Star Control

My Farewell

Published on Tuesday, October 23, 2018 By cuorebrave In Founders Starbase

Hey all, Cuorebrave here - many of you know me, and have known me for the past 5 years or so, since this program started. If you don't know me, chances are you have joined only recently. I'm not sure who's let into the Founders Starbase section of the forums anymore, but I've been here since day one. Before day one, actually! When Star Control Origins was just a twinkle in Brad's eye, I was already filling his inbox with my hopes and dreams for a new Star Control game, from the moment news broke that Stardock purchased the rights. I'd been playing GalCiv and Sins of a Solar Empire (and yes, even Demigod) since my twenties, and I have been absolutely certain, since day 1, that Stardock would do the Star Control name justice.


But, this is where it all started! Before Discord, before Skype, there was only this forum (and it looked a lot different than it does, now, too!). Friendships were made here, and later lost or broken. Some survived, and some did not. Ideas would abound daily. Dreams explained in every minute detail. Tempers flared. Criticism and praise dealt in mostly-equal measure. Frustration and excitement alike filled these hallowed halls on a daily basis. It's been such a big part of my life for so very long now. 


It feels weird to me, now that it's over and the game is out. How many countless hours did I spend discussing, theorizing, conceptualizing and watching the development of this game? Overall, it was such a great honor to have been a part of this - the making of a follow-up to the game my entire childhood revolved around. 


Brad, you cared a lot about us, more than any developer ever has shown me was possible. Probably more than you should have. I enjoyed every time you hung out with us, like a momma bird coming back to feed her little babies starving for tidbits about the ongoing game development. Thanks for giving us such enthusiastic and carefully curated dev updates - rather than regurgitated, half-digested worm parts, like a normal momma bird would.


And thanks to all the now-ancient first-founders who made this exclusive club exciting and fun and drama-filled for so many years. We all helped stitch together an incredible finished-product, and I'm proud of what we've made together and the influence we had on the game's design. With that said, I'd like to take some time to break down what ended up working, and what didn't - as well as my own personal hopes and dreams for future updates, expansions, DLC and whatnot. Consider this my farewell, at least for quite some time.


Alien Races:


What worked:


  • Out of all the parts that work together to make a Star Control game, I think the most important thing is the Aliens. And on this front, your artists, designers, coders, voice-over actors and scriptwriters did a fantastic job. The aliens are numerous and varied, each with personalities that were interesting, wild and sometimes outright nuts. Each one was well-formed and fleshed-out, with motivations, quirks and a storyline that captivated the player - reaching its apex with the Mowlings. They're just so *good*. The Drenkend and Menkmack were the least interesting of the bunch, I think from being too anthropomorphic and trope-y. I didn't get a sense that I really understood their simplistic motivations, or how their culture produced these beings. But on the whole, it’s a varied and diverse cast of aliens, the likes of which have rarely been seen in video game form.


What didn't work:


  • That's really where I wish for some improvement - Star Control II gave such incredible backstory, you understood for the most part exactly how each race got to the point they're at today. Whether it be the Syreen having almost no men, to the Thraddash being in culture 20, to the lonely Slylandro, trapped on a gas giant, sending out probes in hopes of finding someone, anyone, who would visit one day. I'm still not sure why the Tywom are the lovable nerds, or why nobody actually loves them. Why are the Menkmack the wheelin' and dealin' Indiana Jones of space? What made them that way? I think it's limitations imposed because every single line needed to be voiced. I wish there were just pages and pages of dialogue that gave every facet meaning and backstory. I would have liked to learn more – but a voice-acting budget may have put constraints on the endless lore I wished I could have read to really understand these beings.
  • While the interactions with the major races are really solid, the part that really lost me was the addition of minor races. They're not only unnecessary, but dull and lifeless to boot. They add nothing to the game, and only serve to make the game feel more hollow. None are memorable, and there's not a single one that wouldn't have been better served being a unique character from one of the major races (Like Tanaka or Fwiffo). I'd want to see Stardock go that route, for future expansions. You made SUCH great, well-rounded races, there's NO reason a rogue Tywom couldn't be the pilot spouting "***TARGET ACQUIRED***" at you, before opening fire. WHAT? the player would ask. A Tywom coming after me for seemingly no reason?! Or a pirate-squid Mukay trying to confiscate your ship, instead of some random one-eyed Kzanti. If your greatest, most in-depth interaction with them is going to be "Target Acquired", why even include them in the game? A main-race rogue faction could easily take their place, like the different aligned Yehat ships, because, at least you were still fighting the Yehat, and the power-struggle served to flesh them out even more. TL:DR? Minor races are pointless and would be better served being absorbed into the major races. 


