Making Of: How The Box Art Came Together

Now that we’re 99% complete with the game (Yes, any day now!) it’s time to start finalizing the art and marketing assets.  I’ve been banging my head on the desk for a week trying to figure out what would pop off the page on the store and let people know at a glance that Apollo4X is a space game with dragons in it.

I like to browse around in Google image search, hoping to stumble on some inspiration.  Here’s what I found:

Ah, this has been on many a D&D nerd's coffee table.  We can work with this.  We've got space dragons, right?  Make that planet Apollo and we're golden!

Ah, this has been on many a D&D nerd’s coffee table. We can work with this. We’ve got space dragons, right? Make that planet Apollo and we’re golden!

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2005 War of the Worlds poster. I thought it would be a nice wink and nod to Sci-Fi fans if I took that cool dragon claw and gave it a planet to squeeze.


Concept sketch #1.  I showed Noelle the picture with the dragon claw holding a crystal ball and we discussed how that might inspire some artwork.


Concept sketch #2 – That’s more the look I want… space dragon claws grasping for Apollo. Less of “possession” and more tension building “mid-strike”. Let’s roll with that.

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Colored in. Looks like it’ll compose well. Noelle freehands all this stuff on her Wacom tablet.  Also, she’s FAST, so I had all this within an hour.  The background was inspired by a NASA photo, but I think the actual photo is just too beautiful to not use it.


Photo is swapped in. Drop shadow under the title. Shadowed the planet’s edge to pop it out some. I’m still not in love with our freighters though. Might have to resort to drastic measures there. Also, there’s so much blue/orange going on that the title gets lost in it. Have to ponder how to fix that.


Zach gave me the right idea — Time to get out Maya. I loaded up our in-game assets for the ships and rendered one a few times until I got the angle right. The planet, similarly is the real Apollo asset from the game. I ran some oil paint filters on them so they mesh well with Noelle’s artwork on the hand. I think that came together pretty nicely.


Desktop wallpaper: 1920×1080 without title.


Desktop Wallpaper 1920×1080 with Apollo4X title.

The two images above are 1080p desktop wallpaper.  Enjoy.

Thanks to Noelle Hebert for her art talents, and Zach Helms for his sound advice.

We’re ALMOST Ready To Ship It!

Warning: There are piles of cute puppies flying in an airplane at the bottom of this news update.

We’re SO CLOSE to being done with the game!!!

To-Do List:
1. We’re implementing on-screen logging of combat values.  Scrolling text box style, so you can tell exactly what just happened in combat and why.
2. Beat the game up for a few days and make sure there’s nothing that makes it crash.
3. Send out newsletter and emails to Alpha testers to download the new v0.3 which is actually more like release candidate 1, yay!
4. Ship v0.3 to early access customers over at – we have already begun this process, actually. Takes a couple days to make it happen.
5. Test test test and tweak the knobs a little bit until it’s just right.
6. SHIP IT!!!!
7. 10% of profits from game sales go direct to dog transport and rescue services, saving dogs and getting them to homes that love them.
More about puppies after this…


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Let me tell you why…
If we don’t get greenlit, we’re going to release the game on GamersGate,, maybe Desura, couple other places.  However, we know for a concrete fact, from talking to other devs who are on Steam that about 85% of their sales comes from there.  So, this tells us that if we get on Steam, we’re going to not only continue to support this game, we’re going to make ANOTHER game.   I can’t tell you what it is, but I can tell you this much… it will be plenty weird, and probably teach people something along the way.  We have lofty goals.

BONUS PLAN:  When you vote for us, make SURE you put a comment in the list.
I’m going to celebrate getting this over with by liberally sprinkling goodies on the names I see in the comment list.  That’s a promise.

Now, I promised you some puppies.  I’m a man of my word.  Brace yourself, this is a lot of puppies.
We’re going to donate the profit we make to dog rescue operations.  We’re pretty heavily involved in this, and have been for years.  So, we’ll buy gas for the plane, sponsor the local no-kill shelters, and help the dogs get transitioned from places where they do have kill shelters to locations that are willing to take them in.  We’ll do what we’re already doing – just that much more of it.

Mike has been covered by CNN. He’s the real thing, and has been committed to this for many years.

