An interview with the president of North Star Digital Studios, Scott Rencher
North Star Digital Studios is the company created to bring Evolution the Video Game to life.
Scott Rencher is the president of North Star Digital Studios. If the name sounds familiar, it's because the company was created by North Star Games for the purpose of bringing Evolution into the digital world. For more details you can check out our review of Evolution (spoiler: it's great!) or the official website here. We were very happy to get Mr. Rencher to answer some questions for us about the development process.
Evolution is out now on Android, iOS, and Steam.
Without further ado, here is our interview with Scott from North Star Digital Studios:
Pixelated Cardboard [PC]: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Could you explain a little bit about how Evolution The Video Game came to be? What were some of the reasons North Star believed this would make a good video game?
Scott Rencher [SR]: Evolution has been an anomaly in the board game world. It had a relatively modest start. It was North Star’s first strategy game, and as such didn’t get a lot of attention or press when first launched. Despite the small start, it has slowly grown year over year as fans spread it.
The reason that we decided to go all-in on developing this one is that we felt like it was a game that deserved a closer look. We realized it’s one of those genre defining games that has just the right mix of theme, mechanics, and strategy to be an evergreen game.
[PC]: You are developing the game under North Star Digital. What led to the decision to do the development in-house? Was there a team in place when this started or did it have to be built from scratch?
[SR]: We had previously experimented with licensing games to external studios, and were very much of the opinion that the only way to get the revisions and refinement we felt the game needed was if we did it in house. There’s a ton of user feedback and “how does it feel” that goes into a digital game, which is very difficult to get perfect in an outsourced game.
Yeah, we started from square 1 with the digital development team. I was the first person on board, and then we got really lucky getting some experts from the videogame world who are passionate about board games as well.
[PC]: Has the process of going from the Kickstarter through beta gone as you had expected? Any especially memorable unexpected detours along the way?
[SR]: Having the Kickstarter community has been invaluable. The playtesting, the feedback, the discord discussions, the community has kept us grounded on which things are great and which aren’t.
As for detours- certainly the low point of the journey was about the third time that we tried to get the multiplayer working. We had already had two failed attempts, and finally had it working fine in development, so we invited the whole company to join us for a playtest right before pushing out to the Kickstarter backers. It was supposed to be a moment to celebrate, but as the test went live everybody told me they got a black screen. Apparently there was a profile on our development machines that wasn’t accurate on everybody else’s. I was ready to bawl in frustration.
[PC]: In my opinion, your path through the beta has help set a new standard. The Discord, constant updates, dev hour, etc… has really given players every opportunity to engage in the process. Others have recently been doing similar things, but you were certainly among the first in terms of a big name digital board game port. Have you been happy with how your engagement with beta testers has turned out?
[SR]: Thanks, really appreciate that! It takes a fair amount of time to engage with a community, but the feedback and engagement back has been incredible. I’ll have to say I was surprised at the level of detail and support some of our backers gave, to the point they were literally doing the job of Quality Assurance testers. Without them, there is no way the game would be as polished or bug free as it is.
[PC]: Onto the game...We will be posting this interview along with our review on release day, so readers can hop over there to check out the details, but let’s just say we’re impressed with the feature list of Evolution. Having said that, we will, naturally, harp on the one missing feature...asynchronous online play. This feature is always a discussed topic in the community, could you elaborate on why the decision was made not to include this as an option?
[SR]: We’ve heard this one loud and clear, and Asynchronous (and pass and play) is coming soon, likely a few weeks! We didn’t plan for it originally as we thought the game wouldn’t play as well asynchronously; we were worried the feeding part would be slow. We’ve got a design now though where the AI can assist with feeding and speed it up, if desired. We also focused a ton on ensuring real time games are fast, including adding the ability for folks to act early and take their turn before their actual turn comes, without showing these plays to opponents. This allows folks to play simultaneously and speed things up. We assumed the fast real time games would be preferred, but we’ve heard our community and know some people just prefer to play async, so we’ll get it in there!
[PC]: Moving to some of the great stuff that is in the app. Between introducing advanced concepts/cards slowly to the Apex Species fights, the campaign mode is great! Why did you want to add a campaign mode rather than simply allow games against AI opponents?
[SR]: Three reasons: First, we wanted to ease folks into the complexity of the game and the full range of traits, so we wanted a way to introduce this slowly. Second, there is a lot of strategy in the game that isn’t obvious upon first playing it, so this way we could introduce some of the strategies in the game through the “Boss Fights” with Apex Species. Third, we wanted to add some variety and content for folks to play through, so they had a sense of progressing in the game.
[PC]: One of the things that was most impressive, in my view, was the attention to detail in the app. From the brilliant redesign of the species boards to the varying environments around the watering hole, it feels like you are playing a game designed for the digital medium, not just a port. You knocked this out of the park, was it a point of emphasis from the beginning or did these little details get added along the way?
[SR]: That is music to my ears to hear you say that! We did set as a goal from the start to try make sure this game took full advantage of the abilities of the digital medium. It did take a lot of revision though to hit that sweet spot of giving all of the relevant information a person need, without appearing busy or overwhelming. The species board, in particular? That one took us no less than 66 tweaks to get to the version in the game today.
[PC]: Do you have any specific features planned down the line for Evolution that fans might be excited to hear about?
[SR]: We do! Besides the Pass And Play and Asynchronous Play, we’d eventually like to get specific “Scenarios” into the game that change up the environments and rules and offer new challenges.
[PC]: The Evolution series has been interesting in that it hasn’t followed the very popular “base game then countless expansions” model (other than “Flight”), but rather it has seen a handful of standalone games released in the series in a relatively short time. Can you speak to whether we might see any of these other titles in digital form at some point down the line?
[SR]: Sure hope so! Assuming Evolution goes well, we plan to continue on with more in the Evolution line. Now that we’ve got all of the core components figured out and a rockstar team in place, the next one had better not take us three years!
[PC]: Thanks again for taking the time, is there anything else you want to let readers know about before we sign off?
[SR]: Sure hope you enjoy the game, we’ve put our hearts and souls into it. If you do like it, please take a minute to review us on the platform of your choice or share it with your friends, things like that can make a big difference for a small publisher like us.