Timothy Zahn's Parallax (a retro 4X conquer-the-galaxy game)
Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate your way across a galaxy of Timothy Zahn's favorite aliens... and some of your own
This Kickstarter is going to be cancelled shortly, but we're already working on a new-and-improved version. If you'd like to receive updates about the progress and launch of the new version, or if you've got a great suggestion for us, feel free to pledge $1 so that you're added to the backer list and will receive updates.
Thanks again to everyone for all the support - it's been an awesome experience so far, I've already learned a ton, and I'm really looking forward to this reboot.
Classic 4X Turn-Based Strategy? Timothy Zahn’s creative guidance? A library full of backer-created content? Multiple platforms? DRM-free? Mod support?
Parallax will be a turn-based strategy game in keeping with the classic 4X genre. The player, as the leader of a fledgling interstellar civilization, will direct just about every aspect of their civilization’s development, including galactic exploration, expansion of the empire, exploitation of resources and technologies, and extermination of any competitors that refuse to join their empire.
Timothy Zahn will be co-creating the game, and bringing 5 of his favorite aliens along for the ride: the Zhirrzh [Conquerors Saga], Kalixiri [Icarus Hunt], Qanska [Manta’s Gift], Pom [Spinneret] and Modhri [Quadrail Series].
We're also creating a bunch of all-new alien races just for this game, and the backers will help define the details and bring them to life. In fact, every backer (except those that choose license-only rewards) gets to be part of the game creation process, from the beginning, right up until the game is finished. You’ll get to follow along with the game’s development, and we’ll work with you to create your personal contribution to the game.
On the surface, Parallax is very much going to be a retro game - fairly simple graphics, simple interface, etc. Like an iceberg, the vast majority of the complexity will go unseen, and the player will have a simple, streamlined interface. As much as possible, it will be an attempt to bring back the fun and simplicity that was so much a part of the original 4X games. Simple, straightforward, and fun - and different enough each time that it's as fun the 100th time as it is the first.
Beneath the surface, however, it will be much more. To include features that even the biggest games of the genre have left out...
The Modhri is a prime example: what would you do as a parasitic race? Sure, you could take control of every host you come into contact with and ravage the galaxy like a plague, but you could also play it subtle, infiltrate and influence other races, turn the tide of a battle, affect political negotiations, avert or cause wars.
Other races might be found in a prehistoric or medieval state, and you'll have the option to exterminate them, use them as slaves, incorporate them into your civilization, observe them from afar, etc.
Ruins from ancient, forgotten races will be found now and then, and their advanced technologies might catapult your civilization to the top, but they might be beyond recovery instead, be incredibly dangerous, or be completely incomprehensible without significant research. There could be both "micro" and "giant" races, such as insect collectives or gas-giant dwellers like the Qanska [from Manta’s Gift]… Maybe even zero-G races, solar inhabitants, rogue planets and more, with quasi-realistic limitations to match.
What else might be included in the game? You decide, and then help create it: alien races, space fleets, random galactic events, technology, and myriad smaller details as well.
(Due to size limitations, this is only an overview - detailed gameplay documentation, in PDF format, is available HERE)
Timothy Zahn - One of the most influential Star Wars Expanded Universe authors (creator of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade), and Hugo-Award winning author of 40 novels and 90+ short stories, will oversee the storytelling aspects of the game, as well as help shape the theme and overall feel.
Abram Jablonski – With 15 years of experience designing and developing highly-complex, dynamic systems, Abram will create the core of the game – the Parallax Game Engine – as well as all of the content-creation tools, and will work closely with the backers to help them shape their individual visions into a cohesive whole.
Daniel Le Serve – A former member of the Community Manager teams for a number of browser-based games (including Gladiatus, OGame, Ikariam, MetalDamage, Tanoth, KingsAge and Katsuro), as well as a Product Community Manager for Gameforge, Dan will oversee, participate, and facilitate the backer community forums, where the backers will be able to discuss how their individual pieces will fit together to complete the larger picture of the game.
