Author Topic: Stars Beyond Reach: What we're working on, plus spotlight on the Zenith aliens.  (Read 7449 times)

Offline x4000

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Original: http://arcengames.com/stars-beyond-reach-what-were-working-on-plus-spotlight-on-the-zenith-aliens/

STARS-BEYOND-REACH-cropped

Apologies again for my slowness regarding Stars Beyond Reach updates at the moment.  I've been active in the forums since this project answering questions here and there if you haven't been there.  But carving out the time for organized posts sometimes is a bit tricky.

The last week or so has seen Keith working like crazy on implementing the Market Items that you can create in the game, as well as the resource-usage buildings that provide buffs to adjacent buildings.  He's now working on actually implementing the first pass of the diplomacy screen that I showed a mockup of last time.

peltian-roads03

I've mostly been consumed by the actual diplomatic interactions between you and the other aliens, which involves a lot of writing as well as a lot of design.  As part of that, I've also finished the design for spies, diplomats, thieves, and intelligence reports in general.

One of the fun things with intelligence reports (and consequently spies and diplomats) is that the game is not giving you the all-encompassing sort of knowledge that you have in The Last Federation.  I have found it's more fun to be a little blind, because then I don't get stuck in analysis paralysis so much -- I'm able to fully see my OWN empire, but as with a game of cards I have to infer what is going on in my opponents' hands by their actions and mannerisms.  This is part of why the diplomatic screen lets you jot down notes to yourself.

Leaders_ScreenshotFromWindowsExplorer

One thing that is fun is that since each race has 3 different possible racial leaders, that's 42 leaders in all.  They all have their own goals and personalities and strengths and weaknesses even within their faction, and so the faction might act and perform very differently under leader A versus leader B.  Also, which factions get along well is determined heavily by the many (many, many) defined attributes of the leaders.  A lot of these personality-specific attributes specifically play into letting the AI leaders interact with one another (and react to you) based on procedural means rather than hard-coded rules.

Leaders_ScreenshotFromExcel

It's pretty cool, because manipulating spreadsheets thus lets the behaviors of the AI really change quite a bit.  Anyway, but the core point here is that each leader makes the faction act pretty darn differently -- and they may be bent on something nice as their goal, or something quite homicidal.  This is... useful to know, to put it mildly. ;)  But you don't know!  These guys play it close to the chest.

Well, that's where the spies come in.  You can infer some things based on talking to the AIs (if you can understand them) and seeing what they say back to you.  If you're aggressive and they like it, that's... maybe not a good sign (hi Burlusts).  Then again, maybe they were just intimidated (hi Peltians).  Part of the problem is that the identity of the leader is actually a secret at first, so even if you use a cheat sheet and look at the spreadsheet or a source online, you're not going to just know immediately what is up.

krolin-roads01

Time to send in the spies, if you care enough!  Of course, that does take some time and money, and when spies are caught that erodes trust somewhat between you and the race you're spying on.  They won't like you any less (or more), but they will trust you less.  Anyway, as your spies (and diplomats, to a lesser degree) gather data on both the leader's attributes and the goings-on in the empire you're looking at, eventually you get a full picture of who the leader is and what they want -- and then their identity is revealed.

I think of this kind of like "informational fog of war."  Exploring the map is one thing, but also getting to know your potential adversaries and allies is another.

Speaking of getting to know your neighbors, Cath and I were talking about the Zenith this morning.  The first buildings from their faction are only now being painted (were sculpted a while back), and so she's trying to get a sense for their race and how to represent them.  We've had their terrain done for months, but the terrain is a different beast than the actual direct place where a race lives -- related, but not the same.

zenith-membranes

She was going through information about the Zenith on the forums and the wiki, but not finding out enough about them from the sources that were AI War focused.  AI War never really delved into their backstory as much.  At the time, I preferred to leave them as more mysterious.  And they were long-dead in that part of the galaxy, anyway.  The Zenith that you meet in Stars Beyond Reach are a different pocket of the race that are only cousins to the dead relics that you find in AI War.

