Hello again, and welcome to the June community spotlight. This month we are going to be visiting another Sins of a Solar Empire mod team. They are a group of guys not only dedicated to bringing some amazing content to the game, but also avid Star Trek fans as well. This month we'll be taking a look at the Armada 3 mod created by Stellar Parallax.
The Stellar Parallax team took their love for Star Trek and made a mod that any fan of Star Trek can be proud of. Even if you aren't a die hard Star Trek fan there is a lot for you to enjoy in this mod. Luckily the team behind the mod took some time to chat with me, and even included some fun pictures of them hanging out together. Check out the interview below and get to know the team!
1. Can you tell us a little about the Armada 3 team?
Gowron: Well, were a bunch of crazy folks that's for one. I mean you'd have to be to keep going after all this time.
I really feel though that we have a group of incredibly talented and passionate people, who have taken the time to deliver something that I am very very proud of.
The team is from all across the globe although most seem to come from Europe and we seem to attract a lot of people from the UK.
Gul: Max is our concept man and project lead, he started this madness years ago, back when Sins Of A Solar Empire: Trinity was the current game. Over the years, we've had team members come and go, some of whom, like Mindwipe have had a massive beneficial impact on the final product, but Max (Primarily a Modeler but he does it all), Bane (balance lead and coder), Draconis (coder), KillaBC (Artist and Modeler) and myself have all been part of the core team for a long, long time. We have other amazing team members too, but I can only name drop so many people so I should go with the oldest hands (otherwise they'll get mad at me)!
We've been very fortunate to have found the workings of a very dedicated, very committed core team because of the bonds we've developed while modding. We've always spent a great deal of time in each other's company via Skype in the early days and now over Discord. We're more than colleagues, we're friends. Despite the fact that we have members that come from all over the world, we have a really close knit relationship and make time for each other on a personal basis. I think that level of contact over voice makes us somewhat unique in the world of modding and it's made both us, and our mod better for it.
Bane: I joined in the early days of 0.95 when the core team was forming with Max, KillaBC and Technophobes (Gulgaming) and pretty much began by complaining about balance consistently as the original alpha tester, but I got on well with the guys and Max allowed me to be very honest about the good and bad points of the beginning of the mod. The whole team has been a great gathering of people who love Trek and Sins and really, we have become good friends, Max and Gul (Chris) stayed with me at my house so we could visit Star Trek London with Connor (Killabc) and Phoenix one of our modellers. That is a very fond memory of mine and i'll treasure that forever. Not only did we start modding through sins we become and remain good friends so much so my own daughter calls the team her uncles! And I’m already preparing her to take over Trek Modding one day too! She has grown up around the mod and the guys so its even more special for me.
2. When did you start playing Sins of a Solar Empire (SoSE), and what makes it so special?
Gowron: Well I started playing Sins back when it first came out and I really enjoyed it back then, I'm talking before trinity. Even still have the original box back when you needed impulse to download it.
The fact that even though you have a huge fleet that a single ship could change the tide and could be a "hero of the moment" made the game amazing for me.
Gul: I started back when Sins Of A Solar Empire didn't have a suffix in its name! The Original Sin(s) if you will. The thing that I remember being blown away by was the zoom feature. Going from looking through the windows of your first Capital ship and rolling right back to a galactic view where you could see the whole scene in one easy mouse roll was staggering to me! That micro to macro sense is what kept me playing, from the micro of triggering your abilities at the right time to win a tense battle to the macro of making sure that your empire's income could support your pushes into new territory, there's nothing quite like it and I'm still hooked even today.
Bane: I also started playing back when Sins Of A Solar Empire didn't have a suffix in its name like Gul! The sheer scale of the game was always the draw being able to zoom in so far to see your ships, your fighters/bombers even up close and then zoom right out was thrilling.
3. What made you want to start modding SoSE?
Gowron: When I played it really early on felt that this game could really do with a trek mod. The game just lends itself so perfectly to it with the large scale battles and epic scale.
Especially for a trek mod in the Next gen setting with the whole Dominion war, it was a match made in heaven. I tried for a long time back when it just came out but didn't have the skills nor team to start a huge project like Armada 3.
It wasn't until rebellion came out that Armada 3 really came to fruition.
Gul: In short, Max made me! After seeing a bit of his work in progress on Moddb and incessantly bugging him about it (poor lad must have been punch-drunk from answering so many comments), he asked me to take a look at the mod and do a little testing. I tested it out and really enjoyed it. There were some elements of it that I wasn't satisfied with though and felt that they could be tweaked to make it better. I read a lot of the Sins forums and talked to some modders and taught myself to code. I figured the best way of convincing Max that my ideas were good ones was to demonstrate that they were. Turns out they weren't too bad because he asked me to become a full team member and coder. He hasn't let me escape since!
