Northstar Interview

by on 3rd Mar 2009

In January 2008 a particular piece of news excited gamers around the globe. Fans of classics like Elite, Privateer, X-COM, X universe and Freelancer found Kerberos’ announcement of Northstar very intriguing. Martin Cirulis (aka Mecron), CEO and Lead Designer of Kerberos Productions already shared a lot of info with fans at the Northstar official forum, but there is plenty more we wish to know!

Let’s first bring you a little up to speed with Kerberos’ promising description:

  • Countless RPG missions nested with story-specific missions that take place on ships, space stations, planets, and moons! Shoot it out in ship-to-ship combat or shoot it out on the ground as you and your crew try and make a living!
  • Faction-based reputation in dealing with various groups expanding throughout the stars, each modeled as the future, fictional version of Earth nations!
  • Massive amounts of cargo that you can trade, sell, or use for yourself, including combining items to produce new items to trade, sell or use! Map new planets in the air and then explore the surface with your crew for your own purposes or to make a little extra cash from land-hungry colonists!
  • Dozens of ship classes, each with expandable levels of technology - which are reflected in the ship models, weapons and combat effects. Dozens of weapons and technology players can outfit their ship with in order to fly further, faster, carry more cargo, and protect themselves better!
  • And more!

You will play as space trader, explore the universe, find new planets, carry contraband, (try to avoid) battle in space in real time and 3D, fight on planets X-COM style, fund bases, get to know aliens, repair and upgrade your ship (that the game is named after) and… look for your mother. You can find many more bits of info in our news thread and in the Kerberos’ forum.

More than anything, two of Martin’s quotes are necessary for proper introduction (a few typos corrected);

“To us, the essence of the space trader was Han Solo. Yes, the Falcon was a hot ship, but it wasn’t supposed to be fighting star destroyers all the time or taking on endless jobs to shoot down space pirates... it was about the dealing with lowlife scum, hidden cargo panels, taking odd jobs on the surface of worlds, gunfights as well as dogfights. Shooting up things in space is fun for a bit, but actually watching the cops wander by your hidden cargo panel and wondering whether you should dive for cover and start blasting now? That’s the feel, tension and gameplay we want to bring back to the genre.”

“You will start with the crew you see on the teaser poster... The thing to remember is that you are just not running a group of D&D adventurers who are all in it because they hate Orcs. You are running a business. The Northstar MUST run in the black. People are with you for love, action or money but mostly the money. People gotta get paid. Fuel has to be paid for. Repairs are expensive. Traveling with a small army of Rambos may get a lil pricey.”

Now let’s see if we can get anything new from Martin!

StrategyCore (SC): There is an old saying that space is BIG. And quite open. Are there any limitations to exploration in Northstar? Can you just go and explore the whole universe right off the bat or is exploration progress-based?

Martin Cirulis (MC): You can explore as much as you would like, but that may not be advisable or feasible right off the bat. For instance you could hop into your ’88 Yugo and “explore the earth” right now…but some parts of it may be problematical with that piece of technology.

SC: One of the phenomenal things we read about is that you can actually set up trading posts on planets. How big is this system in the grand scheme of things – can you get stinking rich? And if you can, what can you do with that money?

MC: Yes you can set up trading posts…but “post” would be the operative word. The time it takes to set up a sprawling trade city exceeds the scope of Nstar a bit. Hopefully you will make the choices that will allow you to make a lot of money, but like in the real world, there is an awful lot that needs doing with that money and scaling risks to go with it.

SC: Can your trading posts be attacked and how do you defend them from the other side of the galaxy?

MC: Yes they can. Hmmm, I guess you should have thought about that before you went to the other side of the galaxy. Perhaps hiring some security would have been a good idea. Of course, that does cut in to the bottom line. Oh well, such is the life of a young entrepreneur.

SC: How many trade goods do you have planned – including contraband?

