Publisher Stardock is reviving the Star Control series with its own update called Star Control: Origins, which hits PC on September 20. This new take on the classic space-exploration adventure games is giving players a simulated universe to discover while maintaining the story-driven gameplay that made so many people fall in love with Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters.
I recently spoke with Star Control: Origins lead producer Patrick Shaw about the game and how Stardock is approaching development. Shaw explained Origins’ relationship to the original and how it is expanding on the ideas from the nearly 30-year-old franchise.
“Our game is inspired by the classics,” Shaw said. “We’ve taken the same beats and some of the same themes, both in gameplay and story, and then updated them for a modern audience.”
One of those modernizing elements includes 3D gameplay when landing on a planet. Those lander sections were in 2D in the early games, and now Stardock is using the power of today’s PCs to re-create that experience as something more dynamic.
“But the most important thing that we’re excited to bring to this is the idea of a complete simulated universe,” said Shaw. “While I’m on the planet, I can look up in the sky. I can see my mothership orbiting the planet. If I’m on Europa, I can see Jupiter and all of its moons in the distance. I can go out into the solar system. In the solar system I can see alien ships flying back and forth, going between trading posts, maybe engaging in battles.”
And each of those alien ships has their own motivations and character traits.
“Some of them are interested in me. Some of them aren’t. Some are scared. Some are really angry at me,” Shaw explained. “This entire universe is being simulated all the time while I’m on my adventure. Even while I’m on the planet picking up resources, there’s a Scrye battlecruiser out in the solar system patrolling, looking for trouble.”
Shaw acknowledges that may sound like No Man’s Sky, but he thinks Origins is fundamentally different because it is focused on that story-driven experience. You can explore however you want, but you are likely doing so because the story drove you to a certain planet. And that is what Origins is all about.
And we’ll get a chance to see that for ourselves as summer turns to fall and Star Control: Origins debuts. Until then, you can read my entire interview with Shaw in the full transcript below:
GamesBeat: Tell me about yourself and the game.
Patrick Shaw: I’ve been in the gaming industry for almost 20 years now. I’ve worked on Star Wars games. Serious games as well. I’ve been a lead producer here at Stardock for coming up on three years now. I’m the lead producer on Star Control. So, Star Control is an open universe action-RPG. It’s a story-driven open universe, which means I can go anywhere, 100 light-years in any direction, and chart hundreds of stars, explore thousands of planets, interact with dozens of aliens, and basically choose my own path through the story. It’s also an action game, so I can go down to a planet. I can drive my lander around. I can shoot alien critters. I can pick up resources and interact with aliens on the surface. Also, I can fly out into space, fight against other ships, and—lastly it’s an RPG, so you collect resources to buy bonuses for your ship, upgrade your ship to improve it, so you can fight bigger battles and land on planets you couldn’t land on before. Throughout this, we’re working through a mystery in order to save the Earth.
GamesBeat: This is a follow-up from the original games. They had a lot of these ideas, a lot of these concepts, just represented differently than how you’ll be representing them in this game?
Patrick Shaw: Sure. Our game is inspired by the classics. We’ve taken the same beats and some of the same themes, both in gameplay and story, and then updated them for a modern audience. For example, in the original games, the lander gameplay was 2D. Now we’re on a 3D planet. But the most important thing that we’re excited to bring to this is the idea of a complete simulated universe. While I’m on the planet, I can look up in the sky. I can see my mothership orbiting the planet. If I’m on Europa I can see Jupiter and all of its moons in the distance. I can go out into the solar system. In the solar system I can see alien ships flying back and forth, going between trading posts, maybe engaging in battles. Some of them are interested in me. Some of them aren’t. Some are scared. Some are really angry at me. This entire universe is being simulated all the time while I’m on my adventure. Even while I’m on the planet picking up resources, there’s a Scrye battlecruiser out in the solar system patrolling, looking for trouble.
GamesBeat: Tell me more about how that simulation works. Is this going to be something where it’s very intensive, all of my actions affected, or is it going to be so big that my actions only affect a small part of it?
Patrick Shaw: It’s a pretty big simulation. We have hundreds if not thousands of ships running around right now in our current version of the game. They’re following their own AI, their own plan. As I interact with the game over time, I start having a larger and larger ripple effect on how the ships behave and how they respond to me.
GamesBeat: What would make them want to respond to you? You said you’re exploring these planets. You’re unraveling this mystery. Is it when you do illegal actions, things that might piss off some authority? Or is that as you get close to the end of this mystery, powers want to stop you? How does that work?
Patrick Shaw: At one point in the story, midway through the game, you have a choice as to whether to take a shortcut to save Earth, but that choice will involve the genocide of another alien species, wiping out their homeworld. If you do that, all those ships will suddenly go from being friendly to being hostile.
GamesBeat: I would imagine so.
Patrick Shaw: Exactly. Before, you’d be flying around and you’d encounter these aliens. They’d be friendly to you. They might give you stuff. But then once you piss them off by killing their homeworld, they become hostile and they become an obstacle to your general progression in the game.
GamesBeat: I hear something like that and I think—I love it when stuff like that is in a game, but I’ll never do it. I have to be the good guy. Do you find ways to make even something like planetary genocide a shade of gray, where you give me compelling reasons to consider that as an option? Or is that definitely the dark path? You could do this, but you’ll be the bad guy.
Patrick Shaw: We’re definitely—we have several different themed paths through the game, themed choices. We definitely try to go for more of the shades of gray throughout the game. As I said, you’re under pressure to save the Earth. One of the obvious choices is genocide. Do you choose your own homeworld, or do you choose this other alien homeworld to survive?
GamesBeat: How do you make sure something like that stays interesting? I would imagine most people, even beyond wanting to be the good guy, would find diplomatic solutions to be maybe more interesting, if they could find ways around that. What can you add to a path like that that keeps people considering these drastic options that almost seem too simplistic?
Patrick Shaw: The advantage of staying on the good side of people is you can find more allies. One of the parts of the gameplay is the fleet battles. As I’m going through the game I accumulate ships in my fleet, like characters in your party. The more ships I have, the better I’m going to be in combat, and the more friends I make, the more ships I’ll have to choose from.
GamesBeat: Killing a planet, is that the endgame, or would the game continue after that? Is there a point where the story ends, I guess?
Patrick Shaw: For that particular example, the game keeps going. The story keeps moving.