SG Interview: Aven Colony's Paul Tozour

By Marcello Perricone 10 Jul 2017 0

A sci-fi city builder taking place in a planet light years from Earth, Aven Colony allows you to build a new home for humanity on the alien planet of Aven Prime. Featuring a diverse variety of climates and geography, including deserts, tundras, and wetlands, you must build your colonies into massive, sprawling cities whilst dealing with the challenges faced when settling on a new world. Read our preview of the game here.

Last week, we had a chance to interview Paul Tozour, founder of Mothership Entertainment, and asked him about the inspirations and ambitions behind the latest city-builder published by Team 17. Given the game's unique approach to space colonisation, we wanted to see what makes the team tick and know a bit more about its design and roadmap for the future. Check it out!

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Given the handcrafted environments and the inability to choose your lander starting position, what level of replayability are you aiming for with Aven Colony in the future?

With Aven Colony, we wanted to build a focused gameplay experience. We’ve all played games with procedurally-generated planets and life forms that promise infinite replayability, and there are advantages to that approach. But we’d much rather ship a game with 15-25 hours of solid, fun, well-designed gameplay than try to create 1000 hours that might not work as well.

We have a number of features that help ensure the endgame is rich and varied once you’ve built your colony into a nice, big city, such as the expedition system that allows you to send out small teams to explore on the planet’s surface. And we’ve made sure that we have a full set of 9 sandbox missions that you can customize and play as long as you’d like with no win conditions.

On top of that, we’ll have additional content coming down the road post-launch.

What were the main inspirations behind Aven Colony?

We were mostly inspired by what WASN’T there. We were inspired by the thought of where we could take city-builder gameplay on a truly alien world, far beyond the solar system, and 500 years in the future.

Other than the old Outpost games, we couldn’t see a lot of games that combined city-builder gameplay with an interesting exoplanetary setting, and none that did it the way we wanted, scaling up from a tiny colony to a huge, sprawling, gorgeous sci-fi metropolis. Planetbase also came out after we’d already been in development for almost 2 years, but it focused much more on basic survival with a small-scale colony, not on the huge cities we wanted to create.

We want to do rich, interesting worlds with lots of different biomes, where we can have giant sandworms and alien artifacts and alien ruins and the history of a long-lost alien race and a million more things … things you just can’t do anywhere inside our own solar system.

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How did specific dangers like Creep and Plague Spores came to be?

The Creep was inspired by the traditional city-builder “fire” mechanic. Nearly every city-builder since the Caesar series has had buildings that can catch fire and fire stations that can counteract that. But building a colony on an alien planet with carbon-metallic “nanites,” they clearly wouldn’t be flammable, and it made more sense to have an alien infection.

There were some voices early on that pushed us toward making Creep spores also infect your citizens and not just the buildings. That makes some sense on a fictional level but not in terms of gameplay -- we implemented that but it quickly became clear that that was a bad idea. It was too muddled and too difficult for the player to counteract once it attacked your colony, and we felt it was much cleaner and more fun to have the Creep only infect the buildings and not the colonists.

The Plague Spore concept evolved by separating that aspect of Creep Spores out into their own fully functional enemy. We felt that having a plague spore that could infiltrate your colony and specifically infect colonists gave more utility to the health mechanic, the health-related buildings, and the defensive devices like Plasma Turrets and Shielding Artifacts.

Do you plan any sort of free-form mode that allows a governor to quickly switch between his colonies in Aven Prime?

Currently, all campaign and sandbox missions are separate. We have some major ambitions with regard to ways to augment the metagame in the future, but it’s too early to discuss any of that just yet.

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Given that you have Professor Abel Méndez as a science consultant working on the game, I'm surprised you don't have more descriptions and text explaining how things work. Did you not want to educate your playerbase into the deeper workings of your world?

Many gamers care deeply about the science. Many other gamers don’t. Our design approach is very strongly driven by gameplay and economy of design. It’s very important to us that the game be accessible and approachable.

We generally agree with Jeff Vogel that games have too many words, so we try to err on the side of caution with the use of text in order to minimize the number of obstacles we throw into the player’s path.

We’re always happy to fill out the scientific details on our Steam Community Hub separately as needed.

Was any change made to the gameplay due to scientific input from Prof. Mendez?

Absolutely; the design of Aven Prime’s “seasons” was strongly influenced by input from Prof. Mendez. Our discussions around crop growth on alien worlds also informed the design of alien crops like Kelko Spores and Groji and their chemical conversion in Mills and Chemical Plants. There are many more examples.

From a broader perspective, it’s important to keep in mind that Aven Colony is only the first step in what we’re working to build. The scientific input from Prof. Mendez and our ongoing discussions around the science of planetary habitability will continue to inform our work toward building our future games in the Aven system as we move forward.

What made you opt for a hermetically sealed colony plan instead of terraforming or other methods of alien colonisation?

Aven Colony tells the story of the very beginnings of the colonization of the Aven system. We worked very carefully to design the system that would allow the colony to expand one piece at a time with each new building or tunnel piece being hermetically sealed and properly connected to the others for organic expansion. But in the future, we have many other forms of expansion in mind … and terraforming is absolutely on our list.

                                                                                                    

Thank you to Team 17 and Mothership Entertainment for their time. You can read our preview of Aven Colony here, and make sure to come back on July 25th for the full review!

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