MC: Hundreds including many rare and super rare trade goods specific to certain worlds in any given game.

SC: How will the prices be handled? Is there a system based on supply and demand in the game?

MC: There will be a supply and demand economy based on a clockwork universe where everything is always in motion around you. So if you are headed back from the scatter with a load of rare goods in your hold and you pass a klick long fat-tran on its way out, you can safely assume you should try and make as much money off your load as possible because prices are about to plummet.

SC: What multiplayer options are planned?

MC: Currently co-op play is the rule of the day. Whether that will revolve around entering someone else’s game with an entire ship and crew or actually taking over the role of one of their crew, is yet to be resolved.

SC: You wrote that missions will vary from game to game and even that seemingly same missions may well turn out very differently. What else can we expect in terms of enhancing replayability? Are there main plot variations, different endings to the game? Oh, and do you always get to find your mom?

MC: Wow, more than an hundred missions and sub missions all with at least one variation and many with 3 or 4 isn’t enough replayability for you? ;) Seriously though, there are plot variations at the moment and much of it depends just how and when you do things. Unlike a lot of current RPGs where the universe just sits there waiting for you to get to a mission, time passes in Nstar. And besides, never make too many assumptions about the final point of any story told by Kerberos.

SC: What seems to be a bit of a focal point (please correct me if I am wrong) in Northstar are people. Being an RPG, Northstar lets you pick your character’s stats and skills and control his development. Will it also let you do the same for the whole party?

MC: Nstar will definitely be a little more character driven in comparison to the recent genre trend of blurring “trading” with what is, predominantly, a spacefighter combat sim. So character interaction both in use and development will be fairly central to the Nstar experience. We believe you should be able to tailor and grow a crew that fits your style of play.

SC: How specialized is a usual member of your party and is narrow specialization in one area encouraged in Northstar?

MC: Specialization follows fairly realistic lines. A ships engineer will obviously be light on combat skills and heavy on technical skills at least to start with. Depending how you use the character, what tasks they perform and how much experience situations they get through you can shape their development within reason. A “learning by doing” aspect to experience will somewhat limit “My pilot has level 5 neurosurgery now and has never been in a hospital!!” syndrome.

SC: How do you level up? Is there an experience counter?

MC: There is an experience counter but that counter is influenced not just by combat but by attempts at various tasks in general. Your character will have an overall level but skills will also develop in parallel with that.

SC: How many character skills in total will Northstar have and how diverse are their influences? Are there combat (weapon use…) skills present?

MC: A lot…and…yes.

SC: You are paying for your crew, spare parts and everything. Will your crew desert you if you lag behind with the payments and are bankruptcy or desertion possible endings in the game?

MC: Loss of your ship through lack of payments is a loss conditions while various crew have varying levels of how much they are willing to put up with. Loyalty is worth more than gold out in The Scatter.

SC: Do you get to make decisions like whom to fire and hire a replacement?

MC: Yes.

SC: You wrote that characters will act on their own individual initiative rating. What does this actually mean? Do they have any “free will” and if so, how does it manifest itself? Can members of the party also take their own initiative during the turn-based fighting?

MC: Lets not go too overboard in the direction of “Kerberos has developed self-aware AI NPC’s!!! Rejoice and greet your new silicon Overlords!” I find a lot of previews for RPG’s tend to overplay this aspect until one is almost always let down by the actual reality. First of all “initiative rating” simply means their combat “turn” comes up based on how “fast” they are rated…as opposed to one side goes first and then the other. Nothing too astounding there.
In actual combat you can choose to let the AI fight control your team members or allies may be joined to your side that have a sympathetic agenda but will remain under their own control. AI controlled combatants will fight according to their “personality” and will often make decisions based on what is best for them as opposed to what is most helpful or even harmful to you.
As for “free will”, well as I have inferred, agenda’s are an important part of a game and often you may find yourself in situations where other characters, including your crew, will have something more important to say or do than what you were expecting. As we established with SotS, even AI’s should want to “win” at all times. The interesting part in an RPG is for the player to understand what that may mean for any given character.

