Mothership Entertainment’s space-based settlement builder, Aven Colony, is out today. Seeking a little bit more information about the game, we sent some questions for Mothership’s Paul Tozour to answer. Read on to see what Tozour had to say about modding possibilities, what’s next for Aven Colony, and the love of new frontiers that inspired the game’s design.
PC Invasion: For anyone reading this who doesn’t really know what Aven Colony is about, could you give a short overview of the game?
Paul Tozour: Aven Colony is a sci-fi city builder that tells the story of humanity’s first colonization of a world outside the solar system. You play the role of a skilled colony governor helping the Aven Expedition survive on the world of Aven Prime, a moon around an alien gas giant planet 10 light years from earth, 500 years in the future.
There’s a fully fledged campaign mode where you must protect your colony from everything the planet has to throw at them, and shape the future of the survival of the human race.
There’s even an immersive sandbox mode which features a full suite of options to customize the game experience as you see fit.
PCI: Who are Mothership Entertainment, and have you guys always harbored a desire to make a strategy game of this kind?
PT: Mothership Entertainment has been in stealth mode for a very long time, we kept Aven Colony under wraps for 3 full years before unveiling to the world for the first time in late September of 2016.
We’re based in Austin, Texas and our team is currently very tiny. City-builders usually have teams of 15-50 developers, but we’re just 4: me, Sasha Nodia, Neil Griffiths, and Russell Chamier. Most of us are industry veterans with at least a decade of experience; between us, we’ve worked on games like Metroid Prime 2 and 3, Fable 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and lots of others.
PCI: You’ve had a few comparisons with SimCity, but having played the review build of Aven Colony it feels closer to a more tightly focused builder like Tropico (particularly the elections/policy aspects); was that series an influence or am I way off there?
PT: Yes, we were influenced by both, as well as many others.
Tropico has an excellent core gameplay loop, and it’s always had one of the richest morale simulations in the city-builder / management sim genre. With Aven Colony, we wanted to design a morale system with more transparency than most management sims — to make sure the player always has the ability to understand why the citizens are unhappy, and what to do about it, and has the ability to view morale on many different levels, including aggregate, individual, and charts that show values over time.
PCI: The genre has had its fallow periods, but always seems to bounce back. What do you think the main features are of city/settlement building games that keep pulling people in?
PT: I think that fundamentally, it’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to build something. That’s a big part of why a game like MineCraft is fun — there’s a deep-seated, innate human love of seeing a great green frontier, and a subconscious need to build something there.
I personally feel that feeling very strongly. I have an odd habit of starting games of Civilization over and over again, pushing back the fog of war and revealing gorgeous new continents and sprawling frontiers, and building cities and road networks.
PT: I find that beautiful, and I tend to be very optimistic — “anti-cynical,” if you will — about human civilization.
So, for me, that’s a huge part of why I created Aven Colony. Earth doesn’t have many frontiers left. I want others to share that feeling, of the great open frontier … and more importantly, what a beautiful thing it is for humanity to spread over the surface of a wild new landscape and build something new there.
PCI: You ran a beta period for Aven Colony on itch.io; were there any discoveries during that time that resulted in significant changes to the game?
PT: There were lots of little tweaks throughout the focus group testing in early 2016, the private beta testing in mid-2016, and the itch.io beta in late 2016 and early 2017.
Probably the biggest single change was that the initial design for the single-player campaign missions wouldn’t let you keep playing after you’d won. But by popular demand, we ultimately changed that and added an option to let you keep playing from that point and claim victory later.
PCI: What changes do the higher difficulty levels bring? Do they do things like lower crop yields, or is it more subtle than that?
PT: Higher difficulty settings influence the level of starting resources for a colony, the amount of additional resources in cargo pods and mineral deposits, how quickly your colonists will grow unhappy, and the frequency and severity of environmental challenges.
PCI: I’ve encountered a few environmental hazards already (lightning storms, Dune-like sand worms); what other destructive forces are players going to have to deal with?
PT: The world of Aven Prime includes occasional toxic gas emissions from geothermal events, large hail storms (“shard storms”) that can damage the colony, frequent lightning strikes during the “winter” season, creep spores that can glom onto your buildings and spread from one building to the next, plague spores that can enter your colony and infect your citizens, and robotic Hover Guardians that can shred your colony with a giant laser.
PT: There are also giant sandworms in all of the desert maps that can spew acid on your colony from time to time, as well as distant cousins, the “water worms,” that appear in most of the wetlands maps.
It’s important to keep in mind that these aren’t really “disasters.” Most of them won’t destroy your colony; they just nudge you and keep you on your toes.
PCI: One of the aspects that’s contributed to the great longevity of Cities: Skylines is the modding framework. Long term, is there any chance of Aven Colony being mod friendly?
PT: We absolutely see the value in it, and I’ve modded games in the past, so it’s something we would like to make happen if we can. Right now, we’re using middleware that would prevent any sort of modding tools from being installed on end-users’ systems. In the long run, we’re not ruling anything out entirely, and we may drop that middleware later this year if we can do so.
PCI: Aven Colony is coming to consoles as well as the PC. The current UI clearly has mouse and keyboard in mind (which is great!), but will there be any options for the Steam controller/PC gamepads in future?
PT: Right now, the PC interface lends itself to mouse and keyboard much more than a controller. To support a controller, we’d need to adopt a radial menu similar to what Aven Colony has on console. Right now, that seems unlikely, but I don’t want to rule anything out entirely later on down the road.
PCI: If Aven Colony does well enough, do you have plans to expand the game with more buildings or scenarios? And, if so, would those be free additions or larger, paid DLCs?
PT: We’re not working on any other games right now. Our goal is to support Aven Colony as much as we can for as long as we can, and we’re hard at work on additional content right now.
We can’t go into specifics just yet but we’ll definitely share more with the community when the time comes!