We have spoken with the man responsible for the 4X strategy game Stellar Monarch.
Stellar Monarch is a space strategy game in the 4X-genre, where you’re given the role of emperor of a vast, interplanetary empire. The game streamlines and simplifies some of the well known elements from the genre, but makes up for it by allowing you to rule over a vast empire. It also adds interesting, political decisions into the mix. The developer, Chris Koźmik, have created an epic game that gives the player the sense of being an emperor, and not someone responsible for logistics and other such details.
We have already published our opinions on the game (in Norwegian), and now we’ve spoken with the developer about his creation:
Spillhistorie: Could you perhaps introduce yourself to the reader first?
Chris Koźmik: Hello, it’s nice to meet the players and press from the far north lands of ice giants, at least that’s how I imagine Norway :) I’m an indie developer from Poland and I have been making games for a while, recently going back to PC gaming. I focus on strategies, simulations and RPGs and I try to cater to people who don’t have massive amount of time to play.
SH: Why did you choose to make a game like Stellar Monarch?
CK: Mostly personal preferences. Space 4X is a genre I like, also turn based is my favourite mechanic. Basically, I tried to make a game I would like to play and that was missing on the market.
SH: With more than two years of development what was the main design goals and did any of this change during the process of making the game?
CK: There were 3 main design goals (here is the link to the original post). First was the feel and mood of you being the Emperor not a logistics officer. The focus on the grand scale of things. With audiences, assassins, court politics and the like. Second was no micromanagement while keeping the game epic (huge number of planets). Third was an asymmetric nature of the game with AI controlled aliens not behaving like human players that want to «win» the game but as part of the environment.
I ended up sticking to the overall core goals without change. But when it comes to specific mechanics and features there were tons of changes. Many features were removed because those turned to be not as fan as it sounded on paper. It was rather merciless and bloody business design wise.
SH: Any features that stand out for you that you are particularly proud of or was a particularly hard problem to solve?
CK: Among the ones that are appreciated by the players is the audience system and the court system. Those worked out very well I’m I’m proud of those.
Among the ones I’m very proud about but no one else seems to care or notice is the blazing fast EndTurn, speed of new galaxy generation, stability & lack of bugs, very low hardware specs requirements. In retrospection I probably spent too much time optimizing those.
The particular hard to solve was the military system. The hierarchical fleet/squadron/ship structure with autonomous ships movement, auto replenishing loses and the like.
SH: As an indie developer did you feel resource limited while making the game, and was this only a negative or did it force you to become more creative?
CK: Both. On one hand it would be nice to start with a bigger budget on the other I love self imposed limits. If you have unlimited time and money you tend to make not so fun games because you are not forced to select only the best things to implement. Even when I have no constrains I try to self impose time limits so I feel a pressure and can’t afford to include everything I would like to, historically it proved to end up in a better game. At least that’s how it works for me.
SH: What do you think of gaming as a cultural expression? Do you think games are meaningful not only as say a medium of pure entertainment? Have any games moved you or inspired you in some way?
CK: I loathe educational games. I despise artistic inspired something-something. I want to play a game that is fun, has interesting decisions to make, has a proper mood and theme and so on. Sure, I try to include a lot of historical accuracy when I make historical games but it’s to reinforce the mood not to educate per se.
SH: I was generally positive to Stellar Monarch, but I cautioned the game really threw you straight into the action with 10 planets and many decisions even on the most basic of starting settings. Is this a viewpoint you share and have you perhaps considered some ways for less experienced players to be eased into the game?
CK: The goal was to make the game epic. You are the Emperor, you rule hundreds of stars. The game was balance for a start with 50 systems under imperial control. Yes, I have heard the «why can’t we start with a single planet» a lot. But it simply would not make sense mechanic wise. Those 50 starting planets should not add additional burden since you don’t operate on per planet basis anyway.
SH: My other main concern was the late game could slow down due to having many (30+) squadrons to move each turn on the offensive, and that planet subsidies could in theory become quite a chore with many planets to subsidize on the turn of a audience. Is this something you could share your viewpoint on?
CK: When it comes to the military I agree that offensives in late game can be too time consuming. Right now I’m implementing autonomous fleets offensives, an optional system where you say which planets want to conquer, give resources to admirals and they do the rest. The first rough version of this system will be implemented in v1.10.
As for subsidies I don’t think so, because those are balanced to be used in special cases only, like reinforcing defences on a choke point planet. Anyway, I got no reports from players that subsidies are a problem in any way.
SH: How do you picture the future of the game going from now? Are you considering any expansions at this point in time and do you have a design goal for such or are you looking for suggestions and feedback from fans on for example the Steam discussion boards?
CK: Definitely an expansion will be done one day. I have never done an expansion before so I’m super excited about making one. But first I want to finish some features and do rebalancing for the base game. It’s still a bit too early for an expansion.
Afterwards I might consider making Stellar Monarch 2, but definitely not as the next project, I need to take a break from such big projects. It was quite exhausting.
As for suggestions and feedback, I love those. I read steam discussion boards frequently, I can’t reply to every post or email but I love to read those and tend to read every single one more than once. What I ask for is to make meaningful topic names like «Research» since it allows me to find the topic when I’m redesigning research for example, I tend to also read those post again months after those were posted. Anyway, feedback is good and I do not bite, so you are more than welcome to post.
SH: Anything else you want to comment to the readers who might consider playing this indie gem called Stellar Monarch?
CK: You can always refund the game if it’s not to your liking, so I see no reason to not try the game if you see some vibe here (feel like the Emperor, no micromanagement, asymmetric and unique aliens, turn based). Definitely you won’t regret checking it if you want something unique and unlike other games on the market.
Stellar Monarch can be purchased from Steam. We’d like to thank Chris Koźmik for taking the time to answer our questions.
Article by Eystein Hansen.
Spillhistorie.no is a Norwegian website mostly dedicated to indie-, niche- and retro games. If you liked this article, we have some more content in English.