Giving Credit Where It’s Due

Our concept of asymmetrical cinematic AI was heavily inspired by reading what Chris Park of Arcen Games has to say about it in the following articles on his site:


I made a separate rules system for parts of the AI versus what the humans do. The AI’s economy works based on internal reinforcement points, wave countdowns, and an overall AI Progress number that gets increased or decreased based on player actions. This lets the players somewhat set the pace of game advancement, which adds another layer of strategy that you would normally only encounter in turn-based games. It’s a very asymmetrical sort of system that you totally couldn’t have in a pvp-style of skirmish game with AI acting as human standins, but it works beautifully in a co-op-style game where the AI is always the enemy.

Guess what we added to Apollo4X today?


Yes!  We told you there would be SPACESHIPS.  We have delivered.  Trade routes are now marked with animated freighter ships flying between planets.  Check it out:

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We’ll have to get a video or animated GIF of it up soon, because it’s pretty glorious in motion.  It’s that “thing” that was missing that made the whole trade route process gel together finally.

Other new things are a much improved new game difficulty setup menu system, and the implementation of HOTKEYS and buttons for “next / previous” planet.

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Excellent Apollo4X Article On Techraptor

A hearty thank you to Don Parsons of for taking the time to consider our game, and write up a great preview of it.  Apollo4X is such a different flavor of 4X, we’ve been concerned if the media would “get it” or dismiss it as difficult to describe to an audience so used to the normal paradigm in place in the genre.  Happily, I can report that Don “gets it”.  Whew.

Apollo 4x is the latest game to catch my eye in Greenlight and we’ll be discussing it today. It is, as its name suggests a 4x game but it is a very different 4x then the ones you are used to. Most 4x games tend to stay in the box established by Civilization back in 1991. Some will experiment a bit outside the box of basics – pushing a bit here or a bit there with a new idea or two. In the end most games work with the box, manipulating it but still referencing and using the box heavily.

Apollo 4x doesn’t bother looking at the box for more than a few seconds to help jot down some very basic notes and then tosses out most of it. You aren’t going to be using tiles here, using tech trees, or be making food, industry, science, and such that you normally are. Instead Apollo 4x draws inspiration from sources historical, and in other game genres. The first, is that it draws on the idea of the East India Company of a trading company coming to rule between a dominance of trade and private armies in much of India. The second is tycoon games, though unlike those Apollo 4x isn’t focused on the small details of each building.

…there are a lot of ideas in Apollo 4x, even if it plays simpler then the way I’m describing it. There are a lot of patterns to it and rhythm that develops as you get used to it, allowing you to think more on some areas as you are adjusted.

The game isn’t necessarily for everyone, as it plays quite differently from the typical 4x game. It is heavily economic focused with a different sort of combat system that I hope to figure out better as I learn it more.

We Answer Some Questions For

As part of an article is working on about Apollo4X, they asked us a few questions about the game, our vision, and goals.

After we got done writing the reply, we thought it was worth replying publicly —  because it’s the best explanation we’ve ever given for what it’s all about.  So, here we go:

Q: Apollo4X focuses primarily on economic gameplay, what goals and type of play experience is Apollo4X trying to bring to the player? What are you trying to achieve with the game?

A: 4X is stuck in a rut.  All these games rely on the Civilization 1 economic model.  We’ve had 20 years of it now.  “Food, Industry, Science” which leads to “population, build queues, and a tech tree.”  There are some really good “MOO-Too” games out there, but nothing that has an economy that considers supply and demand economic forces in a way that satisfies us.

With Apollo4X, we targeted the amazingly under-serviced market for people who like a little “tycoon” in their strategy game. And those tycoon genre games are a pretty narrow selection as well, being mainly theme park, airport business, and city manager type games. Nobody has done this in space until now.  Instead of laying down buildings and trying to attract customers, we have the player building trade ports on colony worlds, dictating import demands that they profit from shipping around the galaxy, and leaning on politicians with their money and influence to influence politics in their favor.  We’re not into minutiae management here, it’s very top-level delegatory “make this happen, now!” CEO stuff – the player isn’t designing products or stocking shelves.

