Stellaris Developer Diary Begins With Wonder

Most developer diaries are pretty boring, trapped between the desire to offer insight and the desire to always present an alluring marketing image of the game being made. I think perhaps the developer diaries for Stellaris [official site] couldn’t be boring if they tried. The 4X space game is being made by Paradox, who normally deal with historical settings but here are procedurally generating a galaxy, including the very races you fight against. It was Adam’s favourite game at Gamescom and now there’s going to be weekly updates talking about the making of it.

Part one talks about the studio’s “vision” for the game, and is written by game director Henrik “Doomdark” FĂ„hreus:

“The vision statement the for Stellaris is: “The galaxy is ancient and full of wonders.” That sounds pretty vague eh? However, I think it captures the spirit of what we are trying to do, when you recall the type of games we make at PDS… I want to make Stellaris the most replayable of all of our games (which, granted, is a pretty tall order!) The galaxy should always be unknown and surprising. That is why there are no “major races” in the game, and such a great variety of discoveries you can make. In the same vein, there is no fixed technology tree – but more on that later.”

It’s interesting already for highlighting how the game differs from Paradox’s other games, in that it features a symmetrical start and you always start small, and how it differs from other 4X games, by putting a larger focus on exploration, “which I personally feel has always been the most neglected” of the Xs.

Next week will deal with the art style, but I’m hoping future weeks delve into the generative systems that create Stellaris’ galaxy.

55 Comments

  1. magogjack says:

    This looks like the best game ever made, even if they only deliver on half this stuff.

    • Blastaz says:

      It’s good to see Paradox use the continued success of ck2 and of its publishing business with cities and pillars to take creative risks and push out of its comfort zone even when they are having trouble with other projects. The fact that Rune master was so different and they had to pull the project only to spend the resources on this is bold, especially when hoi4 seems to be having so much trouble.

      Personally I’m still waiting for the game that tops moo1…

      • Sakkura says:

        Crusader Kings 2 isn’t their only internally developed success, Europa Universalis 4 has sold nearly a million copies too. Their biggest success as a publisher is probably Magicka. The first game alone has sold twice as many copies as Cities Skylines. Pillars is small potatoes by comparison, especially given how late Paradox got on board.

        • JFS says:

          It’s probably a good thing to have Pillars image-wise, even if it doesn’t generate as much revenue.

          • Cinek says:

            For them it doesn’t. Paradox was hired as a publisher for Pillars, that’s all. They got next to nothing to deal with that game.

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          Bluerps says:

          I think, from the internally developed games, EU4 is even their most successful one, followed by CK2.

      • darkath says:

        HOI4 wasn’t in trouble, it’s actually the opposite. PDX good (financial) health meant they had less pressure to release the game early, so they took more time and money to make the game as they wanted rather than cutting corners to meet a deadline.

        • Blastaz says:

          They went into publicity mode with 4: regular Dec diaries and a sign up word of mouth pyramid scheme. Then they went quiet. Combined with how boring 3 was and how they haven’t scrapped the auto managed front gameplay, the cynic in me suggests they went quiet because they are struggling to make it fun.

          • abHowitzer says:

            How do you mean ‘then they went quiet’ ?

            The dev diaries are ongoing. Weekly even, since august.

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    Harlander says:

    Stellaris seems to be pulling together a bunch of the cooler ideas from existing 4X games and putting their own spin on them, as well as adding some new ideas. Sounds pretty promising already, even if that description sounded a bit backhanded

    • Rizlar says:

      Yeah, it does. The dev diary even mentions that they dislike the 4X label, though since the game shares so many elements it de facto probably is a 4X.

      Personally I don’t really like the term either. Is EU4 a 4X game? I would prefer to think of Stellaris as a Paradox grand strategy game in space.

      • anHorse says:

        I can understand wanting to move away from 4x

        For all the diversity in the genre 4x games are still effectively turn based (combat) strategy games with some distractions thrown in.

