Endless Space 2 is the upcoming sequel to Amplitude's hit 4X game Endless Space and we visited their offices in Paris to see the game and get hands-on time with it. While we were there we spoke to the studio's co-founders Mathieu Girard and Romain de Waubert about the game and how things are with Sega now that they have teamed together with them.
When we asked how the Sega partnership has affected Amplitude Girard responded "I would say the Sega partnership has not really affected Amplitude so far, except for additional help. The thing is, when we created this studio we chose independence because we wanted to do our games [...] We were thinking about going to other markets to get more customers, but then it took some time to make suitable arrangements to find that, and basically we're not businessmen, we don't want to manage four, five different branches in different countries. We're game makers, that's what we like to do, we're craftsmen of video games, and so we looked for a partnership [...] With Sega we wanted to go all the way, and it's great because they are not as classical publishers as a lot of producers are, or as they were five years ago. They are essentially a service company [...] now Sega is providing support on IT, PR, on business, we have lots of data." To circle back to his initial answer, he said "so far it has not affected the way we do games".
"To be honest, right now it's a honeymoon", de Waubert added. "We chose Sega for many reasons. First, we just love the developers that they already had [...] we are close to our players, we hope so and we do everything we can for that, so we needed to find someone who could trust us to keep leading the production and I think in a modern way of looking at development is to say 'the developer is leading and us as a headquarters we're here to give whatever they want, we're here as a support company, not as a leading company that will tell them what to do' [...] it's great to have a person behind you to help you develop what you like and what you love and what you're good at and they're just there to say 'you do it and we'll help you'. So far that's what we did."
"Before that moment", he continued, "we felt a bit lonely. It's amazing to be an indie and say 'today I can do whatever I want', but sometimes when you're ambitious you want to do bigger games but you will face problems at times that are hard to solve when you're alone [...] there's a point when your knowledge is limited and you need someone to help you out". He went on to say that Sega had told them the day after signing with them that there was no need to rush the game and that Amplitude had all the time they needed to complete it, a focus on quality that gels with Amplitude's own philosophies.
In regards to Endless Space 2 itself, Girard said that they learned a lesson that more narrative was needed in Endless Space. "Endless Space was a great game, but it was more of a systemic game with a rich universe we created, but it was a bit cold. The story was not presented in cinematics or story missions or anything like that, so it's really something we wanted to add for Endless Legend [...] If you want to make it less cold you have to add a story on top of it, and the story has to adapt to the situation, to who you play etc. So we've learned a lot from that, it was a big task to do, and then we have re-used this knowledge on Endless Space 2."
De Waubert's biggest lesson from the previous two games, however, is another one: "I only want to make 4X games with asymmetric factions and asymmetric gameplay [...] to be able to push the game in this direction, put all these fun gameplays in one game and we can compare each other, and we can lead the same story together - that's awesome". Other things he learned is that balance and storytelling are also key, and their priority is to identify unbalance and deal with it as soon as it comes about.
We also asked Girard and de Waubert how important the community is to developing Endless Space 2. "It's very important in many respects", Girard said. "It was very important at the beginning [of the first game], because we didn't know how to make a 4X game and it's important to support us. In the start of the company we didn't have big promotional campaigns and so the community was a big push for us". He continued "it's very important for us for the community to stay positive, which is something I'm very happy with. The tone of the forum is very constructive. It's also very important for us that we're investing to improve the Games2Gether."
He went on to explain how the Games2Gether format is as fun as possible for people suggesting ideas or making contributions. Amplitude Studios also host a variety of events to meet their contributors in person, including occasional nights where people are invited to the studio in Paris.
De Waubert weighed in on the importance of community as well. "I mean we can't tell you anything other than it's key, obviously, because that's who we are, but for me it just reached a point where I can't develop otherwise, I just don't want to, I don't think I'm even interested in developing games without the Games2Gether platform. I love that feeling of being close, of instant feedback [...] they tell you this is amazing, or this is awful, and then at least if you ship with something awful at least you know about it."
Early Access plays a big part in this, as de Waubert went on to say. "Early Access is stressful because it is a release, but the good thing is, it is a release, but you're not getting reviewed yet and you know what you have to do to make a good game, to finish the game and to make it what people expect, and when you see them happy, the people happy, you can press the green button."
Girard talked to us in more detail about the minor factions, a new feature in Endless Space 2, and how they will affect the game as well. "The minor factions are seen as something you get to interact with in the game, but not with the full-fledged diplomatic experience you can have with major empires. It's more like intermediate powers you can use to ally with, assimilate, make war [...] It acts as a story in itself so it's great as breadcrumbs to learn about the game, to achieve the final objective which is to make high level diplomacy or war with empires by the third era of the game."
Endless Space has always been known for being accessible and allowing the player to easily grasp the game, so we asked how the game is being made more accessible with the sequel. "We have different talents working with the accessibility of the user interface, for instance", Girard said. "First the game designer starts working with the game features and then they make a mock-up of what they want it to look like. Then our partners from an external company called Fix, they are specialists in user interface design and accessibility, they make mock-ups of the functional version of the game [...] then it's iteration I suppose. It's something which we always try to think about the user, is something obvious for him? [Are they] going to understand?"
Keeping on the topic of accessibility and allowing players a simple way into the game, we also asked how they addressed the challenge of trying to appeal both to existing fans and new players. "To get new players is difficult", de Waubert said. "The good thing is I don't think our existing players mind more accessibility, I don't think they mind that we work a lot on the graphics and the storyline, I don't think they mind that we work on the music and I think they like all these elements, but these elements are key to also bringing in new players. 4X historically tend to be very austere and that's what we worked on from the beginning, to make our games more pleasing, to make them more accessible [...] The challenge is to not give up on accessibility and you should not create more accessibility by removing depth. You will lose core players if you make the game more shallow to get more people in". He went on to say that Games2Gether is the best answer to the challenge as it lets the studios know directly what the fans want.
In the demo given to us at the studio population was highlighted as one of the key aspects of Endless Space 2, creating events and quests for the player to react to and also helping shape the player's empire in a variety of ways. We asked what the inspiration was for giving population more of an importance in the game, and Girard said "the idea was that, as an emperor, you do not just manage numbers. In Endless Space the population were just a number of units on a planet. Now each population unit is actually a people with economic factors but also political opinions and so it means that as an emperor you will have to manage different people and opinions. They can be seen sometimes as a constraint [...] but it's also an opportunity because if you see how they react to events [...] once you understand how that happens, and you have the tools for that in-game, it becomes easy to play with it and have the impression that you can influence the empire."
We asked whether the level of options before starting a game are as extensive as in previous games and de Waubert responded "compared to Endless Space, yes. Compared to Endless Legend I think we are more or less on the same line of ideas. While we did add some stuff with expansion packs on Legend, different scenarios, I don't think we'll have them on this game when we ship [...] I will say it will be about the same as Endless Legend when we ship."
No release date has been given to Endless Space 2 as of yet, but it is launching into Early Access later this month.
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