Apollo4X is all about “It takes money to make money” in that you’re investing in colonial economies and market bending bribery to maximize your income from your shipping business.  This is all inspired historically by the East India Company, and its interactions with Imperial colonies and the government, eventually becoming the government because the officials in power were utterly inept.  In our fiction, Apollo has about a dozen nations that are all squabbling and unable to unite, the infrastructure is in total decay, and the economy is in shambles.  Meanwhile, the equivalent of a Mongol horde is spreading across the galaxy and the Apollo Trading Company decides “Alright, someone has to assume leadership of this rabble and save our bacon.”  You need troops, but those cost money.  The tools at your disposal are capital gained by trade, political approval earned by resolving colonial demands, and corporate clout that comes from building infrastructure to unite the colonies.

At no time are you worrying about build queues or what to research next and how many tens of turns down the road you’ll see the fruit of it.  Apollo4X is played in business quarter length turns, and you’re dealing with commodities that already exist in the market space, which fluctuate in availability based on economic forces you are subject to, but not in complete control of.  If you can afford it, it’s yours.

Essentially, you create demand for goods, then deliver those goods at a profit.  To make that more profitable and sustainable, you invest in the standard of living of the colonists.  Then you take their approval of you and knock the politicians in line to give you more abilities.  Eventually you’ve reunited the factions into a global government, rebuilt the interstellar data network, stabilized the banking system, and held back or utterly destroyed the invading savages.

Q: Since Apollo4X seems to walk on the less beaten path, can you tell us what games or works of science fiction inspired the setting and the gameplay for Apollo4X?

A: In Sci-Fi fiction there are obvious influences like Dune and Starship Troopers.  In gaming, there are more terrestrial inspirations like Port Royale, Patrician, Merchants of Venice and Paradox’s various historical political sims that we love.  Also, Capitalism and The Corporate Machine.  But we wanted to abstract away all the micromanagement and keep the game simple yet deep.  Those other games are really an intimidating personal investment to approach.  We don’t want that barrier to entry, but we do want maximum replayability and an adjustable challenge that will keep players interested for a long time.  A very complex riddle for us to solve.

The #1 inspiration for our game is the historical saga of the East India Company.  Science Fiction is best used to liberate an interesting situation from surrounding context so you can focus on specific facets of the story by re-framing it.  This is what we’ve done here.  Allow me to indulge in a bit of history: and

In 1600, the merchants forming the East India Company were handed a trade monopoly with the East Indies colonies.  They pushed out the competing traders, and built ports all along the coast thus investing in colonial infrastructure and creating entirely new demand for products.  In the 1700s they had become a military power, assumed political power in the colonies, and maintained private armies.  By means of this power, they absorbed and united the various factions of India and forged a unified state which then passed into British rule.  During their 184 year monopolistic reign on economics of the region, they used wealth and influence to dictate enough domestic and foreign political agenda in Britain that they were eventually attacked and dismantled for it.

If you were the president of the East India Company, and Genghis Khan was rumored to be on his way to burn England to the ground — that would be our situation of inspiration right there.

Q: Can you elaborate more on where you got the inspiration or how you came up with the idea for the combat in the game?

A: Combat is heavily inspired by Games Workshop’s “Warhammer” series. We wanted something that had the depth of chess, but looked approachable like checkers.  There’s a lot involved in creating a tactical electronic board game where they player moves little tanks and soldiers around on a map and that was frankly beyond the scope of this game, and would be a distraction from our economic simulation goals.  So, we adopted a familiar looking card combat mechanic that just about everyone is immediately familiar with conceptually.  However, unlike contemporary card games there aren’t a huge number of different units, but each unit can be given orders that make it behave in completely different ways.

There are units that are good for scouting what the enemy strategy is.  There are units that heal or protect friendly forces, or inflict debuffs on the enemy.  Orbital strikers have freedom to choose what targets they will engage, and can bombard, disrupt, or support other units.  Marines can hunker down defensively, assault directly, or attempt to place a flanking debuff on the enemy that makes other marine attacks much more effective.  One political faction grants a special Praetorian unit that exists primarily to assassinate enemy champion units, which are otherwise rather difficult to kill with standard troopers.

Finally, we also model battlefield morale, which you aren’t going to find in any other card combat game.  Fighting a giant alien monstrosity tends to be a psychological contest as much as one of attack and defense.  You’d better kill it fast with concentrated fire, or your troops are going to break and run.  Historically, so much of warfare is more about making your enemies unable to continue the fight rather than killing them to the last man.  We simulate that with battlefield-wide morale calculations.

