Nexus 2 Interview
Back in 2004 there came a game, one that was ignored by many who delved in ignorance of its existence and a game that did not receive the review scores it deserved. That game was Nexus: The Jupiter Incident. Set at the dawn of the 22nd Century, mankind had started to colonize space and as so often, started to bash each other for the right to mine resources, occupy planets and more petty disputes. With a fragile peace established you play as Markus Cromwell, a former soldier who was stranded in outer space but had fate smiling upon him, discovering hidden parts of the realm of space, fight aliens and men alike while being accompanied by a strange A.I. entity that has direct access to your futuristic ship which you found adrift.
Nexus: The Jupiter Incident aimed high and was only held in check by the technology of the time and its visionary ideas that could not all be fulfilled. Now, after an excruciating eight long years, Nexus 2: The Gods Awaken has been announced on Kickstarter. For you our valued readers and listeners, Apollo contacted Vincent van Diemen, who had worked on the first Nexus as a producer, for a little chat.
Apollo: Hello again listeners and readers at Pixel Judge, we’re excited to have you with us here today! I know we have two especially big Nexus: The Jupiter Incident fans in our staff: Bismarck and Neon...so they’ll definitely be looking forward to this. I’ve got the pleasure of speaking with the producer of Nexus 1 and (hopefully) 2, Vincent van Diemen. Welcome, Vincent.
Vincent van Diemen: Thank you very much. My pleasure.
Apollo: Thank you very much for taking your time to talk to us. For starters, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your team? On your kickstarter it says it’s made by HD Interactive and Most Wanted Entertainment. Was there a merging of companies there?
Vincent: I used to work for HD Interactive with Mike Horneman, which we set up. It was a small independent Dutch publishing company and we were the official publisher of the first part of Nexus. Nexus was developed by Mithis, a Hungarian studio, based in Budapest. Unfortunately Mithis went into bankruptcy around 2005, not that long after Nexus was released. What we did at the time is went to Budapest and founded Most Wanted Entertainment. We managed to hire most people who worked at Mithis and this is how Most Wanted Entertainment saw the light of day.
HD Interactive is still around but not so much as a publisher anymore. It’s basically a parent company of Most Wanted Entertainment. Currently I’m independent and not working for HD but the deal with Mike is if we get funded he will hire me as a producer on Nexus 2.
Apollo: For those who don’t know it, can you briefly explain your previous game, Nexus: The Jupiter Incident? And what drove you to develop a sequel to Nexus? Were you unhappy with the lack of in-depth Sci-Fi strategy games?
Vincent: I was always very interested in Nexus but at the time it was signed with a German publisher - CDV. CDV had one or two very great hits and they made a ton of money with that and they started buying all sorts of products, but in the end they really didn’t have the capacity. Also there were some trouble between Mithis and CDV during the development of the game because CDV wanted the game to go in the different direction compared to the original design. CDV wanted to attach a licence to Nexus, which wasn’t called that at the time, which was called Imperium Galactica 3.
They bought the license, and it’s a great series but it’s from the 4X genre, which made it completely different compared to the original design of Nexus. So there were troubles and the game was on hold a few times. In the end it took so long that the license for Imperium Galactica expired so they had to rename the game again. If I remember correctly to Project Andromedia or something like that.
After all those troubles CDV decided that they would no longer continue this product. They wrote off a lot of products they had in development at the time and Nexus was one of them. Zsolt, business development manager at Mithis, got on the phone and called me. That’s how we ended up working together.
So we had a sit down with all the heads and decided to bring the game back to its original concept that the designers had in mind. And that’s how Nexus got developed.
Concept art of some terrifying alien ships displays the imagination of Nexus 2's artists.
Apollo: The original game allowed the player to take part in epic space battles with a focus on tactical and strategic thinking. To succeed in Nexus, one had to plan ahead, seize the moment and know his ship inside out. How will Nexus 2 play? Will you add to the already substantial combat detail or stay on the previous formula.
Vincent: There are a lot of gameplay elements that make Nexus unique as a game. Obviously as we want to make Nexus 2, we don’t want to move away too far from that. Mostly, we want the players to have the same experience with Nexus 2. Of course there are some flaws in the original game that we want to improve on for Nexus 2. One of the problems in Nexus was that, as you mentioned, people need to know your ship inside out and take it into battle. Once you’re in battle you better be sure what you bring into battle is sufficient to reach the end goal of that particular mission. And sometimes that was a bit of trial and error which for obvious reasons isn’t the best way. So we want to improve the information for the player between missions so he can better prepare for the next mission. But in the general gameplay there won’t be any major differences between Nexus and Nexus 2.