Star Systems:


What worked:


  • Solar system navigation was the pinnacle of achievement for Star Control Origins. It captured the magic of the original, while updating it to a beautiful, streamlined modern form. The systems were beautiful and smooth and the simplicity of arriving to a new system, pointing your nose at a planet and arriving to it was modern gaming at its finest. There was this sense of the galaxy being at your fingertips that made each new system exciting and riveting. I would give ANYTHING to be able to just point the nose of my own spaceship at a planet one day, and moments later arrive there. What bliss. 
  • The graphics of each solar system could have had more variety, and I still think some interesting nebulae could be added as backdrops, to spice things up a bit. The suns themselves, though, were beautiful and varied, the planets were wondrous to behold and I got a little dip in my stomach each time I came across a new system, because it might just hold something amazing. 


What didn't work:


  • I was wrong when I urged you, Brad, to force the player to take notes, write down planet names, draw mini maps of areas, keep lists of favorite/richest/BIO-unit planets etc... Kids are just not into it, these days. They want information at their fingertips at all times. Instead of hearkening back to "the good ol' days", it just made people think the game didn't include "innovations" from the last 25 years. So, I said it once, I'll say it again - I was wrong. I remembered those times so fondly, and my SCII notebook so vividly, and I just... people aren't used to that anymore. Kids don't even take notes off the board in class anymore, they just take a picture on their phones. It's time to bring Star Control Origins into the modern world, with innovations like mouse-over info, log of riches in-system, tracking of systems you've been to, and what was there, etc. 


  •        People like clearing things. Being able to metaphorically check off a box that says to their brain, “Okay, I’m done here.” The systems in SCO do not offer any such finality. Clear a system of enemy ships, there will be more wandering in all the time. They’ll be back next time you come ‘round. There’s no sense of accomplishment, and that’s a misstep – in a game where I already felt like I just never really, truly accomplished *anything* or had any effect on things. Too many ships, coming and going as they please. They're everywhere. All the time. Forever. People LIKE clearing things. It's like a level-up. It's a sense of accomplishment, and it's important. If there was a system filled with Urquan, you COULD clear it, and then explore in peace. That was a good goal to have.


  • My goodness, there is just too much stuff:
    • What's with multiple, multiple suns per system. It's unnecessary. They serve no purpose and have no bearing on the game in any way. Why include them, if there's no point?
    • Same goes for how many planets are in each system. With more suns, comes more planets, and it's just too much. I wish you guys had been more focused on making the planets that ARE there worthwhile and interesting, as opposed to just adding a ton more suns and planets to each system.
    • Again, jeez, just so many ships everywhere. There used to be a sense of wonder when finding ANY ships in ANY system. Now it’s a given that there’s just thousands of ships all over the place, in every system you go to – and it’s therefore less special. A lot less special.


  •          The orbit-lines need to be darker and more visible. Many systems I just couldn't tell at a glance how many planets I'd need to explore.




What worked:


·        Hyperspace is, overall, a joy! The graphics, the physical navigation, the music, everything is quite fun. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Only a few minor gripes…


What didn’t work:


·        Hyperspace should be suspenseful. It should be filled with Wonder. You should not know who’s following you, be it friend or foe. You should not get a mini-preview of the system before entering it. You should be carefully gauging how far you can go, pushing your limits, whether it be crew lost to attrition, or an empty fuel tank. How far can you go?! How far can you push into enemy territory before needing to turn back?!


