Back at Macworld in January, I met up with Lee Dotson of Zarksoft to check out their first iOS game Empire of the Eclipse. Zarksoft is comprised of 3 core members with a wealth of experience in the gaming industry, and Empire of the Eclipse is an ambitious undertaking for their first project. It’s a massively multiplayer online strategy game that’s really unlike anything available on the App Store thus far. At the time Lee wasn’t quite ready to show off Empire of the Eclipse on video, and due to the sheer scope and complexity of the game it would be difficult to really get a sense of it with just words and screenshots alone.

Last Friday at GDC, I met up with Zarksoft again to see how the development of Empire of the Eclipse has come along in the weeks since Macworld. The game is showing a lot of promise, and although it’s not really the type of game that appeals to a wide audience it should serve a niche group of gamers quite well with what it has to offer. Each game takes place in an entire galaxy, the size of which is determined by the amount of players which can be 1000+ per game. That galaxy is the broken down into sectors, and even further into solar systems comprised of multiple planets.

During play you’ll be able to harvest resources and build several types of ships to amass an armada that is able to take control of solar systems, sectors, and eventually the galaxy. Of course there are many other players all trying to do the same thing, and tensions are sure to rise as you begin to encroach on each others’ territories. There’s a very deep combat and skill system in the game, and support for real time chat and an email-style player messaging system should you want to negotiate a collaboration with other players (at least temporarily) to facilitate your galaxy domination.

What I think really impresses me about Empire of the Eclipse is that for such a complex game Zarksoft has crafted a really friendly UI. Almost anything can be accessed from a top menu bar, and there’s several different ways to access and view the information pertaining to your game at any time. What could easily be a mess of menu screens and cumbersome solar system navigation has been streamlined and made intuitive, and a nice tutorial will ease players into the many facets of Empire of the Eclipse. You can see a bit of this in the brief introduction video that I shot at GDC, which really only scratches the surface of the game:

One interesting aspect to Empire of the Eclipse is that each game is finite and should take approximately 2 months to complete, rather than being an ongoing persistent game. You’ll be able to have multiple games going at once, each with a clearcut winner at the end. The gameplay is also geared towards mobile play, so you can pop in and play for a few minutes at a time without having to constantly babysit what’s going on. Also, unlike many MMO games on iOS that take a freemium approach and require a steep monetary commitment to be able to make any sort of meaningful progress, Empire of the Eclipse will launch for free as a complete game and utilize Apple’s recently introduced subscription service. It will cost $1.99 per month to play and can be cancelled at any time.

There’s definitely a lot of great ideas in Empire of the Eclipse, and it will be interesting to see how they all work out when the full version launches. Zarksoft is in the beta testing stage and is hoping to have the game out by the end of March, and we’ll take another look at the game when it launches.

  • Wisedude

    Interesting only other 4x game I can think of is ascendancy which is a great game let down by a bad GUI if this can pull of similar game play with a better interface it's already sold me.

    Beating Ascendancy in everything but interface is one heck of a task though.

  • Andre Kornelius

    MMO strategy is epic fail (((

  • Chaosz

    As much as I love the concept of this, there is just no way I'm going to pay a monthly subscription for a "portable game". Other than that it looks awsome.

    • Leedot

      So out of genuine curiosity, what would be a preferable pricing structure for a game like this in your opinion? We've spent a lot of time discussing this internally and the main problem is that large scale multiplayer games require a server infrastructure and those cost money plain and simple. We wanted to avoid going with a freemium model because honestly it sucks to get trashed in a game just because someone else was willing to pay more $50 and honestly, most of the games we've played of that type really make the game a chore to play unless you're paying money.

      There's also making the game add supported, or we could simply charge more for the game upfront but those options have their drawbacks as well so really it's a matter of finding the method that appeals to the largest group of people because no matter what we do we'll turn off someone.

      Anyhow, any feed back is appreciated.

      • Anonymous

        $2 a month is nothing, IMO. I spend more than that on throwaway apps and games every month anyway. The way I see it is, if this game keeps me occupied and entertained to the point where I don't even feel the need to buy a bunch of games, then it'll be worth it. I am really looking forward to its release...

        The worst thing that could happen with this game is to have a shoddy release, by either having the servers be overwhelmed or just a buggy app. If something bad happens, user experience wise, in the very beginning of release that would probably have the worst impact as far as number of subscribers go.

      • yshaar

        I agree with Subshell! Way better than Freemium. I don't know if a 5 $ Concept to buy the app works out for sustained server maintanance.