As I've been designing their leaders and their race in general, a solid picture of them has been emerging, so it was a quick thing I wrote up to help provide some inspiration for the painting she was doing.  I figured I'd share that with you as well -- why not have more info out there in public about them, after all. :)

ZenithLeaders

So here's way more background on the Zenith than you probably ever wanted to know:

1. Each giant shell is a creature in and of itself, so each building is a living being.

2. The beings themselves are practically immortal, and are often billions of years old.

3. However, they are neither the Old Wise Man sort of trope, nor do they look down on other races. They're just... at peace. They're pretty calm and easygoing.

4. Their main quest is for knowledge, and they spend a lot of their time engaged in philosophy.

5. They do die, just not from natural causes. So that's one of the things that they do contemplate, because it's not an inevitability for them.

6. All the shells and so forth littered around their landscape are kind of sheddings from their body, OR from the lower life forms that serve them.

7. The Zenith themselves have some smaller animals that resemble them in many ways, but which have a shorter lifespan. But it's not a master-slave relationship, or even a servant-master relationship. Think of your relationship to the bacteria in your gut, or the microbes on your skin. You're not on similar mental planes at all, and you don't really think about them, even though they are vital to your survival. You are also vital to theirs, though they don't have any concept of "thinking" about you that we would consider meaningful. Still, you are literally the world to them, as they exist on you as we do on the earth.

8. The Zenith are very powerful thanks to simply having been around a long time. However, they don't actively cultivate the art of war (unlike, say, the Spire or the Thoraxians or similar), so they aren't as powerful as they could have been. The Spire a much more Type A personality that is very engaged and active, whereas the Zenith are more laid-back. They aren't sloth-like or idle, they just take time to smell the roses -- partly because time doesn't really have the same meaning to them as it does to you or I. After all, death is not an inevitability for them.

9. Their technology is all 100% organic. Even the things that are iron plating or whatnot have been manufactured by their own bodies. They don't use machines as we think of them. However, they have been able to use organic means to augment their bodies. It's theoretically possible to create computers out of organic matter, and in fact they have done so. Similarly, it's possible (and seen in nature) to do things like make welds or generate extreme heat or whatnot using just organic means. Even generate electricity (heck, WE do that bit). The Zenith have basically mastered all of these biological processes, and they exist as a form of "high technology" society that doesn't actually have anything that we would consider technology normally.

10. When it comes to their environment, for the most part the terrain around them is just the organic byproducts of their existence. That said, in their direct vicinity things would be kept a bit more neat and orderly by the simple fact of the smaller organisms that live on and around them, helping them exist. I imagine that these smaller organisms would leave a variety of trails like deer paths in the woods, but those are paths made by repetition, not design. Deer aren't out in the woods laying down roads, and we don't spend time making roads for deer, either. Whatever paths they have are simply made by repeated passage of deer. Same with these smaller organisms.

evuck-roads01

That's it for now!  I hope you've enjoyed the test screenshots here as well.  Sorry that some of them were just cruddy screengrabs from explorer or excel.
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Offline Draco18s

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HEDGE MAZES! <3

Offline x4000

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Offline Captain Jack

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HEDGE MAZES! <3

Those crazy Evucks! :)
Wait, are they really? I thought they were some kind of tunnel system, with London Tube style dead ends.

The Zenith sound really neat, but now I can't help but wonder about the implications of building them in AI War. Is a race still dead when you build manned clones of them for interstellar war?

Offline Teal_Blue

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Really cool graphics, thanks for the info and the pics, that is very great!  Lots of nice information of the Zenith, which sounds way interesting. You could do an entire book on the (without-thinking-about-it attitudes and behaviours) that are part of a culture, or even just an individual because of things in their situation that they take for granted.  :) 

This would make a way cool SF novel!!  :)

Anyway, wanted to say thanks for the new info,
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Offline mrhanman

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That's pretty awesome!  The Zenith have always been the most intriguing race to me, and it's great to hear more about them.