Bane: I think max actually must of got tired of my complaints and so drafted me into the team to assist in string editing (where we make lines of text to go into ship descriptions) and then eventually full ability construction. I always remember what we know in the team as the Vengeance (Romulan Starter Capital Ship) moment, I bet both Connor and Max I could beat them in the first twenty minutes of the game due to how bad it was, they both doubted at first, sure enough five minutes into the game they were like, Damn! This is bad! So after that Max let me tackle the Romulans, and I’ve been cracking away at modding code ever since. Though it took me almost 7 years to get to a point where I was happy with the balance of the game, there has been some heated moments and some fond memories along the way where I didn’t think it was going to come together and with a lot of luck and hard work by the team pulling together we managed to get the release out. It earned me a lot of respect for Max especially as without him there would be no Armada 3.
4. How long have you been creating mods?
Gowron: I started modding back in the early 2000'. I made maps for Star wars jedi outcast and academy, and then moved on to bridge commander. I really got into the modding scene though back in 2006 when Star trek Legacy came out.
I joined a mod called Ultimate Universe by Chris Jones, who at the time was a veteran of the community for his large scale Starfleet command 2 mods, it was in that time that i learned allot of the skills i use today.
Gul: I'm one of the few members that has STA3 as their first modding experience. I've been a member of the team for about 7 years now (even if it does feel like 20 sometimes heheh).
Bane: I tended not to mod but instead work on server config editing, I work in IT Support so I was always comfortable with code in general if you can debug a windows server you can definitely code, I started with Starsiege Tribes editing items into the multiplayer variant and mainly I progressed from there working on map making and alike for many games, I also did some semi pro gaming for a bit too and was of the generation that got sucked both into EvE online and World of Warcraft, though my love for strategy never died, Sins was my first real big break though and the developers like Blair have made it super easy to mod so I thank them for that and their support of this great community.
What does Star Trek have that the team wanted to bring to SoSE? Besides the obvious of course.
Gowron: Well the mod is a spiritual successor to the game Star Trek Armada II, the mod really tried to capture the style and feel of that game and I feel the team really nailed it. The sound the music etc. But yeah the mod really shined when we started working on the first expansion, which was focussed around the Dominion war and well sins was just made for those epic large scale battles alluded to in Deep Space 9.
The same goes for the borg of course with battles like Wolf 359 and first contact. Once we got the ships and systems ingame it just worked like a charm.
Gul: Star Trek not only has a rich source of Canon material for ship, effects, sounds and "fluff" (or lore if you like), but also has a menagerie of other games (not usually strictly Canon, but wonderful nonetheless) and fan designs or ideas. Being able to meld these ideas into a mod that really "felt" like Star Trek was a big draw for me. It's something I grew up with and it stayed with me. It's lovely to have the chance to give a little sliver of that old school Trek vibe back to the fans of such a fantastic group of shows.
Bane: That’s like asking why was Star Wars good? Sci-Fi often appeals to the many because of how special it is, here we have a great game that for the first time offers us a chance to mod our favourite sci fi shows in to reality and then we have such an amazing universe of trek lore to work with, so many ships, designs and political and economical intrigue, Star Trek deals with the whole exploring new worlds, meeting new civilisations and Sins by its nature presents us with that feeling of exploring that unknown planet to find some random race, and it just got better over time with the DLC it allowed us to bring in events from the Trek timeline in to reality it's almost as if Ironclad and Stardock were dreaming of Star Trek themselves and because as I said before SoSe was so easy to work with it seemed like a perfect match to create a world that many people adore to this day.
6. The team has done an awesome job with the mod. Did you ever imagine the team could pull something like this off
Gowron: No, i mean when we first started we were all a bit younger...and thinner. We just wanted to make a nice trek mod and have a good time. I personally never had the idea the mod would grow as big as it has and I am incredibly proud of each and everyone of the amazing people that contributed.
Gul: I went into STA3 thinking, yep, 6 months and we'll have a finished product, no worries! Damn me, was I wrong! We got our 0.95 version out fairly quickly and while our clothes were still rustling from patting ourselves on the back from doing such a great job, our community absolutely savaged our early attempts at balancing. While the visuals were great, we'd made a hash of the game balance. It was at that point that it set in for me that we were in for a long and winding road to getting it right! I'm glad we stuck with it though. I'm really proud of it and feel that we've finally got it more or less right.