Matthew A. C. Cohen – An award winning composer that has scored numerous films and web series, written the music for several musicals, writen for and recorded with international orchestras, university and college orchestras/wind ensembles, big bands, jazz combos, and various other professional and student ensembles, Matthew will be the game’s Composer, creating all the music and sound for the game. Even better, he will be working directly with some of our backers to create the mood music for each of the alien races. You can find some of his current work on his webpage , soundcloud, and IMDB.
You should back this Kickstarter if...
- You're a fan of Timothy Zahn's work, and want to see what it would be like if he made a game
- You enjoy turn-based-strategy games, especially the ones where there's less micromanagement, like the first Master of Orion, or the original Civilization
- You want to be an active part of the game creation process
- You can argue in support of your ideas, but still remain considerate of everyone else's (this is really important)
- You're excited about seeing this game become a reality
As much as possible, we're going to include our backers in the game-making process. The backer community will drive the vast majority of the stuff that the player sees and interacts with, such as:
- Determining the overall appearance and feel of the game (cartoony, comic-book, retro, psuedo-realistic, etc)
- Vote on the appearance, description, and game mechanics for specific items
- Help backers that pledge for higher-level prizes refine and finalize their concepts
A lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff, like the software architecture and code, will be strictly for the developers (and is already planned out/ prototyped), and the core "vision" for the game is set, but the backers will have significant input into the actual game content.
Details will, of course, vary depending on the type of content, but the basic pattern will stay the same: the primary backer for the content comes up with an idea, it is refined and presented to the community (where it is further refined, or even changed completely), the "owning" backer approves it, and it is finalized and added to the game.
To be clear, our backers will have an inordinately large say as far as the content goes, but some of the decisions are already made, and the core vision and design is not going to change - the point of letting backers create the content is that it will be way more fun and interesting for everyone if we do it this way (not just the game, but the backer experience), and there are ideas that we would never think of if we tried to make it all up by ourselves.
What this Kickstarter will cover:
- Kickstarter/ Amazon fees: 10% (50k)
- Timothy Zahn's licensing fees (for existing concepts): 5% (25k)
- Timothy Zahn's compensation (for new concepts, story development, etc.): 13% (65k)
- Software Licensing/ Extra Test Hardware: 5% (25k)
- Art & Design: 20% (100k)
- Taxes, insurance and similar overhead/ indirect expenses: 15% (75k)
- Physical Rewards: 5% (25k)
- Administration and Software Development: 27% (135k)
The Parallax Game Engine will be both the shell and the heart of the game – its main function will be loading and displaying dynamic content, and helping the user interact with that content. It will know the general layout of the game screens, such as where a conversation or avatar image is displayed, or where the list of buttons should be, but it will be almost completely empty and will fill the screen using external “Primary” and “Expansion” files (as well as user-created content), which will provide the actual content for each screen. But it will also know the rules of the game, and organize the dynamic content into a playable whole.
Like the level editors that many games used to provide, this approach will significantly reduce the amount of code and time required to create the game, because the same basic rules will be used for dozens, occasionally even hundreds, of unique pieces of content.
So every part of this:
Looks like this to the engine:
And when you select one of the advisors to bring up their specialized screen:
The overall layout, and the different sections are provided by the engine, which also keeps track of the context and history, but what actually shows up in each section – the pictures, the text in the choices, and even the list of choices itself – is based on the content files.
Every participating backer (except the ones that choose license-only rewards), will get to generate some content. At its most basic, this content would be a line or two in the Star Registry, provided as answers to the post-Kickstarter survey, and would look like this:
And those text values would show up in the proper places on the screen. A piece of Tech, however, would be a bit more complicated …
Don’t worry if that all looks really confusing – you won’t have to deal with it. You can look at if you want, but most backers will just define their Tech (and view others’) with a simple graphical tool that will create those files.
