Sins of a Solar Empire
With Its Recent European shelf release, the previously online and American storebound Sins of a Solar Empire is set to once again unsettle the sleeping patterns of many RTS fans. At a glance, this is game that appeared to have come from nowhere from a team of unknowns, but closer scrutiny reveals the people behind Sins show themselves to be none other than a grinning conglomerate of ex-Rockstar developers and roving, but extremely talented, vagabonds.
A game of exploration, expansion, exploitation and extermination, set across a galaxy of immense scale, Sins of a Solar Empire pits three races against one another in a desperate bid to occupy every inch of everything. Yeah, it's typical strategy stuff, but the scope and depth of Sins make it alluring enough to prompt some investigation. Here goes...
"We're a new company with a new property in a new genre, and in the games industry this is usually considered a strike out So we were very fortunate to get the attention we did from publishers, and most importantly Stardock. Although Ironclad is very young, our team did have a lot of previous experience - half of our original team are from Rockstar Vancouver, which was previously Barking Dog studios. So some of our developers have worked on Homeworld: Cataclysm, Disney's Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon, and Bully.
"I would definitely categorise Sins as a sleeper hit Fortunately we had marketing and financial experience as well, so I think some of our decisions were more calculated than you might expect for a start-up developer."
"We originally saw Starclock as a competitor, as they were working on Galactic Civilisations and our game had some features that were leaning towards that sort of RTS game. Brian Claire at Stardock convinced us our games would be complementary and that we could corner that part of the space strategy market -and he was right. And after we met them, their anti-DRM stance appealed to us. They have a great track record with the community, great customer service and when I went to see them they seemed genuinely passionate about the game. It's really good that we got a lot of creative flexibility - we didn't feel stifled in that sense. I think we'll beat our own sales expectations too. We had a huge party when we hit number one in the US, we had Rock Band going in the studio and real instruments downstairs - yeah, we had a big party."
"We think all of the current DRM methods obstruct the rights of paying customers. When we say we're anti-DRM some interpret this to mean that piracy doesn't bother us, which really isn't the case. What we should be saying is that we're pro-customer - doing all we can to reward those who pay. Our stance has resonated very well with gamers, who feel betrayed by the industry. There were many self-confessed pirates who bought our game simply to support our policy - even those who had no initial interest in Sins. The Stardock and Ironclad team has become somewhat of a poster boy for gamer rights. I'm not going to complain about that.
"We also strove to keep Sins playable on a wide range of hardware. There was a heavy backlash from frustrated gamers in 2007 - many people made it clear that they would not upgrade to a 'god box' simply to enjoy a few games with unreasonably high requirements. Our goal was to build a healthy community of gamers, not an elitist club."
"The first thing we wanted was to have massive scale, we wanted to have far more units on screen than your typical RTS. The next biggest thing was we wanted to have less micro-intensive gameplay, we really wanted to put the strategy back into the genre and stay away from twitch obsessed gameplay. We had a vision of being able to play as both the Emperor and the Commander. Typically in a game of this scale you have some kind of separate map mode where you plan your higher level strategic decisions and the game can be paused while you plan it out, while the combat happens in real time, but we found that by doing that we lost the seamless transition between the two though. The main thing we wanted to follow was our vision of having large empires and epic space battles."
"The standard for 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) strategy games, like the Total War series, is a non-linear sandbox style setup. At the same time, the tradition for RTS games is to have a full campaign. So we were caught in the middle. At one point in development we talked about it a lot, but we eventually turned it down because of our limited resources. We felt it was more important to focus on strong gameplay, a solid engine and great replay value.
"We still have archives of the stories of the origins of the TEC, Advent and Vasari, and we really want to get that out at some point. Quite a bit of work was put into creating the backstory. I mean, it's sad not to see it all in there, but we did try to squeeze some in with the opening cinematic. We got the look and feel of the races through their abilities, the research topics and all that, but it wasn't as much as we wanted to get out there."
"There are far too many to list here, but I can share a large one - creating a realistic solar system. We initially modelled the galaxy generator, the art and many of the game mechanics on real solar system attributes. Rare planets, elliptical orbits, real gravity, black skyboxes, moons, accurate planet sizes, accurate inter-stellar distances and so on. A lot of the code to support these systems is still in the game.
"The reason these features were taken out is actually pretty simple, Sins is a game, not a simulation. As much as we wanted these elements, they just weren't any fun. Extra-large planets meant excessively long travel times to get around a planet and textures that are just too large for most people's computers. Black skyboxes made it much too difficult to see. Dynamic orbits became ridiculously disorientating, and so on. In the end the fun factor trumps all."
Religion And Lasers:
"Discussion of a religion model did come up when we were exploring allegiance and culture. The current implementation of culture was chosen because it was the most universal influence model that fit with the lore for each race. The TEC are an atheist society dominated by consumerism, while the Vasari expand their influence through propaganda and suppression. Really only the Advent could be thought of as spreading influence in a spiritual sense with their temples and unity indoctrination.
