Category: Empyrean Frontier


Flagships are my solution to the problem of blending an RTS game with a tactical rogue-lite campaign. During the campaign, the player commands a fleet of ships and fights battles against enemy fleets or bases. The problem I’ve realized with the old version of the game is that it was difficult to mix the tactical fleet battles with RTS style base building in a satisfying way; either the player could just ignore base building, or full base building would allow the player to build up a massive army in each node, making the starting fleet insignificant. My solution to this balance problem is the Flagship, a modified version of the Interstellar Union’s Command Ship that can be upgraded with specific modules between battles.

Flagship Modules

Flagships can be upgraded with their own weapons, but also with refineries for gathering resources and shipyards for producing units, however they are much more limited than the traditional base building methods. For one, flagships can only be upgraded between battles with modules that the player finds or buys during the campaign. This makes them play more of a supporting role in battles and adds an extra dimension of progression to the campaign. For a rogue-lite campaign, this progression is especially important, as the player needs to be offered new and exciting upgrades for their fleet throughout the campaign. Additionally, the fact that flagships have limited room for modules means both that the player will have to make strategic decisions on which modules to equip, and that we can add some exceptionally powerful and interesting modules without completely imbalancing the game.


Speed Boost Ability

One of the main roles of flagships going forward, is to support the player’s fleet rather than fighting directly. Empyrean Frontier is an RTS game, so the primary focus is on commanding an army of units rather than a single powerful flagship. To this end, the flagship will have a variety of “Ability Modules” that each enable a specific targetable ability that will buff friendly units or provide some other kind of support ability (debuffing enemy units, calling in reinforcements, creating environmental effects, etc.) These abilities should be a good way to give the player a satisfying felling of progression during the campaign, unlocking powerful and fun abilities. The limited availability of these abilities (each ability has an associated energy cost for the flagship) is also intended to make their use more of a strategic decision.

The first of these abilities is the relatively simple Speed Boost, pictured above. To use this ability, the player chooses a target area and all friendly units within the effect radius gain a temporary speed buff, which is illustrated with a new icon that appears around all affected units.

What’s Next:

Right now, I’m working on Steam integration for the coming Early Access launch, but I can also talk a bit about the next big planned feature: Bosses.

In addition to adding many new modules for the player to use, one of the interesting possibilities that the flagship system allows for is the idea of enemy bosses. These would be extremely powerful enemy flagships with their own unique modules and abilities, using scripted attack behavior. Players will have to use their entire fleet to defeat one of these bosses, and you can expect bosses to have telegraphed attacks which the player can avoid, similar to an RPG boss. The current plan is for each of the game’s factions (there will be a variety of new pirate and corporate factions) to have their own unique flagship, which fits that faction’s combat style. At the end of a campaign zone, the player will be pitted against whichever faction they have the most negative relationship with. If the player successfully defeats the enemy boss, they will gain access to a new flagship type for future campaigns.

The campaign for Empyrean Frontier follows a fleet of persistent units as it moves across the known galaxy. At each node, the player will encounter some kind of random event and be presented with several dialogue options, often leading to a tactical RTS battle with an enemy fleet. Sometimes these battles will lead to a full base building skirmish against the enemy AI.

After each successful battle, players will gain ore to repair their ships or credits to purchase new ones at the neutral space stations placed throughout the map. In order to defeat the tougher enemy fleets at the end of the campaign, the player will need to grow their fleet and preserve their existing units.

Headline Banner

The campaign shares some of the same mechanics that solar system skirmishes have (a persistent fleet of units that travel from one battle to the next) but here it is in a more structured form, with a turn based component in the campaign map.

Headline Banner

Headline Banner

The alpha version of the game including the campaign is available at which will grant access to a Steam key once the game arrives on Steam (we have already successfully passed Steam Greenlight.)

Now that the last of the main game modes have been implemented, I’ll be able to focus on smaller, more frequent updates adding more content. I’m currently working on adding more event types to the campaign, as well as a unit veterancy system.

