Uber’s Jon Mavor Explains Planetary Annihilation

By Jim Rossignol on January 25th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.


Planetary Annihilation was undoubtedly one of the strongest Kickstarter projects to have appeared since Double Fine set off the goldrush. A stellar pitch, a cap doff to Total Annihilation, and the tech lead from Supreme Commander pouring all of his ambitions into it: few games can boast anything like this, and consequently this game threatens seismic effects in the RTS genre. The man making that happen is Jon Mavor, and I thought it well overdue for us to catch up with what he was up to, and why he is making one of the most exciting games of 2013.

RPS: So I’m really interested in how you came to lead this project. I know a few people have been a bit “hey, that’s not Chris Taylor” when they’ve realised the heritage of this project, but you have been heavily implicated in all these games over the years – what’s the story?

Jon Mavor: I’ve been involved with these games as “the guy behind the guy for a long time”, and mostly that’s because I’ve been on the engineering side. I’ve honestly avoided being in the public eye. If you look at the Monday Night Combat stuff we did when we founded Uber, you really won’t see my name come up that much. I’ve honestly avoided the spotlight! But with Planetary, well, I am really passionate about making these kinds of games. I realised that with this new era of funding, with Kickstarter, and even in general, it is important with the person who is making the game to be really involved with the community. I decided to change my tack a bit, and come out of my shell, talk to the press. I’ve tried to hide a bit – and that’s why you’ve never head of me!

Are you actually interested in the story of how I got here?

RPS: Absolutely.

Mavor: Well, back in 1996 I was up in Canada and I had just finished the first game project I ever worked on, which was Radix: Beyond The Void, and me and some friends created that title. It didn’t really make any money, but it was a great lesson in making games, the business of games. It was apparent, though, that my high-school buddies weren’t looking to make a career out of it. They’ve all gone on to do really well, and I was still friends with them, but it was clear that I was going to move on.

So I went down to GDC in ’96, and I met Chris Taylor in the bar. They’d given us these plastic guns and we had to go and find and “assassinate” people, and I ran into Chris during that, and he was recruiting a team for Total Annihilation. He’d just come down from EA Canada, and of course he couldn’t hire any of the people there to make TA. So he basically had to find a team of new people, and he is pretty good at that, and happy to take some risks. I was twenty-one with a speciality in graphics programming, and pitched him my great big game idea – the sort of all encompassing Battlefield thing that wasn’t really possible in 1996 – and during that he asked me to come and interview in Seattle in April, and that was Chris, Clayton and Ron Gilbert, who was exec producer on TA. They offered me a job.

Now, as a Brit, you might be familiar with getting into the United States? Well, they were all “you just need to go get this visa”, and it turns out it was a bit more difficult. I had a long gap where they wanted be on the team, but I wasn’t able to because of the visa stuff. I finally got down there at the end of the summer. What I’d seen of TA’s rendering tech was really cool, and I really liked that, and wanted to work on it. During the time when I accepted the job and got the visa I got other job offers because of my Quake editor, Thread – old news now, but it was kind of a big deal at the time – but I was like “no, I want to work on this crazy Total Annihilation game!” Even with just being shown some white boxes driving around on terrain, what Chris told me was so compelling that I had to work on that game. So that’s what I did.


Anyway, as TA was winding down I moved to Cavedog and worked on an FPS, Amen: The Awakening, and there’s a whole story you could do about that, but at the end of the day I worked on that for a couple of years, and Cavedog got cancelled. So that was tough.

After that I went over and worked in console technology for a while, which was incredibly useful to me in terms of learning skills and working with new technology, but I started getting bored around 2003. I pitched to that company, Amaze, and said that we could make a really good RTS title. I said we should go to Atari and pitch to make Total Annihilation 2. Unbeknownst to me there were a massive number of people who had the same thought, and no-one was successful. We had a number of meetings with Atari, but we weren’t successful at all. I felt pretty sad, because I knew I wanted to make an RTS, and to make a TA style game. And there was a huge TA community!

There’s a lot of unfinished business in the RTS genre, right?

RPS: Yes, there probably is.

Mavor: So I leave our meeting with Atari at GDC, wander down to the show floor, and who do I bump into? Chris Taylor. He asks what I am doing, and I say I’d really like to make another RTS game, but it doesn’t look like that will happen. He looks at me and says: “Why don’t you come work on Supreme Commander?”

I went to GPG to work on that game. I didn’t know what had been going on with that game, especially because there was a good gap before I could transition to GPG. I had a lot to sort out. I was hired as the graphics programmer, exciting because I can concentrate on graphics, rather than worrying about the management stuff from my previous job. But Supreme Commander was a little off the rails when I got there. There was a lot of stuff that was an impediment to what we needed from an RTS game. The guy who was making with the engine as soon as I left as I got there. Literally he left on the Friday and I got there on the Monday. There was a lot of work to do. We rebuilt the engine, and rebuilt the team. I ended up leading the engineering team, rather than just concentrating on graphics, which was unexpected.

