Age of Wonders: Planetfall’s sci-fi setting is a new direction for Triumph Studios, who up until this point had focused on high fantasy games. But with a new expansion (Revelations) for the 4X game that's going to explore more of the lore behind the collapse and introduces some new technology and unpleasant enemies, it seems they’re comfortable in this new futuristic home.
At PDXCON 2019 I had the chance to speak to Lennart Sas, the game director for Planetfall, and asked him why the studio has moved away from the fantasy setting, what they think of the science fiction, and what they’re plans for the future are. If you haven’t had a chance to see the new trailer for Revelations yet, you can see it right here.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall Revelation is out on November 15th for PC (Steam), PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Why did the studio decide to go from years of high fantasy to sci-fi for Planetfall?
There were a lot of reasons actually. First off we’ve been making fantasy games for twenty years and we wanted to break that spell. Whenever we’ve tried to do it, it somehow never came off the ground.
So we saw there was an opportunity that was an opening we felt in a sort of terrestrial-based sci-fi. There’s a lot of 4X games that are played in space, so you look at star maps most of the time. We thought that quite a war focused formula could be translated to a terrestrial level as well.
So we saw the opportunity and we had the personal motivation as well to try sci-fi.
So the new hidden tech, in the trailer and in the game all have quite a magic feel to them still.
We created what we called a mythologic sci-fi, so it's more like Star Wars as opposed to hard sci-fi, and we did it not just for us but to make the transition easier for our fantasy fans. So the sort of almost magic sci-fi is intentional.
What do you think of the 4X genre at the minute?
It's an ancient genre, coming all the way from the early 90s. And I think it hit a golden age in the late 90s before recently having a resurgence. So I think there’s plenty of opportunities to have a look at the genre. Maybe not as a leader, or nation, or empire but maybe as a corporate overlord. There’s a lot of places the genre hasn’t touched yet that I think would work well.
Are you considering any of these with your IPs?
We are fully committed to keep on developing Planetfall. So there are more expansions down the line, more free events down the line. We liked the reception, and of course, success can be measured in many ways: there’s fan feedback, critical feedback, there’s sales, and play data.
We also really focused on the simultaneous shipping with consoles, which is something we’re really proud of. I don’t think there’s been another 4X game that has simultaneously shipped with all versions being equal across the platforms. We’ve got an entire pipeline running so that when there’s a new build we can spit it out on very console at once. And in the past the way you would do that is to release it on PC and somewhere down the line, once all the bugs were fixed, you get someone else in to do the port. And that’s been a big learning experience for us.
That hasn’t really answered your question, but what I’m trying to say is that we have a lot of plans for Planetfall.
Why did you decide to put in so much time and effort in simultaneously shipping Planetfall?
Things are shifting so much in the global game space in terms of platform. Even on PC there are so many platforms, entities trying to take a piece from Steam. Then there's streaming, like with Google Stadia where you use a controller, then there's the console market which is very much alive as well. There’s been an opportunity for this kind of game on a wide market for some time now, with players getting their first experience with the genre on any platform.
And now most people have 1080p and people are getting 4K and that really helps with a strategy game too, so you can highlight the finer details. It comes from multiple angles, so we can be ready for the marketplace. We know a lot of people can only play games one way or the other and this is the best way to fit into people's lives.
The cloud-based multiplayer is also a part of that. You load gameplay when you want on your laptop or whatever.
Are you looking into cloud gaming? Like Google Stadia?
Actually our multiplayer mode is already cloud-based. So basically what we do is that your save game is always stored in the cloud which really helps when the game is ten hours long so players can take breaks.
You can switch to classic turn-based game as well. In Planetfall each player's turns happen simultaneously, but in classic one player has a turn than the other. This way with the save in the cloud, one player can have a turn, then notify the other player it's their turn and they can download the save from the cloud, play their turn and reupload it. So they don’t have to be on at the same time.
We did things like that through all the Age of Wonders games, but it wasn’t until recently that we started integrating it into the cloud.
The new weapons in this Revelations expansion allow you to draw power from the enemy that you can use to use to activate power abilities. Was that difficult to balance?
There are so many ways we go about balancing in the game. First we just reason with it, then we use excel sheets, and finally we put it out in the open and have the fans play it in closed beta. Then thousands of people play it, and we see all the exploits and fix them in the patch.
Because our game has so many abilities, hundreds and hundreds, so it's impossible to use to perfectly balance and patch them all without player testing. And so many people think they’ve worked out this amazing strategy that's completely unfair, but we can see them do that. And we tweak it a bit so that it's fairer, and so that not everyone has to use the same strategy over and over again.
That’s one of the biggest changes since I started making games. Before you would release a game and that was it, any exploits you hadn’t discovered would exist from ever, you could maybe find a website to host a patch but most people would never download it. Now you’ve got so much more control.
I see. Thank you for your time.