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Story of the Stars

Greg Tito | 22 Aug 2011 10:26
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Cirulis and his team have made it a priority to program the code in SotS to allow Dembo to tinker with the story details in the game. "Some of the tools that are available to me as a writer for an independent franchise like SotS are very powerful," Dembo said. "We can add new story elements to the game with every update; I don't have to wait years for expansions and sequels to be released. Kerberos has become notorious over the years for adding new encounters, menaces and scenarios that indicate the passage of time in the game universe ... and sometimes hint about bigger things to come."

"A few people don't understand that every character in a story, including the villain, needs to be as well-crafted as possible,"

The biggest thing on the horizon is, of course, the sequel. Dembo, Cirulis and the rest of Kerberos are busy in crunch mode right now to make sure that Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter ships on schedule this September. The sequel will not only improve game systems like combat and user interface, but it will also add more tools for story to emerge. SotS2 features an in-game wiki of sorts called the Encyclopedia of the Stars and its Marginalia. As you encounter races, planets and technologies, entries will auto-populate in the Encyclopedia giving you instant access to that information. You'll also be able to tap notes in the "margins" about each entry, but the function of the Marginalia doesn't stop there.

"The Marginalia are intended to give the players a voice," Dembo said. "They can add notes and remarks on any page in the Encyclopedia and trade those notes with other players, which means that if you have a great mentor in the game community, you can consult his sage advice even when he's not around."

Normally, you won't be able to see other players' Marginalia unless you agree to share, but Dembo isn't above breaking the rules. As Lead Writer, she can use Marginalia to continue to tell stories through an always-on soapbox within the game itself. "I could easily put out a set of Marginalia which added extra lore in snack-sized bites. It's a feature that has a lot of potential uses," said Dembo.

From the sequel's subtitle, you can glean that players will learn much more about the beings that once subjugated the Liir and perhaps genetically engineered the Zuul to be instruments of war. From what I saw at the Paradox event this winter, the Suul'ka don't just pilot around the cosmos in massive ships that dwarf the current designs of humans and other races, the Suul'ka are those massive ships.

"A few people don't understand that every character in a story, including the villain, needs to be as well-crafted as possible," Dembo said. "Some of them assume that if I've created a playable race and made some effort to flesh them out and make them as real as the others, that I must be affirming their way of life somehow."

What stories will emerge from encountering the Lords of Winter? I don't want to give too much away, but I'm intrigued by Dembo's description of them: "If you fire up Sword of the Stars 2 and choose to play Suul'ka, you will be playing the closest thing to True Evil that I could drag slithering from the darkest hell of my imagination. My worry isn't that they're too alien to you or to me. My worry is that all of us will find them all too familiar."

Greg Tito can't hear the title Lords of Winter without Ricardo Montalban's voice playing in his head. "It is very cold in space."

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