Anyway, we went through a lot – including a cancellation! (I don’t really know what happened with that) – but we had a lot of fun. Now, I never considered myself a game designer, I came in from organically growing something and doing interesting things with technology. But I started to get interested in guiding the gameplay, and I clashed with the design side fairly often. I wasn’t terribly enthused with the game that came out. It could have been a lot better. We fixed a lot of things with the expansion pack, Forged Alliance, which is the high-point of this kind of game, especially if you talk to the community – tonnes of mods and stuff like that.

RPS: It’s certainly a high point for RTS games generally. What happened next?

Mavor: So I left GPG and 2008, with Supreme Commander being off the table. And, well, I wanted to work on some other types of games, even if that interest in RTS games remain. If you look at Monday Night Combat, you can see elements of RTS in the game. But I did not design that. Anyway, we started Uber, and wanted to work on different stuff. But I still wanted to make a spiritual successor to TA.

RPS: And that was Planetary Annihilation?

Mavor: I wanted a different take on it than Supreme Commander. It’s my version of what the spiritual successor to TA should be. Having been exposed to that environment for so long, I knew there were a few things that no one had tried yet. Trying something with multiple planets seemed like the obvious way to go. Also there was this game called Risk 2210, I don’t know if you have ever seen it?

RPS: I’ve not played it myself, but I’ve heard the stories.

Mavor: It’s basically boardgame Risk, but it has this moon which is another play field, and which interacts with the rest of the game. I saw that and was all “hmm, I wonder if you could take that, take orbitals, and build that up as a platform to attack the planet below?” So that was the genesis of Planetary Annihilation. I was also really interested in Jon Ringo’s series which begins with Live Free, Or Die, in which they have solar system combat with giant battle-moons and stuff like that. And I thought: “let’s take the RTS into this 3D realm, smash asteroids into planets, and do big interesting things that I’ve read about in these books, or played in other games.” Total Annihilation combined with expanding the playfield up to planetary scale.

RPS: Your Kickstarter pitch was super strong. You seemed to know exactly what you were doing. Did you know what you were doing?

Mavor: Yeah, I think we knew what we were doing. Bob Berry, the CEO here at Uber, came to me after Double Fine Adventure and said “I really think there might be something in this Kickstarter thing” and we’re not a company that works with publishers – we’re self-funding, so it made some sense. We’re not sitting here with a pile of cash to make whatever game we want. So Kickstarter was great not for funding so much as for validation: Is there a market for a TA-style RTS? It wasn’t clear to me that there were enough people who cared about the product. We had to prove it, and Kickstarter was a bunch of things coming together.

I think you need three things for success on Kickstarter. We had this game idea which fits what works on Kickstarter. If you look at all of the really successful game Kickstarter projects they hook into a previous game or genre that people understand and appreciate, but that is being under-served. Double Fine Adventure – who is making adventure games? A millions of people played them in the past. Obsidian’s RPG, you know what you are going to get with an Obsidian RPG. Hook into nostalgia, and you are going to be really successful. Star Citizen is “I am going to do another Wing Commander”. It’s a no-brainer.


But you also need a proven team, and plausibility. People have to believe you can pull it off. And finally you need a great pitch. We felt like a two-minute gameplay visualisation would be the best pitch. We had those three elements in place, which was enough to be successful. I would define successful by the way as raising a million dollars on Kickstarter, if you can do that, you are pretty successful.*

If the Kickstarter had not succeeded, we would not have been working on this game. You, the gamers, decided that this guy would be made.

RPS: How did the studio respond when you blasted past your target?

Mavor: (Laughs) Well, I think they responded pretty positively! I know I did. But I am one of those guys who feels like if you do the execution right then things will generally work out. I wasn’t super-super shocked, and we even had a pool of guesses about where we’re going to end up, and everyone guessed like two or three million. And that was because we’d seen the pitch video developer, I am not going to lie, we knew it was hot. We saw it and said “yeah, this is pretty good”. It’s the steak and the sizzle. The sizzle is that eye-catching gameplay, and the steak is the second half of the video where we really talk about the project. And it all came together, so we were ecstatic. Fifty thousand people on Kickstarter is an amazing opportunity. That’s very motivating. If you ever need some fuel in your tank, you just have to remember how many people are waiting for this game.

Of course you then enter the phase where you have to knuckle down and make the game, which is the phase we’re in now.


RPS: Earlier in this interview you said you felt there was “unfinished business” in the RTS genre – what is that?

Mavor: The promise of this kind of game has always been that we’re going to get something on a crazy huge big scale. And if you look at where computers are now, versus where they were in the TA era, well, my TA machine was at 32mb of RAM. It was hot! Look at what we have now – why aren’t we playing these huge RTS games with crazy battles with loads of people? Where are those games?

Also I think the spiritual successor to TA should turn out a little different to how Supreme Commander turned out, I want to provide another take on it. From a game design standpoint, and a tech standpoint, it seems like the right time to try and do something.

RPS: There’s no campaign mode, is there? This is straight up robot army warfare – I would say “skirmish” but that sounds too small to be accurate… Do campaigns not matter?