  • Reezor

    From the screenshots I was thinking something along the lines of Escape Velocity Nova. Then I read the article... not really my kinda space game. I'm more of a single ship kinda space RPG guy. One where you build them up with cool parts and stuff. Controlling an armada kinda loses something. Anyways looks good. You'll make space strategists happy campers.

  • Anonymous

    I was just thinking the other day how I'd love to have Master of Orion on the iPad. Too bad this is an MMO otherwise I'd be interested.

  • Frumius

    Jared, just a grammatical point: When you wrote, "That galaxy is the broken down into sectors, and even further into solar systems comprised of multiple planets," you were using "comprise" incorrectly. It should read, " systems comprising multiple planets." In your sentence you used "comprised of" when I believe you meant "composed of." Nothing is ever "comprised of" anything, but that same thing may very well comprise other things, and it can also be composed of other things.

    General rule to remember, the whole comprises the parts.

    You can think of it as "consists of," and as my Mac's built-in dictionary says by example, "the country comprises twenty states."

    • Noah

      What in the...

    • Aaron Muszalski

      Dude. That guy. Don't be him.

  • TigerXtreme69

    "It will cost $1.99 per month..." aaand I've lost interest.

  • Awesome

    fail subsciption, and price of it

  • Anonymous

    I think this could be interesting. As long as the gameplay is solid I'd have no problem paying a measly $2 a month. The only thing that would bother me is if the people who play eight hours a day have a significant advantage over those who play casually.

    • Leedot

      The pace of the game is pretty measured so while someone could be in game playing for eight hours a day they're not really going to gain a lot since there's no active way to speed up the rate at which technologies are researched / ships are built, etc.

      We've also tried to keep the game pretty open to casual players by having the ability to que ships to build over time, research lists, and even setting up automated trade routes so it's pretty easy to have your empire progress and running smoothly even if you're not there to babysit it every minute of the day.

      It's probably also worth mentioning that the game's planetary defensive options have been balanced so that it's not hard to setup a good base defense that will fend off 'grunt rushes' so loosing a planet that you're spent time building up will definitely take a concerted effort on the other players part.

      Lastly we do a lot of stat tracking of how much time people spend playing the game / their rankings, etc.. so as time progresses we'll start filtering players according to that as well so all the hardcore folks can play together without stomping all over the more casual players as well.

      • ENDWARO7

        Hey so the game is going to be like EVE online? If it is i have no problem. I love EVE its awesome. Still from what you said it sounds a bit like EVE with the research things taking a default time to be done. Sounds great!!!

      • Leedot

        It's like EVE in the sense that it's a sandbox type of game play experience where player interactions are the focus of the game but obviously in EVE you're controlling a single ship as opposed to fleets of ships, etc. Also, yes, the time based skill system is very similar to EVE.

      • Noah

        Will the game have a free "trial" so to speak so we can get a general feel of the game?

      • Leedot

        The main problem with having a free trial of sorts is that the game is run entirely server side so there's not really a good way to let people try the game for free without potentially racking up a ton of bandwidth costs and it generally makes it much harder to scale our server infrastructure to keep pace with people playing the game.

        As subshell said above one of the worst things that could happen to us is to have the servers overrun at launch leaving everyone with the impression that we shipped a poor quality game.

        Part of the reason we decided to go with a $1.99 a month as opposed to making it a single higher priced purchase is so that it's easy for people to try it out and if they don't like it that's all they ever need to pay. With a sub model the impetus is on us to make sure that our players feel like they're getting their money's worth every month.

  • Big Drahma

    I wish the subscription was more so that fewer trolls play. Hopefully it's a nerdy enough niche that we'll get less of the namecalling and "full surrender or nothing" alliance terms, and more actual thought.

  • Solenoid

    Since there is a dev around, I'd appreciate knowing something: Does this at all harken to probably my favorite multiplayer space strat game, Pax Imperia (1, not 2)?

    • Leedot

      I never played Pax Imperia so I can't really say for sure. I just went and read a review of it on Gamespot and it sounds like there's a big focus on designing blue prints for custom ships types and individually managing each combat where as Empire focuses more on large scale strategic decisions.

      • Solenoid

        Pax Imperia had everything from custom race design (reproduction values, atmosphere it could survive in etc), research which led to ship design, some fairly simple planetary buildings (if I remember you could plop cities or mines and some other stuff down on each planet). Things like engines and weapons you could use sliders to change x vs. y graphs (i think you could even do curves). Diplomacy, etc etc. It was almost silly the amount of micro to macro, when you sent your fleets around to capture planets and solar systems. Unfortunately, I cant find a way to actually play the game that works, but I do remember me and 3 friends playing the turn-based multiplayer over weekends (it also had i think up to 16player network multiplayer at the time for either real-time or turn mode).

