Agents of Chaos: Will Remnant be a new dawn for 4X/RTS space strategy games?

By Joe Robinson 19 Jun 2018 0

Kickstarters are often known for their great ideas, but also their finances. Whether it’s a project asking for a lot of money, or a project that gets thousands of percentages more than what it asked for, money is usually heavily involved in the narrative of a Kickstarter project.

So, when we came across Remnant, a real-time 4X strategy game project asking for a mere £427 as a goal, we had to find out more. Turns out project creator Scott McCallum has a lot of great ideas and doesn’t need a whole lot of money to see his dream across the finish line.

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Strategy Gamer:  This has got to be one of the cheapest videogame kick-starters we’ve seen… possibly ever? And it’s all for 2D Art? Do you really need to resort to crowd-funding for this project?

Scott McCallum:  I was on Kickstarter a little over three years ago asking for quite a bit more, but that campaign failed to reach its goal.  I've been cobbling together funds through freelance work while plugging away on Remnant ever since.  With funds running low at the start of the year, and still missing agent portraits, I was left with two choices: temporarily halt development while I found work or take a second shot on Kickstarter.

Strategy Gamer:  What’s not clear is whether this game will be solo or multiplayer (or both, perhaps)?

Scott McCallum: I'd love to eventually add multiplayer but it's currently singleplayer only.  All the planetary bodies and ships are part of a physically accurate simulation and keeping that simulation consistent and synchronized in a networked environment is no small technical feat.  It's something I'll eventually revisit but no promises for now.

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Strategy Gamer:  Let’s try and break down exactly what the player has agency over, since you’re stripping out a lot of traditional systems like building and resource management: the construction and control of fleets, your agents, the ‘Programs’ of colonies… anything else?

Scott McCallum: I'm not stripping out systems so much as re-imagining how they can work within the genre.  There's no ore or crystals, that's true, but that doesn't mean you don't have to develop or interact with your colonies.  The way you do is just different.  Rather than building farms and mines, you task the agents of your empire with directing government led initiatives called programs.  Developing technology, constructing a ship, promoting reproduction, attracting new settlers, spying on your enemies, educating or indoctrinating your populace are just a few examples of available programs. 

These programs have effects and consequences, both short and long-term, that determine exactly what your colony is beyond a simple collection of buildings feeding data into your global spreadsheet.  The point is: you're making high level decisions with actual in-game consequences that affect the future of your empire, not executing the same mundane build order appropriate for the planet type like some basic city planner. Remnant gives you control over everything you would expect in a traditional 4X game.

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Strategy Gamer:  Agents seems to be the only true ‘resource’ this game possesses, and they’re a key driving force for everything the player can influence – why did you want to tie so much gameplay to agents?

Scott McCallum: If I mention Darth Vader or Jean-Luc Picard, your imagination is already brimming with potential tales of their exploits or ideas of their personalities.  Now see if this has the same effect: 317 iron ore.  Probably not because you can't connect with numbers on a spreadsheet.  The entire point of the agent system is to tie all decisions and events to a face and a name.  The agents in your game become characters in your empire's story.  You personally chose to recruit Octavius Harken, a promising tactical strategist.  You assigned him to the Hammer and sent him to war.  In time, his leadership abilities grew and so you named him Admiral of Nova Fleet.  His command at the Battle of Gnomora all but cemented your control over the planet Concordia.  And now that he's been assassinated by your enemy?  Nothing will stop you from avenging his death.

You didn't just lose a character in your empire's story though.  Losing an agent has significant gameplay consequences.  As every colony program requires an agent to act as director, their competency has a direct impact on how valuable the results are when that program concludes.  Veteran agents are worth their weight in gold as the results of your various programs define every facet of your empire: economy, military, espionage, diplomacy, production, research... everything.  It's your job to nurture your agent's development into strong, able leaders while safeguarding them from harm.  Experienced subordinates are your empire's most important resource.

Strategy Gamer:  Can you delve a little bit in to the lore/narrative for your game. Where have these factions come from and why are they all fighting for control over a single star system?

