Interview with Sven and Jim, Designers at Ashdar Games

Stars in Shadow Interview Featured Image

Taking inspiration from titles such as Master of Orion, Ashdar Games’ Stars in Shadow is meant to be the perfect entry point for players who want to try their hand at turn-based combat in a stylish comic book-esque environment. We had the opportunity to chat with Sven Olsen (Programmer and Designer) and Jim Francis (Artist and Designer) over at Asher Games about their project. Even though it is designed for players to easily pick up, Star in Shadow has a huge amount of depth to it. Taking control of one of six alien races, the player embarks on a conquest that spans four eras of scientific and military development. Different races will have different capabilities in terms of development, and your choice in who you play effects relationship that can be built with other species and what alliances you may join. The turn based combat is done in a 4X fashion, similar to series like Civilization, so players looking for a lasting challenge will easily find one in this game!

To see more info on Stars in Shadow, check out the game’s website!

Gamer Professionals:     As developers, what are some of your personal inspirations behind your design practices and philosophies?

Sven Olsen:     It’s always really impressed me that Star Control II was created by just two guys, and over just two years. I think part of the magic of that title comes from the fact that it was the product of such a small team. It has both a strong personality and a real coherence, and I’m not sure that would have been possible if a bigger group of people had been involved in creating it. So when I set out to recruit Jim [Francis] for Stars in Shadow, I knew I wasn’t just looking for an artist. What I wanted, really, was to find someone who could fill the same sort of combo writer/artist/designer role that Paul Rieche III filled for Star Control II. Jim has done a wonderful job of stepping into all those roles, and I think the fact that we both contribute to so many different aspects of the project simultaneously is a big part of why the game’s come together as well as it has.

Stars in Shadow DialogGP:     Were there other games or media that influenced the design for Stars in Shadow?

Sven:     Many, of course. Jim’s an enthusiastic Civilization fan, and I think you can see the influence of Civ. very strongly, particularly in some of the diplomatic interactions. Master of Orion 2 and Sword of the Stars were both major influences on my initial designs for the game. We also both really enjoy the newer XCOM titles, and in my mind those games have set the standard for what it means to create a modern turn-based tactical combat game that’s simultaneously deep and accessible without excessive micromanagement.

GP:     What aspect of Stars in Shadow did you want to be unique from others that occupy that same third person space strategy genre?

Sven:     For me this project has always been about refining and improving on gameplay features we already know and love, rather than creating something entirely new. In almost every aspect of the game, I’m thinking about how to do that particular feature ‘better’ than I’ve seen it done before, rather than trying to create something ‘new and different’. For example, each population type in Stars in Shadow has different habitat preferences; and as a player you can take advantage of that by building multi-species colonies. Nearly all 4X games include some version of this feature; but, I think the population management mechanics we built for Stars in Shadow are unusually elegant – allowing for deep gameplay without requiring excessive micromanagement from the player.

Stars in Shadow TinkersGP:     What does the new faction, the Tinkers, bring to the game? Which type of players should try them? Which type should stay away?

Jim Francis:     Being cyborgs, Tinkers colonists don’t require food and can ignore most morale penalties, if they build the requisite infrastructure. They can also convert captured alien population into cyborgs, increasing their labor at the cost of science output. The Tinkers’ unique ship hulls are equipped with built-in forges that repair the ship during combat and replenish ammunition, and they start the game with two missile technologies. They also have two unique ‘mobile station’ hulls which make it easier for them to move their system infrastructure around. Their early combat advantages and lesser need for food and morale infrastructure make the Tinkers a good choice for early warmongering, but they are flexible enough to support any playstyle.

GP:     This game aims to be a simple and accessable game in terms of the 4X genre. Would you consider Stars in Shadow a good game for players to try if they’re looking to get into this lesser known genre. From the start, did you set out to develope Stars in Shadow as a game that is deep, but not intimidating for novice 4X players?

Jim:     We designed the game to suit our own tastes, as hardcore fans of the 4X genre. One of the design challenges of the genre that we wanted to address is to minimize unnecessary micromanagement, especially in the late game, by making sure that the decisions confronting the player are as interesting and fun as possible. We also wanted to streamline the strategic layer in order to be able to focus more on the details of tactical combat. If this design philosophy makes the game more accessible to new players, that’s great, but it wasn’t our original goal.

Stars in Shadow Combat

GP:     What do you want players to know going into Stars in Shadow?

Sven:     New players should go into the game understanding that mastering tactical combat is going to be an important part of the game. This isn’t true of all 4X titles –Endless Space does away with tactical combat almost entirely.  While Stellaris, is careful to limit the amount of control you have over space battles. Stars in Shadow will really reward you for paying attention to the details of tactical combat though. Humans, for example, have a lot of strategic weaknesses; but the combination of their assault marines and assault cruisers can be very powerful, and that tactical strength can potentially make up for their other drawbacks.

GP:     What other games can players use to gauge if they’ll enjoy Stars in Shadow?

Jim:     The obvious examples are the classics: Master of Orion 1 and 2, and Sword of the Stars. Players who enjoy some of the titles with more abstract strategic systems such as Spaceward Ho! may also enjoy the strategic system in Stars in Shadow. And finally, if you enjoyed any 4X title that included detailed turn-based tactical combat, Stars in Shadow may satisfy that itch.

This interview was done in tandem between myself (Jordan Aslett) and Gamer Professionals Channel Director Jordan Ramee.

Published by Jordan Aslett - Managing Editor

Jordan Aslett is the Managing Editor at Gamer Professionals. He loves all things video game and is especially interested in some of the deeper aspects of games such as developer strategies and why players play games they way they do. His favorite games are the Uncharted and Assassin's Creed Series, and has a special love for anything with a strong/evocative story narrative.