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William Snee

William Snee
Game Designer


: interviews William Snee creator of the online military science fiction game Dark Expanse.

MilSciFi: "What was your inspiration for your gaming universe?"

Snee: "Around the turn of the millennium, I was interested in learning Java and completed an online tutorial where I worked.  There is a vast difference from just learning the language syntax and from putting it to use.  Therefore, I decided to start developing some code at home.

Having always been interested in science fiction, and space games, I started creating a standalone game called Galactic Conqueror.  It was a turn based application for 1 to 8 players.  I developed it on the occasional weekend and never planned a commercial release.  When it was about 60% complete, my interests changed and I spent my free time playing other computer games.  However, the game was always in the back of my mind.

In March 2008, I was having dinner with a friend, and we were discussing some online strategy games we had played.  We kicked around some of the things we liked about those games and some that we didn't.  Pretty soon we started talking about my old game design for Galactic Conqueror and how it could be modified to make a browser based strategy game.  After some basic business planning, we did some recruiting among friends and Dark Expanse was born."

MilSciFi: "What authors have most influenced the development of your game?"

Snee: "Dark Expanse has many influences, among them are David Weber, Jack Campbell, Ian Douglas, Steven L. Kent, Gordon R. Dickson, Glen Cook,  Elizabeth Moon and many others. The development of Dark Expanse provided us an excellent opportunity to blend our love for military science fiction with our love for online computer games. Our recommended reading list is still growing and can be found at Recommend Reading. We are pleased to report that we have the support of several of our recommended authors.

MilSciFi: "Do you have any future plans for stories or novels set in the same universe?"

Snee: "Not at this time, however we have recently added a section in our online forum for fan stories and artwork.  We are planning to enhance our game story line with more background stories and racial details as time permits.  It will also be interesting to see what our fans create as well."

MilSciFi: "What can you tell me about your gaming mechanics?"

Snee: "Dark Expanse is designed as an MMORTS for the casual player-vs-player experience and is intended to be played over months, not just in one afternoon.  It is a resource management game, where each commander builds up their planet's infrastructure and technologies.  Like many games of this type, resource management is the key to success.

We worked really hard during our Beta testing to ensure our combat algorithms were fair and balanced.  We were striving to give the players a reason to create mixed fleets.  In early tests, everyone just built Dreadnoughts and Battleships and ignored the smaller class of ships.

To resolve that concern, we added a rock, paper, scissors approach for the combat class of ships.  The combat ships were divided into three categories, escorts, cruisers and ships of the line.  Each category gets a bonus against one of the others. Should they desire, a player can still build all Dreadnoughts, but there is now incentive to build a more balanced fleet.  Additionally, each class of combat ship has a special mission bonus.  For example, Battleships add a bonus to any fleet performing a bombardment mission, while Frigates increase the rewards captured during a raid mission."

MilSciFi: "What other upcoming works are on the horizon for you?"

Snee: "One of our long range plans is to provide support for smart phone platforms.  While Dark Expanse can be played on most phone browsers, the interface was not specifically built for that screen size.  Additionally, we are working on integrating with Facebook to improve those players experience as well."

MilSciFi: "How would you describe your experience developing your system?"

Snee: "Dark Expanse was and is a constant learning experience for most of the team members.  This has caused us to expand our roles and understanding of the technologies along with getting a new appreciation for the game market.  Anyone out there enjoy a real challenge?  Start a gaming company.  Or better yet, let us know how you'd like to help."

MilSciFi: "What would you say was the strength of your game, compared with what else is on the market?"

Snee: "Dark Expanse has taken several innovative approaches when compared to similar style strategy games. Those innovations can not all be addressed here but I will highlight a few.  Our main design approach is to try to balance the game between early adopters and players that join a galaxy later."

No Research Tree
First, Dark Expanse does not have a research development tree.  For example, in some game designs, a player might need 5 levels of laser technology before they can build a laser cannon.  Within Dark Expanse, the player is free to improve any of the technologies, whenever they want, and in any order they want.  Therefore, the player determines which technologies are important to their strategy and is not locked into something determined by the game developer.

