Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Las Vegas area dentist makes millions with high quality amateur porn website, and then invests said millions fulfilling his dream of making his own sci-fi epic MMO. Oh, you’ve never heard it before? Well, that’s the story with Space Wars: Interstellar Empires. It’s the story of Robert Simyar, the fortune he made in the internet pornography boom, and how it’s funding the dream game of his own machinations and its development with Desert Owl Games: the studio behind Pox Nora.
That should be the real story, here – Pox Nora devs making a new MMO based on a new IP, with the same level of tactical depth as Desert Owl’s primary IP. But it’s hard not to focus at least a little bit on Robert Simyar, the driving force behind Space Wars, its lore, its competitive design, and well most everything else. He’s a former dentist, and a girl he was dating in 2002 was into having her photo taken. Remember, this is a time that pre-dates the “Free Porn Boom” we’re currently experiencing. People paid loads of money via credit card subscriptions for services on Simyar’s site, and the result is that this dentist quickly became a millionaire as his business was entirely run by his lonesome.
But the money couldn’t keep coming forever, and eventually with the advent of free pornography sites, Robert saw the writing on the wall. He’d made his buck, enough to custom-wrap a Bugatti in Space Wars art, and was more than ready to spend his time on his nerdy game-playing pastime. Only instead of buying games and consuming them, this time Simyar wanted to build one. And the one he wanted to build was an idea inspired by table-top games of his youth, something he’d been longing to do for 20-plus years.
Like his adult entertainment website before, Robert’s Space Wars is an IP of his own design, but it bears a close resemblance to Starcraft in some ways, Star Trek in others. There are four factions, the Sol (humans), the Genari (think Klingon), the Ma’alaketh (Protoss in Starcraft) and the Hive (a biological entity, like the Zerg). You can read all about each HERE, but what you need to know is that each of them has dozens of ships of varying capabilities, and that you as the player will pilot one ship at a time, not an entire fleet.
You’ll pick your faction when you join a server, and head into war against the other three. The war lasts until one side has captured all the other home worlds, and Robert told us that he expects this to last around 3 months or so. When it’s over, winners take medals, honor, and some rewards with them into the next server they join. You’ll keep them all in your own personal shipyard, similar to a hangar in Mechwarrior by way of example, and be able to tweak them, and change their loadouts.
There’s a huge intergalactic map, with each faction holding its own collection of hex-based regions at the outset of a war. As time goes by, players (as few as 1v1 or as many as 20v20) will chip away at a faction’s region ownership and get ever closer to their base and home world. There are plans to eventually allow more than two factions to fight in any given battle, but for early access launch later this year that will not be possible. Only 1,000 people can join any faction on a server, so if one side is full you’ll have to join another. You can work together in groups, clans, or go solo working just for your own faction. You’ll be able to see what regions suit what size battles, and make your way to them to engage in a fight. Think of the map like a big representation of all the fights going on in a game like World of Tanks – except in on this map, you’re fighting to win the galaxy, not just the match.
Gameplay, once in battle, is a little heady but easy to grasp after a few turns. Like a lot of hex-based strategy games fights play out turn by turn. Each ship will have its own power pool to divert energy to weapons, force fields, sensors, and propulsion. A fast or agile ship can move incredibly far each turn with a high propulsion score, while a larger freighter might be less agile but have a stockpile of weapons or force fields. This can be tweaked a bit in-battle because of how you’re allowed to alter power consumption. There are line of sight obstacles such as planets, moons, anomalies like storms, nebulae and radiation to contend with too. The match I played was a simple 1v2 test fight, but I can imagine the 20v20 battles getting pretty intense, even with the game’s naturally slower pacing.
Each ship will level up too, allowing you to outfit her with bigger and better crew while spending a currency called LP to buy Skill Points aboard your ship. These are like big talent trees for your ship, so while don’t necessarily increase your attack or defense power directly, they allow your ship to do things in combat that will.
Space Wars: Interstellar Empires may be generic in its looks and even its name, but it’s hard to fault Robert’s passion for the game he wants to make, or Desert Owl’s obvious capability in building the thing. What they’ve put together on one man’s budget is impressive, and the idea of a never-ending wargame of four empires is enticing enough even if I’m not personally a fan of turn-based space warfare. I know plenty of people who are, and there are probably quite a few of you on this site who are already eager to play Space Wars. Look for more info on Rober Simyar’s dream game to come soon, and keep an eye on SpaceWars.com for updates on the beta and Early Access launch via Steam.