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Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Developer: Zer0sum Games
Release Date: April 26, 2013

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'StarDrive' Developer Interview With Designer/Programmer Dan DiCicco

by Rainier on Dec. 2, 2012 @ 4:52 a.m. PST

StarDrive is a 4X Action-Strategy game where the goal is to build a space empire. Starting with a single planet and a small number of space-worthy vessels, you forge out into the galaxy, exploring new worlds, building new colonies, and discovering the StarDrive universe.

Grand in scope, yet easy to pick up and fun to play, StarDrive hearkens back to the golden age of 4x gaming.  Player-designed races, espionage, diplomacy, custom ship designs, planetary invasions, and  many more classic 4x features will provide players with endless replayability in a massive living universe. Challenge your friends online, or join them in co-operatively creating an empire to test against human opponents.  

The heart of StarDrive is its ship design and combat engine. StarDrive takes a module-based approach to ship design, allowing the player to create custom ship designs where the composition and placement of ship modules really matters to the performance of a ship in combat. Organize your ships into fleets with a simple fleet editor, allowing custom formations and rules of engagement. Jump directly into the combat action at any time by commandeering one of your vessels and piloting it yourself with arcade-like control, or just sit back and let your commanders control the battle.

Q: Who are you and what do you do at Zero Sum Games?

My name is Dan DiCicco and I am the ruthless tyrannical overlord of Zero Sum Games. I have to wear a lot of hats in this role. I designed StarDrive and I am the sole programmer on the project, but my duties also extend to managing the team and ensuring that everything happens as it should. So far so good.

How and when was Zero Sum Games founded?

DD: I haven’t always been a ruthless tyrannical overlord. There was a time when I was a criminal defense and divorce lawyer. And a time before that when I was a software engineer for Northrop Grumman, which is a huge American defense contractor. Those careers had their perks, but every day after work I would come home and boot up my PC and just game. I knew that gaming was my passion.

And one day, a couple of years back, I decided that I could do this -- I can make games. I can run a business, I can work hard, I know what needs doing to make a game, and so I started. Slowly. I’m the type of monkey that doesn’t want to let go of the last branch until I have a nice firm grasp on the next one. But I made a plan to start closing out all of my lawyer files while I built up a team to make StarDrive. This all came together with a nice Kickstarter for StarDrive that pushed me over the edge and allowed me to let go of lawyering forever.

Finally, partnering with Iceberg Interactive added years of wisdom and experience in the global video games market to the equation. Our partnership with Iceberg is invaluable to us and we’re very excited at all the things we can do together.

Q: What inspired you to make a 4x strategy game like StarDrive?

DD: Masters of Orion 2, of course. But really, all of the games that aren’t Masters of Orion 2 were perhaps more inspiring. Where did diplomacy go in Space 4x games? Where did ship design that matters go? I couldn’t explain its absence and I wanted it badly, and so that’s what I was going to do.

Q: The 4x strategy genre is very popular at the moment. What makes StarDrive stand out from its competitors?

DD: StarDrive stands out from its competition in the depth and breadth that it offers. We aim to deliver a full and true 4x space experience, which to us means deep ship design, tactical combat, compelling diplomatic interactions, research, espionage, planetary invasions – the whole package! We also believe that StarDrive offers this 4x experience in a very accessible and intuitive manner with a fresh and appealing graphical style.

Q: How long do you estimate the gameplay time of StarDrive to be?

DD: Well this is a sandbox game and you can choose the size of your own sandbox. Plus there are time compression controls. So depending on your play style, you could run a game in an hour or you could take tens of hours to do it.

Q: In StarDrive you can choose from 8 rendered alien races. Which one is your favourite and why?

DD: Personally I like the Space Bears, the Kulrathi. This was the first race we completed as a team and it was an homage to the Bulrathi and Kilrathi. A Japanese samurai space bear is kind of silly but looks really cool, and in a way that choice of Space Bear has set the tone for all of our races. A little bit serious, a little bit goofy, and always fun to interact with.

Q: Do you have any plans in the future to release DLC or add-ons to expand the StarDrive universe?

DD: Absolutely. We’ve got a few ideas in the works from new ships, technologies, races and more. What we ultimately deliver will be largely based on player feedback.

Q: As you have announced, StarDrive will be available as a beta pre-purchasing on the Steam Platform. Why did you decide to first release the Beta and not wait for the final version of the game?

DD: The simple answer is that we all want a smooth and well executed release. It seems that 4x games have received a sort of notorious reputation for being released too early or with too many bugs, and no one wants to see this for StarDrive. Not the players, not our team, not our publisher. In our opinion, an open Beta period lays our cards out on the table and allows the public to help shape the final product.

Ultimately, I want StarDrive to be judged on the quality of its ideas and on how fun it is, not on some bugs in the system that could have and should have been caught prior to release. As a new studio, we have one chance to make a good first impression. A public beta kind of gives us two chances and I think the players would rather have a beta to provide feedback on than a crappy release to get frustrated over.

Q: Any special advice for the fans playing StarDrive?

DD: Read the in-game help menu! Watch the tutorial videos there. There’s a lot going on in StarDrive and to get the most out of it, take a few minutes to learn.

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