Offline Aklyon

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So the Zenith (or at least these zenith) don't just build huge golems because they're huge fans of overwhelming firepower, they just are huge?

Offline Zebeast46

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Really liking the Zenith, probably going to play as them quite a bit.
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Offline x4000

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HEDGE MAZES! <3

Those crazy Evucks! :)
Wait, are they really? I thought they were some kind of tunnel system, with London Tube style dead ends.

The Zenith sound really neat, but now I can't help but wonder about the implications of building them in AI War. Is a race still dead when you build manned clones of them for interstellar war?

Yep, hedge mazes. :)

For the Zenith, in AI War you're basically using nonsentient husks of what they once were.  Their technology was all... made out of meat.  So at some point the difference between themselves and their technology gets really blurred.  Their intelligence is gone in the ships that you use in AI War -- they are not sentient beings in any way.  But they are anatomically very similar to the sentient beings that once existed in the AI War part of the galaxy, and that still exist in the SBR part.

Really cool graphics, thanks for the info and the pics, that is very great!  Lots of nice information of the Zenith, which sounds way interesting. You could do an entire book on the (without-thinking-about-it attitudes and behaviours) that are part of a culture, or even just an individual because of things in their situation that they take for granted.  :) 

Thanks very much! :)  And yeah, I love writing and world-building, so it's really a fun thing to get to work on games like these.

That's pretty awesome!  The Zenith have always been the most intriguing race to me, and it's great to hear more about them.

They're my favorite out of the AI War races as well.  The Spire and the Neinzul are both very... odd... in their own unique ways.  Those ways carry over very much into SBR and are even expanded-upon, so I'm pleased about that.  The Spire, the Neinzul, and the Yali are the oddest of the races that you deal with.

So the Zenith (or at least these zenith) don't just build huge golems because they're huge fans of overwhelming firepower, they just are huge?

That about sums it up. :)  They got big and powerful just because that was a byproduct of them getting progressively more awesome over a long period of time.  The Spire actually sought power, and hence surpassed the Zenith, not that the two races were ever at odds or even in the same time periods in the AI War galaxy.  In SBR the Spire are not really confrontational too much -- most of the time -- because they know they are super frigging superior.  Even compared to the Thoraxians.  They don't get involved in much, but if you do attack them, they can be... extremely dangerous.  When you're on friendlier terms, they're actually a great source of historical information, which is more useful in gameplay terms than it sounds.

Really liking the Zenith, probably going to play as them quite a bit.

One thing that is really interesting is that when you play as the race, you kind of lose the character of them somewhat.  You do retain it some in the mechanics of play, sure, but a lot of what makes them THEM is instead replaced by YOU.  Plus when you're playing them, they're combined with the human technology and so forth.  Actually you wind up with all very young and small specimens for the zenith -- no larger golems at all, which take a lot of time to grow -- when you play as them.

They are a fun race to play as, but honestly because I like them in some respects I will want to NOT play as them, because then I get to see them in their true form, and deal with them as an ally or enemy, etc.  They're pretty easygoing in the main, so getting them to be an ally is not overly hard unless you're competing for something or you're playing an inherently unlikable race.  Or just as circumstances dictate.

You know how in Jurassic Park -- well, the book The Lost World, actually -- Ian Malcom comes to the conclusion that the raptors are all uncultured because of being revived, and thus they're lacking key things that made up their likely society far in the past.  Not that they were sentient or something back then, but that the way they act in the present, just being raised as a bunch of juveniles and being under the influence of humans and not adult raptors with a history of the raptor lineage to pass down... it really made them not at all "like themselves."