Headline Banner

Empyrean Frontier has finally made its way onto Steam Greenlight. The game has come a long way since the previous pre-alpha demos and I’m glad to announce the greenlight campaign, an alpha trailer, and a new demo.

The new demo includes a full tutorial and 2 skirmish maps that are playable as the Empire faction (the Union is unlocked in the full Alpha release.) Since the last pre-alpha demo, the game has seen a long list of improvements, including engine and graphical improvements, a better GUI, and greatly improved enemy AI.

Empyrean Frontier Alpha Demo

The game is also available for alpha purchase through and the official website. The full game includes additional content (play as both factions, solar system conquest mode, and additional maps) and will grant access to all future updates and a Steam key if/when the game arrives on Steam.

Below is a list of current and planned features for the game.


Current Features:


Two Unique Playable Factions

Intuitive Control Scheme

  • Draw custom formations
  • Full featured RTS Interface

Intelligent AI

  • AI Strategically reacts to player actions
  • Tactical AI formations
  • No resource or vision cheats

Command Massive Fleets

  • Battle with hundreds of ships
  • 16+ unit types
  • Base building
  • Superweapons

Conquer an Empire

  • Fight for territory in a real time campaign


Alpha Roadmap


Game Features:

    • Unit Upgrades
    • Unit Veterancy
    • Random Map Generator

(also more preset maps with support for more players)

    • Additional Unit types

advanced fighter groups, more building modules, and maybe hero units

    • Additional Unit Abilities

a few units already have active or passive effects, but I intend to add more, as well as a better GUI for displaying passive abilities (tractor beams for example already apply a firing rate debuff, but the interface doesn’t notify the player)

Game Modes:

    • “Quick Start” System Skirmish

solar system skirmishes where each player starts already in control of a preset territory

    • Procedural Campaign

longer campaign similar to Solar System skirmishes but the player takes a single fleet through a series of procedurally generated missions

    • Story Campaign

traditional RTS campaign with scripted missions (might be cut in favor of Procedural Campaign)

    • Arcade

extra game modes such as tower defense, tug of war, wave defense, and others (possibly with a level editor)

Engine Features:

    • Save/Load Games
    • Rebindable Hotkeys
    • Improved Effects

better explosions, particles, engine trail effects

    • More Destruction Animations

larger units will have more detailed destruction effects

    • Improved Movement/Pathfinding
    • Overall Graphical Improvements
    • AI Improvements

the easy/normal skirmish AI are in a pretty good state, but there are a few extra features I’d like to add for hard AI, as well as improving the solar system skirmish AI

In Empyrean Frontier, each faction has the ability to build a superweapon in the very late stages of the game. The Interstellar Union’s superweapon takes the form of a gigantic missile capable of dealing massive area of effect damage and breaking through even the strongest fortifications.


Like the Empire’s Super Laser, the Super Missile has two different attack modes to choose from. The Cluster Missile deals area of effect damage over a single large area of space, while the FTL Missile deals higher damage along a single line.

Cluster Missile:

When cluster missile mode is activated, the super missile loads 24 smaller rockets onto the front of the main missile and accelerates towards the target area. Once the missile reaches the target, the main rocket self-destructs and the cluster missiles split off and explode over a large area of space.

Cluster Missile

FTL Missile:

The second superweapon setting functions much like the empire’s super laser, dealing heavy damage in a straight line. When this mode is activated, the missile accelerates to light speed, annihilating anything in it’s path, even large moons.

FTL Missile

My goal in designing the new superweapon was to create a weapon that was different enough to distinguish itself from the existing superlaser while fulfilling roughly the same role in the game. The Union’s cluster missile and the superlaser’s wide beam mode are both intended to be used against large groups of enemy units, although they differ in how they apply their damage. The superlaser can technically achieve a larger area of effect if units are lined up and it’s more difficult to dodge, however, the cluster missile’s damage is concentrated over a single large area, making it more useful in actual gameplay for destroying a single clump of units. The secondary modes for each of the superweapons (FTL missile / concentrated laser beam) are essentially the same ability, just with different visual effects. Since this ability is the only way to destroy colonized moons, and given the importance of those moons in the lategame, I figured the fairest way was to give both factions the same tool.

