I am there easily once an hour, and I read every single post.
Between the two of us, Cory and I have over 26,000 posts on our forum. Come check it out, you’re sure to hear from us very quickly. Debate rules, post your secrets, share an idea or a bug! Come visit Trese Brothers forum and “join the dev team” as our community likes to joke.
What kind of design will ST2 have to allow players to “get closer to their Captain, officer and crew”?
AT: You’ll come to know your Captain through your choices. By being able to provide choices on a wide range of levels — from your contracts and missions, to the type of ship you fly, to how you treat and pay your crew, to how you settle disputes on board the ship, to the types of people you associate with — we’ll help you learn about your Captain.
Your officers, crew, and in fact every character in the game will be generated by our Motivation Engine. The ME will examine the environment, Faction, political climate, and create people with unique traits, goals, and weaknesses – some hidden and some visible. You may never get to know your crew if there are many of them, even though they will have all the same depth of character.
I love the idea of a crew member who survives a harrowing wound on a exploration mission when he encounters aliens, gains experience, joins your away team time and again until two years later you promote his scarred hide to the position of Chief Military Officer onboard your ship. In the beginning, he was just another crew, but his traits like Loyalty, Hates Aliens (acquired during the exploration mission), Risk Taker, and others have helped him climb the ranks, gain experience and finally join your crew. He might have just died on that planet, but instead he came through and its all a part of the story you’re weaving. He may become your right-hand man, and you’ll always be able to look back and understand him, and watch him change more as he encounters, overcomes, and is defeated by new challenges.
Heroes of Steel, Age of Pirates, Cyber Knights – your themes span fiction and history. What else fascinates you, what’s next?
AT: We are all over the place, aren’t we? Haha, we have so many ideas – its hard to keep up with them all.
I think that we are starting now a time of returning to our existing genres. Star Traders 2 and likely Templar Assault 2 – both set in the Star Traders world – will give us an opportunity to launch new, amazing visions of these games with our new skills, technology, and experience.
We have 6 amazing games and a large fan base, and they love our existing game worlds. We are looking at embarking on meeting their cries for Cyber Knights 2, our cyberpunk squad tactics RPG, and all the rest!
I keep saying – if you read the Star Traders 2 Kickstarter with your head slightly tilted to the side, you can clearly see the engine that will power Cyber Knights 2.
How will the morality system in ST2 work? As complex as Fallout? Something different?
AT: Star Traders 2 will feature both a morality system and a reputation system. Reputation tracks you allegiances to Factions within the game world, but does not necessary align with your characters ethics. Morality in Star Traders 2 will not be a system of black and white, there will be many gray areas. Morality will not be tracked by a single score of good, neutral of evil — instead there will be aspects of morality that will be influenced by your actions.
Your Captain will accumulate morality traits — for example, trading in artifacts that are illegal or dangerous to others may earn you traits that indicate you are willing to harm others to profit. Destroying enemy ships with all hands on deck will leave the traits of a callous killer on your Captain. These traits will become part of your Captain’s ethos and legend and will have a big impact on how crew, officers, and characters on the world interact with you.
With inspirations like Firefly, we are excited that this system will encourage neutral Captains, who live in that middle gray area, and benefit in their interactions with other game characters because of it.
Your games consistently rank very highly in the stores (as the title of your AMAon reddit attests). What advice do you have for devs looking to increase their useful, positive user feedback?
AT: Build your community. I don’t mean do marketing. I mean really connect one-on-one with people who are playing your game. Listen to their feedback, and act on it. Update your games based on their feedback.
These are time-consuming suggestions, but they are worth it! I wrote a Gamasutra article recently all about the idea of community building, and I think its one of the most important things an indie dev can do.
Today marks the 10-day deadline for the Star Traders 2 RPG Kickstarter. If procedural space opera content sounds up your alley, head on over there and toss ’em a few bucks – we can all use more master mobile devs like the Trese Brothers.
For even more on the Trese Brothers’ devving process, head over to the other half of this interview on the Appszoom Devs’ blog, where Andrew dishes on the nitty-gritty of staying in touch with users.