Laser Chat: Gratuitous Space Campaigns

If there was a significant problem with fleet-management game Gratuitous Space Battles, it was that it was almost too gratuitous. There were a lot of space battles, with nothing to link or contextualise them. To fix this black hole in the space-time of his creation, Cliff “Positech” Harris has been constructing some DLC, a “massively single-player” non-linear campaign, which is now nearing completion. I had a quick chat with him about this development, which you can read below.

RPS: So how is it going, any release date yet?

Cliffski: Nothing firm, but it seems to be bug free, so right now it’s just a case of me tweaking the balance and adding the odd bit of polish and fluff. There will be a pre-order beta-access period anyway, possibly starting very soon.

RPS: Okay, so tell me a bit about what you went through coming up with this. Did you know you needed to do it before all the reviews said “this game needs a campaign”?

Cliffski: Well I always thought it would be good, because it completely fixes the one ‘structural’ flaw with the idea of GSB, which is that you get to build fleets that are only good for doing one thing – beating a specific battle. The campaign forces you to behave like a real space-admiral, because you are re-using the same ships and fleets in different circumstances. It does make the battles less gratuitous, but that’s life.

RPS: Did you research the work of real space admirals for that then?

Cliffski: I did exhaustive research, by watching tons of sci-fi movies. It’s a tough job, this game-design lark.

RPS: So what sort of scale is the campaign? A couple of hours? Longer?

Cliffski: You must be joking. It’s more like a week at this rate. Depending how good you are at the game. There are 52 planets to conquer, but it’s not a linear thing, and you often fight and then lose and then retake a system many times. And that’s assuming you don’t dawdle much. But I’m sure some uber speed-geek will do it all in 10 minutes, and demand his money back… I’m also hoping that modders will enjoy building new campaigns around it.

RPS: So how are your fleets maintained and resourced? Is there some planet management? Shipyard tweaking?

Cliffski: There are a bunch of different facilities on each world, although they are fixed in place. Factories and academies produce cash and crew, shipyards build or repair ships and repair yards can repair them. The campaign basically has crew and cash as the two resources, and the fixed location of facilities mean they act as a fixed resource as well. You will find that shipyards are absolutely crucial bases, and you are always short of either crew or cash, which informs your decision as to where to attack next.

RPS: So, uh, any diplomacy?

Cliffski: Pah! Diplomacy is for wimps. The only diplomacy is a hail of plasma torpedoes. However, you can retreat mid-battle (a new single fleet-wide order) and you can capture enemy ships if they are left over once victory is declared.

RPS: Presumably the AI for the campaign was still it’s own challenge, though – how is that coming along?

Cliffski: Well it’s a bit of a balance nightmare, but playtesters seem to think it’s working well now. It isn’t coded in the traditional way, but designed to always present you with a reasonable challenge. The game attempts to detect if the player might be getting bored, cocky or overwhelmed, for example. The design of enemy fleets and ships isn’t AI though, those are other fleets that have been designed by other GSB players. It’s massively-single player. You are pitted against the skill of long-time GSB veterans, essentially.

RPS: Thanks for your time


  1. Vinraith says:

    This may well be the thing that brings me back to GSB and, more importantly from Cliffski’s perspective, prompts me to shell out for the other DLC as well. Here’s hoping it lives up to its promise, because it sounds really excellent.

  2. Wilson says:

    Hmm, this looks pretty neat. It’d be nice to have a demo to try though, since I guess the original game didn’t really click with me after I played through the scenarios, and I didn’t get any of the DLC. I agree with Vinraith that if this is great I might be tempted by the other DLC, but I don’t know if it will be. I’ll wait for the opinions of others I suppose.

  3. Taverius says:

    As soon as it hits Steam he’s got my money …

    • Brian Rubin says:

      “As soon as it hits Steam he’s got my money …”


  4. Tiktaalik says:

    I lost interest in GSB due to a lack of structure. This DLC however sounds like it’s going to make it awesome again! Colour me super-excited.

    • teo says:

      Same, I didn’t really get very far into it. The mechanics of the game might’ve been good but the game wasn’t good at explaining them to you and there was just zero structure. Replay the same battles to grind for more currency. Nah I’ll do something else

    • P7uen says:

      I fell/lost at the first hurdle/battle and could never figured it out from there, and never played it again.

      So why is it that I’m looking forward to plonking down money for this?

  5. H4NNiB4L says:

    I own Collector’s Edition on Steam. Is that means that im gettin this one for free?
    Oh, who am i fooling? Probably not.

  6. John Peat says:

    I pre-ordered and Beta-tested GSB but the lack of a campaign led me to lose interest.

    This should drag me back in – because I like stuff like this – esp if it has a few cheevos and other carrots in there…

  7. RadioactiveMan says:


    Gratuitous Space Battles always looked cool to me, but was too gratuitous without enough long term planning. This looks like the fix I was looking for!

    As I know the creator reads RPS, I’d just like to say thanks for the continued work, and looking forward to purchasing :)

  8. Antialias says:

    I know Cliffski is just itching for a reason to comment here… don’t give him one!

  9. Axess Denyd says:

    I will have to finally pick this up if there’s a good sale! Yes, I am incredibly cheap. Yes, I am riding my bike to work this week because I do not have enough money in the bank to fill up the tank on my car.

    I always liked the idea of GSB, but held out since I thought I would get bored with no campaigns. This definitely ups my interest level.

  10. Retro says:

    “Presumably the AI for the campaign was still it’s own challenge”

    Aargh it’s hurts!

