Available: Now
Developer: Firefly Studios
Publisher: Gathering

Interview by: James Kinnear

Space Colony is a management game with a difference. With this game you have to look after 20 colonists as they settle down to life in space. Build their base, see to their needs, keep them happy, and defend them from alien attacks - Space Colony is much more than your average life sim! I got the chance to talk to Paul Harris from Firefly Studios in order to find out more about the game.

Hi there. First of all, please introduce yourself and describe your role in the game's development.

Hello. My name is Paul Harris and I’m the Associate Producer at Firefly Studios, developer of Stronghold, Stronghold Crusader and of course Space Colony. Amongst other things I am in charge of making sure the game goes out on schedule, helping with marketing, coordinating localisation and doing the occasional interview.

How would you sum up your game to those who are unfamiliar with the title?

Try to imagine a Caesar III type builder game set in space with a bit of the Sims thrown in and you’ll be on the right track. What makes Space Colony unique is that unlike most builder games of this type Space Colony’s characters aren’t faceless nameless drones who will do whatever you say, they are real characters with real personalities and the only way to succeed is to manage these personalities as effectively as you can.

Your last project was the successful Stronghold series. How different was this venture?

In terms of setting, Stronghold and Space Colony couldn’t be more different, Stronghold is set in mediaeval England and Space Colony is set in space in the year 2153. Design-wise though we are still partly in the same territory we were in with Stronghold as Space Colony still relies on resource chains, base defences and a global view of the community to succeed. Space Colony also uses an updated version of the Stronghold engine. The additions of dynamic lighting and colour shifts were needed to create the more atmospheric and foreboding landscapes we required this time round.

So when did you come up with the idea of creating a game where players set up a community in space?

After Stronghold we wanted to try something different and the initial idea for Space Colony was to create a more orthodox city builder in space. However while we were researching the idea we noticed that a lot of the reference material we looked at (Aliens, Star Trek, etc) was based around the idea of limited numbers of people in very cramped and stressful environments. In these environments personal interactions were always a key feature and the ability for different personalities to gel as a team was essential for their survival. We decided to take this intriguing concept and create Space Colony.

There are over 20 colonists in the game, each with their own unique personalities. Do any of the characters resemble members of the development team?

Thankfully no! We’ve got a few crazy guys in the office but the last time I checked we definitely didn’t have any Norwegian Hell’s Angels bikers or foulmouthed middle aged Texan alcoholics. The only colonist I could imagine hiring would be Venus Jones, the heroine of the game. Venus is hard working, rarely unhappy and mentally stable. Maybe she could work in QA...it would make a nice change! Only joking fellas!

There are also lots of different aliens in the game, which I'm sure aren't based on the team! Which is your favourite alien creature from Space Colony?

There are 24 different aliens in Space Colony and most of them are intent on disrupting your beautifully planned base. These range from harmless pets called Oomas to small little furry rodents which carry a nasty surprise to the alien race known as the Orox who are intent on enslaving the human race! I think my favourites though are the Fribulans. When you are not competing against them the Fribulans like nothing more than going on holiday to human holiday resorts and causing as much mayhem as they can!

Space Colony has been described as "The Sims in space". How do you feel about this judgement?

We knew that this comparison was inevitable because both games involve managing peoples’ relationships but personally I feel that Space Colony is much more of a game than The Sims is. The Sims is a life simulator whereas Space Colony is a mission based building game involving resource management, problem solving and military warfare. In Space colony you are not trying to keep your colonists happy just for the sake of keeping them happy. The people sim side of the game directly affects the builder side of the game. By keeping your colonists happy they will work harder and more efficiently, allowing you to earn more credits and enabling you to build more buildings which will in turn help keep your colonists happy.

Can you tell readers about the kind of items and objects that players can add to the base to keep the colonists happy?

As colonists all have different personalities, they also have different likes and dislikes. As a result there is a whole range of items available to the player that will help keep the colonists happy. Everyone needs to eat, sleep and wash so it is necessary to place mess halls, beds and showers. To spice the base up a bit there loads of entertainment options including zero gravity playrooms for the thrill seeking colonists, high-class restaurants and bars for the more discerning colonists and even virtual boxing rings for the more aggressive colonists. For the more serious states of depression therapy is naturally available and if life in the space colony is sending the colonists mad then there is always the option to send them to the funny farm!

So what are the benefits of living in space, compared to life back here on Earth?

That’s a difficult one as I’ve never been there myself!

What does the future hold for Space Colony? Do you have any plans to release expansion packs or add-on material for the game?

At the moment it is very much a case of wait and see. If the game sells well and the fans want an expansion pack then we will certainly consider it.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

As a company we are very interested in getting feedback from the fans and we check the Gathering forums (www.gathering.com/forums) everyday so if anyone has got any ideas or questions that they want to put to us then head over to the forums and we’ll see you there.

I guess it would also be useful to know when it’s out. Space Colony has just been released in the UK and Europe and it comes out on 14th October 2003 in the United States. There is also a 3 level playable demo available.

Thanks very much for taking part in this interview Paul.