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Story of the Stars

Greg Tito | 22 Aug 2011 14:26
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That kind of infinite replayability has kept fans of SotS glued to the game when other titles might occupy a month or two of a gamer's time before they move on to something else. The Kerberos forums are flooded with AAR (After Action Reports) and TAR (Tactics and Action Reports) threads in which SotS fans write character's dialogue dramatizing the decisions made in a single playthrough. "Our fans produce a lot of fan fiction. The universe gives them a lot of scope for the imagination, and some of them really take off and fly," said Dembo.

The big downside to forcing the player to create his own story is that some people just aren't wired that way.

"Whatever zapped us in n-space really did a number. Most of our databanks are fried. I ran across one that looked to be working, but it kept insisting that two plus two equaled pie - apple pie a la mode, to be exact. I finally gave it a mercy kill with my boot," reads the log of Chief Engineer Lisa Breen as written by SotS forum user Sofaspud. Breen then complains about how the Captain ordered her to start research on suspended animation technology in order to transport colonists to new systems when she'd rather work on making the ship's engines work better. That little scene is represented in the game by merely directing research, but Sofaspud felt compelled to put character and intention behind the pressing of a simple button.

The big downside to forcing the player to create his own story is that some people just aren't wired that way. When I want to sit down a play a game, I don't always want to think about the implications of every move or action I take as coming from a character or having a specific voice and I consider myself as generally a creative guy. What if I just want to shut my brain down after a hard day at the keys and just freaking play? Dembo believes that even if you just make choices as a regular player, you are still creating a unique story whether it is dramatized or not.

"SotS is like life: The player is the plot, and the game is what he chooses to do with the cards he's been dealt," Dembo said. The notable departure from real life is that in playing SotS, "the cards you're dealt include FTL drives, meson beams and siege drivers" instead of parents, car accidents or an insatiable appetite for pizza.

"When you play SotS, your actions are the story," Dembo said.

The remarkable thing about SotS is that for a game with no campaign, there is still a huge amount of world-building detail to experience while playing. When you encounter the Liir, for example, you'll learn a little bit about the background of the race of sentient whale-like creatures. They've only been a space-faring culture for a short time, after they threw off the shackles placed on them by entities that they called the Suul'ka and adopted their former master's technology. The other races have encountered these sinister beings but call them by different names - one of which is the Lords of Winter.

Many of these details came from the mind of Dembo, who credits CEO and Lead Designer Martin Cirulis at Kerberos for bringing on a full-time lead writer to what is a comparatively small team working on SotS and its forthcoming sequel. "I've had a lot of input into the design and direction of the franchise as a whole, which has not been true of projects that I've worked on elsewhere in the industry," Dembo said. "I have been helping to shape the game and its playable races and non-playable menaces from the beginning, which has made a huge difference."

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