SC: Now that we… accidentally… stumbled upon fighting… I have a few questions about that one, too. But first I have to clear something else. As far as I understand, we will actually have three, if not four settings in the game. Something like a star map, a 3D real-time space battle setting, planetary scenery and Northstar itself. Is that correct?

MC: Hmmm…I suppose though I think you are splitting more hairs that there are in my design POV. There is, of course a starmap, but I don’t know if I consider that a setting as much as a sub-setting of your ship. There will be many ship systems that can pop up to take up the entire screen view. Now 3-D real time space combat is definitely a full-blown tableau as well as the turn based character movement/combat system. In my mind though there is no difference between planets and the Northstar itself, it is just a matter of “sets” and combat rules. Moving around your starship is the same as moving around a spaceport or through a rend-jungle as far as the engine is concerned. For the player though, there may some very big and dangerous differences though.

SC: It was stated that Northstar can be boarded, probably by police and pirates alike. Can you turn the tables on either and take over their ship?

MC: Yes, though as in today’s world, disposing of an entire unlawfully gained ship, or disguising it as your own, has a whole host of risks and problems.

SC: Will you have any surprises available to prevent boarding? Besides hiding, that is.

MC: As in flight-mines or party hats? You are going to have to be a little more specific.

SC: I found it very interesting that melee weapons like cutlass are used for fights in the spaceship. As you described, it makes a lot of sense if you don’t want to make a hole in your spaceship. What about planetary battles – are there more destructive weapons available for… deratization?

MC: I suppose it all depends on context. There may be different ways I might handle the problem of a guy with a flechette pistol behind a tree if I were in a Dynasty Park as opposed to trying to pry him away from my refueling hut deep in the scatter. But yes, there should be a nice variety of weapons for every occasion.

SC: We have a whole lot of X-COM fans at StrategyCore and we were all wondering how similar the combat system will be to that of X-COM. Will we see anything analog to time units, stamina and the likes?

MC: X-Com’s action point system goes a lot further back than X-Com itself, in fact all the way back to 70’s fig combat rules and really, we see no reason to stray far from that. We have a set of stats that serve our exact Nstar needs but certainly the faster, smarter and more agile you are, the more things you will be able to get done in a turn.

SC: How big will planetary surface maps be?

MC: Planetary I suppose. Once again I am not going to feed into these brags “you will walk over every fabulous mapped out inch of 3-D planet terrain” that one sees in the genre only to discover vast, empty stretches of starved poly rocks and trees and a sad figure occasionally wandering through the scene. Nstar will model a plant’s surface at the mid-altitude survey level as you fly over and map, and then wherever you land it will generate character scale terrain for a zone around you based on what terrain category you had surveyed from the air. Key mission sites and facilities will be anchored in special built terrain but otherwise procedural will fill out locations around your characters.

SC: How far do you plan to go with destructible terrain in space, Northstar or on the planets?

MC: We plan to go as far as a reasonable frame rate will take us.

SC: Will your – or any other – buildings be represented in combat? What terrain elements can we expect to see in the game?

MC: There will be buildings aplenty, other starships, streets, starports, offices and even the occasional military or bandit base. The Nstar world is very much about your characters doing business, chasing down clues and performing “innovative jobs” in all locations across known space. Along with that will go “rural” terrain like jungles, shorelines, deserts and a variety of airless/hostile environments.

SC: How big of a factor will things like surprise and setting up traps be?

MC: Getting the drop on your target at any moment is always useful.

SC: Are there also multi-level maps?

MC: If by that you mean maps with more than one floor if a building or starship, then yes.

SC: How much are you able to play as a pacifist, avoiding combat altogether?

MC: That is best done by being a responsible trader and avoiding the shadier deals and darker parts of The Scatter.