"As for our lasers, most of the effects were made by using stock sounds as a base and twisting and bending them into shape by using effects, then layering them to produce something that sounds appropriate. The alien voices were simply performed by talented voice actors - they have had less trickery gave into them than the human-sounding voices."
"We felt the gameplay would be more interesting if there was a common threat to all players, and the space pirate raid fit perfectly. We were able to create tension throughout the game by placing the threat on a timer and allowing players to bid against one another, to see who'd get attacked. This pirate threat increases through the game as players earn more credits to spend on the bids. The pirate model performs as a balancing tool as well, as players typically bid against the strongest opponent. It also serves as a combat aid for players who wanted to focus on an economic game. Alxive all, the most compelling reason for including the pirates was the ability to backstab your allies' The pirate system was inspired by the invading pirates from the Settlers of Catan: Cities board game."
Download Sins of a Solar Empire
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Origins Can Tell you a lot about a game, even before you've prised it from the shelf. BioShock, Supreme Commander and The Movies are titles we've gotten all giddy about because of the crew behind them. This was also quietly true with Sins of a Solar Empire, which apart from having a very evocative title, comes from an outfit who've made a significant contribution to the Homeworld RTS series. If that wasn't enough they've been helped and bankrolled by Stardock, who took the Civ concept put rockets on the side and shot it into deepest space to great acclaim, through their Galactic Civilizations series.
Pedigree counts for nothing unless the final product is good - and Sins of a Solar Empire is unquestionably very, very good. This is Supreme Commander in space, minus the crushing system requirements and free of the constraints of a linear campaign. In scale and function it feels every bit as accomplished, whilst measured in terms of depth and progression, it dwarfs any kind of RTS you care to mention.
That's No Moon
Whilst there are many aspects of galactic conquest to juggle, at no point does the game overwhelm, which is an incredible achievement for a real-time game where war can be fought across hundreds of planets, with battles that scale from trade lane skirmishes to fleet clashes between untold numbers of vessels. You don't get the full range of tactical choices you might want should you be one of those finger-in-every-pie wargamers, but as a fleet commander you get enough to be able to trust the smaller ships to get on with things whilst you make sure the capital vessels use their special abilities at the right time.
With the focus on war and conquest matters of diplomacy, research and planetary development are made easier, rather than have you rely on fallible Al advisors. Thankfully this isn't so much a dumbing down of a hardcore genre, but the levelling up of a relatively mindless one.
There are subtle layers of strategy, a conspiracy of design that allows you to think outside of the relentless warfare that RTS games usually peddle. You might have an empire that is stable and secure, yet you feel compelled to expand, for fear that your neighbour might at your expense. You create a 'defence' force and your neighbours do the same (even those you are fully allied with, whether they're Al or human-controlled) and an arms race ensues. By recruiting pirates as a proxy force you have all the elements of a Cold War - yet it's not so much a hard-coded feature of the game as a result of it being so open in the first place. Sins is not a wild adrenaline ride, nor is it punctuated by meaningless visual I flourishes. This game looks good, works smoothly in every department - and I mean every department - and offers a diverse challenge that will engage players for weeks, if not months. Yeah, so there's not much of a story, no real goal beyond that of victory, but the freedom to define victory on your own terms by not having it thrust down your throat is what makes the game so captivating. And having hundreds of spaceships blowing the crap outta each other up is always cool, whatever universe you hail from.
Sins of a Solar Empire is light years ahead of the competition and to miss it would be unforgivable. And if another reviewer writes a better box-friendly quote than that, I'll piss in their face.
Massive on the multiplayer
Possibly the best online RTS at the moment
Sins supports up to 10 online players, and this multiplayer is a winner because the sandbox that is the single-player game is mirrored for the multitudes. What this means is that the seething pace of the game brings in the personalities of the players themselves. Diplomacy and communication is of course prevalent, as it should be. On the flip side unless you kick up an iddy-biddy three-system scrap (also great fun), games can be very long - an entire evening should ideally be set aside (as it should be for your opponents if you are to avoid losing them through attrition). Thankfully games can be saved and resumed, but whilst Al generals can take the place of absent real-life opponents, if you're going to get involved in a 10-player epic across hundreds of systems, you will most likely be defeated by domestic civil war from a spouse or relative rather than on the battlefield - you have been warned!
Snapshots and Media
- Dark Reign: The Future of War
- Imperial Glory
- Jane's Fleet Command
- Jeff Wayne’s: The War Of The Worlds
- Police Quest IV: Open Season
- Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War
- Rome: Total War: Barbarian Invasion
- Star Wars: Force Commander
- Stronghold: Crusader Extreme
- Tzar: The Burden of the Crown
- Universe at War: Earth Assault
- Warrior Kings: Battles