Mavor: I think people really care about campaigns. People want campaigns. The issue with campaigns is that they are unbelievably expensive to build. You have to build the game first, and then you have to build on top of that, and then you have to bug fix that, you have to test that. Think about a bug that shows up hours into a mission. And you have to replicate it… think about that. And do you want videos to introduce it and tell the story? That’s money. It would be nice to do a campaign, and that might expand the market of people who would buy the game, but it’s beyond our budget. The other things is that I think that building a replayable meta-game that can take the place of a campaign is a strong, well proven solution – look at the Total War games. As long as you can implement good AI, you can create something that is different every time.

RPS: Can you talk at all about how this galactic war is going to work?

Mavor: I can’t really go into a great amount of detail, but there’s basically different ways of playing it. There’s the single-player approach, where you want to conquer the galaxy by yourself, and then there’s the multiplayer online approach, where you’re playing with a lot of other people. We’ll be making some announcements about that stuff as we go forward. But if you look at the Galactic War stuff from The Boneyards, then you can see the direction we are going in. That was a TA metagame that Cavedog ran back in the day. It was really cool!

RPS: Can you talk a bit about how the inter-planetary structure of the game is going to work? It’s quite a complex thing for players to read and swallow, isn’t it?

Mavor: Players already have to swallow a lot of complexity to play these games. And I don’t ever want to treat players like they are dumb, what I want to do is to give them tools to play interesting games. There are a number of things we are doing with the UI, like the ability to have multiple windows, and auto-labelling of bases – more meta-information at a higher level to give you an idea what is going on. It’s going to be more complex than playing on a square map, of course it is, but you can play on one planet if you want to – if you want a 20-minute game play just on a smaller map! Scalability is key to the whole thing. Players are going to be able to control this stuff so that they can determine where those sweet spots are. They are going to determine with a system editor how complex a game is.

RPS: Can you compare this to Supreme Commander? I mean, on the biggest maps with multiple players that’s hours and hours of play. Does PA go up that far? Can you make a comparison?

Mavor: I want to have a lot more capability than that. Hopefully you’ve heard me talk about 40-player games that take place over tens of hours. The client-server technology that we are developing means that it is possible to have a game that is persistently there, and have teams come in and join a game in shifts. We could start up a game with four different armies and twenty players, and you might leave go have dinner, have someone else control your forces, then come back, and the game is ongoing. It could potentially persist. We are trying to push the engine way beyond what you would have seen in the past. This cuts both ways of course, because for a game like that you will need a beefy server. But hey we have this thing called The Cloud now, and there are beefy servers for rent right now. To play on the biggest game your server might have to be in a data-centre with an ultimate machine. Conversely, if you want a small game you can run it on anything. The level of scalability is going to be unparalleled. The number I throw around is a million units in a game. Whether we reach that… I dunno. But that’s a goal.


RPS: It sounds like an amazing goal. So I could run my own server like that?

Mavor: I fully expect players to run their own servers, especially for mods, custom setups and stuff like that. I feel confident that we could run enough servers for the community if we had to do that, or wanted to do that, but I don’t think we need to do that. People are going to want to run servers. People want LAN games, too! Get yourself a beefy server on a gigabit LAN and see how crazy we can make it.

RPS: LAN is a dying technology as far as games go.

Mavor: Well everyone is locking things down for micro-transactions. We do with Monday Night Combat. It’s a free to play game, that’s how it has to work. And, well, as soon as people can run their own servers, piracy becomes rampant. We have just accepted that will happen. We just want to incentivise people to log in to our network, so you can track stats and so on. I’m completely against the kind of DRM that makes it more difficult for legitimate players to play the game. The other thing is that we are going to be updating this game for a while, like probably a weekly basis for a significant period of time. If you want those updates you’ll need to log in. Look at League Of Legends – they add content on a regular basis. Minecraft does the same, it sold nine million copies and did that not with micro-transactions, but just by making the game better on a regular basis.

RPS: So what has happened since the Kickstarter?

Mavor: A tonne of interaction with the fans – we got the forums going, we got the livestreams and updates going out. So communication is big! But in terms of your real question – what are we actually doing on the game? – the first part of it was the procedural planet generation, which I personally worked on and am still working on. Then there’s pathfinding and that sort of stuff, which is being developed by someone I hired who is an expert on that subject. We’ve also started work on the client-server architecture. So at the point we’re at now we basically have a lot of the pieces in separate test labs, and there is a very simple playable version of the game that uses these pieces. We are currently integrating the planetary generator, the orbital simulation, the pathfinding, the unit motion, the client-server stuff. So there’s a lot of technical stuff to work on.

RPS: How big a team is that?

Mavor: [Turns around and counts head in his office] One, two…. eight programmers full-time. Add the art guys… we’re at about twelve the current time?

RPS: That seems like a great size, as opposed to the huge 100-plus teams.

Mavor: That’s actually part of our philosophy at Uber: we keep the teams as small as we can. You pay a cost in overhead when a team gets beyond a certain size. We also tend to hire very experienced people. There’s not a lot of new blood, so for the most part it’s veterans. I’m effectively the lead designer and lead programmer, for example, and William Howe-Lott is the engineering lead, and he runs the day to day team, and he’s been a professional programmer since 1988. Elijah, who is doing the pathfinding, did ten years at Gas Powered. It’s that sort of super-experienced team that makes it possible to keep the team so small. Our philosophy is “small team of highly experienced people”.