Thanks for reading, and remember there’s still a couple days left to vote for Indie of the Year so check out some of the images and videos, or the early demo, I’d love to have your support if you like the game.

Indie of the Year Awards


Since the last update I’ve been working mainly on finishing up the majority of the ships and building modules for the second playable faction, the Interstellar Union. This faction shares some of the same unit types as the first faction, the Empire, but also has some key differences. In the game’s lore, the Union is a nomadic faction occupying a number of star systems on the outskirts of the Empire’s more developed territory. Instead of building space stations around a central command center, the union uses the Command Ship, a more mobile vessel that has a limited number of upgrade nodes on which to build modules such as shipyards and refineries.

Union faction ships

To allow for faster expansion, union players start the game with a command ship that comes equipped with a Capital Shipyard module, which allows the construction of additional command ships, as well as slow moving defense platforms and, at higher tech levels it can produce various combat cruisers.

Defense Platforms

Some of the new ships closely resemble those found in the other faction’s arsenal, with minor differences. (For instance, the union’s green “shotgun” lasers send out roughly the same number of bolts per minute as the empire’s Gatling lasers, meaning they both fulfill the anti-fighter role.) When designing the ships, I did also try to keep some similarities in the overall shape of ships that fill the same combat role. For instance, the anti-fighter frigates are both tall and thin, tractor beam frigates are round, and anti-frigate frigates are longer, like a traditional ship. The reasoning behind this is that setting a distinct “look” for each type of unit should make it easier for the player to differentiate ships in battle and plan for the correct unit composition.

Union and Imperial frigates

(In addition to pushing or pulling enemy ships, tractor beams now also apply a debuff to enemy units, reducing their speed and rate of fire, making them useful in weakening and focusing down valuable enemy ships.)

Cruiser battle

All cruisers can be customized with a variety of upgradable weapon modules. The main cruisers in each faction have 8-10 weapon slots and special front and rear nodes for utility modules. The union however, has 2 extra cruisers; the artillery cruiser, which comes equipped with a long range missile launcher, and the drone cruiser, a fast attack ship that releases a swarm of destructive drones at short range. Each of these smaller cruisers has a single upgrade node that can be used to specialize in the ship’s primary attack (a range increase for the artillery cruiser, and a speed boost for the short ranged drone cruiser) or the player might choose to add a secondary weapon for the ship to fulfill a more general role. Hopefully this choice in upgrades will provide for interesting strategic decisions and allow a variety of playstyles.

Light Cruisers in action

I intend to start a Greenlight campaign soon, but for now I still have some polishing to do as well as improvements to the AI, and I’m also finishing up the superweapon for the new faction.


The second version of the demo is now available for download.

Download now from IndieDB:
Empyrean Frontier Pre Alpha Demo

What’s new in this demo:

There is now a Game Options menu where you can set various control and gameplay related settings. These new options include:
– left/right click settings for building placement
– inverted scrolling option
– edge scrolling option
– scroll, zoom, and rotation speed sliders
– color replacement mode
– health bar, energy bar, rally line, and control group number display settings

Gameplay Options Menu

There are now distinct animated cursors for Select, Move, Attack, Attack-Move, Formation-Move, Repair, and Sell.

The Easy AI will now wait longer before attacking and will attack with a smaller force.

The in-game GUI has been scaled down to take up less screen space, plus new buttons have been added in the bottom left panel for various action commands and for using control groups.

Skirmish and GUI

I’ve also updated the tutorials with some better text boxes and explanations of some things that weren’t originally covered such as camera rotations, plus I’ve added a 3rd tutorial that covers some extra concepts including the formation tool.


There’s also a lot of optimization behind the scenes, specifically the fog of war is now much more responsive and the game runs faster with large maps. There are also notable changes to some of the unit AI that makes fighters more effective and makes them look more interesting in combat.

