I have always wanted to make a sci-fi universe.”
Die-hard sci-fi fan and Australian developer Paul Turbett's dream found itself a reality in complex spaceship-battling PC title Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy.
Released by studio Black Lab Games earlier this year to positive reviews, the game allows players to deploy huge assault ships against the Nautilid alien threat.
I couldn't find a recent game that did spaceship combat really well, and that's always been my favourite part of sci-fi movies,” Turbett continues.
"The success of games like Civilization V and XCOM shows there is an audience for complex strategy games."
Paul Turbett, Black Lab Games
While it may be true that sci-fi games were in a lull when Turbett set out to build his galaxy several years ago, the current state of the genre is anything but restful.
Recent big-budget efforts such as Elite Dangerous and Civilization: Beyond Earth have propelled space-set games' popularity into orbit, while the launches of upcoming giants No Man's Sky and Star Citizen loom in the not so far, far away future.
Yet, Turbett says, it isn't the glut of sci-fi titles, but the sheer number of new games as a whole, that threatens Star Hammer's place in the market.
Even with the assistance of a publisher, it's still hard to be noticed amongst the deluge of new releases,” he admits.
That means developers need to work harder to make something that is worthy of attention, which takes time – and time is money, as they say. Funding is still an issue – being able to cover costs while finding the unique thing that makes your game noteworthy.
There are so many games being produced that every niche is getting crowded. For fans, that's great news because there is a lot to choose from – and if they tire of a genre, they can move on to something else. For developers, it makes every project a greater risk, because the attention of the audience is split between so many games.”
While sharing the sci-fi genre with triple-A monsters may be Star Hammer's weakness, genre is also its strength.
The game doesn't opt for the dogfighting flight simulation mechanics of Star Citizen, Elite Dangerous and No Man's Sky. Instead, it's a tactical strategy game more akin to Civilization and MMO success story EVE Online.
But even within the crowded strategy genre, Star Hammer stands out. For one, the game sits in a sub-category known as 4X – meaning its complicated gameplay is tough for newcomers to grasp, but will pay dividends to those who invest the time to learn its nuances.
Turbett sees the popularity of more accessible PC strategy games as encouraging more players to try harder takes on the format.
The success of games like Civ V and XCOM is a positive sign, because it shows that there is an audience for more complex strategy games with high production values,” he explains.
"When we started development on Star Hammer, we weren't able to find an exact match in another product, but seeing other successful turn-based strategy games gave us the confidence that somebody would be willing to play our game.”
"There are so many games being produced that every niche is getting crowded. For fans, that's great news. For developers, it makes every project a greater risk.”
Paul Turbett, Black Lab Games
Turbett set out to make a universe of his own design, and Star Hammer lives up to that objective.
He encourages other indie developers to avoid fearing big-budget competition and play to their individual strengths, ultimately finding space for their unique creation.
There is certainly more support for indie development today,” he effuses.
Whether its low cost tools, like Unity and Unreal – who would have put ‘Unreal' and ‘low-cost' in the same sentence five years ago? – increased access to high-volume stores like Steam, or indie-friendly specialist publishers, there has never been a better time to make games.”