Gameranx Interviews: Romain de Waubert (Endless Space 2)

The renaissance of the 4X genre has just begun, according to Romain de Waubert, founder and creative director of Amplitude Studios. Since their birth in the early eighties, 4X strategy games have left a trail across history, space, and fantasy worlds, captivating players with micromanagement, civilisation building and the unforgettable taste of war. But releasing a sequel to the award-winning Endless Space came with a lot of pressure – of which Amplitude Studios was all too aware. How does a company expand a franchise without alienating new players while retaining its existing fanbase? The key to survival, it seems, is listening to community feedback, and keeping things simple.

Gameranx: Five years have passed since Endless Space released. Was it a different climate bringing out a sequel? What was the motivation behind it?

Romain de Waubert: When we started working on Endless Space, we took a big risk in creating our own company; we had no money and no experience in this very specific genre we were getting into. So obviously, three years later, after finishing Endless Legend, the first thing we wanted to do, was to revisit our baby.

But working on a sequel is no small feat. With Endless Space 2, we could have gone for the easy solution: “let’s do the same game, with better graphics and more of the same gameplay”, or we could actually envision a real sequel, and try to take the game to the next level. We went with the latter, and it was tough, much tougher than expected.

Gameranx: Endless Space 2 zooms in on the Endless, Dust, and strategic battles in space like the original game. Can you tell us about any major differences, from a lore and gameplay perspective?

De Waubert: Lore wise, Endless Space 2’s metaplot will focus on the events around Heretic, the Leader of the Academy. The Academy is the place which trains all the heroes in the galaxy. Heretic actually has an agenda that will force all the empires in the galaxy to face with a very difficult choice.

Populations in your empire will come to life. They will react to your actions as well as anything affecting them. On top of that, we’ve added a political system: your population will let you know what they feel through your empire’s senate so as their leader, you’ll need to make sure you fulfil their desires or you’ll have to face rebellions.

“Working on a sequel is no small feat…it was much tougher than expected.”

Since the game is a lot deeper than any of the other games we’ve made, we’ve also worked a lot on making it more accessible, both with the interface and through a scan view. The scan view gives access to further details on the game map for players who want to go further and get an additional layer of information.

Gameranx: ES2 seems like it’s really grown based on community feedback. How has the game improved based on player recommendations? Were there any surprises?

De Waubert: We are working in such a way with our players to shape our games, that quite frankly I don’t even understand how games could be made otherwise.

Everything that you have to deal with when you play the game went through the community filter; This does not mean that we do everything the community asks, else we would not move forward! However, when you decide not to do something based on your players’ feedback, it is good to for you to know why. It is good to be challenged and to think through what you do, and what you don’t do.

Gameranx: What’s it been like working together with Sega? Do you think it gives Amplitude Studios a competitive edge?

De Waubert: SEGA’s vision in game development is very modern, it encourages creation. The game and the studio are priority, and everything around is built to help the team succeed in reaching their full commercial potential. This is very different with what you could see in more traditional game developments, where games are at the service of a commercial goal…which can only finish poorly sooner or later. So right now we feel that we have the best of both worlds: the independency of a small studio and the commercial reach of a AAA editor.

Gameranx: Did you experience any challenges when designing ES2? Coordinating tactical battles, a beautiful universe that simulates endless exploration and seamless multiplayer sounds like a tough gig. What’s the inspiration behind the amplified reality system? 

De Waubert: Designing Endless Space 2 was the biggest challenge we had so far, mainly because we were doing a sequel, and we wanted to set the bar very high. This game had to inherit from both Endless Space and Endless Legend, and it had to be a real follow-up without disturbing our fans with too many changes.

We’ve created a lot of game systems that were not working very well together at first, and it was hard to imagine them all working together once the game finished; luckily, we were doing an Early Access so we managed to gather a lot of feedback from our players to polish those features, or completely redesign them.

“Quite frankly, I don’t understand how games could be made without player feedback. We wanted to set the bar very high (for Endless Space 2). Luckily, we managed to gather lots of feedback to polish features or completely redesign them.”

As for the amplified reality, it was totally inspired by AR. Our goal was to scan the game at any time to dig deeper…without scaring away the newcomers. That proved to be quite a challenge and we’re pretty happy that players need to press “SPACE” to trigger this Amplified Reality.

Gameranx: What are your thoughts on the future of the 4X strategy genre? What innovations do you think it needs to keep players intrigued and remain relevant?

De Waubert: I think we are only at the beginning of the rebirth of 4X games. With the Endless series, we can see that this genre will be able to keep attracting more players, with more accessibility, more depth and AAA production value. And for as long as they come, we’re hoping publishers will keep investing more in that genre, which is a good thing if you’re a fan of that genre just like we are.

The key of the innovations will be towards keeping the interface to a minimum, when they tend to be too omnipresent, and with a more natural introduction to the genre, where we could probably all do better. We need to break that wall to get into the 4X genre, and so far, we’re doing an ok job at it, but it is still pretty steep.

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Gameranx thanks Romain de Waubert for his time and making this interview possible. Endless Space 2 is out now via Steam (PC, Mac) for $39.99 USD. If you’re on the fence about picking up Endless Space 2, here are five reasons why you should.