L30 Interactive's turn-based 4X (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate) strategy game, Horizon, will have two playable modes: Classic mode, which plays like a traditional 4X strategy game, and Scenario mode, which the developer says is inspired by the story-driven moments from science fiction shows like Babylon 5.
Speaking to Polygon, studio director Raffi Parsekhian said L30 set out to make a game that merged what it liked the most about titles like Master of Orion with space operas like Babylon 5. On the game side, Parsekhian wanted to create something that was a sandbox experience and offered in-depth strategy. On the space opera side, he wanted to let players experience the scenarios that played out in the story-driven television series. Achieving a balance of both in one game was no simple task, Parsekhian said.
"4X games are sandbox games by nature, so we couldn't do a linear storyline campaign because then it wouldn't be a 4X game anymore," he said. "So we had to do it in a way that didn't take anything away from the 4X element, but would instead enhance it."
The result is the two different modes, both of which incorporate story elements to varying degrees.
"We couldn't do a linear storyline campaign because then it wouldn't be a 4X game anymore."
In the Classic mode, players will have the option to take on open-ended missions in the sandbox world. By accepting these missions, they will be able to learn about the alien races, about the politics of the world and the motivations of the various factions in the galaxy. The core of the game revolves around strategically engineering a win, whether it be victory via military conquest, diplomacy or by winning the Galactic Council Voting System. The focus is very much on the player's plight for dominance. But by taking on these missions, a non-linear story unravels and players have the opportunity to affect what the other races do.
In one example Parsekhian gave, players encounter an ancient alien race called the Har'kan, who are from another dimension and are looking for a way to return to their world. It is up to the player to decide whether they wish to help or hinder them. Depending on the in-game diplomatic relations, helping them leave may be beneficial to the player as it will reduce competition, but there may also be reasons to not help them.
In the Scenario mode, the victory paths of the Classic mode are available, but there's an additional way of winning: through playing on one side of two warring factions.
Parsekhian explains that the Scenario mode's missions are more story-driven, although it is by no means a roleplaying game. Instead, the story exists to give context to the player's actions and to force a different way of playing.
In the Scenario mode, players can form an alliance with one of two ancient races: the Varaian or the Kor'tahz. The Varaian are a kind of master race that created the Kor'tahz with the intention of making a companion race. When things went sour, the Varaian tried to destroy what they'd created, but not before the Kort'tahz managed to flee and self-populate. In this mode, players have to gain favor with the race with whom they want to form an alliance and accomplish missions that have a focus on taking down the opposing race.
In both modes, players will be able to heavily customize their race, their enemies and their ships, and these customizations will change the conditions of the game. For example, if a player chooses to have the Quasi-Immortal special ability, this will result in the race not requiring food and means they can funnel their resources elsewhere. Adopting the Fantatical ability means the civilization will approach everything with high moral and vigor, but could potentially be too hot-headed in some instances. Every ability has its pros and cons, and it is up to the player to decide based on their strategy.
Horizon is L30's first game, and development on the project only began two and a half years ago, despite Parsekhian having had the idea for it since the original release of Master of Orion in the early '90s. He told Polygon that he had previously mocked up prototypes for the game but, in his former career as an IT professional, he simply wasn't ready — he lacked both the experience and resources to make the game he wanted.
Two and a half years ago he left his job in the IT industry and committed to working on Horizon full-time with a small team of developers. The game's beta is now on available on Steam Early Access for Windows PC, with the final product slated to launch in early 2014.
"There's a lot of hard work and uncertainty," Parsekhian said. "But in the end, doing what you want is worth it no matter what."