Planetary Annihilation's Jon Mavor on marshalling robots, micromanagement hell, and using "asteroids as a mobile base" | PCGamesN

Planetary Annihilation's Jon Mavor on marshalling robots, micromanagement hell, and using "asteroids as a mobile base"

Whether it's some primordial desire to smash rocks together, or the slightly more evolved wish to have thousands of robot servants do your bidding, Supreme Commander's spiritual successor, Planetary Annihilation, has gripped our imaginations. It's just passed its $900,000 target and heading towards its first stretch goal: naval units.

We've managed to snatch a brief word with the game's lead designer, Jon Mavor, to find out how the campaign's been going and to flesh out some of the game's finer points.

If you didn't see our first post about the game, Planetary Annihilation harks back to the Supreme Commander games and Total Annihilation before them, it's an RTS which is poles apart from the squad-focused tactical titles of late - Company of Heroes, Dawn of War, Men of War, etc – instead, it's all about the macro. Thousands of units under your command, sprawling maps, and whole planets to be claimed. To emphasise the enormity, the concept video that leads the Kickstarter page ends with an asteroid behind turned into a planet-cracking battering ram. Uber Entertainment, makers of Super Monday Night Combat, are going big with this game.

PCGamesN: It's always difficult to tell with Kickstarter projects, so what stage of development is the game currently at?

Jon Mavor: We've been working on the engine for quite a while. Someone pointed out a post on our forum where I had been hinting at the game in 2010. The video itself which we are using as a conceptual tool took a few man months to put together. The current state would generally be summarized as prototype phase, which is quite early in development. It's very unusual for us to show something to the public at this point in development but it's a new era now that gamers have embraced Kickstarter.

So, with the game in its prototype phase, you must be coming across the first of the design hurdles. What challenges have you come across so far?

The biggest challenge is the new UI for dealing with multiple planets and integrating the planetary warfare into the game. These are the areas of the most innovation and are going to take the most tweaking.

But how are you going to keep the player on top of that action? It would be pretty easy for the game to descend into micromanagement hell.

It's key to get the command and control system right. Things like multiple windows, multiple team members playing the same army and advanced queuing systems can take you pretty far. Some people have asked for more autonomous unit behaviour and that's something we'll be looking at as well. The resource system itself is going to be "streaming". This means that you can spend resources before you have them and kill your economy which isn't particularly friendly to new players. That's unfortunate and we'll do our best to sand off the rough edges there.
We are heavily drawing on community ideas now that we've started that interaction in our forum and I think that's actually going to really help us craft the game the community wants to see.

With army sizes being potentially in the thousands, are you shooting for a predominantly PC-enthusiast audience, those with powerful gaming machines?

We are aiming to keep the system requirements pretty sane. Since the idea is to be scalable, the question is more about what players are willing to put up with in terms of unit count and game size. For example the largest games may require 64-bit because of the address space limitations imposed by 32-bit code. If you want to open a bunch of windows then you are going to need a beefy machine as well. But for an average 4 player game on a "normal" sized map the requirements won't be too high at all. Ultimately this is a TBD question because we are just too early to give a solid answer on the min spec.

On the subject of multiplayer, you're talking about up to 40-player games. Most RTS games limit it to eight, how are you managing to cope with five times more players?

The main thing that enables this is doing most of the work on the server. This means that an individual client doesn't have to run the entire simulation and we can put incredibly powerful server boxes in play here. We've also designed the engine to allow one game to be spread across multiple servers. This opens up some interesting gameplay possibilities like having games where teams play in shifts for example. It's still an open question what the played ratio will be between giant games like this and regular smaller games that normal people can finish in a couple of hours. Scalability of both the engine and the design is really one of the primary goals here.

You've said on your Kickstarter that despite the inter-planetary nature of the game the focus isn't going to be on space combat. How are you dealing with movement off-planet?

There is going to be a variety of ways to move things between planets but we're keeping quiet on all of the details at this point. Many people have asked for space combat but we do have to keep a lid on the scope of the game. It's possible that could show up in some form in the future once we get the base game built but it's really not a primary design goal at the moment.

When it comes to moving space rock, is it just the asteroids that are going to be mobile? Will it be possible to use an asteroid as a staging base for mounting invasions between planets?

The general idea is that it's about how many engines can you bring to bear on how much mass. So for example a small asteroid can be moved around fairly easily. A moon could possibly be moved with a lot of work. The larger planets have so much more mass due to how spheres scale that it's going to take some serious delta-v to do anything with them. Yes using asteroids as a mobile base and moving it into a different orbit is definitely something we are shooting for.

Also, with players knocking planets into one another, is it possible to run out? Is there anything to gain resource-wise from planet-cracking?

Each system starts with a finite amount of planets. If a planet or asteroid is destroyed then it's gone. We aren't currently planning on having things like cracking one open to reveal more resources.

Thank you for your time!

I just wanted to let everyone know we are gratified by the support so far. We are very happy that the community seems to be embracing these ideas and we look forward to reaching our goals and then working like mad to make this game happen.


Uber Entertainment's Planetary Annihilation is currently seeking funding through Kickstarter.

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