See also:

The first pre-alpha demo for Empyrean Frontier is finally available for download. The demo contains a skirmish mode with 2 1v1 maps and 2 AI settings, as well as 2 tutorial missions to explain how to play. There is also a listing of all game controls within the options menu and a graphics settings menu for customizing settings for your computer.

Download now from IndieDB:
Empyrean Frontier Pre Alpha Demo

• The basic skirmish works much like other RTS games you might have played. Build up your base, construct an army, and destroy all enemy buildings (space station modules and lunar colonies) in order to win. Currently there is a choice of two playable 1v1 maps and two difficulty levels for AI opponents. AI opponents play with only the information that would be available to a human player, and currently don’t recieve any extra bonuses. (You can play in observer mode to watch how the AI plays.)

Skirmish Gameplay
Skirmish Gameplay

Skirmish Gameplay
Watching AI Players in observer mode

Additional Notes:
• The current version of the game includes one playable faction and a only the basic skirmish mode. Most ships and station modules are present in the game, although additional content will be added as development progresses and the current state of the game is not representative of the final product. Feedback on the demo (bugs, gameplay concerns, etc.) is very much appreciated.

Minimum System Requirements:
• -Operating System: Windows
• -Graphics Card: Directx10 compatible card (PCs with integrated graphics cards might not be able to run the game)

Engine Improvements:

Since the last update (formations and optimizations to unit movement) I’ve been working on optimizing and generally improving all other aspects of combat in the game. With the new projectile code, I’ve been able to drastically increase the number of projectiles the game can handle, leading to a re-design of several of the old units to take advantage of this. (including adding a rapid-fire Gatling laser cannon to one of the low level frigates) I’ve also been experimenting with dynamically adjusting graphics settings to turn off some of the more expensive graphical effects when especially large battles are being displayed.

optimized fighter groups
(better game engine = more ships and more lasers)

These improvements are especially important because, in Empyrean Frontier, the combat system is mostly based on projectile attacks with realistic ballistic physics. There are no traditional damage types or armor types, instead the size, accuracy, rate of fire, base damage, and number of ships in a group determines which units are able to counter which other units.

There are a few interesting side effects that come from this kind of projectile based system. The main reason why I like it is that it provides a natural incentive to spread out your ships and surround the enemy forces, rather than vice versa. Projectiles that miss their intended targets are still very likely to hit nearby units when they are tightly packed and there are overlapping lines of fire, whereas projectiles are likely to miss entirely if the units are spread out. The army with the better positioning tends to have a massive advantage, so the tactical aspect of RTS army control will be extremely important in the finished game.

At the most basic visual level, it’s important that weapons tend to act as you’d expect; high rate of fire weapons are good against many small units, while a large single projectile like a tank shell is more efficient against larger ships. To improve readability and decrease the learning curve, weapons are also being color-coded according to their rate of fire and damage output.

Color Coding:
Green = anti-fighter
Red = anti-frigate
Yellow = area of effect damage

Unit Improvements:

In addition to the back-end optimizations, I’ve also been working on updating the unit models for all of the ships. At the moment, there are 8 different kinds of combat ship: 2 fighters, 5 frigates, and 1 cruiser. Progress has been slower than I’d like, but as I still want to release an alpha and demo as soon as possible, it was important that the ship models were updated to be more professional looking. Apart from looking nice, which hopefully they do, each kind of ship needed to have a distinct style in order to easily distinguish between different types. Therefore, each type of ship has a fairly unique shape and groups of ships also display a semi-transparent symbol specific to that type of unit, so that even at a great distance, the player can tell what kinds of ships are active.