SC: I know this is far too early to be specific about the release, but I can’t go around this question… Could you please get as specific as possible about the progress and release date?

MC: Like any good game…when it’s done.

SC: Is asking about future expansions too early? I wouldn’t even ask, but you did say that expansions for Sword of the Stars were planned from the start…

MC: We always design around expansions and in the case of Nstar, expect to see a unique twist in the form of Adventure Packs.

Martin, thank you in the name of StrategyCore and all our readers.

Aaaaaaaahhhh, dear readers… We know. We want more as well. Sometimes I get the feeling that each question spurs another and each answer a whole bunch! Don’t think that these were the only questions we had. But these are the ones that were possible to be answered at this moment and StrategyCore will wait for new opportunities to bring you even more information on this upcoming game. Also you may get a feeling that some answers are just a bit ambiguous. I may not be a mind reader, but I am almost certain – that is not a coincidence. The possibilities they bring are bound to start debates and you are welcome to join them here at StrategyCore as well.

Do take a moment more and look at some of the first ever released in-game pictures of Northstar, a special treat that we are deeply thankful for, too!


Add Comment Comments

Space Voyager\
29 Jul 2016 - 5:46am
Space Voyager
Just mentioning; Kerberos deemed it worthwhile to remind us undying fans of Northstar on their Facebook page.
Space Voyager\
5 Aug 2014 - 7:30am
Space Voyager
Shit, this still reads like a dream game...
11 Feb 2013 - 4:48pm
Thanks for the update. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that it all works out for them in the end. Thanks.
Space Voyager\
11 Feb 2013 - 7:54am
Space Voyager
It hasn't been cancelled, but its future is not guaranteed. Because of SotS2' failed launch relations with Paradox are not exactly highest ever so Kerberos is testing viability of crowdsourcing. So far not very successfully. Right now SotS2 future updates (not counting expansions) and Northstar are both linked to how little projects like SotS: The Pit will be doing. At least this is what Kerberos is saying.

Glad to see that people still remember Northstar.
11 Feb 2013 - 4:55am
Bump. Any more news on this game? I was really looking forward to this one. Hope it hasn't been cancelled.
Space Voyager\
16 Apr 2011 - 12:06pm
Space Voyager
Sure it is the texture but IMO it represents actual map squares - the two NS crew members are standing just a "quarter square" apart. And the bad guys' footing squares overlap in half.

Love the questions.
16 Apr 2011 - 11:08am
No. Yes. Maybe :)

I think the 4 squares you're talking about are literally just floor tiles though - if you look further behind the action the floor covering is different, so pretty sure it's just a texture and the people are standing in the middle of squares there.

What would be interesting to know is that with the squares so big can people pass each other in combat? Do they have to occupy the same square to melee? Just a couple of things that popped into my head for a future interview.
Space Voyager\
15 Apr 2011 - 11:00am
Space Voyager
Just so that I wouldn't look all that necromantic - the first picture was reposted at Kerberos forums. And I don't know how I didn't notice this before (yeah, right, the real question is how I did notice it this time) but characters don't stand on a normal square. They stand on four of them. Which allows the "in-between" positions that is only possible with tanks in X-COM, otherwise you have the square movement map for people.

This is somewhat similar to hexagonal positioning, but you can run straight, he he he! Anyway, interesting. :)

Edit: Was I at least close to being clear?
16 Mar 2009 - 7:28am
2406 now which, trust me, really isn't bad for any strategy game interview we've done here.

You're right though, it won't have been a game too many folks will have heard of unless they travel in Strategy circles like we do :laugh:

As for not believing they can pull it off - well that's down to the general internet opinion of smaller developers. I guess too many things have "almost been" in the past. It's probably down to people not believing that small developers can possibly survive any more as well, which for a non-strategy game seems more likely to me however smaller developers have been putting out good strategy titles for a long time now.
Space Voyager\
16 Mar 2009 - 7:19am
Space Voyager
I am. I admit I expected more info demand (hey, it is internetS) but from the friendly sites that ran the news I saw that a lot of people never heard of the game. Nor do they have much trust that Kerberos can pull it off.

