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Blackspace Interview

By Bis18marck7012-10-2012
Leigh Cobb (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)

Since its launch, Kickstarter has been successful in gathering support for developers, whose games have not convinced any Publisher, or those that would like to develop the product by themselves without the influence of said entity. Blackspace, a project by PixelFoundry, is one of such games. A unique approach to space-RTS, the game will put you in the middle of a conflict between a giant mining corporation and the government. Under the slogan of ‘Plan. Dig. Defend. Survive.’ the game will feature extensive use of destructible environment physics and pits you against waves of enemies while you mine asteroids for precious minerals. All in all, the game sounds rather intriguing, is full of potential and I highly encourage you to check it out here.


The men and women of PixelFoundry have taken a few valuable seconds off their busy schedule to answer our questions and to give us an idea of what Blackspace is all about.


Space isn’t all black in Blackspace. 

Space isn’t all black in Blackspace.

Pixel Judge: Welcome and thank you for taking your time to speak with us. First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and PixelFoundry?

PixelFoundry: Pixel foundry is a small independent game studio. Our goal is to make innovative games unlike anything else out there.


PJ: Blackspace draws on quite a few ideas from previous games, yet packages them into a new format. What inspired you to make this game and where does your inspiration come from?

PF: All we started with was just the idea of controlling a "Lunar Lander" around a moon in Maya using an Xbox 360 controller. At the time we were not looking to make this game at all, it just seemed like a fun tech challenge to figure out. Once that was working, we moved it to XNA so we could control the variables more easily. From there it began to sprout legs and we started to take it seriously as a proper game. The RTS designs were being developed and tested while art and data pipelines were being established in order to make this game a reality. Many games are likely influences on the design paths we've chosen for Blackspace. We have a wide range of taste in game genres, everything from helicopter simulators and FPS to RTS games like the old Warcraft series and C&C. We haven't modeled Blackspace after any of them but there's a high likelihood our game is influenced by these games of our past.


PJ: Blackspace will be primarily focused around the building and defending aspect of RTS. Why this design decision?

PF: Base building defense and resource management is an understated area of many RTS games. These are the aspects we find fun. Many of the newer RTS games seem purpose built to force you into offensive conflict, you are only building a base to get bigger than the other guy and attack him. Devices like quickly diminishing resources and control points are all designed to push the opposing forces together. I wanted to draw a sharp distinction between offense and defense in Blackspace. There is an clear aggressor and a clear defender. In many real world conflicts this is the same scenario, someone wants what others have; one must defend while the other pushes. I think its an interesting aspect worthy of more exploration.


PJ: You have launched the game on Kickstarter – have you tried to contact any publisher beforehand? If so, what has their reaction been to your ideas?

PF: We talked to a couple potential publishers but things didn't really work out. It quickly seemed far more likely that we would be doing this project on our own rather than through any sort of publishing.

Who needs drills when you have rockets!

Who needs drills when you have rockets!

PJ: Blackspace is said to allow the player to basically destroy everything and mold an asteroid to his wishes. Will there ever be risks associated with this i.e. the asteroid breaking apart due to extensive mining with explosives, or change its trajectory causing it to collide with other asteroids or planets?

PF: There’s no current plans for the asteroid actually breaking in half. Much of our design is based on the fact that these asteroids have super dense cores, which contributes to their extreme gravity as well as the abundance of element deposits. There are plans for asteroid collisions and some other more extreme environmental hazards that will have to be accounted for mid-mission.


PJ: We saw, on your Kickstarter site, that units will mainly act on their own accord. How much influence does the player have on unit behavior?

PF: Since commanding the Lander is such a significant part of the game, we needed to design the game to facilitate and enhance that aspect. Things can become very tedious when you must micromanage things as well as pilot a vehicle. It also stands to reason that if you are building a unit that does mining, it should know what it should be doing, at least in general. You may have to assign it a mine, but after that, it should be good for the duration of its life, or until you want to reassign it. We are aiming for just the right amount of control over your base, we don’t want to hand hold units during a battle, but we also want the player to feel like the base was his creation and not some automated process.


PJ: Except attacks by enemy vessels, what other obstacles will the player face? Will there be different rock types that require high-tech equipment to be mined or natural hazards such as random meteor showers?

PF: Yes and Yes. There will be various obstacles: meteor showers, different gravitational forces, atmospheric conditions, temperature hazards, collisions with other asteroids, and maybe even the threat of being burned up. There are many scenarios we are looking at throwing to the user once he has mastered the controls of the games. We want to keep things interesting and challenging the whole way through.