The Parallax Engine will know how to read these files, connect them together, and present it to the user - just like using WordPress or other blogging/ CRM platforms, the code is generic and pre-written, and the content is loaded in - and the engine will be really good at doing the same simple things over and over with that content.
Name a Star:
The lowest reward tier, this lets you contribute a little to the Kickstarter, and help make a small piece of the game. But it also lets you access the backers-only areas of the forum and follow the game’s development process, participate in all the discussions about the game, and have a vote in group decisions.
For those backers that just want to play the game when it’s done, and aren’t really looking to get early access or help make the content, there are 3 “License-only” standalone reward tiers (they don't include any lower levels, and they don't contribute to the higher ones). For $15, you get a license key that unlocks the game on every platform it’s released for (rather than having to buy a separate license for each)
For $25, you get not only the basic game – which will have a lot of content, but ALL of the extra Kickstarter-backed content, as well. (Some content will be made available, post-release, as Expansion Packs)
For $40… Take it all. All the regular and Kickstarter-backed content, and every Expansion Pack we ever release for the game.
Yes, it is listed out of order, but only to keep the license-only rewards together... At the $30 tier, you get a license key that unlocks the basic game on every platform, get to add a star to the Star Registry (and pick what color/ size the star is), and get access to the Backers-Only area in the forums.
Everything from the Multi-Platform Pass, plus all of the Kickstarter-backed content… Now with Beta Access!
You’ll get to play the game months before it is released, you'll get the Kickstarter-backed Expansion Packs early (and free, as part of your reward), and you'll be able to purchase and activate additional Expansion Packs while they're still in "pre-release".
Want more? How about we add on all the Expansion Packs that ever come out for the game? And if that’s still not enough, you’ll get to play them months sooner than anyone else!
The Merchant Skippers (our extra-special early backer reward tier) will be the ones filling in and creating the details that make the game feel complete, and making planets, environments, and situations unique and interesting.
It might be creating a non-space-faring race that the player can find, or a unique and interesting feature in a star system or on a planet, or just some cool detail that shows up in the Solar Survey report, a bit of gossip to be overheard, or a story that will be reported on by the Galactic News. There are going to be a lot of these special details in the game, too, so each Merchant Skipper will have the chance to create a few of them.
Add $75 more to your pledge, and we’ll work with you to create a piece of Tech that will be included in the game’s technology tree… And also all of the pieces that go with it, too – not just the name and description of the research item, but the prerequisites to do the research, how much effort the research takes, what the chance is that it will show up in the Tech Tree for a specific game, and the usable items and/ or abilities that it unlocks.
While higher-tier backers will also create some tech, the Propeller Heads will be the group that gets to go beyond that, and “tweak” all the Tech and affect how it fits together in the game, as well as acting as the “Science Committee” to vote on Tech Tree-related issues, such as the (reusable) graphics for the game’s Research and Discovery screens.
What Just Happened?
Occasionally during the game, galactic level-events will happen - while these might include some of the more common ones, such as pirates, a sun on the brink of going supernova, or an asteroid threatening to crash through one of your planets, they might also include something more subtle and unusual… Maybe true AI is finally discovered, and the player is faced with a series of choices about what to do with it. Or the discovery that some previously-dismissed alien species is not what they appear.
Whatever it is that you decide to throw against the player, we’ll help you refine the concept, and then integrate it into the game. What choices the player will face, what Tech items or bonuses they might acquire, how the event unfolds, and all the details related to your event that will be included in the game.
As a member of the Alpha Team, you’ll have visibility into almost everything that’s going on, and will be able to take an active part in keeping the game moving in the right direction. You’ll help refine the ideas of the higher-tier backers, and help make sure the lower-tier ones are heard. Plus, you’ll get to play with everything as it’s being developed and watch all the pieces evolve, so you can see the game transform from a crude outline to a finished product.
All the Alpha Team stuff, and your very own space fleet, to boot. From conception right up until you pick the final design for your fleet, you’ll be involved in the look and feel of your fleet.
