Old School Gamer Magazine chats with Trese Brothers Co-Founders Games Cory Trese and Andrew Trese, who give us the rundown of the newest addition to the Star Traders Universe, Frontiers. Built in the retro fashion, with a small deep and a focus on replayability and sheer gameplay depth, Frontiers is a reminder that amazing games are all about the memories they inspire, or the ones they are able to bring back.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was Star Traders: Frontiers born?
Cory: Star Traders: Frontiers was born in 2011 – the first time I got really excited about a user’s feature request for Star Traders RPG (but knew in my heart that it was far beyond the capabilities of the game engine I had built).
Andrew: Yeah – at that point, Star Traders RPG was already out and pretty exciting. We had a growing community of players around it – and they were hungry for more. There came a time where we realized what we wanted to create in the game was beyond the engine – and we started having to tell players, “We might do that in Star Traders 2.” And so, the kernel that is Star Traders: Frontiers was born!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What has development been like so far?
Cory: The development process for Star Traders: Frontiers has been a journey spanning both space and time for us. With a team of just two people, personal lives can have a major impact on schedule. In the time between the creation of the Kickstarter campaign and the release of the game, we’ve both made multiple state moves at least once. The development has been a battle at times: We’ve pushed ourselves and our abilities pretty hard – sometimes way outside the comfort zone we’d established on previous games.
Andrew: Coming back to build a new space-opera game has felt like a revival in many ways. We’ve recently built some amazing turn-based tactics RPGs (Heroes of Steel and Templar Battleforce). Star Traders: Frontiers is so different. It’s a big change going from on-the-ground AI routines to multi-year personal and political goal simulations!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What makes the game special?
Cory: The interplay between our narrative and procedurally-generated elements makes Star Traders: Frontiers especially replayable and pleasantly unpredictable. The narrative elements span more than a century of in-game time for the main character, and the procedurally generated AI-driven content is interwoven – changing the story as you play. The goal was to have a deep, complex narrative storyline with every playthrough being unique.
Andrew: It’s the same thing that made the original game special. There’s a deep backdrop with a lot going on – and the game gives you the space to create your own story, make real choices, and really find out what type of Captain you are.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What games influenced Star Traders: Frontiers the most?
Cory: The game that most inspired Star Traders: Frontiers is Star Traders RPG – the original mobile game that kicked off our development studio. If the Star Traders: Frontiers design has a spirit animal, it is Star Traders RPG. I’ve heard people compare parts of the game to Crusader Kings, The Bard’s Tale, Darkest Dungeon, Elite and Fading Suns. The universe we’ve built around the Star Traders and their allies (the Templars) is heavily inspired by Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, who both explored the same imagined situation: the decay and abandonment of a galactic empire. The stories we’ve told in the Star Traders universe have focused on the refugees and the galactic diaspora that immediately follows such a decay.
Andrew: You can definitely see the role our other games played when we were making Star Traders: Frontiers. You can visit the Cirm Quadrant in which Templar Battleforce takes place, and there will be exciting crossover stories coming out of that quadrant soon during Early Access. The basic premise of another title in the series – Star Traders 4X Empires – is that you are the leader who helps colonize and defend any of the quadrants after the Exodus, so those are the exact same quadrants you inhabit in Star Traders: Frontiers.
Old School Gamer Magazine: As an indie studio, what do you think you guys do differently than the big studios?
Cory: Well, we market our games a lot less than they do – or maybe we use less loot boxes? All kidding aside, there’s a great deal of fun to be had making video games at large or small studios. For better or worse, neither Andrew nor I have any experience making games at a big studios. We consider ourselves lucky to be able to engage with our fans on a personal level. I hope that’s what people who work at big studios do as well!
Andrew: We try to be always present and to be a real force of good in our communities. Our motto “We personally respond to every Steam thread” sounds nuts when you say it – and it’s even crazier when you actually do it. We’re a two-man army staffed by ‘manic’ brothers and fueled by the strength of our community. I do think we’re some of the hardest working indie devs you can find. Maybe I’m just drinking the Kool-Aid. It tastes delicious, by the way 🙂
Old School Gamer Magazine: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Cory: At various points in development, we both worked some pretty crazy hours to make our deadlines. We had to keep an eye out for code committed by the “night shift,” which was often buggy or missing quality checks.
Andrew: Star Traders: Frontiers is a continuation of a whole franchise of games in this world now – starting with Star Traders RPG, then Templar Assault, Star Traders 4X Empires, the overwhelmingly loved Templar Battleforce … and now Star Traders: Frontiers. When we started, we were flying a bit by the seat of our pants. As we worked to document, share and advance the history of the Star Traders universe, we were confronted by some amazing things we had written and shared in the first months of our studio’s launch. Those were early days – where Star Traders RPG was just a pet project that was free to play, and we had no idea what we could do with it. So we wrote some pretty wacky ideas late at night on our forum. A couple times, we’ve stumbled upon these things and have been blown away: “Did we really write that?! This is insane!” Then you check the time on the post: “Oh, okay … 4:32 a.m. I guess I can understand what I was … thinking?!” We had to cut some things to evolve the universe and story in the right direction.Star Traders: Frontiers is all about the major swings of history at a tumultuous time in the galaxy. We can’t wait to get the whole story out there as Early Access progresses.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Why do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics is important?
