We first reported on the “Halo”-inspired “Sins of a Solar Empire” mod, “Sins of the Prophets” last week following a livestream demonstrating the efforts of the mod team. We were able to talk with the two leaders of the modding efforts, CanadaMan7 and Unikraken, in an interview on Monday where the pair talk about the work that’s gone into making the dreams of “Halo” fans who want to be a Fleet Admiral come true.
Can you tell a little about who you are and what you do with the “Sins of the Prophets” mod and what you do when you aren't creating mods?
Unikraken: I am the Development Lead, at this point I mostly handle personnel and recruiting but I also work with the play testers to balance the game, some light coding and general stuff like that.
CanadaMan7: I'm CanadaMan7, and I was the original admin/creator of the mod. I'm sort of a "jack-of-all-trades" when it comes to modding; I'm ok at everything but by no means a master. Luckily I've gathered up extremely talented people over time who have been filling the various roles. Aside from modding, I'm a full time college student at University of South Carolina.
Unikraken: Outside of the mod I'm a college student working on my Computer Science degree in New Mexico.
CanadaMan7: Same, Computer Science. But yeah, the pace quickened once I brought Unikraken aboard. He's a solid manager and recruiter
How did “Sins of the Prophets” get started as a mod for “Sins of a Solar Empire”?
CanadaMan7: More as a curiosity on my end. There was a huge demand for a “Halo” mod in the early days of SoaSE modding, but almost no talent for it. I had no experience myself at the moment, so I just started practicing implementing some crudely built models into the engine with various degrees of success.
Where do you typically go to look for talent on a mod like this?
CanadaMan7: Wherever we can find it. Sometimes other mods on Moddb will fold and we'll pick up some talent. Other times we'll seek out prominent artists on the internet (deviant art, etc).
Unikraken: I scout a lot of art websites and online communities, but most of our modeling and texturing staff have been recruited off of DeviantArt. I look for talent and ignore age, so one of the running jokes in our community is that SotP is running off of child labor.
Hah. How old is your youngest member?
CanadaMan7: I think a_lleras is around 15?
Unikraken: If someone shows talent and a huge interest in Halo then I message them.
CanadaMan7: a_lleras is actually the guy that modeled the Super Carrier model
Wow, really? That's impressive work.
CanadaMan7: Yeah, pretty gifted for someone so young
How about the oldest?
Unikraken: I am 27. I'm not sure if there is any dedicated staff above my age.
CanadaMan7: The oldest might be Unikraken
How many hours would you say has been dedicated to SotP so far?
CanadaMan7: Well, there's been 4 years of development time. Probably enough that I could pick up a random habit and become a professional at it. Hundreds?
Unikraken: Several hours a week for 3+ years. Far too much, but we had to redo quite a bit starting last year.
CanadaMan7: Yeah, the mod has been rebuilt from the ground up several times as quality steadily improves. Hence the long dev time
Would you call it a function of learning on the job?
CanadaMan7: Oh, definitely.
What's been your biggest stumbling block thus far?
Unikraken: Learning on the job and acquisition of stronger talented individuals. When Annihilater102 come on board the level of work we were able to do on our own without help from outside mods increased significantly.
CanadaMan7: Time often works against us in that regard. Since we all work part-time, there's been periods of limited activity. Time is our biggest enemy here. Aside from having to (again) learn as we go.
Unikraken: Deciding to remodel every UNSC ship was probably our biggest issue. We were really close to a release, but the models were very mish mash and didn't have a coherent aesthetic.
Were there ever points where you were considering dropping work on SotP altogether?
Unikraken: For me, no. Even if Canada has to drop work on the project I'll continue it until it's finished.
CanadaMan7: There was never a point where I wanted to stop working, but there were times (especially in the beginning) where our work seemed futile.
When did you reach that "aha!" moment when you realized the work wasn't so futile?
CanadaMan7: Probably, when we started picking up dedicated modelers and texturers. Before that, it was a hodge podge of different artists.
CanadaMan7: That Made development sporadic. Once Annhilater joined up, it's been a gravy train. No doubt in my mind that he'll find a job in the industry.
Unikraken: It's easy for us to code the ships and their abilities, but without the model it's worthless.
Is Annhilater a student as well?
CanadaMan7: I think he might be out by now.
What do you use as reference material for the “Halo” universe?
CanadaMan7: Anything they put out, really - Comics, videos, books, and of course the games.
Unikraken: Game mechanics come heavily from the books, as the games are focused on storytelling. We've gotten several of our ships from the comics, especially from the video games.
I also want to take a quick second to plug the part of our team working on the Covenant. Without Zero and Didact, the Covenant wouldn't be happening.
Yeah, the books and comics established the Covenant space dominance over the UNSC. Can you explain how that will translate in the game?
CanadaMan7: Basically, it translates to how we're handling economics and ship pricing.
Unikraken: “Halo: Fall of Reach” details how UNSC forces need 3 to 1 odds to win battles. We do this in-game through making UNSC ships build faster and cheaper.
Unikraken: They are weaker than their Covenant counterparts. That 3 to 1 imbalance impacts a lot of gameplay features, like the each race's economic abilities.
CanadaMan7: The UNSC also has stronger economy focused elements, letting them pump out ships pretty easily over time. The Covenant has stronger, slower ships that rely on a steamroller economy.
Obviously, some liberties with the Halo canon have to be taken to fit within the game. I think encounters with the Flood and Forerunner before “Halo: CE” are two of those. Can you explain how those two factions will work?
CanadaMan7: Well, it's likely the Forerunner won't appear in time for our release for Entrenchment, but they basically use the same type of philosophy of the Covenant taken to a more extreme degree. They play with a mix of early game spam units (in the form of Sentinels) and later game steam roller units (dreadnoughts).