Apollo: When playing the earlier game of the series, one really felt as if you were actually the captain of a ship and commander of a fleet. You started to identify yourself with the crew and environment. How do you plan to emulate this feeling in Nexus 2?
Vincent: What you are describing is part of the gameplay experience that is quite unique for Nexus. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of telling an interesting story, we’ve created an interesting universe and we were able to get good voice actors which were all contributing to the overall experience of the game. The music, the visuals, the whole thing together made it a very special experience. So we are basically going to travel the same route. I’ve even been in contact with the localisation agency in London that we’ve used for Nexus 1 and informed about the actors. For instance the actor who plays Marcus Cromwell is still available as well as some other actors from the cast. We just have to make sure that we are making a good story that the universe is still intact and fits with the first Nexus. We’ll just have to recreate the same atmosphere and experience. So that’s how we hope to achieve it.
Apollo: You mentioned Marcus Cromwell, so he is going to make a reappearance? What do you have planned for the story this time around?
Vincent: The story picks up 25 years after the ending of Nexus 1 where Angel and Marcus Cromwell part ways. It was never clear what happened to Angel, she was an AI, very illusive, did she disappear into nowhere or what. It’s not clear from the ending of the first game. Since this is 25 years after, Marcus Cromwell is still around, where he is going again to be the main character of the game. Angel will reappear as well. It will be clear to players that she hid on Earth. Without giving too many details away, right after the ending of Nexus 1, human beings with supernatural powers are being born and this is the work of Angel. So she is on earth and she is “working”. We call these people Psi’s and they play very important strategic role in Nexus 2. You have a strategic advantage if you have them on your side. If you manage to get one on your side and on your ship, there is a certain functionality of the ship that gets unlocked which would otherwise never get unlocked. So these Psi’s are good to have on your side but whoever is your enemy can have them on their side too. This is basically how the story kicks off.
The detail going into ship design will play a large role in immersing the player.
Apollo: One of the great things of Nexus was, that you could customize your ship and fleet to your liking, incorporating certain tactics and strategies directly into the ships setup. How far can we expect Nexus 2 to go? Will the ships itself change depending on what modules, weapons and shields are installed?
Vincent: Yes. In Nexus 1 the ships all looked alike no matter how you configured them. That’s going to change for Nexus 2. The whole set up in general is the same but we added one extra layer because in Nexus 1 you could target specific systems and disable them. For Nexus 2 we are thinking of having modular system on the ship which contains more elements. For example there is a module on your ship which contains a weapon system and a jamming system or a radar system. You could target not only individual systems but the whole module and by destroying it you would not only disable the weapon and whatever device is connected to these modules. And the difference between Nexus 1 and 2 will be that it will have a visual effects on the ships as well. You could see the damage, what part of ships is destroyed and what they held before they got destroyed.
Apollo: We’ve seen some amazing concept art on your Kickstarter site. How do you go about designing the ships? Do you follow a certain scheme that can be found in all ships of a certain race or nation, or is it more of a ‘let your imagination flow’ process?
Vincent: It’s a little bit of both to be honest. Our concept artist is very independent from everybody. So often he sits down and starts drawing stuff. Sometimes we like it sometimes we don’t but most of the times we do. It works two ways. We get inspiration from what he does but also we have some very specific ideas. From Nexus 1 you could tell that different races had their own unique style of ships and appearance and it was very important to match them, to make them believable, to make them natural for the player.
The designers will come up with ideas of how the races should look or could look and the concept artists will draw that up. We will look at them and say like “oh, this could easily fit”. So, as I said, it works both ways.
Apollo: Within the comment section of your project page, there are some concerns amongst pledgers about the usage of the Unreal engine, does the team have any concerns about using this engine? Also, which iteration of the engine will you be using?
Vincent: We created Nexus 1 on the technology that was specifically designed for that game – the Black Sun engine. At the time we wanted to do Nexus 2. The lead programmer started to work on the technology that you are familiar with from the tech demo. I read in the comments that people think that it’s prerendered, but it’s not. Unfortunately when Mithis went into bankruptcy, we lost a lot of money. We managed to keep all the people but the technology was developed for Nexus 2 was lost. It was not our property and we don’t even know where it is. Maybe on a hard drive in some lawyer’s office. It’s not accessible to us.