Cory: I think they’re fun! I loved playing games as a kid and still enjoy more traditional gameplay mechanics. Some don’t – and that’s okay. There are lots of people using new mechanics – and that’s great, too. We try to blend the old with the new to synthesize fun new takes on the genres we love. Whether it’s using RNG or making permadeath a prominent feature, we definitely don’t shy away from mechanics that some might consider “old school.”
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Cory: Hot seat rotating RPGs with my siblings (four of us – three brothers and a sister.) We’d all play Shining Force – but with only one console, we’d take turns and rotate every five rounds in the game or something. I remember getting Heroes’ Quest – a boxed RPG board game – when I was a kid and being so, so excited about it. I think that was the first tabletop RPG-type game that Andrew and I played – and we were hooked.
Andrew: Funny memory about our first night with Heroes’ Quest: We talked our dad into playing. (He’s not a gamer, so this was a big feat for six and eight year old boys.) He played all the way to the end of the first gargoyle quest. Then suddenly in a swoop of terrible RNG, his Elf character was killed. Cory and I were devastated: If he dies like this, he will never want to play again. On the spot, we made up rules – and he got a life-saving potion. We tried to play it off like it was all cool. Of course, he’s a professor, gardener, farmer – and he’s interested in so many other things. He was just humoring his young sons that one night. Healing potion or not, we never got him back to the table. Maybe there’s a lesson in there about why permadeath is so good.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How does Star Traders: Frontiers disrupt the video game landscape?
Andrew: For being a small studio 2D space-opera, Star Traders: Frontiers punches above its weight in depth and replayability. There are a lot of big studio 3D games that are in the same genre right now – but I believe that STF’s proc-gen, interwoven story and good gameplay over big graphics approach can win over a lot of players who are hungry for a really strong title in the genre. Of course, we’ve got a lot of work to do during Early Access to achieve those dreams. We’ve already dropped 10 big updates to improve the game, so we have great ambitions!
Old School Gamer Magazine: Who will enjoy this game the most?
Cory: People who like to build their own personal stories for characters will particularly enjoy Star Traders: Frontiers. The game gives players a great deal of freedom in terms of how they decide to survive and what type of crew they chose to surround themselves with. On the other hand, it may frustrate players who are looking for a linear, predictable RPG because it seamlessly mixes AI, narrative, and procedurally-generated content.
Andrew: I hope anyone who likes Dune, Firefly, Star Wars, or Star Trek would enjoy Star Traders: Frontiers. It’s exactly the kind of semi-mythical but non-magical hard sci-fi universe many people have fallen in love with.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How do you want the game to be remembered?
Andrew: I want players to remember the legends of their Captains: their lives, their infamy, their death. My proudest moments as a game developer are when we get an email from a fan who has played our games and found confidence in them, an escape for a time, or respite. Creating your own story, your own character, history, and making all these choices is a reaffirming experience. I want people to create their own stories and remember them for the rest of their lives.
Cory: I’d like Star Traders: Frontiers to be remembered for our fanatical support, interaction with fans, and the stories it let us all tell as a group.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What are your goals for Star Traders: Frontiers?
Andrew: Our major goal is to advance the Star Traders universe. With the fifth title in the series, we’re making some very purposeful moves to evolve the lore over time. Our Captains will get to watch it happen. They can get involved if they chose to (on either side). For example, you can sell your blade to one of the Zendu Arbiters who’s leading the unionist political movement to bring all the quadrants under a single central government. I won’t say much more, but Star Traders: Frontiers is going to help set the stage for our next title in the franchise.
Cory: I really hope that Star Traders: Frontiers is a worthy sequel and a memorable game. I hope players who love the game remember it – and I hope that it transports people into a world they want to return to.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s next?
Andrew: We listen to our fans a lot – from feature requests and bug reports to more general suggestions. The community has been talking our ear off about a sequel to Cyber Knights, our cyberpunk team tactics game. As our second oldest game, it has one of the most loyal followings. We’re actively talking about tackling that project as our “next up.”
Cory: Updates, patches, bug fixes – and lots and lots of fun!
Old School Gamer Magazine: Anything else you’d like to add?
Andrew: That we strive to be around 24/7 on our Discord, forum and Steam boards – so stop by and say “hi”!
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the author of the upcoming book, “The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Video Game Developers,” from McFarland And Company. Featuring interviews with the creators of 36 popular video games–including Deus Ex, NHLPA 93, Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Wasteland and NBA Jam–the book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some of the most influential and iconic (and sometimes forgotten) games of all time. Recounting endless hours of painstaking development, the challenges of working with mega publishers and the uncertainties of public reception, the interviewees reveal the creative processes that produced some of gaming’s classic titles.
Nicely done interview with two of the best designers out there. Their games are labors of love as examples of old-school game design and a powerful demonstration that immersive and repeatable play doesn’t require all the bells and whistles of a Skyrim (though I love that game, too). I can’t wait to play this. I thought you had a terrific choice of interview questions.
I want to chime in on ‘hardest working indie devs’.
This is by far true. With this being the fifth game in the series, there are at least 3 other games that they still update. That’s 8 games for 2 people, and they actively update ALL 8 almost weekly, not letting their original projects sit idle and fall apart.