RPS: It showed in the pitch. The Kickstarter video itself is one of the most impressive pitches I’ve seen from anyone. How close is that gameplay visualisation to how the game will actually look?

Mavor: I think from a visual style standpoint the actual game is going to look a lot better. And that’s because for the video we didn’t really have time to go to town on how it looked. From a gameplay perspective it’s also fairly accurate, but well… because you can look at the video and attempt to extrapolate gameplay specifics, people have done that, but I have to say “no: it’s conceptual”. The specifics will vary! But things like selecting the engines that are on the asteroid and then clicking for where you want it to go, that’s straight out of how we intend for the game to work.

But it will look better than the video, I think. We’re already starting to push past that. The video will look quaint by the time we’re finished. And that’s because that is the kind of game we want to make: TA-style gameplay, multiple planets, smash asteroids together, big explosions… fundamentally it’s not that complex to describe it, and that’s why we could get it across so well in the video. Conceptually, you understand what an RTS game is, and you get the concept of smashing stuff together.

RPS: We do. And it looks like a glorious concept. Thanks for your time.

*A single tiny tear drops from Jim’s eye at this point.

Planetary Annihilation can be pre-ordered here.

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87 Comments »

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  1. Shooop says:

    I think I want this.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Lacero says:

    /hands Jim a tiny robot hanky

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  3. edennotedna says:

    I’m incredibly excited about this project, but I’ll be honest; when I hear the phrase “a million units in a game” being thrown around, I feel like someone’s got a case of the Molyneux’s.

    Also: long time lurker, first time poster. Hi RPS! I look forward to participating in a pun thread sometime soon.

  4. feffrey says:

    Glad to see someone else reading John Ringo. The LFOD series is pretty epic.
    Can’t wait for this to come out, SC and SC:FA are my favorite RTS games of all time.

    • Tssha says:

      Indeed. There’s just this utter scale of epic in that work. Really hope there’s going to be another book in that series.

      Oh, and it’s John Ringo, Jim.

  5. MrLebanon says:

    Backed this with a buddy of mine… my number 1 anticipated game right now

  6. LionsPhil says:

    I remember looking at this on Kickstarter.

    I honestly cannot remember why it is not in my “projects backed” list.

    Maybe I am a bit stupid.

    • Cuddlefish says:

      Well, it’s not like it was in danger of failing, so I think you get amnesty on that one.

    • Thirdstar says:

      I had to scour my mail archive to make sure I hadn’t backed it. I have no idea why I didn’t. Blast.

  7. dontnormally says:

    These are Americans. When they said “tons”, they didn’t mean “tonnes”. (;

  8. Adriaan says:

    Great interview, one of the few games I’m really excited about at the moment. They seem to have the ambition, the know-how and the funds to actually do this. Mavor’s elaboration on the “unfinished business” in the RTS genre pretty much sums up my thoughts on that.

  9. Desmolas says:

    He is right, we were doing massive scale battles in 1997 with TA for goodness sakes. We really SHOULD be running battles on the scales of tens-of-thousands by now.

    I was just playing TA very recently on a Lan with 2 buddies of mine. It was 3 teams of 3 – us plus 2 Comp allies each. I hosted the game and ran all the AI.s (TA allowed other players to host the AI’s if you wanted, which is really cool actually) By the end of the game the map was teeming with units. My unit count alone was around 250 and that was nothing compared to the AIs, which seem to never stop building at all from minute 0 of the game, which is a little TA AI quirk. Anyway, my point is, that game supported hundreds of units in 1997 and the memory footprint and CPU usage for hosting my entire Lan game was barely 60 MB and %20 respectively. It really is an impressive game and well ahead of its time imho.

    EDIT: Oh yeah, and it had a 3d engine and rudimentary physics simulation that send exploded bot parts flying. Seriously, the more i think about it the more I cant believe that game was actually made in 1997.

    • Thants says:

      It’s amazing to consider that it came out before Starcraft.

      • DarkFenix says:

        RTS development really went down the shitter for a long time after then.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Well, Starcraft spawned a whole bastard branch of top-down micromanagement action games, and the follow-the-leader nature of game publishing has had that dominate at times, but after TA still came the likes of Age of Empires 2, Red Alert 2, C&C: Generals, and Dawn of War (even if the latter’s tendency for manually-triggered special abilities could lean it too far into micro-faffery). And then of course Supreme Commander.

          TA was only released two years after C&C more-or-less triggered the genre’s DOOM moment. Quite a lot of its highs actually fall after it.

      • mckertis says:

        Well, it wasnt as good as Starcraft, so i wouldnt quite say its that amazing.

        • subedii says:

          As far as I’m concerned? Yeah, it was a tonne better than Starcraft. I probably spent countless hours in the skirmish mode alone.

          Subjective and all that. Personally I bounced right off of Starcraft 2. The singleplayer was good (barring the storyline) but I can’t say I liked the gameplay mechanics design all that much. I can understand the reasons they went the directions they did, I just don’t feel the nature of the game they’re trying to build is for me.

        • fish99 says:

          Depends what you’re looking for from your RTS. If you want fast paced micro, then it’s SC, if you want scale and strategy, TA. Also TA and FA get higher user ratings than SC or SC2 on metacritic.