  11. Casimir's Blake says:

    The concept of “massively single-player” is tragically underrated, as Star Control 2 (and the lack of a decent sequel, official or not) proved.

    Probably because it requires some measure of writing talent.

    • Mad Doc MacRae says:

      Wait, what was massively single player about Star Control 2?

      /I played the Ur-Quan Masters open source release so I’m afraid I missed something

  12. Toby says:

    I always figured I would love this game. But no matter how many times I try it. I end up disliking it. I actually enjoy games where you have to plan ahead and watch the results but for some reason this didn’t feel right to me. Stil, I want to like this game.

  13. Bassism says:

    This actually looks quite cool.
    While I do enjoy GSB, I lost interest in it pretty quickly because of… well. you know.
    However, dynamic campaigning coupled with the brilliant mechanics in the game should make for quite the winner.

  14. Tanuki says:

    I will play this to death. And then I’ll wait for some glorious person to make a star war universe mod and play that to death a million times.

  15. Tanuki says:

    I will play this to death. And then I’ll wait for some glorious person to make a star wars universe mod (please?) and then play that to death a million times.

  16. frags says:

    Good to hear the campaign is coming along well. I hope dominating a campaign wont mean overloading your ships with plasma launchers :P This game NEEDS PINK SPACE PONIES!

  17. Quark says:

    Can’t wait.

  18. mrmud says:

    How approachable is this going to be for people new to the series.
    I looked briefly at the demo but even that felt like a brick wall and without any context there was no incentive to learn the systems.
    Now there seems to be context comming but when I hear things like “You are pitted against the skill of long-time GSB veterans, essentially” that doesnt exactly encourage me as a new player.

    • cliffski says:

      Don’t panic, you won’t be completely crushed, the campaign has 3 difficulty settings and the AI is designed not to totally crush you in the first X turns anyway.
      It probably does help to play a few simple battles before the campaign, but there is no extra complexity about the battles themselves, this just gives context to them.

      The main point about the massively-singelplayer aspect is that there is an endless supply of enemy fleets to fight against, and that your own fleets get occasionally uploaded to act as the opposition for other players too. The Ai is selecting fleets of an appropriate size, so the fact that the enemy fleet was desigend by a GSB-addict won’t help him much if you outnumber his fleet 3 to 1

  19. Torqual says:

    Dear Mr. Cliffski, your game GSB is the best top town space battle simulator i know of. Its even better then Master of Orion and 2, far better then Galactic Civilizations and many other MoO clones. Combined with explore, exterminate, expand, exploit (4x) gameplay it would be so much more enjoyable for me. I am looking forward to the new campaign mode. I bought your game already but did not play much. After 2 to 3 hours it got boring for me very fast. With this new campaign i will give it next try and buy the goty edition.

    Sincerly Torqual

    Have a nice galactic conquest

    (sorry for bad grammar, english is a fight against tigers in the jungle for me)

    • DrazharLn says:

      Your English is pretty fine, Torqual. Your only error was in the last sentence; “I will give it next try” should be “I will give it another try”.

      Cliffski actually suggested GSB for the tactical battles of GalCiv 2 to stardock, but apparently they weren’t interested.

      Personally, I’m not sure that that would have made GalCiv better. A good game could have been made around this idea he had of nesting games within games, though.

  20. drewski says:

    Before – absolutely 100% not interested
    Now – a little bit interested

    Great success? I just have a horrible feeling that I’d completely suck at this, and I’m scared of failure.

  21. Matthew says:

    Here’s how it is Cliffski:

    Before I was interested in your game, but since I’m one of those gamers who like structure I managed to not buy it, since I knew I would play it for half an hour and then leave it there.

    But now I’m seriously considering getting the game, and I’m sure I’m going to play it for a good long while.

    So, you know, good idea with the campaign.

  22. Aganazer says:

    Oh this will definitely get me back into GSB. I enjoyed the original release for about 20 hours which was plenty to get my money’s worth but there was so much potential for more. I still want to see a Mindrover level of complexity to fleet construction but a campaign will do nicely.

  23. jon_hill987 says:

    Am I the only one who likes the gratuitousness of the battles? I like loading up the game when I have ten minutes and watching shit (normally my own shit) get blown up.

  24. cw says:

    oh my god yes.

  25. Aaron says:

    looks awesome. can’t wait for this. :)

  26. madned says:

    hip hip hooray for semi-gratuity!

    it’s sad too, but i’ll get over it. ideals are hard to live up to.

    drewski don’t fear the failure. that’s the beauty of gratuity, even if you lose there are pretty space debris parts to look at. and you can come back and try again, the fools never learn to change their deployment muhahaha…
    so if at first you don’t fricassee, fry fry again.

  27. Don't hate me for wanting to participate says:

    So despite everything, is this still 100% automated, non-interactive battles?

    I.e. place all ships with 1 drive and maxed out guns+armor in triangle formation at top left corner, win everything the AI ever tries?

    Or does the player now actually get to DO anything, like, er, COMMAND a battle?

    • MadMatty says:

      No, im pretty sure it´s actually Square formation.

      Apart from that you´re right tho, the game has a win-all tactic, and the AI usually makes a complete mess of moving your ships around, if you´d, say, wanted to try to pull something off like a flanking move or anything vaguely reminscent, of not sitting in the corner in Square Formation.

      The action itself is completely stellar to behold, and i had a laugh watching it unfold, but i think there are some serious gameplay issues here, that i´d rather see Cliffski work on, than DLC.