But that’s just the cosmetics – you’ll also, as the architect, help define how your fleet actually works in the game.
For a specific alien fleet, you’ll define multiple hull designs and configurations for the various ship sizes, which will reflect the alien race’s unique psychology. (To keep your actual workload to a minimum, you’ll only need to decide what percentage of each design is set aside for specific types of ship equipment, and what percentage is flexible space) At a higher level, you’ll also define different the different types of combined Fleets and combat-level Wing combinations that the aliens will use.
If you care more about the cosmetics and don’t want to get bogged down in details, you can choose to create a “general-purpose” fleet instead, that’s available for every alien race to use.
You’ll get to create a larger selection of ships – 60 or more, instead of the 40 or so for a specific alien race – with a wider range of available hull sizes.
General-purpose fleets will also be featured elsewhere in the game… maybe as the fleet that those pesky Space Pirates always use, or the vagabond traders, or the long-forgotten alien civilization that left it as space junk (to them, at least). Plus, since it’s your fleet, you get to decide what the player needs to do to unlock it and make it a playable fleet in the game.
It’s a secret. But you want an example, don’t you? Ok. It’s actually going to be a bit different than this, but that would be giving away the secret...
For some reason, your Minister of War is bringing up palace gossip again. Or maybe still – you’re not sure if he ever really stopped. Ok, now that the text for his diatribe has stopped scrolling, and the selection buttons are active, you can finally tell him to assemble that space fleet so you can wipe out that one last planet and win the game.
Wait… What? Right near the end, he said something about how the Artillery Officer’s serving-boy’s cousin works in the Communications Annex and they got a signal from a “Captain Bur Nebur Nebur” saying his ship is from another galaxy. That’s actually kinda funny – and probably a joke related to that “Outbound Flight” Tech you researched a couple of games ago and wasted an entire armada of warships on.
Back to business, though, and time for the Burn-Burn-Burn Civilization (you always use that name, don’t you?) to conquer yet another galaxy…
Got an awesome alien concept that just needs a little bit of refinement? Or maybe it’s a really freaky-looking animal that you’d love to see as an alien race. Whichever it is, we’ll work with you to flesh out your idea and make it a playable alien race in the game. You will get to take the lead as we create your alien race – appearance, behavior, lifecycle, unique abilities, history, psychology, and event the aliens’ ancient lore.
Only want to focus on specific parts of it? Invite other backers to join your team, delegate authority, or just open parts of it up to the general backer community for help and suggestions. You can do as much or as little as you want, and jump on or step aside (or sit back and watch) at every point in the creative process.
Have your likeness – or another likeness of your choosing – become a permanent part of the game. Take a headshot for the advisor tiles, cosplay-up for a full-length Start Screen image, and pick out some knickknacks for your “office”. We’ll take the pictures and turn them into an in-game character – a few, actually, and you’ll get to pick the ones you like best.
And then lend you personality to the in-game dialogues as well. Just like the Geneticist tier, you get to decide how much you want to participate in the dialogue-creation process, and can tweak things along the way until they sound just right.
In Other News:
Did you ever have $5000 laying around and think to yourself “Y’know, I really want to own a news station that’s watched across an entire galaxy”? Well, now you can have the next best thing: a news station that’s watched across a whole bunch of different (fake) galaxies!
- You decide who works there: humans, robots, aliens, or something else entirely
- You create the on-air personalities and decide what they look like
- You choose the format to deliver the news in: single announcer, an entire news team, a talk show, panel discussion, or whatever else you choose
- You get to be in charge of almost everything about the station and how it reports the news… But be careful, because the player can always change the channel
Just like the Geneticist and Hubris tiers, you get to decide how much you want to participate in the creative process.
