22Dec2012: MilSciFi.com interviews William Snee creator of the online
military science fiction game Dark Expanse.
MilSciFi: "What was your inspiration for your
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
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
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
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
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 http://www.deorc.com. There is an online manual and forum which can
provide a wealth of information."
MilSciFi: "Do you have any other products
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."