Shattered Suns delivers a "broader experience" for RTS fans by introducing five unique features, including three-dimensional battles, a moving battlefield, player-designed units, unique economic challenges, and an interactive campaign.
As a science fiction game set in space, Shattered Suns features dramatic battles between warring space ships that take place in all three dimensions of space. Players command their space ships to fly to any point in three-dimensional space with only one or two mouse clicks. By literally giving players a whole new dimension of game play, players can execute interesting new strategies and tactics, such as ambushing the enemy from above or assaulting an enemy from every possible angle.
Shattered Suns Developer Diary: Campaign & Storyline
By Tom White, Game Designer
Sometimes I feel like a dog chasing its own tail when I play the campaign in a real-time strategy (RTS) game. I keep chasing the same basic mission objective for the same basic reasons from one campaign scenario to the next. First, there's an opening sequence explaining that I have to crush the bad guys. So, I play the game and crush the bad guys. Then there's a closing sequence explaining that the most important bad guys got away, so I need to keep chasing them. And that leads me to the next scenario in the campaign, which repeats pretty much the same basic storyline formula again...and again...and again. Around and around I go, chasing my tail going after bad guys until I finally catch the biggest, baddest, most important bad guy of them all and defeat him. Then the campaign's over.
I'm a huge fan of RTS games, but the storylines have always left me wanting something with a little more depth than what the usual formula offers. I can't blame RTS game makers for the two-dimensional storylines though. Let's face it. It's not easy to tell an engaging story using cut scenes that last only a few seconds. Some RTS games, like Blizzard's Warcraft series, have done an amazing job despite the limitations of short cinematic clips. Still, there's got to be a better way.
So, when we set to work on Shattered Suns, we decided it was time for a revolution in RTS campaigns. The first thing we did was throw out the idea that we needed to rely entirely on cinematic cut scenes for storytelling. Instead, we would use cinematics to highlight dramatic moments such as the end of a battle after ending game play. The main story would be told through an entirely different interface.
The campaign interface in Shattered Suns is modeled after instant messaging (IM). Anyone familiar with AOL Instant Messenger, Windows Live Messenger or Yahoo! Messenger will feel right at home playing a campaign in Shattered Suns. You're given a map of many different star systems. You click on a friendly star system to travel there and find out what other space stations and ships are in the star system with you--sort of like entering a chat room. You click on the name of a ship and then choose a message to send to the captain of the ship. Then the captain messages you back. When you're tired of chatting, you just travel to a hostile star system where you go into real-time game play to fight for control of the star system before returning to the campaign interface again.
Through this IM-like interface, you can run around the known universe meeting many interesting characters and experiencing an in-depth story from a first person point of view. This new interactive campaign interface gives us a way of telling a story that doesn't rely on thirty-second cut scenes. So, the plot is thicker with more interesting twists and turns. The characters are more real with subtleties to their personalities and motivations. And the dialog has more depth than the usual sound bytes.
But depth of storytelling is not the only advantage to this new approach to RTS campaigns. The IM-like campaign interface also creates an extra layer of game play. You don't just chat with campaign characters. You also go on mini-missions to help any characters you want to help. Some will reward you with money or resources. Others may give you important information. Still others may decide to join your fleet when you earn their confidence. All of this helps you when you go into real-time game play. After you recruit fighters through the campaign interface, you'll have those fighters with you when you go into the next real-time battle. When you earn money and resources in the campaign interface, you'll get to carry those resources into real-time game play for a jumpstart in building up your economy. In this way the boundary between storytelling and game play is blurred to create a richer experience in both modes.
We were also able to give the mission objectives a lot more variety, since game play is so intertwined with a much deeper storyline. Typical RTS game play consists of building up your economy, building up your military and then blowing up the enemy. As much as I love the build-up-and-blow-up cycle, doing the same mission over and over again for a dozen levels in a campaign brings me right back to feeling like I'm chasing my tail all over again. I especially admire games, again like the Warcraft series, where you get a wider variety of objectives than the usual build-up-and-blow-up cycle. We've done our best in the Shattered Suns campaign to work the story into the mission objectives to give the player a much wider variety. In some cases, the objectives are purely military--take over the enemy's planet against all odds and with no hope of reinforcements. In other cases, the objectives are purely economic--establish a transport network between mining operations until enough ore and crystals have been collected. Sometimes there might be a mix of the two--defend miners and traders against attack until they can finish collecting and trading enough resources in a hostile star system. Other times, the objective may be very specific--upload a computer virus to enemy stations seizing control of them.
As for the story itself, Shattered Suns starts off at the very end of the second Imperial War as Statia--the last star sector to hold out against two great allied empires--falls under the weight of one final, massive invasion from both empires. In the panic and chaos of the last invasion of the war, while Statian citizens flee for safety and imperial forces conquer the last free star system, one ship captain named Max loses the love of his life--another fleet officer named Seeng-Si--when her ship is captured. Max vows never to accept defeat even as the president of his home sector surrenders. Instead, with the help of other Statians, Max survives the final battle, starts recruiting forces for a guerilla-style rebellion, and vows to find Seeng-Si wherever she may be.
From there, the story takes on both personal and universal significance. Max struggles with his own personal mission to find Seeng-Si, wondering the whole time if she is even still alive. Meanwhile, he finds himself increasingly becoming the leader of a major revolution and the best hope for restoring freedom in the known universe. Sometimes these missions coincide, but other times they are at odds with one another. And sometimes unexpected sacrifices have to be made.
The story itself is more than just words. It gives depth to every aspect of game play. For example, the culture of the Qalani Empire influences the designs of its ships and space stations, as do the cultures of the Statians and Trexites. The Qalani use blocky, mass-produced parts to create their space vessels, which are very powerful and sturdy but not very fast. Qalani advances in technology give them the ability to deliver computer viruses as payloads in ranged weapons, a capability no other nationality has. The Trexite Empire on the other hand has very fast and nimble ships, but they're easier to destroy and have weapons that pack less of a punch. The Trexites are also the only nationality to have developed ranged weapons with beams for perfect accuracy and instant payload delivery. And, they have the only culture with such blind obedience that they can use suicide ships to deliver exceptionally powerful explosives at close range. Meanwhile, the technologically sophisticated Statians have developed weapons that can shock the computer systems of enemy ships, temporarily paralyzing them.
By reinventing the way RTS campaigns work, replacing short cut scenes with a completely interactive IM-like interface, we finally have the tools we needed to tell a story with much greater depth and richer characters. Better storytelling has also given us a chance to blend the story into the game in new ways that pass some of the storyline's depth on to game play features. With any luck, the Shattered Suns campaign will seem more like a truly epic tale and less like a dog chasing its own not-so-epic tail.
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