Which is surprising, considering the SotS franchise.
13 Mar 2009 - 8:23am
2,268 views of the interview by the way if you're interested SV :laugh:
12 Mar 2009 - 9:50pm

Space Voyager, on 11th March 2009, 4:19pm, said:

Sure and that is cool, but it still can't fight a star destroyer. It can run away though! Posted Image
This is Han Solo you're talking about. He didn't just outrun a Star Destroyer, he outran a whole fleet of them!
Space Voyager\
11 Mar 2009 - 8:19am
Space Voyager

Matri, on 10th March 2009, 11:30pm, said:

Well, you do realize that most if not all of Han's modifications are illegal, right? :laugh:
Sure and that is cool, but it still can't fight a star destroyer. It can run away though! Posted Image
10 Mar 2009 - 10:30pm

Pete, on 10th March 2009, 4:16pm, said:

And that would just throw the whole Han Solo feel out of the window.

Don't get me wrong, Han would have had fun flying around on an Imperial Star Destroyer, but it wouldn't have had the same feel somehow :D
Well, you do realize that most if not all of Han's modifications are illegal, right? :laugh:
10 Mar 2009 - 8:16am
And that would just throw the whole Han Solo feel out of the window.

Don't get me wrong, Han would have had fun flying around on an Imperial Star Destroyer, but it wouldn't have had the same feel somehow :laugh:
Space Voyager\
10 Mar 2009 - 7:29am
Space Voyager

Matri, on 9th March 2009, 1:31pm, said:

About the only problem I have with this game right now, is the inevitable limited upgradeness of your ship.
Well, you can't expect to turn a simple merchant into a battleship. This would definitely require a new ship. As far as I remember Martin said that the cost of a new starship is beyond the "reach" of this game.

Actually I like this. In all other games you just strive to get that even more bad arse ship and destroy all opposition even easier. And you can actually afford the ships without a big hassle... A few cargo runs and dead pirates and voilla a new starship.
9 Mar 2009 - 12:31pm
About the only problem I have with this game right now, is the inevitable limited upgradeness of your ship.
3 Mar 2009 - 9:17pm

Space Voyager, on 3rd March 2009, 8:46pm, said:

:laugh: I hope the server is crapping out because of the huge demand!

Nope, just generally crapping out unfortunately although steps are being taken to sort this out so folks can read the review uninterrupted :D

Space Voyager, on 3rd March 2009, 8:46pm, said:

Anybody ready for a speculation game? I think the screenshots tell a lot, in some ways more than Mecron is. Probably on purpose, too!

Indeed - game devs generally play their cards quite closely to their chests but a picture does tell a thousand words and in this case those words are telling me that this has the potential to be an awesome game (though from what I read in the interview that's almost a given).

Taking a machete to someone trying to board your ship? Yes please :D
Space Voyager\
3 Mar 2009 - 8:46pm
Space Voyager

Pete, on 3rd March 2009, 9:11pm, said:

I may have just wet my pants. Whether that's in anticipation of the game or this bleedin' server going down every 5 minutes at the moment, only time will tell.
:laugh: I hope the server is crapping out because of the huge demand!

Anybody ready for a speculation game? I think the screenshots tell a lot, in some ways more than Mecron is. Probably on purpose, too!

I'll have to take some time to dig deep, but if somebody found any "secret info" buried in the screens already, do tell. Speculations encouraged.
3 Mar 2009 - 8:11pm
I may have just wet my pants. Whether that's in anticipation of the game or this bleedin' server going down every 5 minutes at the moment, only time will tell.


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Game Card

Northstar Box
Developer: Kerberos Productions
Status:In Production