In other words, they were still raptors in a lot of important ways, but it wasn't a true glimpse into what they once were.  I think of playing as the race as being kind of along those lines.  When you encounter the race as an AI, instead you get to see them with the full lineage behind them, if that makes sense.  Either way it can be cool to be a raptor, of course. ;)

Anyway, rambling.  Personally thus far I have taken to being the Krolin the most.  They're not one of the more difficult races, though.  Out of the really hard ones, I think I'm going to be really into the Fenyn.  The way that their towns have to be made in order to be habitable is pretty cool.
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Offline Teal_Blue

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I think its pretty cool you have 'races' that also act as difficulty levels, or raise the bar on how the game is played. (at least i think that is what you were saying, perhaps i got it all wrong?)

Anyway, if i am feeling rather wimpy i can play an easy race and not have to scramble too much. But if i want a more challenging game then i can choose a hard race and grit my teeth from the start. :)

Or something like that.

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Offline Aklyon

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That about sums it up. :)  They got big and powerful just because that was a byproduct of them getting progressively more awesome over a long period of time.
Reminds me of the Suul'ka from the SotSII wiki, but with significantly less armageddon-laced intentions towards others or going crazy involved.

Offline x4000

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I think its pretty cool you have 'races' that also act as difficulty levels, or raise the bar on how the game is played. (at least i think that is what you were saying, perhaps i got it all wrong?)

Yep, you are exactly right!  Really, it's partly a matter of how complex they are to play.  Or if you play peltians, the fact that their military is weak as heck, etc.  All of the races are not equal by any means, and they're labeled as to generally how hard they are to play as.
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Offline Captain Jack

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HEDGE MAZES! <3

Those crazy Evucks! :)
Wait, are they really? I thought they were some kind of tunnel system, with London Tube style dead ends.

The Zenith sound really neat, but now I can't help but wonder about the implications of building them in AI War. Is a race still dead when you build manned clones of them for interstellar war?

Yep, hedge mazes. :)

For the Zenith, in AI War you're basically using nonsentient husks of what they once were.  Their technology was all... made out of meat.

Heh, I remember reading that years ago. The bit about meat technology DID start me thinking about alternate paths for technological development so Harry Turtledove anyone?

So at some point the difference between themselves and their technology gets really blurred.  Their intelligence is gone in the ships that you use in AI War -- they are not sentient beings in any way.  But they are anatomically very similar to the sentient beings that once existed in the AI War part of the galaxy, and that still exist in the SBR part.
Interesting. So humanity/the AI found what they thought were derelict starships (or remnants thereof) but were actually dessicated corpses? Like I said, interesting.

Bit of a non-sequitur, but what is it that makes the Zenith playable when the Spire are not? They're both living starships, right?

Offline Cyborg

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The Zenith were pawns in aiwar. In a way, we are meeting them for the first time despite having spent hundreds of hours with them. They are still the most essential expansion set, and every game I play has golems. You describe them as cousins. Do they maintain the culture? I'm also curious as to why it seems you have gone to great pains of separating AI war lore from this game. Do you envision AI war 2 and don't want to be setting canon right now? I'm sure you realize, the more games you create, the more lore you have to keep track of.
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Offline x4000

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Bit of a non-sequitur, but what is it that makes the Zenith playable when the Spire are not? They're both living starships, right?

The difference with the Zenith is that they start out small and then grow over extremely large periods of time.  With the spire, they start huge and then mature pretty fast (this actually happens in the game -- it's how the spire get new "buildings.").

So when it comes to the human faction, the Zenith are able to use the standard colony ship and buildings all that jazz just like the Burlusts or Fenyn or Peltians or whoever.  They're all very small, basically not much larger than a human.  They're not very old at all.  They have no memory of their culture or history, but are able to glean a bit.  So they don't really grow, they just stay small.  There are remnants of what makes them them, but that's all -- remnants.

For the Spire, there's not really a feasible way that that could work.  There's no configuration for them that makes sense with human-sized buildings.