          Now personally I never played either TA or SC, but I did play SC2 and SupCom/FA, and there’s no doubt in my mind SupCom (especially after FA) is a way better game. Huge scale, huge maps, awesome battles, variety, strategy, deep economy. AoE2 was also a much better RTS than SC/SC2 imo.

        • Sparkasaurusmex says:

          Maybe not as enjoyable of a game, but technologically much more advanced, despite being the elder

    • KDR_11k says:

      It’s because RTSes made a turn and instead moved towards more interactive individual units and more severe individual choices. There’s a problem of control with too many units. You can give specific orders to a handful of units and pull off tactics but when you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands you can pretty much only order the whole group somewhere and hope they figure out the best path of action there by themselves.

      Many games want to simulate the individual soldier but a leader in control of 1000+ men would have several layers of command between him and the individual soldiers and with current AIs that would be really frustrating (becomes more palatable when a whole unit of soldiers is abstracted into some blob and you can’t tell what the individuals do). Of course some of this depends on how complex each unit is. Whether you’re going for an Arma-level simulation of each member of a unit or AI War-style “it moves and shoots”.

      Speaking of which, AI War is probably the closest in scale to PA and a common complaint is the lack of tactical options, you pretty much just decide where the army goes, the actual fighting isn’t very interactive. They added hero units to the game to add some more tactics to combat but they’re kinda overpowered still.

      • fish99 says:

        That’s why SupCom/FA has the strategic zoom. You could easily and quickly command hundreds of units.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Units in FA still “suffer” from benefiting from micro to some extent, especially awkward little buggers like submarines that are prone to overkill inefficiencies. To really make large-scale control work, you need to erase the necessity for small-scale control to be competitive at that level.

          Arguably, however, the right way to win a submarine fight in FA is to just not make it evenly matched in the first place. They’re microing ten subs to take out your twenty? THEN WIND UP THAT MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL ECONOMY AND SEND FIFTY.

          • fish99 says:

            FA has a few sub games within it. There’s the competitive play on 5×5 km and 10×10 km maps which is all about rushing low tier units, micro, commander duels, and <20 min games, then there's the online 2×2 and 4×4 games played on the 20×20 km and above maps which are more played for fun, and finally there's skirmishes vs the AI and the campaign. Apart from competitive play – you don't really need to micro stuff, and certainly not individual units (tier 4 aside).

            Not saying the game doesn't get hectic, but you can set factories on infinite queues, your engineers patrolling (who auto fix thing), your ASFs on patrol routes (and they'll auto refuel), you can queue up an endless amount of buildings for your engineers to construct, you can even setup auto ferry routes. This leaves you free to focus on your economy (the deepest part of the game by far) and strategy.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Yup. Hopefully PA will include (and improve on—things like being able to send the patrolling gunship swarm to kill a experimental and then return to exactly the same editable patrol route that’s owned by the factory that they were on before would be neat) that lot.

    • larme113 says:

      Total War is holding the massive unit battles together. Supcom was really enjoyable and could get insanely large. Overall TA style games were always my favorite strategy and I was always amazed more clones/innovators in that vein did not spring up. Clearly the market is there. Maybe the cowado audience gets confused.

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    Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    If in 1997 you’d asked me what game we’d be playing 16 years later, this matches what I would have imagined.

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    Luringen says:

    I can’t wait for this, playing in multiple windows on multiple monitors will be AWESOME!

    • Armante says:

      If we can have the map window as your view on the world on one monitor, and your unit selection/groups, production pipelines and overview on another etc, rather than having to swap tabs on one screen, that would be fantastic!

  12. Yosharian says:

    Said this before, but it’s a crime that there was never a decent followup to TA. Whether this’ll be it, I’m not sure about. We’ll see.

    • pepper says:

      Well, there is the spring engine/community: http://springrts.com/

      Its a RTS engine based on TA with modules you can load in(Different takes on TA, sci-fi, WWII etc). Pretty neat!

      • wu wei says:

        Goddammit, I posted the _exact same link_ 12 hours earlier and my comment is still in moderation limbo :( I think it’s because I forgot to rave about how many cars my wife’s aunt’s friend’s son bought from money made by visiting the site or something…

    • Teovald says:

      Ok, I will bite. Why isn’t supreme commander a decent follower to TA ?
      It reuses and expends the same gameplay mechanics with a lot of skill.

      • Sparkasaurusmex says:

        SupCom is a great game, but to me it lacks character, or soul if you will… it just seems rather generic in art design. It did not impress me in any way other than scale.

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    FriendlyFire says:

    My only reaction to this is: the beta can’t come soon enough.

  14. Reapy says:

    I would have liked to see their reaction to Chris Taylor’s comments in the last article. I think he couldn’t be more wrong, while I think these guys are right on track. Gaming stopped getting bigger and more encompassing and more focused down and visceral. It might be that managing a lot of units is better served in a war game/strategy format than rts controls, but I think with the right ai (eg you trust it to keep itself alive when you aren’t looking), and a good UBI,, you can do something like this without overwhelming players.

    Anyway wish them the best of luck with this.

    • Runty McTall says:

      Yeah, I thought Taylor’s comments had a bit of, shall we say, edge to them too.