PJ: In your in-depth Blackspace video we saw that enemies generally spawn on the asteroid itself. Since the game is primarily about defense, this raises the question whether the players can send units to attack these bases? Also, will there ever be danger of enemy spaceship bombarding the asteroid? Could the player potentially destroy such a craft by flinging a chunk of rock at it?

PF: Your lander can be upgraded to equip military grade defense, but usually your missions are to recover the resources, not attack the enemies. While you can bring the fight to the enemy, the costs usually don't justify the rewards. You will have units that you loosely control, they are purpose built for mining and some for defense. Towards the end of the game when the conflict grows and PREAA's attacks become more fierce, there is a high possibility of enemy ships. And if we do have orbiting ships, everything will physically be there so it will be able to be damaged.

Just like an ant farm.

Just like an ant farm.

PJ: You said your game will be playable with the Oculus Rift. Now, the gadget has quite a lot of high-profile people that believe in the idea such as Gabe Newell and John Carmack, yet it is still a rather new product. As with all new products, certain risks come with it. What made you decide to use this VR headset and why do you think it will be beneficial to your game?

PF: We are so extremely excited about the prospects of supporting the Oculus Rift in Blackspace. Just with 3D Vision glasses our game feels much more alive. Actually being there in VR, being immersed in the environment, with the peripheral vision, full 3D and head tracking...all I can think is 'may as well get your space suit on'. We also felt that the Rift is a very low risk enhancement to our game. Since we already have stereo 3D implemented, the man power to get it working with the Rift should be minimal. Yes, there will be some tuning involved but largest tech hurdle is already done.


PJ: Which engine will be used to make the game?

PF: Blackspace uses a custom framework we built in-house that is mainly coded on top of Xen for the rendering backend and BEPU for the physics engine which sit on top of XNA. If we do cross platform development on Blackspace, we will be using the MonoGame framework which spans Linux and Mac as well.


PJ: What kind of atmosphere will you guys try to create with the soundtrack? Since the game happens in space, sounds effects should be non-existent due to the vacuum. Will the game feature any of these or rely only on music?

PF: We want our players to feel the emptiness, the serenity, and loneliness of a still deserted land when they first drop down to the asteroid, this will be reflected in the music we choose. Then as the asteroid comes to life, with buildings, units, enemies, orbiting ships, the music will reflect the energy of life brought to a barren land. In our game engine we have set up the ability to have the music change based on what is going on in the game. The music will shift as you build units and buildings, ramp up as the fighting at your base becomes more intense.

Sounds in Blackspace are still in development. Asteroids tend to not have the gravity to support an atmosphere, these however are not normal asteroids as described earlier. They have an intense amount of gravity and can therefore support a thin atmosphere. Each asteroid will be different and it is possible the sound will reflect the changes. The sound, as with the rest of the game, will be based in reality but not confined by it. This basically means we will do what provides the best user experience even if that is just to provide options for different preferences.


PJ: We saw that you have entered a partnership with NVIDIA. How has cooperation been between you? How will this affect players that use a VGA by AMD?

PF: Nvidia has been fantastic. I can’t say that enough. I was really surprised the level of interest and attention they showed us and our project given our size. AMD users will likely benefit from this relationship as well since much of the debugging and ancillary help NVIDIA provides is applicable to most GPUs. We have X-fire AMD setup as one of our primary machines so you can be confident it will work just fine with your Radeon.

Drag’n’Drop of the future.

Drag’n’Drop of the future.

PJ: Your provisional release plan states that you hope to be in the beta stage sometime in the summer next year. Do you plan to have a closed/open beta session and, if so, will backers of the project automatically receive access to it?

PF: We have various reward tiers on our Kickstarter, and one of our rewards will be early access to the beta version. All backers who donate to that tier or higher will get into the beta session earlier than the rest of the pubic. Many of the details are still being worked out, it seems a long way off at the moment.


PJ: In the name of Pixel Judge, I’d like to thank you for taking your time to answer our questions! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

PF: Thank you as well for your interest in our game, it is great to see so many people get excited about and appreciate our work. It's been great getting feedback from the Kickstarter community. Even if we don’t make our Kickstarter goal, from what we’ve gathered so far, people seem to like the idea. We’re looking forward to making this happen one way or another.


So here you go, an ambitious project that needs your help. We will even provide you with a shortcut here. Now go and fund it, we want to play it!

Comments (2)
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Posts: 233

Indeed, Blackspace looks like a title with some great ideas and lots of potential. Sadly, the funding period will run out soon and not a lot of support has been generated as of yet.

Posts: 5

I saw this on Kickstarted a couple days ago and it looked like a joy to play. Impressive stuff from PixelFoundry!