·        Using the Tywom-tow as a “feature” instead of a punishment just made me… just so sad. Maybe it’s a necessary evil in today’s games. Who cares about the round-trip fuel need, if you can just get towed back to earth? Again, it reinforces the fact that there’s no suspense – when Hyperspace used to be a big, scary thing, filled with danger, it’s now small, just a nice quick jaunt to stars anywhere on the map and a tow back home. I never felt a single drop of danger, and that’s a shame.


·        The Starmap is hideous. Big single-color splotches. Make an awesome looking one for the next game.


Your Ship:


What worked:


·        The ship is fun to fly and handles well, with inertia. There’s something to be said for just being able to fly up to a planet and land.


What didn’t work:


  •       The upgrades are shallow, lore-less, and incremental. There is no sense of discovery, achievement or… really any joy attached to upgrading your ship. I liken it to Destiny or Shadow of Mordor or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s upgrade system. You get a helmet. It gives you 8 defense. Then you get another helmet. It gives you 9 defense. Then you get an epic helmet. It gives you 11 defense and +4% bonus to attach damage. Then you get another helmet. It gives you 12 defense. And the game marches on, with a ton of upgrades that are inconsequential and, in a word, soulless. Are you really that excited that your new helmet gives you 12 defense instead of 11? No. No you’re not. And as a gaming society, we seem to be trapped in this loop where every game just does the same exact thing with new gear, in every single game that comes out. It’s supposed to be rewarding! It’s supposed to give you a sense of progression! But instead, it just gives you a hundred-thousand boring helmets for no reason – exacerbated by the fact that your ENEMIES usually just go up in health/defense incrementally with your new gear. This is not how it works in a fun game. I’d say the last game to truly understand the joy of getting new gear was Terraria. Sure you start off with wood armor. And then you get copper armor. Then iron… but after that? You get to a hidden jungle area - filled with horrible beasties that kick your iron-armored ass repeatedly! But you slog through it, and through attrition and skill, eventually gather enough stuff to get yourself equipped with armor made from jungle material that makes you trail falling leaves behind you when moving. And it enables you to use magic instead of traditional combat. And you’ve got a spinning, thorned chakram you can throw at enemies that travels through walls! And all of this makes your future treks through the jungle a simple matter! It’s real progress and achievement. Which I guess makes me think……….


  •         I know there’s like five hundred different ships in the game, but they are so goddamn pointless, I can’t even be bothered to remember a single one that’s not from one of the main races. They are chaff. Forgettable. The main-race alien ships are well-crafted and unique. You should have stuck with those, folks. Seriously. Combat is so pointlessly diluted now, though, with all the nameless, faceless, pointless ships you guys threw into the mix. I would just close my eyes and pick one at random, having no clue whether it’s good or bad or what countered what. Makes for a veritably shallow experience, with no need for tact – and no need to recruit alien races to your cause. I’ve got 20 ships that I have no idea what they do! Again, this is a balance-thing. Balancing 15 ships to perfection SHOULD be what this game is about. Like Overwatch, where every single character is balanced into oblivion to make every match precise, Star Control Origins SHOULD have purposefully created the 15 main ships in the game with UTTER LASER-PRECISION. Perfect weapons, that fit several playstyles. You can then balance it with perfect counters, and allow the player to really hone their skills with each one. Get to know them! Develop preferences, likes and dislikes. Improve your skill with each one! Develop a nemesis, for fuck’s sake! Instead, there’s not only 15 main ships, but countless variants on the same race’s ships (for no discernible reason), and then injected 400 random fucking pointless ships we have no clue what they do or what their purpose is, and it just becomes a button-mashing disaster. WTF! There’s no chance to even develop any sort of skill! If you’re going to do a game with a relatively small development team, at least DO ONE THING WELL, as opposed to doing 500 things poorly. How are you supposed to have any semblance of “balance” when you’ve got 500 ships that all do random shit?