      Maybe he was just a bit stressed at that point though – turns out his studio was in pretty big money troubles.

      • P.Funk says:

        I felt the same way about CT’s comments. I used to idolize him, but I guess you gotta keep your hero’s on short leashes.

        Mavor is really the kind of man that IS the core of game design. He and guys like him, the guys who never sit down next to a pile of Dorito’s and Mountain Dew (at least not to advertize them), they’re the ones that make what we waste our days away doing happen.

        I’ve never been more excited for a game, not since 1997. I’m so thrilled to see it happening sans Publisher as well.

        We’re in the midst of a gaming renaissance.

    • quidnunc says:

      I think the more interesting comment from Taylor was whether they could stay in budget. He made it seem like the money they received from kickstarter is a small amount relative to the resources required to make such a game. It’s possible he was assuming there would be a single player campaign?

      • sorian says:

        I find it interesting that Chris assumes that the Kickstarter money is the entire budget of PA.

  15. MadTinkerer says:

    Oh my gosh, I had totally forgotten about Radix. If my rose-colored nostalgia goggles are accurate, it was one of the better Doom clones, and I totally want it on GoG.com now.

    • ChampionHyena says:

      Head over to Ron Blankendaal’s page and grab DBGL (http://members.quicknet.nl/blankendaalr/dbgl/). Radix is in the Epic Megagames archive. Dunno if it’s the Shareware or full version, but it’s there.

    • Spacewalk says:

      I didn’t like Radix all that much because you couldn’t fly upside-down like in Descent or, more importantly, Terminal Velocity. TV ruined me for so many games where you fly jets around.

  16. crinkles esq. says:

    I really, really want to be excited. TA is one of my all-time favorite games. I have to admit though that the whole mini-moon-as-base and moon-as-weapon idea seems on the novelty side, and I’m scared that too much of the gameplay is going to be based around this. I really just want a modern version of TA, with all the personality and design sensibility intact. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see whether PA has applied for a permit at the Ministry of Silly Games.

    p.s. — I don’t hear people calling for a sequel to TA:Kingdoms. Probably for good reason…

    • wu wei says:

      Have you checked out Spring? It started out I believe as a more modern engine to run TA on but has now become an RTS platform for other games. You might be interested in either Balanced Annihilation or Tech Annihilation.

    • wu wei says:

      Have you checked out Spring? It started out I believe as a more modern engine to run TA on but has now become an RTS platform for other games. You might be interested in either Balanced Annihilation or Tech Annihilation.

      You’ll have to google all that yourself, unfortunately, as my original post with links has been stuck in the moderation queue all day. Apparently if something contains relevant links to the article from long-time posters it’s far more suspicious than posts with the same link bait from new accounts, go figure.

      • crinkles esq. says:

        Hm, haven’t heard of Spring; I’ll check it out, thanks!

  17. Liudeius says:

    Those UI ideas sound nice. I’m surprised multiple windows haven’t shown up sooner.

    As for the game itself, all I want to do is strap some rockets to a planet and fly it around space as a fortress of death… But I doubt that will be in it since it would kind of counter the “no space battles” statement.

    • DK says:

      Actually multiple Windows have shown up before. Earth 2150 had them more than ten years ago.

      And Mavor is spot on with his criticism of Supreme Commander. The original concept was incredible (all Aeon units perma-stealthed expect when they unfold to fire, etc.), but it got completely dumbed down in order to simpify the gameplay.

      • mckertis says:

        Also Commandos and Conquest Earth, thats 1998 btw.

      • Liudeius says:

        Oh really? I haven’t seen it in any of the more recent RTS’s, and it seems like a good enough idea to copy, so I presumed it hadn’t been done.

    • Teovald says:

      I think multiple windows support was included in supreme commander.

      • LionsPhil says:

        It’ll spread out to separate viewports on each monitor in fullscreen mode, but you can’t create arbitrary extra windows. In Earth 2150, you could split-pane even with a single monitor. (No strategic zoom-out, though, so not desperately useful.)

        Lots of partial solutions stopping tantalisingly short of perfection.

  18. Lynchbread says:

    RPS, why don’t you guys use any of the recently released in game images such as

    http://forums.uberent.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=61&t=42802

    Instead of these outdated concept designs?

    • lordcooper says:

      The in game images with ‘concept’ written on them? I think they might be concept art.

  19. Parge says:

    Absolutely awesome interview Jim! Really great! Jon wasn’t wrong about coming out of his shell was he, he stormed it.

    Between this and Star Citizen I’m so absolutely set for the next 3 years.

    All hail the Kickstarter overlords!

    • Armante says:

      I don’t really have enough time to play games as it is. I’m a bit worried that when those two come out (I backed both also) I’ll have even less! Oh to be young again..

  20. geldonyetich says:

    We’re going to need to come up with a classification of games higher than AAA.

    The prerequisites of this classification would be, “Made by a cadre of industry veterans who have been working with each other for years but now have gone into business for themselves and their games are massively crowd-funded so investors can’t mess it up.”

    So it’s basically, “Industry production values with indie freedom of expression.” See what I mean? 3 A’s can’t hold that.

