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Starpoint Gemini Interview

by Brian "Dhruin" Turner, 2010-12-02

If there's another genre that has some affinity to the elements valued by many RPG players, it's the space-trader.  That sense of exploration and the freedom to pursue different roles and goals is, in many ways, similar to the best open-world RPGs.  For me personally, Elite was the first time I became truly obsessed with a video game and this genre - in all its forms - has been a passion ever since.

A few months ago we first noticed Starpoint Gemini - described as a "space RPG tactical sim", it adds some additional RPG elements to the mix and promises free-form gameplay, character development and tactical combat.  With the release rapidly approaching and some burning questions to ask, we caught up with Dorijan Vitezic from Little Green Men to discuss the game.


RPGWatch: Let's start at the beginning - please introduce Little Green Men and Starpoint Gemini.

LGM: Little Green Men is a young upstart company founded back in 2007, when we rounded up and decided it was time to start a project of our own. All of us are SciFi enthusiasts and space sim fans and it seemed only natural to go in that direction.  Of course, we wanted to do something of our own, something uniquely ours, and Starpoint Gemini is the result of that... and a lot of hard work.

RPGWatch: How much inspiration have you taken from previous genre entrants such as Escape Velocity: Nova or Space Rangers 2?  Conversely, what makes Starpoint Gemini different?

LGM: A number of SciFi titles could be said to be our inspiration, ranging from video games to TV shows and books. I'm sure a lot of gamers will see different aspects of SPG as influenced by something, and I'm not saying that's not true, but I can't say Escape velocity Nova and Space Rangers 2 are on the top of the list. We strived to create something different and I think we did just that with a rare blend of tactical combat, RPG and free roam, all of which in space. We did learn from other games, all sorts of games, be it a space sim or a classic fantasy RPG.

In SPG strong emphasis is set on combat tactics. Smart use of skills and ship's stronger points is the key. In Gemini you can be the captain you want to be. You might want to focus on capturing other vessels, or perhaps you want to do it the old fashioned way and go brute force, with minimal use of skills, but with heavy improvements of the ship itself. Some might be interested in heavily relying on skills and some of us will strive to balance it out and have the best of both worlds. Whatever you choose, it is there, it is doable.

RPGWatch: Tell us about the gameworld - your website says the Gemini system is made of 50 sectors...can you provide a sense of scale for each sector?  How do the sectors vary?  Is the gameworld pre-designed or randomised for each game?

LGM: The game world is mostly pre-designed, but a lot of things are randomized each time you enter the sector, like derelicts, anomalies and encounters. Add to that the changes that occur during - and due to - the events of the main campaign and you get a nice changing environment.

Actually, Gemini is comprised of 51 sectors we tried to make as special as possible. For example, Gods Playground is a very unstable part of Gemini with anomalies popping up all over.

As for scale, I can tell you this: you can spend several hours in a single sector at a time and you'd still have something to do, something to explore and well... something to destroy.

RPGWatch: One of things I enjoy most about the best "space-trading" games is the sense of  a living universe.  How important is this element for Starpoint Gemini and can you describe some of the things players will encounter that add life to the gameworld?

LGM: A living world is very, very important. No sense in making a free-roam game if you streamline and script everything and it all plays out the same way. The world has to live on its own, driven by AI. Traders dock on stations to trade, miners go deep into asteroid fields to search for ore, scientists roam the sector looking for anomalies to research, police squadrons go on patrols and deal with pirates, military fleets round up and attack enemy fleets... all of that and more goes on regardless of where the player is. The AI doesn't act only when you're nearby... they live their own lives. That was our basic setup and we continued building on top of that through scripted events to liven things up even more. Players will also notice that when you're playing through the main campaign Gemini will change depending on what happens in the storyline. When two factions go to war, they really go to war even outside the scripted missions. That's one of SPG's strong points.

RPGWatch: Players can choose from a story-based campaign or free-roaming options.  Let's start with the story campaign - how prominent is the story and how do you balance that with player freedom?  Does the story include any RPG aspects, such as different choices or branching paths, dialogue with NPCs or even alignment with different factions?

LGM: A great question. It's always hard to balance out complete freedom of a free roam game with the restrictions of a scripted campaign. I won't turn my head and look the other way for this question. The prevalent side in the main campaign is "the good guys" (although the definition of "good guys" can vary) and the campaign is somewhat restrictive in that respect. For example, faction standing that is essential for the campaign to function properly is forced if necessary, but we limited that as much as we could to only the essentials. If it is necessary on a mission to dock on a Nexus controlled station, then you mustn't be hostile with them. Everything else depends on personal choice. On some missions it might be helpful to be on friendly terms with for example MultiOps faction. Their assistance might come in handy during the mission, but if they're hostile towards you, you can also expect them to give you trouble.