The Physical Goods:
Want a solid, hold-it-in-your-hand reward? Simply increase your pledge by enough to cover the difference, and they’re yours:
Add $30 to your pledge, and we'll send you an "Official Parallax Backer" T-Shirt with the game's logo [which is subject to change, depending on your feedback], from a selection of colors. Shirts will be delivered about a month after the Kickstarter ends, which allows for time to consolidate everyone's order, and actually ship the shirts. Add $3 extra per shirt for international (non-US) shipping.
For $50, you'll receive the final Galactic Survey - a softbound compilation of all of the alien races, as well as some of the fleets, technology, etc, that are developed from this Kickstarter (basically a companion book for the game, but it doesn't sound nearly as cool that way). If we get at least 1000 orders, it will be upgraded to a hardbound edition. Add $5 extra per book to help cover international (non-US) shipping.
The Legal Disclaimer:
To reiterate, the backers will be helping to create content for the game – no matter how much work we do on that content, the individual backers responsible for creating it do have a right to it. At the same time, we are helping to create the content, and we kinda need it for the game.
Everything in the game will have a specific contributor’s name on it, and we and that backer will both own it. Not shared ownership – each party will be free to act as if they own it completely. So if the backer wants to do something more with it once we’re done, they can. And if we want to, we can as well… So, for example, if Timothy Zahn wants to include your idea in a book he writes, you won’t try to demand royalties or something.
Risks and challenges
The biggest challenge associated with this project is actually going to be the Kickstarter itself: We will be coordinating and helping refine ideas from about 1500 primary contributors, moderating the forum discussions and communicating with all of our backers, as well as preparing summary information for both Mr. Zahn's review, and the project updates for the larger community. While most of these ideas will be fairly quick to work out, others will take much longer, and there are a lot of them. Plus, we do need to write the actual game engine at the same time as well.
The actual software for the game is only a small part of the effort (approx. 3 person-months), and the majority of time will be devoted to working with the backers. There will be a multitude of conversations going on throughout the development cycle to discuss and refine ideas, but some of the high points of the current schedule (which is fairly pessimistic, and could be a lot faster) includes:
----- Kickstarter Launch + 1 week: At this point we'll have a fairly good indication of what to expect from the Kickstarter, and will install and configure the forum software on our servers. Public forums will be opened (but mostly empty) within a week or two.
----- From Kickstarter Launch to Completion: Answer questions, manage the Kickstarter campaign, and more prep work.
----- Kickstarter Completion (10/13/2013): (using BackerKit) Send out initial surveys to identify backer reward choices, and order the t-shirts (from TeeLaunch). Send out emails with login info for the forums. Initial discussions on the forums for about 2 weeks (until the Kickstarter funds clear) - these are important, since they will help define the "feel" of the game, so participation is going to mean a lot.
----- 10/28(ish): Launch the 99designs campaign for the UX (user interface/ user experience) competition, based on forum-driven creation of design guidelines. Begin initial discussions with Merchant Skipper and Greater Mysteries backers and identify underlying story threads. Begin forum-based discussions of all of the game content - these discussions will continue throughout the development process, and regular updates, articles and screenshots will be posted to the forums, as well as details for individual rewards (such as specific tech items) as they are finalized
----- 11/27: Select the winner of the UX competition and begin incorporating their design into the game interface. Initial discussions with the Geneticists.
----- 12/2: Screenshots of the (mostly empty) game interface posted on the forums.
----- 12/12: 99designs competitions to create the images for Tim's established races (with potential updates/ expanded descriptions/ additional elements) - post to forums as available.
----- 1/6/2014: Summary tech breakdown/ categories based on forum discussions, initial discussion of generic Tech images. Initial Galactic Events discussions.
----- 1/21: Alpha testers get "look and feel" version of the game for review on Windows, with minimal content. Initial discussion with In Other News backers.
----- 1/31: Initial Alpha test version for Android.
----- 2/10: Initial Alpha test version for Apple (iPhone/ iPad)
----- 2/20: First Fleet Design competition starts on 99designs. First Hubris design starts on 99designs.
