Blackstar: Exclusive ION Interview with Brandon Reinhart, Part Two
by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
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by Brandon Reinhart, Lead Designer for Spacetime Studios
Creating a solid PvP environment is incredibly difficult, and it
requires more balancing than many sane developers like to undertake.
However, PvP becomes even more difficult when you add in vehicle based
combat, but that’s exactly what the developers at Spacetime
Studios did in their upcoming MMOG Blackstar. Recently, Ten Ton
Hammer’s Cody “Micajah” Bye sat down with
Brandon Reinhart, lead designer for Blackstar, and the pair discussed
the ins and outs of the upcoming MMOG.
Also, if you’re interested in reading part one, href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/33635">click here!
Ten Ton Hammer: Is
Blackstar a class based game, or is it something different?
Some concept art from
the United Colonies in Blackstar.
It’s a class based game. Personally, I love class based
games, but I play everything. Currently I’m a hardcore WoW
and EVE player, but I love class based gameplay, the character
selection, and the choices that are presented to me.
In a fantasy game, like World of Warcraft, you usually have a choice
between things like rogues or fighters, and we all know what those
choices are about. We see the fighter character, and we know his
aspiration is strength and he stands for the tanking experience.
When you get into a science fiction game, you don’t have a
lot of those built in expectations to draw from. Our character design
process is really about identifying the core aspirations of characters
and what players want to be. Do they want to be smart? Do they want to
be powerful? Do they want to control pets? Do they want to control
Once we have those core ideas, we write about them and work with our
visualization team to draw pictures of these characters. We ended up
with character classes that we feel don’t necessarily have
analogs in a fantasy game, but when you look at them you get a sense of
what the experience is going to be like. You may see a Riven Warpriest
with his cold mask and sense of detachment, and you get the sense that
this character is about domination and control. It turns out that he is
a pet class and enslaves demons.
When you look at the skinnier Mode android female, who has a real lithe
body and these pistols that have lightsaber blades coming off the end
of them, you get a sense that she’s a very unique and
different experience from the Warpriest. There’s an analog
between the lithe android and a thief or a rogue – a stealthy
That said, we don’t need to necessarily tie it back to a
fantasy game as long as the unique expression of that character is
enough for you to say “I want to play that
character” and you get the impression that these are
experiences that will be unique.
Ten Ton Hammer: In a lot
of science fiction games, there’s been issues with players
not understanding exactly what everything is. In a fantasy game,
it’s easy. Warriors are tougher than mages, etc. Has it been
hard in your world to come up with terms that make sense?
It’s not easy, it’s not something you can do in an
afternoon. But I think we’ve solved a lot of those problems
with our characters.
Ten Ton Hammer: So people
focus more on the look of a character rather than the name.
the character, how they stand, how they move, their weapons,
expressions, and equipment; all of those things are factored in. In our
design process, we know that equipment is a really important part of a
person’s character and their expression of advancement, so we
would go through each character and look at them unclothed –
not completely naked mind you – then with level 10 gear,
level 25 gear, level 50 gear, to see the paths of advancement.
Those paths of advancement – that gear you get –
diverge a lot when you compare a stealth character to a tank character.
You can get a lot of expression out of that character in all the other
aspects of how they look. As a designer, that comes from all the
narrative work that’s done in the development of our
characters. Every character has a story behind them, even if the
stories are never seen by the players. The designers know those
stories, and that helps them visualize the characters. Hopefully the
visualization actually does the footwork in helping to tell that story.
Some examples of
spaceships in Blackstar.
Ten Ton Hammer: So
there’s four races?
There’s humanity, which needs no introduction. Then
there’s the Mode; the Mode are artificial intelligence
androids originally constructed by humanity as servants, but later
became close allies with humanity through the gradual advancements in
artificial intelligence. Those two races represent the United Colonies.
The other faction is the Scorn Empire. That empire is led by the Scorn,
who are a race of demonic aliens from the distant part of the galaxy.
They worship Cthullu-like star gods who live between the worlds in the
cold reaches of space. Their architecture and starships are all
inspired by that sort of Cthullu vibe. The Scorn starships have tails,
and we actually use cloth deformation technology to make those wave as
you fly your ship around.
Since players have a lot of emotive options, we wanted the starships to
have a bit of personality as well. All the ships in the game have lots
of moving parts, and the Scorn ships have tails and the cockpits tend
to look like heads.
The fourth race are the Riven. Riven are undead Scorn, but
they’re not just undead Scorn. They’re a completely
separate generation of Scorn and have a completely different set of
methods and political beliefs. They lived thousands of years before the
modern Scorn. The Scorn, as they’ve been fighting these wars,
developed technology that would allow them to resurrect the Riven, and
those resurrected beings believe that the current generation of Scorn
are soft because they enslave races instead of annihilating them. The
Riven believe in genocide, and these differing beliefs came to a head
in a civil war between the Riven and the Scorn called the Rivening,
which nearly destroyed the Scorn Empire. Although that war is over,
there’s plenty of animosity between the two sides, because of
the religious interpretations they had.
Ten Ton Hammer: And each
race has its own various set of classes? Are there any correlations
between the two factions?
essentially four classes, but each has a different permutation based on
the faction. For instance, the tanking class for the colonies is called
the Commando and it’s called the Crusader on the Scorn Empire
side of the game. Although the core functionality is basically the same
– there’s about 80% overlap on abilities and
functions – there’s about 20% of the skills that
are set aside for unique action based abilities.
Furthermore, the entire sets of abilities have their own unique skins
and/or visual styling. You might have the same sort of defensive buff,
but the visual effect might be different for the Scorn. There are four
classes and two different permutations, so that gives you about eight
different variations you can play.
There’s a pet class for either side, a stealth based DPS
class, a tanking/defensive based class, and a support/caster class. The
support class functions similarly to a Shaman in WoW, but instead of
totems, they use drones and spirits and can customize those in
different ways. It’s called an Engineer on the United
Colonies side and the Adept on the Scorn side.
Really, the idea was to have enough parallels between the factions for
PvP to be balanced, but give each side a very unique ability to create
for some different experiences when you’re playing through
Ten Ton Hammer: Finally,
do you have any sort of alternate advancement system or talent tree
pinned down yet?
of designs for one. We’ve been doing a lot of class
development and ability development, and we’ve got a lot of
ideas on how we want to do alternate advancement. We really want a
level game that caps out around 50, but not have that stop the process
We’ve talked about customizing abilities, earning some sort
of alternate advancement point system, and earning badges, but because
of where we’re at in development, that’s not really
something that we’ll flesh out until a little while
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