Bane: Honestly nope! I thought it was all going to explode in our face one day and we learnt a lot from our mistakes, we once lost the whole mod mid development it was a nightmare, but we have pushed on. 0.95 came out quickly and there was an appetite for more. 1.0 wasn’t too far off but once it had released we knew we ourselves wanted more and we wanted the dominion especially that led to Draconis joining the team and helping me code in, and at that point well I just decided to overhaul all the existing factions too all the way up to nemesis. As with any team there were ups and downs and most of all losing one of our team to a motorcycle accident (Chris Knight) nearly meant we lost the will to carry on, but we did it for him and we remember him fondly and dedicated our work thereafter to his memory. Its events in life like that during a games development that can really shake the foundations.
7. In all the work that goes into a mod of this level, what is your favorite to work on?
Gowron: Icons, no wait that's KillaBC's thing. I do a lot of the 3D work and seeing a ship you've build from the ground up come alive in game is amazing. Especially if it's one of your own designs.
Gul: For me it's working with the game engine to get what we want out of it, even when it protests! Things like the Galaxy Class saucer separation that Sins, strictly speaking, can't achieve are the things that really lit a fire for me. I also really enjoy working sympathetically with the possibilities that Sins gives us to achieve a Trek friendly outcome that works with the lore. Abilities and research are both good examples of this.
Bane: Code! I make code that makes things happen in the game, I know that while not as glamorous as modelling or particles or icons that I help give people that feeling of awesome when they pull a trick off on an opposing AI or Player. Giving people the chance to have those “did you see what I did” moments or the “I can't believe he did that” moments through ability and balance coding makes a game come to life for me, you need both good coders and great modellers when making a mod of this size and we were blessed with both. I’ve seen many mods self destruct over the years because they lacked one or the other, that’s where we have been lucky it just became a eureka moment every time.
8. What are some of the challenges the team faced when creating Armada 3?
Gowron: Assert @ C:\Projects\P4\SinsRebellion\main\CodeSource\Engine/DataStructures/FixedArray.h(117) i >= 0
Bug fixing and error hunting, especially when you can't nail down what it is, like errors related to a 32bit engine and ram limitation. That and broken arms a week or 2 before release day. Oh and getting KillaBC to make Icons.
Gul: Oh my, there are a few to choose from! I think the main challenge was working out a way to get the best quality from our assets without cracking the memory limit on the engine. We spent a lot of time optimising our assets in order to get the best out of the engine without sacrificing too much quality. I still jolt myself awake at night, dreaming of the things we could achieve with a 64 bit engine. We'll just have to wait for the ever elusive Sins 2 then you'll see what we can really do!
Bane: I'm going to keep this one short and say this as I'm sure the other will cover it, Memory Use of a 32 bit engine, I can't count the amount of times I had to guide people through setting up large address aware to use more memory for the game, Sins was a great game but our mod was so big we really were starting to see the engine burst at the edges!
9. Do you ever step back and think, damn. We made this.
Gowron: Yeah, its kinda crazy if you look back. The insane amount of hours we all put in. But i am very happy with the end result and so is the rest of the team i think
Gul: While I'm really proud of what we've done so far, I'm not one to rest on my laurels. I've learnt a lot about modding with STA3 and putting that into practice is going to make the next project even better! I'm just happy that our community enjoys it so much!
Bane: Yes i've taken some time actually recently to admire our hard work and I think we should all continue to be proud of what we have achieved, I know Chris Knight would be proud of us too because we did it we finished what is an amazing footnote in sins modding history and I think you can't help but have a little pride in it after all we all did it as a labour of love.
But… im not going to rest, Im actually split across two mods now for Sins working on Star Wars Ascendancy and Ages of the Federation. There's always more code to come….
10. Can you give us details for anything you are currently working on?
Gowron: Well we are all hard at work on the new project called Ages of the Federation: The four years war. It's another Star trek mod set in a different part of the timeline. It takes place between Enterprise (the series) and the beginning of TOS.
Though we are not following Star Trek Discovery timeline. It's a mod that's a bit more slow paced and with fewer ships it's going to be a lot more tactical in nature rather than strategic. With each ship being a key to your success.
Check it out on moddb: https://www.moddb.com/mods/ages-of-the-federation
Be sure to check out the Armada 3 mod over at ModDB and let the team know what you think.
I want to say thank you to the team again for taking the time out of their schedules to talk with us about the mod. You do a lot to make our communities a great place for the fans. From all of us at Stardock, keep up the hard work! I leave you with this nice image they worked up for the mod. I think it sums everything up nicely.