Oh: it's worth noting that the Spire and the Zenith being described as "living spaceships," while technically correct, is kind of misleading.  That's how AI War always referred to them, but really a living spaceship is just a living being that is able to travel through space.  That describes all three of the AI War alien races, really.  My point is that these guys are able to live in an atmosphere or in a vacuum equally well, and they are able to fly with enough strength to reach escape velocity -- normally.  On the planet of SBR, nobody can reach escape velocity... usually.

The Zenith were pawns in aiwar. In a way, we are meeting them for the first time despite having spent hundreds of hours with them.

Exactly. :)

You describe them as cousins. Do they maintain the culture?

It depends.  If you're playing as the Zenith personally, then no, most of their culture is wiped.  That's also true if you play as the Burlusts.  Some of their natural tendencies and so forth get retained, but their culture itself is lost.  There's going to be a (quite funny) video coming up before too long that actually explains why that is, incidentally.  Should be ready in the next couple of weeks.

If, however, you are encountering the Zenith as a computer-controlled race, then yes, their culture is entirely maintained.  Same with the Burlusts, etc.  They have had to make some changes to their culture to adapt to this planet, but they aren't severe.  To some extent it's the difference in culture between Germany and the US, let's say -- okay, yes, there are differences.  But in the grand scheme compared to alien races, it becomes indistinguishable pretty fast as you zoom further and further out.  (That said, I'm still aching to get back to Germany again after having just visited in October -- it's not like I don't see the very important differences in culture!)

I'm also curious as to why it seems you have gone to great pains of separating AI war lore from this game. Do you envision AI war 2 and don't want to be setting canon right now? I'm sure you realize, the more games you create, the more lore you have to keep track of.

Separating this game from both TLF and AI War, really.  The main reason is that I don't want any of the respective games to be overly constrained by the lore of the others.  Primarily for gameplay mechanics reasons.

In AI War, the Zenith have always been described as a long-dead civilization, and I didn't want to suddenly retcon that.  I really like that idea of them, and I didn't want to suddenly go "oh no, actually the force has been midichlorians (sp?) this whole time."  I hate that.  But a lot of sci-fi books that I've really enjoyed have had "lost" bits of humanity that we encounter after millennia (or more) apart from them.  For me, this was an acceptable lore compromise, because I wanted to do more with the Zenith -- without destroying the AI War storyline.

The next problem, lore-wise, was that the Zenith were set extremely far back in the AI War universe's timeline, but the Neinzul and the Spire were contemporary to humans.  So it had to be in the human time period or after, clearly.

In TLF we have this whole other solar system going on, and it seemed like too much of a coincidence for me that it would be happening right at the same time as the humans.  I mean, sure, that can easily happen -- the universe is a big place.  But I like the very real idea of alien civilizations that are born, rise, and die on timescales that are potentially millions of years apart.

There were also some very important story things (that are still secret right now) that I had planned for SBR that answer questions from both AI War and TLF.  The way those story bits were, SBR absolutely has to be in the future of both AI War and TLF.  It doesn't work without that being true.

It felt more natural for me to have TLF be an indeterminate amount of time in the future after AI War, just thematically speaking.  And SBR has to be a certain amount of time into the future after TLF, preferably a pretty long amount of time (with AI War the amount of time that SBR comes after actually matters very little).

It might be that I reverse the AI War and TLF timeframes and say that AI War happened right before SBR, and TLF happened a while before AI War (closer to the time of the Zenith).  That actually might make more sense all around, but I'd have to think on it and make sure there are no conflicts.  Sometime after the game is out and people have had time to discover the story pieces in it, I'll be sure to make a spoiler-ridden timeline of the three games. :)

Anyway, my intent isn't to make the Zenith here be super distinct from those in the AI War canon.  Actually my intent is to make them as close as possible while fitting the gameplay mechanics I need in each game, and the timeline that the games' overarching stories require.  But when gameplay or similar does require a difference, then it gives me the easy out of saying "ah, well that's just a slight difference due to German culture here rather than US culture.  All humans, but you know there are differences, after all -- we're not monochrome!"
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