Blackstar: Exclusive ION Interview with Brandon Reinhart, Part Two

Questions by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
Questions by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

Answers 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, 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.

Brandon Reinhart: 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 other players?

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 character.

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?

Brandon: 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.

Brandon: The look of 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?

Brandon: Right. 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?

Brandon: There are 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 the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: Finally, do you have any sort of alternate advancement system or talent tree pinned down yet?

Brandon: We have a lot 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 of advancing.

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 later. 

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Star Legends: The Blackstar Chronicles Game Page.

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