        Im looking forward to this, I love the concept of "weekend long" (or in this case, 2 month long) games with definitive victory.

        Are there going to be any kind of ladders or skill separation? And I'll make an impassioned plea of hoping there is no call of duty-esqe system of rewards. I personally deplore the system of making people who have played more and might already be better have yet another edge on someone just starting - makes it no fun to get the game 3 months in and start multiplayer. (thats just me though)

      • Maury Markowitz

        HI Solenoid, I came across this post just now (here's to hoping you have notifications turned on). I'm actually playing Pax 1 in the window behind this one. I'm running it in Basilisk II, an emulator. Took me maybe 15 minutes to set up, and runs great!

  • Mwhite67

    I'd rather pay more upfront than have a subscription.

  • Daivos

    Sign me up. I played Outer Empires for quite a while and paid a subscription. It was basically my focus for 5-6 months. This looks better. And I love the idea of finite games.

  • iTouchAppReviewers

    Yea, I really don't like the idea of 1.99 monthly subscription. As a matter of fact, I hate any type of subscription to a game. I think you should make it a one time fee. If worse comes to worse I guess I might pay 1.99 once, but I wouldnt count on it more than once. I dont think subscription in the appstore generate a lot of business.

  • Christiseattle

    The biggest problem I see isn't so much the subscription, but the MMO part. Warning: possibly baseless assumptions ahead.

    It seems to me the people who would play this most likely would be using a Touch. It doesn't strike me as a pick up and play for a few minutes on the phone while on the train type game-and 3G/Wifi is notorius for draining battery life-not something I want my phone to do if I'm at work.

    Since there is no 3G for the Touches, that means relying on wifi. In my particular case, there is no wifi close by. I can use my Droid as a hotspot I suppose, but again it comes back to battery life.

    Thw game appeals to me and I wish the devs a lot of luck with it, but because of the connectivity issues I think I'm going to pass for now.

    • Leedot

      Everybody has different way that they like to approach games so I can't really say if you'd want to play something like Empire on the train but in terms of battery life Empire is actually pretty economical. During GDC I was constantly demoing the game on my iphone 4 and the battery still managed to make it through a full day.

      • Christiseattle

        Fair enough, I'll at least give it a try when it comes out.

      • Leedot

        Awesome, glad to hear it. 🙂

  • Trom

    Is there any possibility of a cross platform release of the game, ie for iOS and Android phones?

    • Trom

      I am definitely interested in this game (from what I am seeing it looks similar to games like galactic civilizations except MMO which is interesting). I am curious about different races that you could play as (hopefully there is a number of them with differing attributes or even the ability to customize your own race). I will be watching for upcoming details about this game in the coming weeks 🙂

      • Leedot

        The game runs entirely on the server side so making a new client that runs on Android or any other platform is definitely possible and something we'd like to do but at the moment we're focusing on just the iOS.

        As for different races that's another area that we plan to expand upon as the game evolves / grows since our vision for creating new races involves them being dramatically different from one another and not small adjustments to stat bonuses.

        I will say though that even with one race our current research trees should provide a lot of room to explore different approaches to playing the game.

      • Trom

        I will definitely give this game a try when it is released. Also I am wondering how newcomers would be incorporated to a game that is already several weeks underway. Do you plan on locking new people out after a certain period of time has passed and get them to join a newer game? Also how often do you think you would be starting new games? I suppose it mostly depends on the number of people you have joining.

      • Leedot

        Basically how it works is you sign up to join a server and that server waits until it either becomes full or a fixed amount of time passes. Once that happens a universe is created to match the number of players in the game and the game begins. New servers are created automatically as soon as games begin and end so you will always have a server you can log into and you can have multiple games running on different servers if you so desire.

  • James J

    I'm fine with the cheap monthly subscription. I'd much rather have this than the freemium model. If you need some testing aid or free image editing done, hit me up because I am stoked for this game!

  • Andre Kornelius

    I am sure that this game is doomed to failure. Not all owners of i-devices can connect to 3G or Wi-Fi. Those who have such an opportunity as not all are fans of 4X strategy. The game would have been a first-class single-player turn-based strategy such as Master of Orion. But not MMO indeed. So, I think that the MMO strategy is an Epic Fail.

    • Guest

      That hasn't stopped any other mmo so I doubt it will stop this one

      • Andre Kornelius

        Among the other MMO there are not many games with such a subject, those that were turned down long ago, as well as many other online - strategies based on i-devices. And games like Master of Orion IMHO should only be turn-based.

    • Leedot

      The game also runs on Edge but I don't think that's really the main issue for you.