Universe Has Three Dimensions
Surprisingly, several space games have a flat two dimensional universe.  The Dark Expanse universe has randomly placed stars within a three dimensional environment.  The star map is displayed relative to the fleet's location, and fleets in transit are displayed on tracks that show their progress.

One of the main things that makes Dark Expanse unique is how ship travel is handled. The distance a fleet can travel is based on the best planetary astrogation for each star. Therefore, before a fleet is able to leave the star system, the player will need to raise a planet's Astrogation to the same technology level as the star distance the fleet is trying to reach. Another option is, that if the player is a federation member, and one of the federation member's astrogation spheres overlaps the star where the fleet is located, then the player will be able to use this alternate astrogation system to travel between the stars.

Fleet Travel Times
Since each ship is unique, each ship has it's own propulsion statistic.  Each fleet travels at the speed of the slowest ship.  Therefore, the time to traveling between two stars depends on the speed of the ships and the distance between the stars.  Some games, with their two dimensional universe, have fixed standard travel times.

MilSciFi: "What is your favorite aspect of the game and why?"

Snee: "The game has several aspects that appeal to me.  I enjoy the planetary build up along with searching for new planets and determining where a new colony should be placed.  Of course, conquering an enemy's planet after wiping out his fleet has some strong appeal as well.

Each Combat Unit Is Unique
Mainly, I like the fact that, within Dark Expanse, each combat asset is unique.  Each ship or planetary defense base reflects it's individual type and technology level.  Therefore, a Destroyer built on planet A, with a ship weapons technology of 1000, is not the same as a Destroyer built on planet B, with a ship weapons technology of 3000.  This is because each combat asset reflects the technology level of the producing planet. Additionally, each combat asset can have individual alien artifacts assigned to it to boost it's statistics.  I like this because other strategy games do not differentiate between combat assets other than their own type. In other words, a Destroyer is a Destroyer is a Destroyer.  There are no differences, while in Dark Expanse each combat asset is unique.

Persistent Combat Damage and Maintenance
Because each combat unit is unique, there is persistent combat damage.  This means, each unit has a chance of getting damaged during combat, and that damage persists until it is repaired.  Which leads us to another concept which we believe is special to a browser based strategy game.  Individual combat units can be sent to either a mobile or planetary shipyard for maintenance so the combat damage can be repaired.  Also, a unit that had previously been built, with a lesser technology, can be sent to the shipyard to be retrofitted.  This makes Dark Expanse different because in many games, the combat unit is either alive or dead.  There is no in between.

MilSciFi: "What challenges do you face putting out a product in such a competitive market?"

Snee: "Common wisdom would seem to dictate that producing a high quality product would be the greatest challenge.  However, in our case, the biggest challenge is the same one every new game developer faces.  How do you get your product noticed by the public?  In this area, we are actively working to try to get the Dark Expanse name and our website published in as many places as possible."

MilSciFi: "What is the one thing you find the most difficult about creating a military science fiction universe?"

Snee: "For a real time simulation like Dark Expanse, it is difficult to build a dynamic galaxy that evolves over time.  We want our universe to have engaging content that continues to challenge our players. The challenge is to bring them new experiences and still maintain game balance."

MilSciFi: "Do you have a website where our readers can go to fine more information about your work?"

Snee: "Yes, our website is located at  There is an online manual and forum which can provide a wealth of information."

MilSciFi: "Do you have any other products under development?"

Snee: "We do not have any separate products at this time.  All our efforts are focused on extending and expanding our gamer's playing experience. We are continually enhancing Dark Expanse based on player input.  Our online forum has many suggestions and discussions where we interact with the players regarding potential game modifications. We have incorporated several player recommendations, such as the star notes, which shows individual recon reports in the out system ops display."

MilSciFi: "Is military science fiction the only thing you are working on, or is there something else out there we should be looking for?"

Snee: "At this time, we are solely engaged with enhancing the Dark Expanse experience."

MilSciFi: "Thank you for your time."

Dark Expanse website is:


Dark Expanse Dark Expanse
screen cap, Dark Expanse screen cap, Dark Expanse



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Copyright 2011 Mike McPhail, All Rights Reserved


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