  •         Which, really…. It all just comes down to purposeful balance in the game. This is the responsibility of the developer’s dedicated effort. It must be a main priority going into the future. True BALANCE. It helps foster a loop of Danger vs Accomplishment. Of which, Star Control Origins is lacking. Badly. Star Control II did this exceedingly well. When you start out, everything is dangerous. You barely scrape by. The planets near Sol are comparatively tame, since you can only go a short way into the universe (another balance issue). The resources you get are also sparse. The Slylandro are an absolute terror – faster, stronger, better. The Ilwrath are your doom. But keep your nose to the grindstone, improve your capabilities, and eventually you’re turning entire armadas into spacedust. The Slylandro are a mere nuisance, when before they were your End. You cut large swathes through Ilwrath space with nary a scratch…… until you meet those damned Mycon. Or the VUX. And then the Urquan after that… But improve your ship some more, forge alliances, gather allies and hone your skills, and you’ll be able to face down their Dreadnaughts and Marauders on equal footing. It’s purposeful, and badly needed here.


Planetary Landing:


What worked:


  •      The little cutscenes can be mildly fun at some points… even though they’re not represented visually in the 3D planet view. It’s a weird dichotomy.


What didn’t work:


  •         The people have spoken. The reviews have spoken. If there’s one legitimate criticism about Star Control: Origins, it would be about the planetary landing. It just doesn’t hold water anymore. I don’t know why. I don’t know why it worked back in 1992, and not now. I don’t know why I still find it fun to land on planets in SC2, and not SCO, but it’s true. On the surface, it appears to be the same exact thing as SC2, but on a 3d sphere… yet… the planets here offer a whole lot of nothing – while still somehow being a faithful recreation of the original game’s planet landing. What a weird anomaly! I think you knew that, Brad, from the beginning, but you didn’t want to upset everyone who would have called you a heretic for leaving that part out. But something needs to happen differently.


o   The planets are pretty, but very sparse. Multiple reviewers and Steam reviews said the same thing. Unless you can figure out how to make them fast, ultra-lush worlds, and handcraft them to offer interesting and varied landscapes, then just forget it.


o   Same goes with critters, the most under-developed part of the whole game. Having 5 critter models is just sad. And attempting to make the player believe that all non-sentient life in the galaxy somehow evolved into the same warthogs just makes no sense. And our interaction with them, stunning or meat-processing, is just really… bad. They’re ugly, floaty, boring, easy, just fall over and turn into a steak. Remove or improve greatly, is the path I hope y’all are going to take.


o   The landing mini-game is joyless.


o   The resources represented as floating color blips also makes no sense and doesn’t work in today’s climate where all the survival games in the world have beautiful animations of you chopping trees and mining rocks. Rocks chip away and break apart, trees fall, sand falls into place after being displaced, water flows freely – a LOT of strides have been made recently, in making mining a pleasurable and pretty experience. SCO does not put forth any of those innovations, and therefore gets labeled as “dated”.


o   The planets are all just round, with bumps for hills. This brings back terrible memories of the Mako in Mass Effect, and they rightfully eschewed those whole gameplay segments for the followups in the trilogy. There should be variety. Tall plateaus. Dangerous caves. Huge world-trees. Living Vines that wrap around your lander you must break free from. I don’t know, giant venus flytraps that swallow you? Crystals to smash through. Obstacles of some kind, but also geographically interesting inclusions - Canyons, rivers, valleys, creeks. Rainforests with heavy rainfall. Swamps that mire you in muck. Waterfalls. SOMETHING. And if you CAN’T do it? Just toss it. It’s at that point.


