Siberia - bears, Baikal, taiga and an... RTS MMO.
How many MMO games which use RTS (Real-Time Strategy) or even RTT (Real Time Tactics) and RTW (Real-time Wargame) instead of typical RPG and other letters to identify their genre, you know? If you can quickly recall at least a couple of similar projects - accept our congratulations, you are an expert and true connoisseur of the genre. Or, perhaps, you just got lucky :)
In any case, today you can read about one of the representatives of this rare genre, and it definitely won’t be a small session-based game, browser or mobile strategy, but a full-fledged MMO project for PCs.
In this article we are going to tell you what can happen if a small independent team starts creating something, not just unusual or “unique”, but also really massive and complicated: in this case, a massively multiplayer real-time space strategy with wargame elements.
From simple to complex
In the beginning, there was a small independant team - just of a couple of enthusiastic guys. That’s why it was wisely decided to refuse a great idea to start with the creation of a universe with quintillion stars and try to “touch all the hot buttons”. Initially, Starfall Tactics was a regular session-based multiplayer game about wars between space flotillas, and only two years into development, the MMO Universe appeared. Although Snowforged Entertainment retains the status of an independant studio, the project team has grown significantly: the number of developers has increased, game designers and new artists have appeared, office space had to triple, and a studio became a proud owner of its own coffee machine.
By the way, Starfall Tactics has 7000 star systems right now. 7000 locations - it’s a lot, just so you know.
Your build, your fleet, your victory
While usual RTS games concentrate on controlling large groups of units, base building, their defense and precise resource management, Starfall Tactics went along the other path focusing on managing each unit separately. Perhaps that's the reason why one of the most favorite features for players testing the game for more than a year is equipping new ships, creating great builds and ability to tailor them to their combat style and tactics. Perhaps that's the reason why one of the most favorite features for players testing the game for more than a year is equipping new ships, creating great builds and ability to tailor them to their combat style and tactics.
A true freedom in unit customization - even a carrier class ship, which typically used bomber and fighter squads for long-range attacks, can become a ramming specialist. Just don’t ask why it’s painted pink.
Precise ship customization - one of the key game features, which was available from the very beginning. Even three years ago players could spend quite a lot of time on building their ships - installing shields, armor, engines, weapons and modules in different combinations.
Of course, it took a very long journey to make the ship-constructor an interesting feature, the module choice - diverse, and keep it all balanced. It all started with a dozen modules and ships, most of which are not available in the game right now: some were abandoned, some were just put off for the future, some - completely reworked.
Pilgrim - initially, an Eclipse faction ship. Later a Nomad ship was created based on its model, while Pilgrim changed colors and became a pirate unit.
Now Starfall Tactics has about 130 ship hulls, 270 pieces of equipment, including 90 special modules (each - a unique ability!) and 217 weapons, often with their own features. Have you already imagined the number of possible combinations?
... And you’ve most likely understood that creating and balancing all these things is not that easy. At the time ship defense layers system was completely redesigned three times. Changes touched literally everything in the game.
But it was worth it! Now the game is constantly tested by a group of external testers and enthusiasts, who help the studio track any imbalances and bugs, thus resolving them and bringing the game into a state of delicate equilibrium before the release. For the same purpose, small closed-alpha tournaments between players are organized regularly - in addition to being simply fun and interesting, the team of developers has a chance to look at the game from a different angle and adjust the general course of development.
In addition to the ability to fully customize your ship, each ship can be modified by leveling it up and customizing visual appearance. Every ship gets experience during battles, allowing to invest earned points you get with each level into a special progression tree - this way ships have even more individuality in Starfall Tactics.
Starfall Tactics is holding a tournament dedicated to the new Domination PvP-mode on the 3rd and 4th of March. A live stream with developer comments will be available on the official Twitch channel of the game.
A few statistics: Now the project is getting ready for beta testing and waiting for an ideal publisher, to bring Starfall Tactics to the world. There were already 7 closed alpha test stages and 2 tournaments between players, during which developers consumed about 58 liters of coffee. What’s interesting is that the average age of players varies between 25-30 y.o., although some of the players who test the project claim that they are over 50 (not that we believe in every word, but ...). Starfall Tactics was tested by people from different parts of the world - most of all - from the USA, Canada, Germany, Poland and ... Brazil. On average, a player spent about 20 hours a week testing Starfall Tactics, and their favorite activities were ships construction and battles against pirates.
Ranked battles and tournaments - creating conditions for fair battles
In Starfall Tactics, team Snowforged initially focused on laying a solid foundation for one of the main game elements - this approach allowed to deliver fascinating space battles experience.
Now PvP is available both in the open world and in the form of a separate Ranked mode, with its rules, brawls and other elements familiar to fans of session-based PvP games.
In ranked mode, all players are in completely equal conditions, have an absolutely identical set of modules and ships, which they should use to construct own fleet. It allows making all battles as fair as possible and fully based on personal player skill. Seasonal system and regular changes in available sets of equipment will add diversity and provide players with more freedom, constantly creating new builds and strategies. Tournaments are also planned as a regular event, and, with time, Starfall Tactics wants to take the road to a new cybersport discipline.
Collision physics, line of fire, movement specifics and everything you are not used to in RTS games
Imagine how your small frigate quickly evades the salvoes of enemy weapons, maneuvering between the hundreds of projectiles. Using its’ mobility, this ship enters the dead zone of enemy spaceships, breaks through to the engineering support cruiser, and, hiding behind cruiser body from random shots, activates a special module that turns off all enemy combat systems.