Considering branching, I'll have to say no to that. LGM is not a large team and testing multiple large quest paths is out of our scope for the time being. We focused on making this more simple campaign better, instead of stretching thin to cover more ground and potentially have a very bugged game.

Dialogs are a standard asset. It is one of the ways you get your next assignment or receive information. There's a lot of that in Starpoint. The Logs will help players keep track of their current mission, but we also added very short objectives directly on the main HUD so it's clear what you need to do next at any given time.

RPGWatch: And the free-roaming options?

LGM: There are several free roam scenarios to choose from. They differ mainly in the starting conditions like player ship, equipment, faction standing etc., but another aspect are the starting conditions of the Gemini system itself. One of the scenarios is set in a long war between two strong factions. That influences the playing experience greatly, because you frequently encounter clashes between their fleets, and you can, if you choose to, join in on the fun. In some scenarios, even the sectors can look differently; you could end up overlooking a pile of wreckage where a station once stood (in the main campaign) because a strong Rogue fleet demolished it. Or perhaps, you chose to play a scenario where one strong faction has been reduced to a mere handful of stations scattered across the system. The possibilities are endless.

We actually aimed for this "scenario" approach, to ease modding and mod implementation, but it also enables us to easily create new content and ad it as new scenarios. And I'm not talking about DLCs here, but rather new game content we intend to release as free updates. It is our wish for SPG to last longer and not flash for a month and then disappear.

RPGWatch: Despite the seeming amount of freedom, games in this genre tend to follow a predictable pattern.  For example, it's often theoretically possible to start out as a pirate but you can't afford a decent ship and equipment to make that viable.  In the end most players start trading, then running errands and then - after slowly building up their resources - they can finally tackle the more "interesting" stuff such as being a pirate or bounty-hunting.  Do you see this as a problem or is it a natural part of the genre, in the same way most RPG characters start weak but grow over time?  Where do you see Starpoint Gemini?

LGM: The always pervasive issue of unlawful factions. As I said earlier, the campaign restricts that to some extent, but free-roam is a different matter. You can freely play as a Rogue, and make a living. Their stations function under the same rules as any "lawful" station, selling ships, equipment, cargo and offering freelance missions etc.. You can however expect to have a hard time passing through "lawful" sectors with a strong military presence, but that is to be expected.

Character progression is a natural thing for RPGs and we support that in SPG. But there are some things that tended to bother us in some RPGs. After awhile, when your character grew stronger, you had no use for those low-level skills or "smaller" weapons. We wanted to change that approach. Why wouldn't that first skill you gain on level 1 also be useful later in the game? I'll use the "Power to shields" skill as an example. It is a simple skill. You receive it automatically at the very beginning, but that doesn't mean it becomes useless later. If you use it at the right time, it can save your life and can drive your opponent furious.

Or why would it have to be impossible to finish the game on any ship smaller than a dreadnought? In SPG it isn't. Quite the opposite. It is sometimes smarter to have a smaller ship, but better equipped than a large behemoth with minimal firepower and shielding. With some creative tactics and smart use of skills, a gunship, the smallest ship class in SPG, can be deadly.

RPGWatch: So, one of the key RPG elements in Starpoint Gemini is character development through Skills and Perks.  Please outline the character system and you give an example or two of your favourite Skills or Perks?  How much impact does character development have on the overall gameplay?  Are there any non-combat Skills?

LGM: Character development is pretty straightforward. Gain experience to reach a new character level. Each level, you gain a skill point you can spend on upgrading skills. First level of a skill costs 1 point, second level costs 2 points and third level costs 3 points to upgrade. There are over 30 skills of different kinds. Some work as toggle skills, which you activate and they last for as long as you have energy or until you deactivate them. An example is Evasive Tactics which increases your Evasion; chance to evade being hit by enemy fire. And then there are the "single use" or fire and forget skills. An example would be Burst. This skill enables you to fire several times from a single weapon. You activate the skill, and the next time you fire one of your primary weapons, you automatically use the skill with the weapon. The important thing is that most skills improve your ship or equipment. They don't magically conjure up a death ray cannon.

My favourite skill would be Hack. Always liked to go for a direct frontal attack on a hostile, then use Hack to shut down his front shield and release a volley of missiles by using Missile Swarm skill on his unprotected ship. I also like Distress Call. A very useful skill, but what I like about it the most is that it does exactly what it says. You send out a distress signal. If there's anyone friendly to you nearby, they will/can respond. Again, no ship is conjured up from thin air.

Perks are passive bonuses. Every time you reach a new rank, you get to choose a Perk. It can be anything from increasing resistances to reducing reload time for a weapon type.
There are some skills that aren't used directly in combat (they don't deal damage or increase it or anything linked at damage at all). Science, for example increases your EMP and Radiation resistances and that makes this skill very useful to explorers. Diagnostics speeds up system repairs etc.. It is however useful to have these skills in case of combat too.