    I propose we refer to these kinds of games as Grade-A Indie Expressionism or AIE! games.

    • DarkFenix says:

      I believe the correct way to refer to such a game is “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”

    • Josh W says:

      It’s also started to occur to me that kickstarter, at least in the computer games space, is probably not about new little games.

      Because there’s been this “game creator” cultural thing for the last 20 years at least, where people know particular designers and their work, but that has always been in contrast with how games are actually made.

      But now I think we might have five tiers of funding support and popularisation for independent games, which actually work with how we think about games:

      New indies work on mods or little games for no cash, get a bit of notice then start up small games of a different type based on their experiences. They have to use preorders and favours and get just enough cash to keep going and hope to make a lucky break.

      At the same time, just at a slightly higher level you have the bundles and indie fund, that take lots of these games that have a little more polish and stick them together, in the sense of cross-funding between them and a little bit more promotion, this helps unheard-of games designers/engineers a little more.

      Then there’s a gap, which hasn’t developed yet, maybe it’s working with bigger publishers for a bit, maybe it’s just a slightly bigger scale version of the above, maybe it’s getting platform exclusives with various distributors or consoles.

      Then there’s the kickstarters, where you now have a pretty solid reputation, and you can plug that into creating some big fancy game that builds hype and gets quite a significant amount of cash, allowing you to create your more ambitious game.

      Kickstarter is currently bursting at the seams with people jumping into that last category, but I imagine as this starts to die down as these games designers are in the middle of their projects, the mid-level indies and semi-independent game studios will start appearing.

      I think probably the most wonderful thing about kickstarter is the way it actually feeds off ambition, so making a big and wonderful game is exactly what it is suited towards.

  21. Premium User Badge

    BathroomCitizen says:

    I’m now genuinely interested in this. I wasn’t really getting it when the kickstarter got pitched, but this interview changed my mind. Mavor’s ambition is something that should be more common in today’s game developers.

    Damn, where’s the ambition of the video games of the future gone? RPS did an interesting feature on this subject some time ago.

    P.S. I may have written some confusing sentences, but i’m literally falling asleep on the keyboard.

  22. Strangerator says:

    Starting to get really pumped about this game, especially the inter-galactic game that will stand in for the campaigns. I’ve never had a problem with the campaign games of RTS, but they’ve always felt like prolonged tutorials, slowly introducing more gameplay elements. A campaign spanning various stars with a map looking a bit more like Master of Orion with TA-style combat? Sign me up! Does this mean there will be space-only units that can bombard planets as well?

    This game is a prime candidate for a type of coop gameplay I’ve always wanted from RTS games. I’ve always thought it would be cool if two (or more) people could control the same “team” and divide up responsibilities. One player could focus on keeping production flowing smoothly, while the other focused on monitoring the enemy and going on early raids. As the game wore on, both players could begin to focus on coordinated attacks, each leading a number of combat groups and controlling them intelligently. Communication would be key…

    (player 1 flying over enemy base on scouting run)
    “I’m seeing a massive group of land units being churned out, definitely an attack coming but he’s pretty light on air support”

    (player 2)
    “Alright, I’ll sure up defenses and get out as many gunships as possible.”

    So the player scouting and attacking doesn’t have to abandon control of his scout force to jump back to his base and queue up 10 different build orders, only to find his scout force wiped out because he wasn’t paying attention. It could really build up a sense of community, and help newer players learn the game. You would also get a lot more interesting battles that are more precisely coordinated, since an actual player will be controlling the assualt forces most of the time (instead of launching the attack then jumping back to base to manage things there). On a giant scale like this, I could see upwards of 8 players controlling each side. Especially as you expand to multiple planets, it would be great if you could say, “player 4, you are in charge of this moon’s defense and production.” Obviously player 1 would be the “supreme” commander.

    This might be what Mavor was talking about with the “persistent warfare” thing. I guess we’ll find out what the big gun has in store for us.

    • B1A4 says:

      I am starting sound like broken record, but you should check AI WAR: Fleet Command

    • KDR_11k says:

      Complete Annihilation (now Zero-K) used to run a campaign called Planetwars where they played their flavor of TA on a star map with some amount of persistence. Although the Spring engine supports multiple players controlling one team it’s rarely used.

    • MentatYP says:

      Since you seem to understand how the non-campaign single player mode will work, could you explain it? Is it just going to be an open-ended conquest type game where you gobble up as many planets as you can? When/how does the game end (short of you just quitting and not picking it up again)? I want to get this for single-player only because I love the concept of a large scale RTS, but I can’t figure out if I’d even want to play the single player mode since I don’t understand how it works.

  23. Mario Figueiredo says:

    I’m really glad he’s not taken by claims that LAN play is dead or dying. It is not as far as I’m concerned. And on some regions of the planet it’s in fact the only possible choice for competitive or co-op play. The fact they are implementing it just as a matter of principle is a great demonstration of this studio mentality.

    Currently, from my present location, LAN play is the only type of multiplayer experience I can work with. Except for turn-based strategy, no other game (FPS, RTS, Action, etc) can deal with my (and close to 5 million other inhabitants) >1 second latency and extremely expensive internet plans ($130 USD for 25GB/month).