Q: Can you tell us what sort of challenge you expect to bring to the player in the economic layer and with the combat system?

A: Traditional 4X titles are subject to a variety of pitfalls specifically because they attempt to provide AI simulacra that play the same game as the player, via peer opponents. That opens a door to observations of ignorant AI behavior, which is frustrating.  We prefer to provide the player with a very strong AI opponent in the tactical card game, where it is merited and in a scope where an AI can engage smartly.  For the planetary economics and trade portion, consider golf.  You may have other players on the course with you, but the struggle internal. You’re trying to better your performance, not measure it competitively against another player.

Given the historical metaphor of a true trade monopoly, there is no direct peer competition.  This is a conflict of player vs nature (in the form of the market) instead of player vs player.  But remember that nature isn’t kind, and there is a horde of bloodthirsty “force of nature” spreading like a countdown to your doom – and that should serve to quicken your pace a bit.

We didn’t want anything to be a “build it and forget it” system, so the desired imports of your colonies shift constantly and force you to reconsider the optimal trade route pathing every single turn.  The bigger your empire becomes, the more intense and interesting that puzzle gets.  However, city-spam is curbed by the socio-economic impact of introducing more needy colonies, because it drives up your obligations and overexpansion can lead to unserviceable expectations and political or financial bankruptcy – which is a game ender.  So, the player will learn the fine balance of vertical vs horizontal expansion and the value of investment in existing infrastructure while considering diminishing returns on investment which promote expansion into new territory.

You’re going to learn a lot of economic theory without directly realizing that we were teaching it.  We’re a bit economics obsessed, and want to share and inspire that educationally without explicitly stating it as such – because frankly that sounds dry and dreadfully boring.  You’ll integrate the understanding of it naturally, because it’s a sandbox for experimentation and observation of your theories, without being a preachy classroom experience.  Goal #1 is “be a fun, easily engaged and long term interesting game”, and if you suddenly realize how economic forces work then it’s a win-win situation. Has Updated To v0.2.0! has updated to version 0.2.0 of Apollo4X.

Go get it!


v0.2.0 Patch Notes — 11-26-2014

Patch Notes
Version 0.2.0

Additions since early access released version 0.1.0:

>> City State Additions:

* Free York
** Trade with a centaur colony (Smuggling)

* Oligarch Dynasty
** +30 Capital per turn passive bonus
** Reroll corporate list
** Remove corporate demand from colony

* Logopolis
** Travel via wormholes
(Travel to a wormhole, exit any other wormhole)

* Nova Roma
** Pillage a planet, making it uninhabitable for a profit.
** New “Praetorian” military unit (Not in-game in this version).

>> Game Feature Additions:

* Sounds! Most UI interactions have nice sound effects now.
* 2D / 3D map option on “new game settings” screen. 2D mode makes the map flat by making Z coordinates of all planets zero.
* Added wormholes to map. Travel between them with Logopolis ability.

>> UI changes:

* Beautification of most of the UI elements. Re-drawn slide-out panels and buttons.
* Colony list panel now functional to select colony to focus camera on.
* Colony list panel now displays:
Demands, Supplies, Fleet, Cities, Net Nodes, relative distance to other colonies.
* Colony list now updates in realtime. Don’t have to close/open it anymore. Sorted in order of distance from currently selected colony.
* Added 2D option to game start options screen.
* When an import or export on a colony is bought/sold the icon dims to indicate that item is unavailable now.
* Oligarch Dynasty makes an [X] appear in the “Upgrade” screen next to the corporate demands. Clicking it spends 5 clout to eject the current demand in that slot.
* Options Menu allows resolution changes, music and effects volume sliders.

>> Game Balance Changes:

* Changed fleet cost calculations to linear math.
* Fleet costs now 1/3rd previous values.
* Buying fleet on planets is now 2 fleet per production point.
* When trade run ends, all dimmed imports/exports are restocked, but at worse pricing. Trade run can be repeated as much as colonys have fleet to support it.
* At end of trade run, all imports that were sold to colony have a 50% chance to flip to their alternate demand.