Impact on gameplay. I suppose you're wondering if skills are at all necessary or useful. A fair question. You can try to use brute force and stampede head on like a bull, but that won't get you far. It will work on easier encounters, but anything more difficult would be futile. Creatively combining different skills is the best part of this skill system. You can use Cloak and do some quick repairs on your ship with Diagnostics if you have enough energy. But don't forget you can be detected with the Detect Anomaly skill.

RPGWatch: You can also hire personnel - what can you tell us about that?  Do they have any dialogue or presence or are they mostly about strategy, by conferring passive bonuses?

LGM: Officers can be hired on stations for Credits. You cannot converse with them, but they are very helpful with their passive bonuses. They can improve your skills and give you additional special bonuses, but they come with a hefty payroll.

RPGWatch: In many ways, the ship is the really the "character" in these games.  Can you outline some of the options for improving the player's ship?

LGM: There are a number of systems you can improve. Power core is probably the most basic of them. It provides energy for all ship systems, but it also provides energy for using skills. The more equipment is installed, the less surplus energy there is for skills. That should also be taken into account when equipping your ship.

Shields provide the recharging defense. Another nifty thing here is that every shield is more resistant to a different type of damage. If you combine all four shields on your ship to be most effective against, let's say plasma damage, then you get extra resistance to plasma on top of the standard resistance.

Engines improve your overall speed. If those get fried, you're a sitting duck.
Thrusters take care of the turning speed and acceleration. Any chance of a decent combat is out the window if thrusters get disabled. You'll be too slow to maneuver.
Weapons are divided into primary and secondary. Primary are "light weapons". They reload faster and deal less damage. Secondary weapons are heavy duty combat systems like missiles, fusion torpedoes and shockwave generators. They fire less frequently, but when they hit they wreak havoc.

Refitting ship in SPG is not a simple task of throwing whatever you can find onto it. You have to upgrade it in a smart way to use the good sides of the ship and minimize the bad sides, but all that naturally also depends on individual playing style.

RPGWatch: Your site describes Starpoint Gemini as an "RPG tactical sim", so combat obviously plays an important part.  Can you give us a sense of how combat works and describe some of the tactical aspects, such as targeting sub-systems?

LGM: Combat is essential in SPG. We tried to put the emphasis on tactics as much as we could. Sure, you can simply punch the fire button without end, but successful outcome is then questionable. Sub targeting is very important. Selecting a sub target focuses fire on that system, but that doesn't mean you will automatically hit it. You have to position yourself well in order to hit bulls-eye.

Crippling your opponent by knocking out his systems is one of the ways a weaker ship can overpower a large ship. For example you can first disable or destroy his thrusters. That gives you the perfect chance to position yourself just right to maximize damage. Or perhaps you recognized one of his weapons as a serious threat and want to deal with that first. Whatever the case, if you choose your (sub)targets carefully, you can even go through some encounters without a scratch.

RPGWatch: The videos look quite frantic - is there a pause function I've overlooked to make things manageable?

LGM: It may seem more frantic than it really is. There's quite a lot to master in SPG, but with a bit of practice you'll be shooting down entire fleets with no problem. That said, we plan to implement active pause. We've seen people asking about it and we'll answer the call.

RPGWatch: The website also notes you'll need a fleet to tackle the factions' large battlestations...what can you tell us about fleet battles?  Can you hire fleets or do you join large battles as part of the storyline or...?

LGM: Joining fleets and attacking battlestations is handled as a part of the campaign. This too we aim to expand and make it possible for players to hire Guild mercenaries at any given time to help out in difficult missions and sectors.

RPGWatch: Capturing enemy ships has always been a favourite element of mine - how does it work in Starpoint Gemini?

LGM: Every ship has a predefined maximum number of Troopers it can carry. When trying to take over a ship, you first have to knock out one of his shields, either by draining it, destroying it, hacking it etc.. Then you can transport Troopers onboard to try to take it over. There's also a Perk that improves your Troopers.

RPGWatch: Is there anything you'd like to add in closing?

LGM: All of us at LGM hope gamers will like Starpoint Gemini and that we are hoping for a lively modding community. Nothing better than to see gamers like your game enough to want to mod it; improve it even.

Let me extend a big thank you to everyone who took the time to read this interview and a big thank you to RPGWatch for asking the questions.

 

We'd like to thank LGM for their time and wish them all the best with the release.

Box Art

Information about

Starpoint Gemini

Developer: Little Green Men

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Sci-fi
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: Unknown
Voice-acting: Unknown

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2010-12-15
· Publisher: Little Green Men

More information