      We would have loved to have also made a full single player component for players without online access but the core problem is that in order to maintain a secure multiplayer environment the game has to run entirely on the server side. Unfortunately once you put all the game logic / maps / etc. on the client side it becomes much, much easier to hack and that would ruin the multiplayer aspect of the game.

      As for our decision to focus on multiplayer that's mostly because it's what we as gamer's enjoy playing and the main reason we decided to make an independent start up was/is to make the kind of games that we're passionate about playing. For us playing with others is like playing against the best AI possible and ultimately gives the game more long term replayability because players strategies for playing the game will change over time.

      • Andre Kornelius

        I have ipod touch for example, the closest point Wi-fi at McDonald's, a mile from home. I'm afraid that your project is awaiting the fate of similar games. Why initially it was impossible to make soundly 4x game with three difficulty levels, a good story, different races to choose from, with a universal screen resolution? In Master of Orion or Imperium Galactica there is no multiplayer, yet they are the legends of the genre

  • Guest

    $2 a MONTH for a game that you enjoy is not much at all if you dont like the game after the first month then bam your only $2 down and leave it forever thats it

  • Guest

    One thing i would like to ask the dev is is it possible to leave the game for awhile and come back and have your planets taken and if so would you have to restart or reclaim territory

    • Leedot

      Yes, it is possible to have someone take one of your planets taken while you're not online. That said there are a number of factors to consider -

      [1] The game is balanced so that you can definitely setup solid defenses for much less than the cost of offensive options that could defeat those defenses.

      [2] Making friends to watch your back never hurts. (well at least until they stab you in the back but uneasy alliances is sort of what the game is about.)

      [3] The game uses fog of war so people have to find you first and even then there are technology options for being able to cloak your ships / orbitals / and on the high end of the science tree there's an ability to collapse stars down to blackholes making it impossible for anyone who hasn't also invested heavily in science to enter those systems.

      So, you've got options. 🙂

      As for restarting / reclaiming territory it depends on what planet you lost. If it's a normal planet you can always reclaim it. If it's your homeworld all of your other planets are temporarily 'frozen' and have 24 hours to retake your homeworld with whatever ships you have already built and with whatever help you can gather from your allies. If you fail to do that then you're out of the game and whoever took your homeworld gets all of your planets.

      The one exception to this is if you've already taken someone else's homeworld in which case it's just like losing any other planet since you still have a homeworld even if it wasn't your original homeworld.

      It's also worth mentioning that homeworld have much, much better defenses by default so no one's going to be taking it from you even if you haven't defended it at all without coming in with some capital class ships which take about 3 hours to build a piece for the lowest class one and that's only after acquiring the tech to build them.

      Ok, that was probably way more information than you wanted but hey, I like to be thorough. 🙂

      • Guest

        it wasnt to much info it was very helpful to help understand what to expect, and thank you for your response looking forward to playing it

  • Pixelgit

    Some of the comments here are hilarious. Especially the guy that thinks it will fail because he can't get a wifi signal unless he's near McDonalds, so thinks the majority of others are in the same boat as him. Quick lets all run to McD's and have a wifi + cheeseburger party.

    I am looking forward to this game, and $2 (which would be what, £1.19 for UK?) is sod all to pay. Even if you're a peasant on the dole or a piss poor student, a quid a month is a drop in the ocean. And if you're struggling to find that, a £1.19 subscription is the LEAST of your worries.

    Unfortunately i've missed the boat on the beta. So the wait will be that little bit more strenuous!

  • Enfield

    I AM A HUGE FAN of games like this. for example, ascendancy really got me hooked. and i will say this. i dont mind MMO. in fact, they can be very fun if u know wuts up. i would say the most succesful MMO on the appstore are : WAR 2 Victory, World war etc. an those games, if they had subscription fees, no one will play. i can assure u, having subscription fee is not a good idea. one time fee is alot more attractive to most, and it is already a MMO. MMOs on iOS can be good but also disasturous. and 4x games, the point of it is personal stategy, meaning a single player component will be crucial. it should have the same bases as mp, but not in real time, and more like turn based on the players discretion. then, having that extra mp, which i assume is real time would be a lot better. make it a game that u can play on the go, even for wifi players, but also massively diplomacy related with other players. there is a similar game being made called Starbase Orion. its pretty much a port od MoO2. but looks alot better. has both sp and mp.
    anyway, summing it up, i already see many who ask for this, and so so i: no subscription fee( if average games r 2 mnths long, and u will proba play for a long time, and im also assuming u can buy ingame bonuses using real money, 1.99 a month is gonna stack up).
    SP is REQUIRED FOR SUCCESS, with massive customization, such as ships and race.