        The great ones expand that scope but you’re still fundamentally playing a game about winning tiles

      • Zenicetus says:

        I don’t know what the official definitions are these days, but my personal view is that games like EU and Total War are “Grand Strategy” and not 4X, because you’re dealing with pre-existing limits of history and geography. You know in advance the setup you’ll be dealing with, and the fun is in what you can make of it.

        A 4X game usually (not always) features random map generation, so you don’t know what’s out there each time you start the game. Otherwise the “eXplore” part of the term is meaningless.

        • LexW1 says:

          Doesn’t EU have optional random map gen? Or just for the Americas?

          • TheAngriestHobo says:

            Just the Americas, and they always end up looking really bizarre and artificial. Too many rounded edges and smooth coastlines.

            Regarding the whole 4X/Grand Strategy thing, Zenicetus had it right. The 4 Xs stand for “Explore, Expand, Exploit (resources) and Exterminate”. Paradox’s current stable of games lack the first X, so they fall into the category of Grand Strategy. Because Stellaris uses procedurally generated maps, exploration will obviously feature heavily, but I’d hesitate to call it a 4X. 4X tends to imply that factions grow in strength until the map is completely filled, followed by all-out war (hence “exterminate”). Stellaris, like all Paradox games, sounds a bit more fluid in terms of the pace of consolidation of power.

          • Rizlar says:

            The expansions for EU4 do allow you to randomise all the nations in the world and randomise the terrain of the new world. And even with the historical start things can look awfully different after a few decades.

            But I didn’t really want to argue for or against it being a 4X, by asking the question I wanted to highlight that the label is sort of silly and restrictive in how you look at these games, as lots of these comments illustrate, comparing the game to lots of similar 4X games rather than other Paradox strategy games or something yet more outlandish.

          • LexW1 says:

            TheAngriestHobo – If you read the dev diaries they explicitly talk about how Stellaris features precise that “grow until they fill the map, then fight”. It is literally one of the things they discuss – at first you’ll have this exploration phase, then you’ll have settled all the planets you can settle, and all the empires will be bumped up against each other, then, presumably, the war for supremacy (what the victory conditions are, and we don’t know yet) begins. So I don’t think the conventional CK2/EU fluidity will be in play to the same degree.

            Which isn’t to say it won’t be in play at all – it’s pretty clear the intend empires to splinter and crack to some degree, factions breaking off and so on, which will likely make things vastly more fluid than “trad” 4Xes. It sounds fantastic, anyway, and from anyone but Paradox I’d be super-skeptical.

    • LexW1 says:

      What’s scary is that we’ve seen a lot of this before – really clever ideas about a space 4X, great dev diary, sounding amazing… where did we end up?

      MoO3.

      I know that’s like saying Macbeth or something, but brrrrr, it just all sounds so good, and that scares me.

  3. Cinek says:

    Real Time with Pause, 4X pushed towards exploration instead of usual combat, nice arts style… might be one of the best space strategy games in last few years if it all goes well. Well, either this or we’ll have another SotS ][.

    • Jay Load says:

      Don’t even joke. SOTS ][ has become the tale mothers tell their children to frighten them into going to bed.

      • Baring says:

        That’s actually one of my favorite games.. Already i see a lot of similarities between stellaris and the vision of Sword of the stars 2.

        • Jay Load says:

          Dear god…really?

          I’ve never heard of such a thing. Are you sure we’re talking about the same game? I’m…not even sure what you’re talking about is possible.

          • vecordae says:

            To be fair, SotS: Evil Space Dolphin Wizard Simulator had a good pitch. It just failed to deliver on it in any meaningful way.

            I do get the appeal of designing and mashing together big fleets of ships. That can be fun! It’s just a shame you have to deal with the rest of SotS2’s barely-mediocre design and lazy lore to access it.

  4. black_imperator says:

    it’s actually week 7 of the dev diaries this week : link to forum.paradoxplaza.com

    • Gap Gen says:

      Yeah I was sort of confused by that.

    • Rizlar says:

      It’s like falling into a coma and waking up on christmas day! :D

    • Hyena Grin says:

      Yeah, the ‘next week is the art style’ comment at the end made me blink a few times. Didn’t they already do that?

      Classic Graham.