----- 3/2: Alpha testers get the pre-Alpha version for Windows - minimal (and unbalanced) content, but the majority of the software functionality.
----- 3/22: Introduction of some Galactic Events to the Alpha software.
----- 4/11: Introduction of end-of-turn summaries (In Other News reward). Initial discussion of what constitutes "acceptable" marketing (if there are any advertisers).
----- 5/11: Delivery of the true Alpha version for all platforms, with auto-update for content, and individual licensing keys.
----- 6/25: Release the Beta software for general testing by every backer who pledged $50 or more.
----- until October, 2014: Continued testing and refinement of the game, especially getting the balance right for all the game content, such as alien civilizations and tech.
----- shortly thereafter: Public Availability.
Fortunately, a community is naturally self-organizing: backers will participate to different degrees, discussions will fall into a manageable rhythm, and leaders/ trusted community members will emerge. That being the case, we will work closely with those backers that the community chooses, help them so they don't get overwhelmed, and let them help lead and direct the conversations, which will ease the task considerably.
That being said, the entire concept of having a couple thousand people directly contributing to the game does not scale particularly well, and a good portion of any extra funding will go to handling the extra administrative and supervisory workload. Regardless of the final funding amount, what we we can include in the final game will depend in large part on the level of participation our backers provide and, more importantly, the level of respect and consideration they show each other: a great group at minimum funding would almost definitely result in a better game than significantly more money and a giant, poorly-behaved group of backers (but we'd love to have blowout funding AND an awesome community).
If the Kickstarter does exceptionally well, the general coordination tasks will require more time, but there are additional developers that can be brought on to ensure we don't fall behind. Generally, however, economies of scale and stuff like the forum, and mailing lists, will help out a lot, and the additional workload won't be onerous.
Creating a successful and engaging gameplay experience is always a risk with any game, but that is part of the reason that there are so many "active" rewards: the Alpha and Beta testing will be instrumental in getting the balance and feel of the game right, and we've scaled it for enough backers (6-8 thousand) to ensure that it's not just the opinions of a few people that shape the entire game.
First, a general, but very important note... While almost every reward level offers you the opportunity to be directly involved in some aspect of the game, please understand that getting the balance, content, and details right can be a difficult balancing act. We will work with you as much as possible to get your initial vision included in the game, but we can't guarantee that it will be a good fit. If someone else has a similar-enough idea, if it infringes on someone else's intellectual property, is vulgar, offensive or otherwise inappropriate, or anything else along those lines, we're going to have to work together to find something that's a more appropriate fit.
That being said, we will absolutely work with you on your idea until it does fit properly into the game, regardless of the reward level you have selected.
Also, Timothy Zahn won't be able to provide input on every idea, but he will be actively and constantly involved throughout the development process. That being said, you will probably not deal with him directly, because he always has a lot of irons in the fire... If you're contributing just because you want to meet or interact with him, please keep this in mind: we want backers that are excited about the project, not the people on it, and you will probably not get a chance to work directly with him.
Timothy Zahn is, as previously stated, a very busy man. There is a good possibility that he will not be able to provide input as quickly as we'd like, and we'll need to go back and rework some of the game details occasionally. We do not expect that to be an issue, however, since there will almost always be a lot of other tasks we can work on while waiting for his feedback. Additionally, the game architecture will allow for easy content changes, and he will primarily be focused on the content aspects of the game.
As for the software side of things: while there might be some interesting technical details that come up, this is not a particularly complex system, and the architecture and software design are already figured out. It's going to be far more of a technical challenge making sure the forum responds quickly and meets the needs of our backer community than it will be to write the game.
We do have some artistic talent floating around, but what we don't have is a graphic artist/ designer with significant experience with the tools and techniques required to produce art assets at the level we expect for a project of this size. We intend to use online resources, such as 99Designs.com, to source the majority of our finished art assets, and have accounted for 20% of the Kickstarter contributions going strictly to that.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)