Scott McCallum: In a universe lacking FTL, rather than a galactic human space empire, colonization leads to tiny pockets of civilization scattered amongst the stars.  Each planetary system is on its own with no plausible way of routinely interacting with other settlements.  After a dozen or so generations in a new system, colonies are mature enough to begin expanding and claiming more of their system.  This is where the game begins.

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Strategy Gamer:  What are you looking to achieve with Remnant, ultimately? It’s a 4X game, but it’s real-time. A lot of traditional systems have been removed from the player’s zone of control... you’ve made a bunch of very deliberate design choices: what kind of experience are you hoping to capture?

Scott McCallum: First and foremost, I want to craft a sandbox experience where players feel they're controlling their own empire, roleplaying and crafting their own stories.  Everything was designed from the ground up to have a unique identity and personal connection to the player.  Absolutely nothing is anonymous in Remnant.  Secondly, I'd like to bring some unique concepts to the 4X genre and move it forward.  So many other developers are simply trying to recreate Master of Orion 2 with their own little twist.  It's a huge let-down to me as an avid strategy game player.  There's nothing more gutting than an "I've done this before" feeling in a new 4X game because half the fun is learning all the new gameplay systems and interactions.

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Strategy Gamer:  We found this quote from your KS page’s ‘Risk & Challenges’ section quite interesting:

“The advantage of creating a 4X game as an indie, as complex as they are, is that at the core they're primarily mathematical simulations.”

Are you able to expand on this a bit? What are the various mathematical simulations in remnant that the player is attempting to wrestle with?

Scott McCallum: What I really mean in that excerpt is that other game genres traditionally require a lot of visual content: multiple rigged character models, unreasonable amounts of unique animations, dozens of levels filled with thousands of props and all the art and scripting that goes along with that.  4X games get a lot of mileage from significantly less visual content because the majority of the gameplay happens 'under the hood' and is expressed through the user interface.  The content is purely simulated data, not hundreds of hand placed rock models scattered about a level.  Data based content like that is easily within the grasp of a single developer like myself.

Strategy Gamer: Are we right in saying that fleet combat isn’t necessarily meant to be a divisive element? Wiping out fleets is harder than it looks, and even if it does happen the war is not lost? Where do you see combat fitting into the larger narrative of a typical game?

Scott McCallum: I despise combat that revolves around winner-takes-all deathball engagements where a player slams their fleet of 250 ships into the enemy's fleet of 200 ships and a few volleys later the game has been decided.  Even as someone who loves and regularly plays StarCraft 2 at a high level, I don't find that fun.  Outwitting your opponent is fun.  Manoeuvring your forces in superior ways, sending timely reinforcements or counter-attacking where they are weak.  So, the focus is on small, tactical engagements.  Players familiar with Nexus: The Jupiter Incident will feel right at home. 

As an opponent marches through your territory, figuratively speaking, you also need strategic options.  Ships are tanky behemoths with large health pools, so they can hold their ground while awaiting reinforcements.  Outgunned?  Retreat without losing half a fleet in the blink of an eye.  If you feel the enemy has over-committed their forces, you can send a small detachment to attack their undefended territory because it's space and you can fly anywhere -- no space highways or grid tiles to worry about -- which may lure them back home.  So, combat is decisive but it requires a series of repeated successes to claim outright victory, rather than everything hinging on a single fight.

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Strategy Gamer:  Seriously though, £427? You know you could probably just get a personal loan for that…

Scott McCallum: Not with my credit rating!

But seriously, I know it's not a lot, but I didn't want to halt development to find work on the side.  I was also crossing my fingers to raise a bit extra for secondary things like the much-needed audio equipment for recording development log videos.  I'm extremely thankful to each and every person who has supported Remnant, from the first campaign three years ago to today. I am deeply humbled by the love and support the strategy game community has.

Many thanks to Scott for taking the time to answer our questions. At the time of publication, Remnant has five days to go, and is just shy of being 500% funded (£2,053 raised | £427 Required). We’re very intrigued by some of the systems and the dynamics of the world, so as soon as we think it’s in a reasonable state for some coverage, we’ll let you know more.

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