o   On a planet, you’re either completely free from danger, or 100% dead. This is dumb. You either have empty planets with a random, easily-avoided tornado, or a 100% chance of death. There’s no middle ground, compounded by the fact that many planets just grind you down automatically with heat or toxicity. None of THAT is fun. There must be risk, with a CHANCE of death (and conversely a change of life) – anything but guaranteed death. Honestly? I just skipped ‘em. Entirely. Literally, all of them. If there was auto-death or fireballs, I just took a hard-pass on the whole planet. When your audience is just blindly skipping entire sections, there’s something wrong. I hope you figure out what it is.


o   There is *literally* never anything interesting to find on planets. I don’t know how SC2 did it, maybe it was lightning in a bottle, never to be captured again. Maybe it’s something that can never be recreated. But I either found an ancient facility (“Nice find! Here’s $5000!) or a crashed ship. Let me tell you - finding 100 random, crashed ships with no backstory or reason for them being there, and just magically bringing them up to your fleet and crewing them (with what people?) does not make for a fun game. By the 13th ship from some unknown race I magically brought into working order, I was over it for good. I never want to see another meaningless crashed ship on a planet ever again. These are things I WANT to know about, and SCO just plops them there, with the same dialogue from your first mate – “Hey! Found a ship! Let’s get it up in the air.” Is that really all the imagination we have on offer, here? A payout for finding some building, or a pointless crashed ship? No. I want to know who they are. I want to know where they came from. I want to know why it crashed, or why it was built. I want stories. These offered none and I left feeling empty.


o   And lastly, the lander control is awful and floaty-at-best. Fast, accurate controls for your lander are a must. No one wants their lander to drift aimlessly across a plain sphere for hours on end. Let us zoom and dart about quickly, with extreme accuracy – ducking into caves, lakes, around huge world-trees. It’s the future after all.


  •         But that doesn’t necessarily mean the planetary landing has to be thrown out entirely. There’s so much possibility for something good, I hope in the years to follow you refine the tech and bolster your imaginations and let the writers run wild, in order to salvage the gameplay and mold it into something beautiful and riveting. It’s not there, yet, and there’s a long way to go. But I just read on Discord yesterday, there’s a lot of talk in the Campers-NDA about how to improve our interaction with the planets with “Away Teams” and what-not. If those provide a curated experience on the planets, I’m all for it – even if it’s heresy. It makes me think that maybe the creators of Star Control 3 saw the writing on the wall – “There’s no way we can make planetary landing viable and fun, so let’s just do something else entirely.” They ended up doing a terrible, boring job… but then again, SCO didn’t really live up to the Star Control name with its planetary landing, either. So, it’s a conundrum, but I hope one that can be improved upon as the days go by.


Which brings me to my final three points:


1)   1) The game as a whole, seems half-done. It’s an awesome half, to be sure, and you said you're just getting started! But still, half-made. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of first-tries in a series have trouble with some implemented systems or sections, until they get refined – and there is so much potential! But, multiple areas seem woefully underproduced and shallow. The critters, the energy signals on planets, the resource collection, the planets themselves, the backstories, the lore underpinning the whole experience, the lander-shooting, the list goes on. You're not quite *THERE* yet. I hope you can refine these elements in the years to come, to home in on what works, and cut away the chaff. I know we, as a group of die-hard fans, didn’t allow anything to be cut, and we were very vocal about that – but feel free to not listen to us, in the future. It’s hard for me to admit when we might have been wrong, but if it’s better for the game, I think you should take your executive decision power and use it. Cut out the parts that don’t work, to make a more focused, pleasurable experience. I mean that, even if it hurts my (or others’) feelings. 