    The tragedy of LAN play is that we have been slowly accepting its removal from the gaming scene, when we were so loud against it on the past. Living in our first-world reality we just chose to ignore the importance this play mode has on a large portion of the planet (http://www.chrisharrison.net/index.php/Visualizations/InternetMap). We claim its dead, without really realizing it is only dead in our corner of the world. We claim its dead, when the technology has no real substitute. We claim its dead when the internet isn’t the same for everyone. We claim its dead without realizing that its studios and publishers that have in fact being killing it, by simply removing that as an option.

    Internet LAN play is relevant. It is an option to offline multiplay, for instance. It’s still one of the most entertaining multiplay alternatives as it allows several people to be on the same room, socializing in person while having fun.

    The fact that I see more and more of it being passively ignored, comments like “LAN play is dying” being thrown as matter of fact statements, is really depressing. It just indicates the power of this industry that can take away from us something that was so pure and see its consumer base slowly cave in.

    • Premium User Badge

      FriendlyFire says:

      My only hope is that I can convince a bunch of friends to run a gigantic game of PA in a LAN at university once the game comes out.

      Drop in drop out with server support sounds like it’d be extremely well adapted to enormous games that span an entire LAN party with people logging in and out as they wish.

  24. Squishpoke says:

    I recognize parts of Doom when I see it, and Radix definitely had some E1M1 in there. Looks like a cool clone of Descent set in Doom-inspired levels, bar the 6DOF.

  25. karthink says:

    Here’s something Chris Taylor had to say about Planetary Annihilation:

    “I like the video a lot, but beyond that, I’m pretty skeptical… I know what it takes to make an RTS game. TA took 20 months, and I (and the team) worked 7 days a week. SupCom 1 took 3.5 years and cost over 10 million. I don’t think they stand a snowballs chance in hell to make that game for 2M.
    But now that I’ve said that, they’re really going to have to work extra hard to prove me wrong… good luck!!”

    source

    I hope they prove him wrong, too, of course.

    • aepervius says:

      The games he compare to have single player campaign. A much better comparison would be the same game WITHOUT the story campaign. I am willing to bet that it cost dev, test, and storyboard a lot. On the other hand I am concerned that on the galactic war level, ocne you have played a few battle you have played them all (single player) and it is just a matter of repeating a similar/samey battle dozen/hundred of time to conquer all.

      We’ll see when it is released.

      By the way “I’m completely against the kind of DRM that makes it more difficult for legitimate players to play the game. ” and “LAN play”. That alone in my view adds a few bonus brownie points to the score.

  26. crinkles esq. says:

    I watched the latest developer preview video. I like the fact that they’re apparently using a graphics engine that builds the maps procedurally and allows for real-time terraforming. The newer concept art looks like what I imagined a modern TA would look like. I’m still not sold on the planetary bombardment concept, but I’m excited to see how their ideas develop into gameplay.

    • crinkles esq. says:

      Thinking about that developer preview video I watched more, one thing that bothered me was a fan asking the game designer and AI programmer if AI opponents would be able to ally with each other. They responded that no, because the AIs would trounce you, that “wouldn’t be fun.” Perhaps I’m in the minority, but the fun in playing a game for me isn’t necessarily in winning. Sure, it’s nice to be able to out-think an opponent, but I also enjoy being put in a dire situation and trying to get out of it. Or at least giving them hell before they take me out.

  27. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I hope it has mod tools so we can make our own scripted campaigns!

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Indeed. Without campaign mode, I suspect the game will offer an hefty game options screen where many aspects of the scenario can be changed so we don’t end up always playing the same game/strategy to win against the computer.

      But even then, nothing will replace the possibility of going deeper into a scripting engine that will allow talented modders to come up with nice campaigns. As a bonus, I’d love for the game to allow modders to include cutscenes into their campaigns. A rarely seen option, yet easy to offer.

  28. Jakkar says:

    These people are wonderful. I demand more. In the absence of adequate replication technology I simply gave them lots of money. Give them more.

  29. Iskariot says:

    I love what I have seen. I want this game. Supreme Commander was revolutionary (and I still play several times a week), or at least it was evolutionary. This will be the next step.

  30. Premium User Badge

    Hanban says:

    Really really excited about this. Didn’t kickstart it when it came but will definitely get it when it is released.

    At first the lack of campaign scared me a bit. But now when I play Supreme Commander FA where the missions are exactly the same, just with different factions, I’ve realized that in these games the thing I really find the most fun is getting big units up and building new bases. Something that has never been a draw for me in RTSs!

    Once again, really excited for this! Good luck Uber!

    Edit to clarify: I’ve never really thought the production aspects of RTSs to be fun before. And here with the multiple different places to build I think it’ll be a lot more fun than in SA!

  31. man-eater chimp says:

    Out of all the Kickstarters in 2012, this is one of the ones I’m looking forward to the most (With Sir, Double Fine’s and Limit Theory). I never played TA but this does look fantastic!

  32. niyagamu says:

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  33. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Am I the only one who liked the simplified visual style in the pitch video? I hope they don’t ‘improve’ the graphics with too much detail.

  34. Arkhonist says:

    Meanwhile SMNC is basically dead.

  35. mariejanet657 says:

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