Start with passion. Project X Development Diary: Part 1

Author: Matthew Aebersold
Posted On: 02-28-17
Project X

Project X Development Diary: Part 1

This will be an ongoing diary intended for me to document my design and development process throughout the creation of Project Ex. It is yet to be titled, but for now the working name is Project Ex. The Ex in this instance stands the X’s in a 4x game. Specifically, this game will be a 4x+ or 4XS game. The + or S will stand for ‘story’, which will be a component that doesn’t normally insert itself into 4x games. Games of this genre tend to let the story be inferred. The hope with Project Ex is that it contains all the meat and potatoes normally found in a 4x game, but with the addition of a story driven component (either scenario-based or campaign style).

The Idea

It all starts with an idea. If you don’t have an idea you’re excited about, then the game won’t get very far. The idea is an important cornerstone to develop around, and a clear signpost to guide your process. But even deeper than that, the idea is what keeps you coming back to the table to work on the game. If you’re running a business that makes games, this is a less important aspect, because ultimately you’re driven by the bottom-line and profitability. But if you’re not developing a game as your primary source of income, then you have a chance to let the passion and the idea guide your development. The result, at least in my mind, is a much better game because it stems from the creative mind rather than existing purely in a business-sense. In addition, you are going to strive to create the very best possible experience for other people. Otherwise why make a game at all?

The Inspiration

The source of inspiration for Project Ex came from many places. But ultimately I deeply love science fiction, space, strategic games, and being immersed in a good story. I set out to create the ultimate game to fill all of those desires. I love playing games like Twilight Imperium, Eclipse, Rebellion, and Imperial Assault, but none of these games quite fit exactly what I was looking for. I felt that there wasn’t a go-to game to fill all of those needs. What I ultimately wanted to do was to create my own game; one that would essentially be a galactic experience in a huge box.

Twilight Imperium

As good as this game is, the fact of the matter is that it's just too long, and doesn't see enough playtime in our group, purely due to the logistics of getting 6-8 people together for an entire day. We love the mechanics, the theme, and the experience of playing Twilight, but the sessions are too few and far between.

One thing Twilight does on purpose is throttles player's actions in order to progress the game slowly. This was an intentional decision in order to give everyone more time to plan, make their moves, and react to other player's choices. On one hand, this could be a good thing, but with so much going on, it does make for a LONG game.

The Imperative

The initial design direction of Project X is to create a game that gives you a great experience on a galactic level, offers a killer story that rivals the best in the science-fiction world, doesn’t take a long time to play, has complex economic and strategic decisions, contains amazing miniature ships, can be easily picked up and played over multiple sessions, and comes in a huge box that in-and-of itself looks intimidating.


One of the major hurdles that my co-designer and I have had to jump over is the idea that it's okay to make something even if the market is crowded. One point of anxiety was definitely why bother making this game when there's already plenty of options if you want to play a space opera. We are well aware of the merits and successes of games like Eclipse, Forbidden Stars, Twilight Imperium, etc. But what we don't want to do is have those games stifle the passion and the drive that initially pulled us in the direction of designing this type of game. You can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can still appreciate, love, and play those games, and you can look for ways to make a better experience. This is what we're trying to do. If you're truly passionate about the game you want to make, then you shouldn't let anyone or anything stand in the way of designing and manufacturing it.


This is intended to be a series of posts all about designing and developing our game. The intention is to document our processes, thoughts, and decisions. Soon we will get into the more nuts and bolts aspects of making the game.