I’ve also been finalizing the unit roles and balance of the different unit types. Each ship has a specific combat role and is strong against some compositions, but weak against others. The basic idea behind most of the units should be pretty familiar to RTS players. Fighters are generally light harassment units, like very fast infantry, Sentinel frigates are made to counter fighters, Destroyers are the main tanks, and so on. One of the more unusual units (see video above) is the Flying Saucer, which is now armed with a medium strength laser and a tractor beam that can push or pull enemy units. My goal with this ship is to emulate the “pikemen” style of units you tend to see in medieval or ancient RTS games; the flying saucer can play a support role and pull in and focus down individual units, but its greatest strength is its ability to counter high damage, close range units like bomb frigates, by simply pushing them away and preventing them from getting in range. The full list of current units (and I do plan on adding more in the future) is presented below, with basic data on each unit’s strengths.

optimized fighter groups

Lately I’ve been working mostly on improving the interface. GUI design is definitely one of my least favorite parts of game development, but at least the game looks more polished now. Here’s what’s new since the last update:
shipyard under construction
Improved GUI:

Since the last update, I’ve primarily been working on updating the user interface in the game and replacing the old placeholder graphics. At this point, most of the in-game GUI has been updated to a more acceptable quality and in some cases, redesigned to improve readability on lower resolution displays. The major interface elements are all focused around my implementation of the fairly common bottom bar design. The metallic panel on the left displays the player’s resources, as well as providing commonly used formation and basic unit control toggle buttons, while the right panel houses the minimap and system data for multi-system maps. An additional popup panel on the left houses production menus when the Command Center or any shipyard is selected, and the digital panels in the center of the screen display information on currently selected units.


Research System:

Tech trees and the ability for players to research or otherwise unlock more advanced and more devastating weapons are an essential part of any RTS. The following is an early look at how these mechanics will be implemented in Empyrean Frontier.

In the current design of Empyrean Frontier, all of the research and unlocking of new technologies will be handled directly from the Command Center. Command Centers will share the same tech database, but multiple Command Centers will be able to research separate techs simultaneously, adding an additional incentive to expand to more than one base. Command Centers currently serve as the hub of each of the player’s space stations, and are also responsible for constructing new building modules, so giving them the role of researching as well seemed fitting. Additionally, this simplified design eliminates the need for separate tech buildings and lets the player see all available techs in a single screen, which should make the game easier to understand without really losing strategic depth (as well as making it easier for me to finish it.)
shipyard under construction
At this point, most of the actual techs are not implemented or even fully designed, however the goal is to include many fairly standard kinds of tech including weapon, armor, and engine upgrades, plus certain unlock-able units and abilities. Currently, the only fully implemented techs are the three upgrades to higher tech levels, which serve as bottlenecks in the tech tree, with each tech level unlocking the ability to purchase all buildings and techs available in that level.

When a player upgrades the Command Center, it undergoes a visual transformation, becoming larger and more elaborate with each tech level. These visual changes are important from a gameplay standpoint in order to allow for some way to scout the enemy’s current technological progress.
shipyard under construction
See also:

I’m back with a newly updated website/blog, and some updated models from the game. Since the last update I’ve been working on improving the visual appearance of a lot of the models in the game, as well as making some big design changes.

First and foremost, I’ve been creating new models for each of the available station modules (buildings) that the player can construct. These new station modules can now take up more than one node in the hex grid, for instance the reactor takes up only a single node, while the much larger cruiser shipyard’s layout occupies a total of 13 nodes. Each module can be rotated and placed in any position so long as it is connected to at least one existing module. By giving buildings different sizes and shapes as well as more distinct designs players should be able to more easily distinguish between different types of modules.

Many of the new models also have some kind of animation or light effect when in use. Apart from being more interesting aesthetically, these effects are meant to better convey the function of the structure. Shipyards show partially built ships being warped in, and the core of the command center shows similar effects, as its intended function is to remotely warp in other building modules.

shipyard under construction

building a cruiser

In addition, several of the old building designs have been modified or completely removed. The main design change is that there will no longer be any dedicated “tech buildings,” instead upgrades and unit unlocking will be handled directly from a research tab in the command center. (I’ll have more details on this subject and a number of other design changes I’ve been working on in future updates.)

See also: