Sins of a Solar Empire Interview


Yesterday, the first big strategy game of the year slid out of its space-dock. Sins of a Solar Empire, which we’ve talked about previously (In short: Space Woo!) and will be reviewing shortly. But we need more! Born Journalistic Pirates, we boarded the celebratory cruise-vessel of Stardock and cornered Ironclad’s Producer and Lead Designer, Blair Fraser, and Stardock’s CEO and President Brad Wardell to prise away our desired booty. That is, talk about the game, their future plans and the surprising and somewhat disappointing reason why it doesn’t have a UK distributor yet…

That, and absolutely no more over-elaborate analogies beyond the cut.

RPS: Firstly, being Europeans, a little selfish note. While it’s in the shops in the US, and available via Stardock online, we can’t help but notice it’s not actually on the schedule to hit in the UK and Europe. What’s happening there? I heard no-one’s picked it up? What on earth are publishers thinking?

Brad: For the past year we’ve been trying to get major European distributors or publishers to pick up the game to no avail. In case after case we were told that Europeans just don’t like “futuristic” games like this.

Blair: I have no idea and I find it hard to believe. We have an incredible number of people from various European countries already involved and Germany alone has more Sins fan sites than the rest of the world put together…

RPS: At which point we’ll note that it’s available to buy directly from them in a digital download format (Or download plus box sent to you). We’ll also tap the side of our heads in the manner of Obelix and note that These Publishers are Crazy.


RPS: Anyway – regarding the game, focusing on a skirmish and multiplayer only structure strikes me as a brave design decision. Could you talk about why you decided it’d be better to concentrate your efforts rather than go for the simple fulfilling the back-of-box bullet-point list which many try to?

Blair: In my opinion the back-of-box bullet-point list should be a list of the coolest features in the game, not a check list of what has to be in there. I can’t count how many times I’ve looked at that list during a game purchase only to be disappointed that bullet point X wasn’t all that fun and was obviously shoveled in to receive the checkmark. The game would have been better off by dropping it. In a sense, things done poorly are worse than not done at all – especially when the resources involved could have made a “good” feature “great”. In Sins we felt we were breaking a lot of new ground and the only way we were going to make it work is if we picked very specific things to focus on and do them the best we possibly could. It isn’t that we didn’t want to dive into other areas (like a campaign) it’s just that we couldn’t do them justice without stealing quality from other areas. As a result of the decision to focus our resources, the single player sandbox mode of Sins is very high quality, has a ton of great features that make it very replayable (unlike most campaign focused single player modes), and allows you to create your own epic story.

RPS: How have people responded to that stance? I was following the debate on your forum where some people were hung up on what the game “lacks”. Are you worried about people missing the point? What would you say to someone who instinctively shrinks away from a game without a campaign?

Blair: I’d summarize what Brad and I both said in our other answers. Sins has a very high quality, very replayable single player mode where you can create your own epic adventures. Actually if they shrink away instinctively I might be better off quoting my mother; “don’t knock it until you try it!”

Brad: Sins of a Solar Empire is more akin to Civilization than say Command & Conquer. Sins needed a campaign about as much as Civilization needs a campaign — not much. While campaigns can be fun, what we decided with Sins was to create a game where each game was an epic adventure.

And here’s another way to look at it that I suspect you guys can really appreciate – how many times have you gotten some great new strategy game with a big campaign only to finish it and realize that the single player game after that is merely a collection of a dozen or so maps (often derivatives of what was in the campaign)? By not having a campaign, we were able to do things like have random maps, user map creation, etc. all as part of the base game. I think in terms of replayability, it’s a win-win.


RPS: Watching the debate, you talk that you do want to do something single player with more relations to a “campaign”, but something which pushes things further than the traditional chain of missions. While I understand you may want to keep those cards close to your chest, care to talk about what you’re thinking about, even in very general terms? As in, what do you think a RTS campaign should be like?

Blair: Again, we wanted to break a lot of new ground with Sins but we couldn’t do it in all directions at once. We’ve been working on some really interesting material that will present what we feel is a very compelling and moving story but whether it ends up fitting under the label of “campaign” or not remains to be seen. We are notoriously bad for trying crazy ideas only to have them completely scrapped in favor of some new crazy idea. Once in a blue moon one of them will work out and we’ll hold on to it but it isn’t often. Unfortunately, its way too early discuss the details of these crazy ideas and even sharing our thoughts on how an RTS campaign should be would be revealing too much.

RPS: There may be a small irony in that you’ve done all the worldbuilding stuff – who the races are, why they’re fighting, what they’re like – but there’s going to be no actual story in the game. But what I find interesting is how a defined background adds character to a game, even when its not explicitly explored (Like the recent Armageddon Empires, which is brilliant in this). I presume this is something you concur with. If so, why do you think it works like this? What did you have in mind when creating the Sins universe?

Blair: Yes, I definitely agree. You have to provide a certain minimal level of lore, immersive detail and backstory so that players have a foundation on which to create their own story during single player. In this sense Sins provides a lot of material. Every ship’s appearance, abilities, and voices, all research trees and the specific topics themselves every music track, every sound effect – well basically everything in the entire game is based around the story and lore behind the three races and the rest of the Sins Universe. They aren’t just static props in a sterile environment – story or no story the galaxy feels alive and your actions feel like they have a purpose beyond the raw gameplay objective of galactic domination.


RPS: Have you got anything planned in terms of Post-Release support? It’s an area which Stardock have been traditionally strong in.

Brad: Like all Stardock releases, post-release updates are extremely important to us. Sins of a Solar Empire includes no DVD copy protection whatsoever. Instead, we focus on providing an excellent out of the box experience and then add substantial after release updates that add new features and content free of charge to verified customers (a serial # comes in the box). This way, we reward people for buying our game. I don’t know about you but it always bugs me when a game treats me like a potential criminal and makes me jump through hoops or puts stuff on my computer without my permission.

RPS: Finally: what’s your favourite capital ship? I like the long-range Destroyer because I’m all about planetary bombardment. Are you all about Planetary bombardment?

Blair: Nope, I’m I’ll about planet suckin’. I love when the Vasari’s Jarrasul Evacuator (aka the floating mega city) powers up its Drain Planet and you watch all the debris fly up from the surface into its gaping maw in a giant, swirling, vortex of destruction. There is nothing more satisfying (or embarrassing depending which side you are on) than wiping out your opponent’s last planet with this.

RPS: Thanks for your time.


  1. Sal says:

    I download this last night…very Homewordish and a lot of fun…This game will kill your social life…

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    Just won my first game of the retail version. I’m the best!


  3. Feet says:

    I love Stardock for it’s stance on the traditional anti-piracy measures. They’re also known for making high quality, fun games which is a nice bonus.

    I don’t know about Sins, purely because I can’t do RTS games at all, so I tend to avoid them.

  4. ImperialCreed says:

    I was a bit hesitant about picking this up as I’ve gone off epic-4x-sci-fi of late but then they had to go and say this…

    Blair: Nope, I’m I’ll about planet suckin’. I love when the Vasari’s Jarrasul Evacuator (aka the floating mega city) powers up its Drain Planet and you watch all the debris fly up from the surface into its gaping maw in a giant, swirling, vortex of destruction. There is nothing more satisfying (or embarrassing depending which side you are on) than wiping out your opponent’s last planet with this.

    Fucking sold!

  5. Okami says:

    Somebody’s a fan of Spaceballs, me thinks…

  6. mike Lombardo says:

    I was expecting less from the retail version than I got!
    This game has already begun to influence my career choices.
    I need more time to play it!

  7. Windlab says:

    We’ll also tap the side of our heads in the manner of Obelix and note that These Publishers are Crazy.

    Digital distribution all the way.

  8. Garreett says:

    I pre-ordered this on Saturday, been playing it 3 hours straight now. Tis brilliant!

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    Just won my first game. I am WINNAH.


  10. The_B says:




  11. SwiftRanger says:

    Well, seems like a no-go here then. People without CC’s getting dissed… again.

    Odd though, GalCiv II got a proper release in Europe, then why not SoaSE? It’s pretty mucht the only ‘important’ PC strategy title coming out this month.

  12. The_B says:

    SwiftRanger: You can use PayPal, can’t you?

  13. SwiftRanger says:

    Heard about PayPal but it sounds as cumbersome as the CC thing if you ask me. I don’t even think my local bank has any online provisions like that.

    Anyway, why doesn’t Paradox publish this (they did GalCiv II in Europe)?

  14. The_B says:

    Heard about PayPal but it sounds as cumbersome as the CC thing if you ask me. I don’t even think my local bank has any online provisions like that.

    Who are you with? I don’t think it’s a specific bank thing, you just have to authorise the payments with a quick setup process. I know there are some people who don’t like PayPal, but I’ve never had an issue with it.

    Oh, and it means they accept UK Debit cards as well.

  15. DarthRiddick says:

    Well first off i’ve been following this game since the second it was announced and i’m REALLY looking forward to it. (i get it today).
    i must say that stardock is the best. among all the company’s that make games it trumps ’em.

    their stance on the Anti-piracy is brilliant, and wins my love right there. ^_^
    but on top of that it has become there creed of sorts to only make FUck awsome games.

    also the free updates (that are always jam packed full of more awsomeness, the moddability of the games, and well EVERYTHING.
    they rock.

  16. martin says:

    i do hope that stardock becomes so filthy fu**ing rich that they one day implement full linux support, either native or through wine (cedega sucks)

  17. jamscones says:

    Stardock are a successful company. Their Windows-tweaking apps and widgets do very well and provide the bulk of the income, I believe.

  18. fluffy bunny says:

    There’s plenty of sci-fi games being released in Europe. I suspect Stardock aren’t trying very hard, as they probably rather want people to buy it over TotalGaming than in retail versions.

    I’m sure there’s a bunch of European publishers who’d love to publish this.

  19. Pace says:

    I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think every company should have a Vince D. Weller type to tag along on these interviews. One or two sane folks, and one part raving lunatic to mix things up a bit and tell us how stupid we are if we don’t love what they’re doing. I ever so slightly miss that.