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      Bluerps says:

      Ah, I was about to post the same link.

      The other diaries are good reads. So far, they are a bit light on things that really set the game apart from other 4X games, but it’s early days and I’m sure Paradox is saving the good stuff for later.

      The one thing that made me go “Oooooh!” (the sound of excitement) while reading was how you can select political and social alignments (militant vs pacifist, spiritual vs materialist, etc) for your race, and (much more importantly) how those can later change and be different throughout your nation.

      For example, I imagine it’s possible to have a nation that consists of mostly pacifist worlds but which has a cluster of militant worlds at the border with the local ruthless conqueror race. This could be a mixed blessing, because those worlds could then be the ideal place to recruit the military from, but they could also be constantly in danger of rebelling because they are tired of protecting the rest of your nation.

      • hungrycookpot says:

        I think the factions and possible rebellion are super exciting, I can’t think of another 4x where this was a thing (never got into CK2 or EU)

  5. Jay Load says:

    I’m really stoked for this. I’m a huge 4X fan but can’t help feeling they’ve become really stale of late, with only one or two notable exceptions.

    I’m ready for something a bit new, especially if they’re going to create and maintain a Sense of Wonder and provide some meaty exploration for a change.

    • Jac says:

      Big fan as well but not really spent much time with them over the last few years. What are the one or two notable exceptions you mention so I can check them out?

      • Jay Load says:

        Star Ruler 2 and Distant Worlds. Both were brave enough to move away form chasing MOO2’s trail and present something a bit different. DW in particular actually scares me with how complex it is, but follow a couple of the guides out there and you can set up wildly different types of game for yourself. It’s an amazing piece of software. Just a damn shame it’s so expensive!

      • lordcooper says:

        Distant Worlds and Endless Legend spring to mind.

    • LexW1 says:

      Space 4Xes have been super-stale for a long time. Indeed, I’m not sure there’s been a single once since MoO2 which wasn’t fairly staid/lame.

      This though – they say they’re not trying to emulate MoO, but holy shit, literally everything I liked most in MoO2 – they’ve got it and have discussed it already! They even say “Can you trust your robot workers?” – which was always a question I had in MoO2 (answer was yes but it shouldn’t have been!).

      So I’m pretty pumped.

  6. RedViv says:

    There’s already seven of them! And they all just make me want to hibernate until release! Argh!

  7. Ufofighter says:

    So many Sci Fi games… obviously they are preparing us for the contact!!! Thanks God I have my tinfoil hat.

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    Don Reba says:

    It’s just too bad they’re keeping the diary in a forum, so there is no RSS feed to subscribe to.

  9. Hyena Grin says:

    Been following this game since they announced it. I’ve long been a fan of Paradox for the deep complexity of their games, and their unique approach to the grand strategy genre. But that said, although I do like historical settings, the setting that constitutes my One True Love will always be space, so this is just the perfect marriage.

  10. Sakai says:

    Huh? First diary was 7 weeks ago… A bit late to talk about it, isn’t it? :)

  11. jgf1123 says:

    I’m barely into my first “first Ireland, then the world” game in CK2 and haven’t even touched pagan raiders, Islam or any of the other religions they introduced, or the new tribal hordes. And now they’re working “the most replayable” of all their games? I’ve only got so much free time, lads.

  12. underwearmonster says:

    Big fan of 4X games in general and especially the exploration and expansion phase of those games. Although space seems like the ideal setting for exploration and discovery of the unexpected, there are some hurdles to realizing that potential. I’ll use Endless Space as an example because that’s what I’ve been playing lately. In Endless Space, the map consists of scattered star systems, which are collections of planets. The planets are given some character by anomalies and artifacts which you find on them, but ultimately the planets end up feeling like collections of statistics. Of course, fundamentally, that’s what they are, but the game doesn’t give you enough visual feedback to make it feel like you are colonizing a new world. It would have been nice to be able to zoom in a little and get a sense of your colonists spreading across the world. The second issue is that since the nodes on the map are these star systems, everything in between gets awfully boring. In a terrestrial game like Civ by comparison, I’d argue that every tile you reveal through exploration is interesting because every geographic feature of the map could potentially be relevant to you, whether there’s a luxury resource you need or a mountain range which separates you from the next civ over. With regards to the first point it sounds like in Stellaris they plan to let you interact with the surface of each planet a little bit more. That could go a long way to giving each planet a unique flavor and making them memorable. I’m not sure what can be done about the second point — perhaps there could be more features in space other than planets to explore, like asteroid belts etc. In any case, I admire the vision for Stellaris and I’ll be keeping an eye on its development.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I’d love this to be the type of space 4x I’ve been waiting for, where the exploration and expansion part never ends. Space is so gigantic that I don’t see a reason that you’d ever run up against another race that you’d compete for resources with, not in our current way of thinking about resources anyways.