     2) Secondly, the feeling that permeated my experience, is that everything felt… inconsequential. We came across an alien signal for the first time in history? Meh. We actually meet said-alien? Oh, Tywom, cool. We find out the Scryve are out to destroy us and have the capability? Yikes, but I’m also kinda hungry. 99 crew die in nuclear fire on my ship? Here’s 99 more for free (always). We came across an unknown ruin? Here’s $3000, neat. An ancient, unknown spacefaring race of now-extinct aliens crash-landed on this planet? Kewl. Let’s use it to shoot things. I just categorized and stunned “new” biological data for the Maelnum? Auto-sell for 25 credits. Finally can afford that new toxic-protection you’ve been saving up for? Click, 25% more protected . Yeay. There’s no fanfare, in literally anything you do. No revulsion. No fear. No reward. No danger. No consequence. No accomplishment. Everything is just treated like it’s just another day, which struck me as something so out of place. We’re looking at the extinction of multiple sentient civilizations, where every little advantage would be a BIG DEAL. I hope the stakes are higher or at least appear higher, when releasing DLC and a sequel someday.


3)   3) And lastly, there should be a huge focus on balanced progression in the universe, for future games. When you’re new on the scene, you should be artificially, invisibly limited to a small area. Games like Morrowind did this with higher level enemies surrounding the starting areas – you’d have no hope of venturing there as a level 2, with any success. Star Control added a level of intrigue by not only making further areas more dangerous (Mycon, Ilwrath, Urquan black and green), but also limited you by your fuel capacity and crew limit. SCO has none of this. I plopped a new fuel tank on my ship and travelled to the absolute farthest reaches of space, with little to no difficulty. It was open from the beginning. This can be fixed by CAREFULLY CURATING the different zones, to offer a purposeful experience. Open up the new areas by organically feeding the player upgrades that allow them easier access. Give the game a good sense of curated progression, and you can right the missteps from the first outing. I believe in you.


And with that, it’s time for me to move on from this experience. Why would I move on from something that’s consumed me for the last 5 years? Because, I realized I don’t really like doing this. I don’t much like watching a game be built from concept to realization. It’s one thing to be slightly disappointed by decisions a developer you have no relation to makes. But, I don’t like watching things get cut or included that I don’t agree with when I’m involved on a day-to-day basis. It’s too frustrating to not have any control over something being built right in front of you. I can beg and plead until I’m blue in the face, but the outcome isn’t up to me. It makes the stakes that much higher, if you watch something being built, and truly invest yourself in it.


Couple that with it being a followup to a LEGENDARY game from your childhood, and it creates a needlessly high expectation for a game that couldn’t possibly reach those heights (of your own construction) in your mind. I was burnt out on Star Control Origins before the game even came out, and I didn’t quite realize that until I loaded up the final game for the first time, and had trouble getting into it. I already knew how it ended. I watched the aliens get created from nothing. I read the plotline summaries as they were dreamed up. I knew where this was going before it even was programmed. And, for me, that was just not a good choice concerning my final enjoyment of the game. It’s hard to be excited or pleased by a finished product that you watched grow up.


Oh, I get it now!! THE SAUSAGE FACTORY. The analogy finally makes sense! Most people would be mortified to learn what the factories actually grind up to make their favorite sausage – all cow-lips and salivary glands and eyelids and intestines. Yes, exactly, that’s how I feel. I was too close to this project – and even further soured by the whole lawsuit ordeal. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade my time with you guys for anything. I’m glad to have met you all. I’m happy for your friendship and for the drama that kept my life interesting all these years. And just because the sausage factory dampened my excitement for the final Star Control Origins game, doesn’t mean it’ll be the same way for the expansions and DLC and eventual sequel!


So, this is a perfect break for me. I simultaneously have gratitude for the events that brought us to this point, as well as being able to look forward to seeing the improvements Stardock makes for the upcoming add-ons/sequals to Star Control that I have coming to me as a Lifetime Foundertm. I hope you guys really let loose. I hope you fill me with wonder – an awe and wonder that’s not possible when you’ve been intimately involved for 5 years. I want you to blow me away with what happens next. I want you to transport me back to when I was twelve and after a long weekend of Star Control, just couldn’t shake the feeling that we most definitely aren’t alone in this galaxy.


Special thanks to those of you who actually read all this. I know I’m long-winded, but when my heart rains, it pours.