Starborne is a 4X MMO set in the vastness of space where you control a fledgling space station and decide how you’ll pave your path to fame and glory. There are elements of card collecting, resource management and strategy all at play over a surprisingly long time period. There’s a definite EVE Online vibe to Starborne, but mechanically, it’s very clearly an entirely different game. Initially, I was astounded by just how ambitious a project it is for the first game of an Indie Studio, but Solid Cloud definitely has the chops to pull something like this off. I’m very hopeful to see how the game develops, and couldn’t wait to find out a bit more about the team and their inspirations.
We had the opportunity to ask some questions to Arelius Areliusarsson, Starborne’s Community Manager. He was kind enough to answer our questions about Starborne’s conception, their team’s experience as Indie Developers and the Indie Dev scene of Iceland:
IndieHangover – Briefly, what is Solid Cloud’s history as an Indie Development studio. What are your backgrounds like?
Arelius Areliusarsson – Starborne is Solid Clouds’ first project and on a day-to-day basis nine people work full time on Starborne. A couple of industry heavyweights adorn the team: Hrafnkell Óskarsson, Starborne’s producer, was EVE Online’s first game designer and worked on EVE for close to two decades, while Ásgeir Jón Ásgeirsson also worked on EVE from the start as EVE’s first concept artist and later as its art director for eight years before becoming Starborne’s art director. The rest of the gang are computer scientists and artists with a couple of history and business graduates to mix it up.
IH – Where did the inspiration for Starborne come from? What do you hope to create with Starborne?
AA – The vision of Starborne belongs to the CEO, Stefán Gunnarsson. An avid strategist, Gunnarsson migrated from the single-player 4X experiences of games like Civlization and Master of Orion to the massively multiplayer strategies of Travian and Tribal Wars. While these MMO strategy games had the intricacies of human co-operation and rivalry their maps had been left in the cold, serving almost the single function of creating distances between players. What Starborne is meant to do is to bring the exploration, the empire expansion and the exploitation of natural resources to the setting of a massively multiplayer strategy game.
IH – Starborne seems like a very ambitious project. Why the decision to start so large?
AA – It is, it’s very ambitious. A fully 4X massively multiplayer strategy game doesn’t get made every day and we think it deserves to be gorgeous, intricate, deep and immersive. To be compelling on both the aesthetic level as well as the mechanical level. The project simply demanded quality and we have the staff to deliver it.
IH – You’ve said each game of Starborne will last six months before culminating in its endgame. Why six months? In a saturated game environment, how are you going to maintain player attention for that period of time?
AA – These kind of games are meant to be long-term, epic political struggles between players and player alliances with border disputes, land grabbing, wars and espionage that culminates in a fantastic end-game scenario. In fact, some of these games can take 12-18 months to finish today. In our experience, MMO strategy tend to loose a little traction with their players after six months. But if they’re shorter they frankly miss out on some cool developments that take more time to manifest. That being said, we’re keeping tabs on the time a game should take and quite probably we’ll offer varied game lengths later, but for now we feel six months is the sweet spot.
IH – What’s a typical development day like for you working at Solid Clouds?
AA – Oh dear! It is varied for me personally. As a community manager without a community (yet) my job takes me all over the place. Dealing with press, social media, quality-assurance, various content-creation, finding alpha testers. Once we enter into the alpha test my job will change dramatically and be single mindedly focused on playing with and tending to our players. We treat our alpha testers with respect, they’re helping us, providing extremely valuable feedback and we’d be fools not to pay them their due attention. At that point it is a 24/7 kind of job, really hectic, but really fun. The daily routine of the producer, programmers and artists is more rigid. They work in two-week sprints, start each day with a stand-up meeting and follow up on their sprint plan methodically to achieve their proposed release plan.
IH – What’s the game dev scene like in Iceland?
AA – It’s vibrant, really! Once you have a huge success like CCP (EVE Online) in such a small environment it becomes infectious. There have been several small projects with various degrees of success such as Ceres (released on Steam via Greenlight), Sumer (currnetly a greenlit indie game), Radiant Games and their award winning Box Island game and Plain Vanilla with the world’s most popular quiz game. In 2010 Reykjavik University started offering B.SC. in computer science with an emphasis on game development (where most of Solid Clouds’ team met), a project backed by CCP. It started off as a minor project within the university but is today a full on course with a dedicated professor. We also have the IGI (Icelandic Gaming Industry), an lobby of gaming companies in Iceland working on creating a thriving games industry in Iceland.
IH -What other games have you been playing other than ones you are working on?
AA – Oh I play all sorts! I’ve been avidly playing Hearthstone since its release and I play FIFA pretty regularly too. I lost a few weeks when Steam put the Total War franchise on sale the other day, lol. I was also among the millions of Overwatch beta players too, probably going to buy that one. :)
IH – Could you suggest a studio that you think is doing really cool work for another Indie Game project? What makes them stand out to you as a fellow Indie Dev?
AA – I would reccommend you have a chat with our former neighbours, Radiant Games. Clever guys with a great goal and recently received the Nordic Game Award for Most Fun for Everybody with their Box Island game.
Our thanks to Aurelius for talking to us and giving a peak into the development process for Starborne.
Starborne is currently in Alpha Testing Stage. If you’re interested in applying for Alpha, you can apply on the main Starborne Web Page.