      • LexW1 says:

        That’s a fantastic idea, really. Victory conditions might be a bit tricky, but maybe it’s just about what you can do by a specific amount of time, like CK2?

        I don’t think Stellaris will be that game, because the dev diaries talk specifically about the exploration phase eventually giving way to borders abutting each other and so on, but maybe with mods, or with an expansion, who knows?

    • Jay Load says:

      Yeah, this would be fantastic for a 4X. You’re absolutely right that planets in most 4X’s are simply dull dull stat boxes made to look pretty. To actually see one being colonised…now that’s something I think would make it much more personal.

      I also think that would make a pretty cool wee game in it’s own right, colonising a planet step by step.

  13. Chris says:

    I’m really curious how they’re going to do dynamic races without it feeling like a bunch of numbers thrown together. Part of most 4x races is background and story, the flavor, which also tends to drive any special rules that help make the races really distinct in gameplay.

    • LexW1 says:

      I guess the question is, how much flavour does one actually need?

      I mean, with MoO/MoO2, all you had was a block of stats, admittedly some of them pretty important/powerful (unlike a lot of 4Xes), and a few paragraphs of flavour text, if that.

      I suspect that in this day and age they could put together enough stuff to make the races feel distinct, if they are so inclined. Hopefully there will be abilities which only certain races can have, too.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I can see two upsides for dynamic races:

      1) They might not be the same each time, so new play-throughs will be fresh. Although, that does limit using tactics for “known” race traits.

      2) Dynamic races have the potential to be more interesting designs than the typical cartoon aliens we get in space 4x games…. the robot race, the lizard/dragon race, the cat people, the aliens that look mysteriously just like humans but aren’t, and so on.

      I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with this.

    • Hyena Grin says:

      You can infer a lot from stats, if said stats are detailed enough. Look at Crusader Kings 2, for example. Not a whit of pre-written history to be had, and yet if you were to take a snapshot moment of someone’s CK2 game, you could find evidence of old plots, fragmented alliances, family feuds, murder, cruelty, religious unrest, inbreeding, etc etc etc.

      Plus the game’s use of Ethos to provide distinction to various empires does imply things about them, as do the ‘genetic’ traits that each race has. So it’s not like they’re just throwing sci-fi gloop-glop names at you without any details.

      Personally, playing against the same races over and over in a 4X space game always feels strange, like you know what’s out there before you’ve even launched your first ship. Doing it this way, with each race procedurally generated, means that you can never quite know what to expect when you come across another empire.

      I’ll take the added mystery of the unknown over a paragraph blurb of tired science fiction tropes – which, let’s be honest, is all we ever get.

  14. csbear says:

    Excited for this… I think (may have missed it) that CK2 lead dev is also leading Stellaris?

  15. racccoon says:

    Pet hate:
    Letterboxes inside letterboxes, set inside a letterbox displayed on my wide screen t.v., why i bought a wide screen makes me wonder as to why they make us look at things like this constantly. This is So annoying, & laughable at the same time :)

    • Zenicetus says:

      That trailer is in Cinemascope screen ratio (2.35:1), letterboxed to fit narrower displays. I assume they’re doing that so it reads as a “movie” and not an in-game scene that would be at 16:9 or whatever.

      Another way of saying that, is they want it to look “expensive” with high production values. Which it does. ;)