We are not extremely worried, because then we wouldn’t be confident about our choice. But there are some. It’s very important that we can recreate the overall experience from Nexus 1. The visuals are very important as well as sounds, but if we don’t do our jobs properly it won’t be good. I don’t think it will be a problem with a technology. Look at the alternatives. There are pros and cons in all of them. There are different reasons why we chose Unreal Engine. Their business model is something we can work with. Their technology is really good and it gives us a great opportunity to make the game mod-friendly. And that’s an important thing for us as well. We’ve had a great support from the mod community through all these years and it’s important that they have something to go on with in Nexus 2. Unreal technology makes it easy for us to create the mod tools. The plans that we have as far as modding goes are quite ambitious.
Which exact version of Unreal we will be using, we aren’t sure and we will know only when we actually put the signature on the licensing contract.
Ship architecture varies greatly in style between races/factions in Nexus 2, highlighting the differences in technology.
Apollo: Do you all plan on releasing a modding toolkit for the community upon release?
Vincent: If I remember correctly we released the modding tools for Nexus 1 after the release. Obviously we are using a lot of tools internally to create the ships, the missions, to script those missions. Obviously internally you always have someone sitting at the next desk who made the tools so if you have questions you just run over or shout and there is someone who can help you. It’s a completely different story when you start releasing it to the public. Usually the tools that you can to release to the public are much more polished and user friendly. So it makes a lot of sense to release them in a patch or a separate download few weeks after the release. Even if you want to start modding Nexus you can start with the original game.
Apollo: Nexus: The Jupiter Incident was a well-received game by the community. The whole Pixel Judge team was quite shocked when we heard the difficulties you had in getting your game name out there. It was a surprise to us to see it on Kickstarter and not backed by a Publisher. How did this come about and what does it mean for you as the development team? And can you tell us a little bit more about the challenges you had to face to get any kind of media attention?
Vincent: If you want work with the bigger publishers, let’s say Ubisoft or Take 2, these publishers work with their internal studios. If you want to present them your games, sure they are willing to look but if you want to sign a publishing deal with them then the game has to be near completion. The time that publisher has funded games in advance is really over. If you want to sign with a big publisher you basically have to have your game developed for 80% or something close to it. That’s the only way. And that’s where you need the funds anyway. Also space games, stuff like that is too hardcore for the big publishers so they are not a big fan of those. Most of the space games you can find are self-published these days. We’ve had some interests from smaller publishers but it really never worked out.
We know that we can make the game, we know that we can make it in a way that our community and fans are going to be excited about it and happy with it, when it’s done. So Kickstarter is the best way forward. It took a good bit of preparation. We are based in Europe, the studio is in Budapest and HD is in Amsterdam, but in order to get your project on Kickstarter you have to have a US company as well as an Amazon bank account. That was a bit of a pain but we managed to set this company up and launch it on Kickstarter. What we did underestimate was how to get enough PR attention drawn to our project. We don’t have a lot of assets, it’s very difficult, we don’t have any gameplay footage. All we can show is concept art, the technology of the game and all there is in the first game. This is all we can do apart from interviews like this to promote it.
Apollo: In case you don’t reach your funding goal, are there any considerations among the development team to start creating another project through Kickstarter? Would you consider it a possibility to go free-to-play?
Vincent: Even if we do consider making Nexus free-to-play, which is an interesting option, we still have to fund the development of the game. It would still take a considerable amount of money to get it out. Should we not reach the goal of the funding, we have a few more backup ideas. We aren’t giving up yet. We still have some time to go. I have to admit it doesn’t look too promising but who knows what happens. Sometimes it just happens and it gets a boost. I don’t want to be too pessimistic but I don’t think we will give up on the idea of creating Nexus 2.
The other idea of creating another project through Kickstarter is absolutely an option. We have set up the company in the US now and have the experience of the Nexus 2 project and how it works. So that will definitely be something that we will be looking at.
Nexus 2's design aims to differentiate itself from competitors, giving players a new and interesting take on sci-fi tech.
Apollo: What are your personal favourite games in the Sci-Fi genre? Have you been inspired by some of these?
Vincent: My interest isn’t particular in Sci-Fi. I’ve played my fair share of Homeworld when it came out. It was a very interesting game. Also the games I’ve mentioned earlier – Imperium Galactica. Master of Orion, a lot of 4X games, even the new ones. There’s a new 4x game called Endless Space, which is a bit like Civilization in space. I also like the old games. Games like X-Wing and Tie Fighter. Those were so enjoyable. I don’t have one particular Sci-Fi or space game. I do play a lot of games.
Apollo: Thank you very much for taking your time and we wish you all the best with Nexus 2’s funding and then development. We all want to see you and your team meet success and create another great game. Anyone interested in Nexus 2 should check out their Kickstarter page. Thank you Vincent.
Vincent: Thank you very much Ben.
Go and pledge your hard earned funds to Nexus 2 The Gods Awaken here.