And the Flood behaves as the Pirate faction? Will they be part of the initial launch?
CanadaMan7: The Flood are, at the moment, acting in the place of the pirates from Vanilla SoaSE. Besides the obvious difference of them taking over ships, their numbers have been bumped up significantly. They also have the ability to colonize worlds that they raze, making them a huge threat to other factions. And yes, they'll be in the initial release.
Other than the UI and ship models, what are the most significant changes being made to “Sins of a Solar Empire” with the mod?
Unikraken: We've changed some of the strategic elements that effect economics, like changing the importance of asteroid belts for resources. We've also changed the speed of combat significantly. Battles last just a few moments now, where they used to take several minutes. There isn't much of a way round that, given the kind of fire power both sides are using. And of course the kind of damage expressed in the lore done by these weapons.
Right, I've been rereading the comics and books because of “Halo 4” and most of the engagements would barely go past a couple of volleys.
CanadaMan7: Indeed. Combat is blistering and costly. Making sure an engagement is worth it and approaching it like a jackal (where victory is assured) is a must.
What period of the pre-“Halo: CE” lore does SotP take place in?
CanadaMan7: Takes place in 2543, where the UNSC has just lost most of its outer colonies.
Has there been anything that you've wanted to add but the scope of what you are able to get done won't allow?
CanadaMan7: I always wanted to add both a campaign and some way of effectively adding the Flood as a full faction. Both are hard to implement due to hardcodes within the game.
Unikraken: “Sins of a Solar Empire” has some pretty severe limitations hardcoded in. Most of our UNSC ships started out with textures twice their current size, which showed a lot more detail. However, memory issues with the engine itself forced us to reduce their size back down to normal SoaSE size.
Have you had any feedback from anyone at Microsoft or 343 Industries about the mod?
CanadaMan7: None as of yet, and hopefully we can keep our heads down and finish development without any IP related issues.
Unikraken: No, and the thought of them finding out about us is both exciting and terrifying. They forced an RTS Halo mod called Halogen to stop so they could sell Halo Wars. We work very hard to keep within the legal conditions of using Halo content.
Uh oh... I better stop this interview now!
CanadaMan7: Hah. Nah, I think we're fine. We've kept our mod clean and within the confines of their conditions.
Yeah, I believe SotP has its own music that's inspired by “Halo” but not a direct copy.
CanadaMan7: Indeed. Also would be an insult not to have a shout-out to Wassem, our composer. He's done an excellent job of crafting a sound that's both unique and professional.
Unikraken: Correct, our composer is Waseem Faraz Butt, a bloke from the UK. He's inspired by “Halo” music, but making our own composition.
You've got your own set of voice actors too. Is that people from the team, friends or others you've contacted?
CanadaMan7: We've got an excellent audio department, with our sound lead Sancho working from a radio station professionally.
Unikraken: Some of the VO comes from legit voice actors, some from the playtesters and team members.
CanadaMan7: With a full recording studio, and surprising access to people with smooth voices, the Voice Overs have come out really well in my opinion. I actually have a small role as well.
Yeah, the Orion battleship voice-over I heard from your lievestreaem last week kept me chuckling. Something about her voice when she says “O-ri-on”.
Unikraken: Hah, yeah she's very surly
CanadaMan7: Heh I love most of them. The Halcyon one in particular conjured up Zapp Branigan-esc likeness.
Is this the first mod that you've worked on?
Unikraken: For me, yes.
CanadaMan7: I've worked on small projects in addition to SotP over the years, but this is my first and definitely my favorite.
From what you've learned so far, what do you think is required to make a successful mod?
CanadaMan7: The most important thing for a new modder with an idea is the desire both to see its completion and a willingness to learn what's required in order to achieve it.
Unikraken: A team of dedicated people who are talented in their field and a vision. Also, lots of free time.
CanadaMan7: All too often, I see people with an idea and then not wanting to learn a skill in order to implement it. It's why I learned a bit of everything, and then just got better over time.
What are the release plans for Sins of the Prophets? I believe it is human ships only first with the UNSC going against Innies and, as you mentioned, Flood as the Pirate faction.
CanadaMan7: Though the UNSC will be only faction featured for play, all the factions will make an appearance over time. The Covenant and Forerunner Remnant will appear as militia on desolate worlds. And of course, the Flood will appear as the pirates.
Unikraken: UNSC release is impending. It'll be the single playable faction as we work with the community to work out bugs and balancing issues. Then we'll finish our time with SoaSE: Entrenchment with a Covenant release, before moving on to SoaSE: Rebellion and completing the Forerunners.
If you had to give a timeframe for the UNSC release, what would it be? "When it's done answers" are verboten.
Hahaha. Sorry, that's like a rule to ask or something
Unikraken: Of course, we understand.
Once it's out, how do you plan on measuring the success of SotP?
Unikraken: The community reaction is the most important metric. We're not just doing this for ourselves; this is for every fan of the “Halo” series that has wanted to take on the role of Fleet Admiral.
CanadaMan7: Obviously, I'd like to see the community fawn over it and a news presence surrounding it but I'd be happy with an active community. We've been building up a good size network of people around it and it's been really rewarding so far. With continued support, I'd like to see it last for a few more years to come.
Oh, I asked about 343 Industries and Microsoft but how has Ironclad Games and Stardock been about supporting mods for SoaSE?
Unikraken: They've been pretty decent. Several changes made in expansions Diplomacy and Rebellion have been from communication with the modding community.
Well guys, I do appreciate your time and the opportunity to talk with you about SotP.
CanadaMan7: It was a pleasure! Thanks for interview, man.
Unikraken: Thank you for having us.
If you're interested in learning more about the "Sins of the Prophets" mod, you can check the project out over at ModDB.