In Starfall Tactics, such situations are not unusual. The game pays close attention to many gameplay elements, which are undeservedly ignored in most other RTSs. Starfall Tactics can boast a ship movement model, which takes into account not only its maximum speed but also the speed of acceleration and deceleration, angular speed. Thanks to this fact, ship position choice plays an important role, as, for example, a superheavy carrier simply can not immediately change its location at the first order. Honest calculation of the firing trajectory emphasizes the need in precise fleet positioning. Each shell is counted in real time, which leads to only one wrong maneuver blocking a line of fire of your powerful, long-range artillery.
Ranked fleet setup: ramming dreadnought, heavy frigates, assault battlecruisers.
In addition to all the above, each ship has its own collision and mass. Already guessed what we are going to talk about now? RAMMING! Yes, imagine how your massive, heavily armored dreadnought crashes into enemy's small cruiser at full speed - smashes it, pushes it, scattering pieces all over the sector. Yes, the dreadnought will also get damaged, but not heavily, thanks to a huge difference in mass. All this allows you to prepare a surprise for the enemy in the form of a strike (in the truest sense of the word) fleet for the battle at ultrashort distances.
You can already see, considering mechanics described above, that the Starfall Tactics developers tend to introduce tactical diversity, even in the aspects which are traditionally simplified in majority of RTS game.
7000 star systems, hexagonal maps and...almost full loot
7,000 star systems - this is the exact number of locations used during the recent tests, although on some internal tests it reached up to 20,000.
Of course, Snowforged is not planning on sending players into an empty lifeless space: galaxy map will impress Commanders with fascinating battles, pirates, caravans, raids on pirate bases, black markets, attacks on systems and many, many other things.
By the way: all planets and star systems can be named by players. Who else has the right to do this, if not the pioneers?
Ship loss in Starfall Tactics is very painful, while, given the complexity of the combat system, constant losses in the fleet are inevitable. Still, as creating unnecessary problems for the player is not the goal here at all, systems of full loot and permanent death were abandoned.
You won’t lose equipment installed on your vessels - but everything that is in the ship cargo is always at the disposal of the winner of the fight ... Or another player who is accidentally flying by. And in order to save all the things you received while traveling across the Starfall Tactics Galaxy map, you must first deliver it to the base. Thus, this system encourages all kinds of ambushes, battles between players and makes a journey in a dangerous space a little more exciting and ... yes, dangerous.
When your ship gets destroyed, you don’t lose it forever - you can always recall it once it finishes repairing on the base.
Thanks to this system, space adventures are still very tense, but not overly hardcore.
Clans-Houses and territory wars with cosmic scale
The MMO mode in Starfall Tactics is designed for constant battles with other players and NPC opponents - considering things written above, there is no need to write another huge explanation here, right ?; )
Therefore, the mechanics of territory wars is simply obliged to be in the game!
During first tests, the territory for faction wars was unlimited: it was possible to conquer literally every system. On the one hand, it's wonderful! On the other hand, in Starfall Tactics there is also a PvE component - i.e. various NPCs, pirates with their bases, and other objects must exist somewhere. In addition, interests of the three warring factions in the huge galaxy came across a little less often than they should.
Factional wars driving forces - clans, which are called “Houses” in Starfall Tactics - associations of players created for different purposes. They can decide, having the necessary amount of reputation, which systems need to be captured or attacked.
Then, Rings system was introduced: the inner ring is limited, explored and relatively safe (from pirates and other non-player opponents) territory on which faction wars take place. There also appeared a special goal: inside the ring, there is a limited number of planets with special resources used to construct and craft unique faction ships and weapons - and 3 warring factions fiercely fight to get all the resources.
All outer rings are an open, unexplored space that allows players to increase their level, participate in various PvE activities, ambush other players, obtain resources for the construction of ships and simply do whatever the heart desires.
By the way: Let’s talk about free-to-play, loot boxes and subscriptions
It was decided from the very beginning that the game will use free-to-play monetization system - for a not (yet) well-known project, this popular and flexible model looked great. The first reference point for the system was collectible card games: Starfall Tactics was going to sell sets of cards with various equipment and ships. However, (after several tests and before it became mainstream), the project team came to the conclusion that such "loot boxes" can negatively affect the project and spoil the experience for players.
After much research, loot boxes were replaced by a much more convenient and pleasant system for players - a hybrid system. First of all, as any free-to-play should do, it allows you to play without taking money out of your pocket. If someone still wants to purchase amenities, like an additional space in the shipyard, he can also do that. At the same time, if you are used to stability - you can always choose a premium subscription and get the full range of amenities for the duration of the subscription.
First, there was a very long paragraph here, explaining that Starfall Tactics and p2w do not cross paths. But we can hardly prove anything by writing tons of words here. Therefore, the project team invites you to form your own opinion by playing Starfall Tactics at upcoming open tests.
Talking about the development of Starfall Tactics and interesting moments after three years can take quite a long time: For example, we have not yet told you about how our warp gates turned into warp anomalies, why black holes suddenly disappeared, why there is no ammo in the game and you can not shoot asteroids, why ships are symmetrical and pirates always know where to look for a player.
However, if you ever have such questions - the Team will be happy to answer them on the official forum or game channel in Discord ;)
Now the development team is getting ready for an important test stage, where the game will be shown to potential publishers and just everyone who wants to check out the new project. The most curious and brave of you are invited to take part in it. The test will be held starting on 21st February and will last until 4th of March. The test is open to everyone, no keys required! ;)