  20. jamscones says:

    fluffy bunny:

    This is wrong – Brad has stated before that retail sales are hugely important for a(ny) game, and encouraged people to buy his games in the way that suits them best. Even though they get a better margin on the download sale, retail has a higher market visibility and it’s important to maintain relations with the physical publishers/distributors/retailers.

    If Sins hasn’t yet gotten a distribution deal, it’s because the ones they looked at weren’t good enough, and this will likely be rectified now it’s out and measurably awesome. Any shitarse Eastern-Bloc developer can get a pub/distro deal these days; Ironclad and Stardock were handing over a finished game on a plate. It’ll be out in the shops before long.

  21. fluffy bunny says:

    jamscones: Well, I don’t buy it. They’re self-publishing in the US, so obviously retail is a bit more tempting there than here, where they’ll get a smaller share of the profits.

    I’d love to be wrong, but if I am, and they’re honestly trying as hard as possible to get it out in Europe, they’re simply not doing a good enough job. Because that “Europeans don’t like futursitic games”-line is just nonsense, and if that’s all the response they get, they obviously aren’t talking to the right people.

    Edit: That said, I’m sure you’re right about it getting a European release eventually. When the TotalGaming-sales begin to die down, probably.

  22. The Leif says:

    The only 2 reasons i can see that Paradox are not publishing this game in Europe are:

    1 : Ironcland has not asked them.
    2: More probable, Paradox are just about to release Lost Empire: Immortals, and believe that releasing both games at more or less the same time will hurt the sales of both.

    If 1: What are you waiting for?
    If 2: Buhuuu

  23. The Leif says:

    Btw: Get the game, it’s really good! It would be the only game i’d play right now if i didn’t get sucked in by Europa Universalis III again. And, well i need my daily World in Conflict fix.

    Hmmm… 2 of 3 games i play right now are Swedish… That makes the (tiny) patriotic part of me proud.

    See you on Ironclad Online!

  24. Mr.Brand says:

    To those of you complaining about credit card requirements:
    No, Visa isn’t just a credit card. You can also get Visa Debit,
    known as Visa Classic in some regions. For those who don’t
    like the American way of spending money you haven’t earned
    yet, this is a better option than PayPal :)

    Now I just need to sort out bills and see what’s left on my
    account before I can order Sins :/

  25. Nallen says:

    My resistance to this game is being destroyed, bit by bit.

  26. KingMob says:

    I’m holding out till I read an actual review.

    Speaking of which… where is it already? I refuse to go online and find a review from another source, it must be an RPS review. Tell me whether the macro and micro balance satisfactorily!

  27. Kieron Gillen says:

    Eurogamer one in progress. Well, not being written. I’m gaming.


  28. Ohle says:

    About the publishing deal: EU publishing is tremendously important to Stardock and Ironclad… they shopped the game around to a number of major publishers and the concern — as mentioned above — was that those publishers didn’t think a space strategy game would be very popular. Hopefully now that the final is out, they’ll be proven wrong :). But please don’t go thinking that they’re holding off on publishing in Europe to ensure greater online sales. Retail sales are a very important facet of a major game release.

  29. Nuyan says:

    Very curious about this game, although I already lack time for all the games I want to play..

    Isn’t this the best possible game for a good EVE mod?

  30. fluffy bunny says:

    Ohle: If the major publishers don’t want it, it’s time to go to the medium/smaller ones. There are quite a few smaller publishers that would have no problems releasing the game all over Europe. The important thing is getting it out, and the more time that passes, the less likely it is that you’ll get a decent deal.

  31. Rock, Paper, Shotgun: Wit Truncated By Bloglines » Blog Archive » Spectromancer! says:

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  32. Walter says:

    There was a time when i also tought that Stardock was the omega of the gamesindustry but then the marketingboys took over. Long live upgrades: on galciv2 its already the 3th installment for which you have to pay.
    Last year Stardock robbed me trough Total Gaming Network from 2 tokens because i didn’t spent them in time. They said they sended me an email but i never got one and when i replied about it they simply didnt care about answering me.
    I still buy from Stardock but i dont wonna go along anymore with the idialistic imagery of the company, they dont deserve it anymore

  33. The Leif says:

    Maybe i’m lucky in a way to never have thought of Stardock as the Omega of the game industry then. But i do love them for a couple of reasons.

    1: Absolutely positively no DRM.
    2: They let their customers/gamers actively participate in the
    development of their games and products, and they are
    active on the forums, frequently answering the questions
    of mere mortals.

    Yes there is a second expansion coming out for GalCiv 2. So? The first expansion was, at least to me worth its prize. And you know you don’t have to by them, right? And you know that even if you don’t by the expansion, you get the benefits of their frequent updates anyway? I’m sorry for you that you lost 2 gaming tokens (10 $), for not spending them in time, and that you missed an email. That doesn’t make them evil, at least not in my eyes.

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  35. DigitalSignalX says:

    This game rocks my world. Best thing to happen in artificial space since Homeworld and Tie Fighter.

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    […] as is my idiom. Our interview with Ironclad’s Blair Fraser and Stardock’s Brad Wardell can be still read over here. Oh – and expect a Sins Verdict at some point in the next few […]

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