Interview: Nexus 5X Developers Focused On Merging Strategy And Table-Top Experience

Featured Image
Nexus 5X - via Whatboy Games

Nexus 5X is a turn-based video game that efficiently implements fast-paced gameplay focusing on enhancing players’ experience with each playthrough. One of the major aspects of the game is that it welcomes everyone and does not feel complicated, given the board game mechanics. 

All you need to do is to pick from a list of unique factions and you can dive into the gameplay either alone or with a co-op session with 2-8 players. To learn more about the game’s development and challenges, we interviewed Adam Doherty, Game Director of Nexus 5X, over email. 

Combat Sequence
Nexus 5X – via Whatboy Games

Introduce yourself and tell us about your work on Nexus 5X.

Adam: Hi! I’m Adam, Game Director on Nexus 5X. I am ultimately responsible for everything that goes into the game. I also worked hands-on on a lot of the coding and design for the core game.

The overall setting and concept of Nexus 5X are interesting and addictive. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind Nexus 5X and what sets it apart from other turn-based strategy games?

Adam: Love to! I’ve always been a massive fan of 4X video games back to the original Civilization, but also tabletop games where you get a group of friends together to play through a big strategy game in one sitting. Getting players together regularly can sometimes be tricky, so the real aim of Nexus 5X was to bring these two different types of experiences together.

With a video game, we can keep the depth of a computer 4X game and by keeping game times down, we can allow players to connect remotely for a game whenever suits them.

To encourage that tabletop experience, we’ve designed the game so interaction (friendly or otherwise) with other factions is crucial. This keeps players talking, forming temporary alliances, and watching their backs for that inevitable betrayal.

Nexus 5X - via Whatboy Games
Nexus 5X – via Whatboy Games

Expanding on my previous question, Nexus 5X promised to cater to both newcomers to the 4X genre and seasoned players. How did you approach designing the game to appeal to such a broad audience?

Adam: It was a tricky balance. We wanted to streamline the decisions you have to make on each turn without losing any of the strategic depth. This was important to keep turn times down and keep our EXPRESS promise for seasoned strategy gamers, but also to help new players play out their turns without too much option overload.

We were also adamant from day one that Nexus 5X was never going to be an out-and-out wargame. War is just one tool in your box, so the game caters to all sorts of varied play styles: aggressive, underhanded, or even cultural and diplomacy-focused.

This means all players can play how they want to play, which I really think helps remove a barrier to entry for less aggressive-minded players.

The faction system in Nexus 5X seems to offer unique and varied playstyles. How did you approach designing factions to provide meaningful differences in gameplay?

Adam: We started quite simply, going through the kind of tropes you’d expect to find in a sci-fi universe: the aloof scientists, warriors, traders, hive minds, etc. I always find it easiest to start with the player’s fantasy and try to fit the game mechanics and features around this as well as possible.

We then took inspiration from diverse and interesting factions that already exist within the Stellaris universe, some of which fit our tropes well and some of which inspired new ideas for factions that would fit into the game.

On top of that, we added different leaders to each faction. Each leader adds a good bit of variation within that faction, with their unique agenda (way of leveling up) giving a great roleplaying/personality hook so new players can know what to aim for and experienced players can know what to expect against each character.

Close-up of the combat
Nexus 5X – via Whatboy Games

Considering the depth and complexity of a traditional 4X game, how did you balance depth and speed in gameplay design within a fast-paced 60-minute session?

Adam: We really took inspiration from big tabletop games and some of the earliest 4X games like the original, iconic Civilization. We focused on the really important decisions the player has to make – what to research, what to build in each city, when and where to go to war, etc. – and realized that there weren’t actually that many in a full game!

A lot of the time is spent waiting for research, buildings, other players, or AI, and this is where we felt we could really streamline and optimize the playtime.

Our edict system helps here. It allowed us to keep most of the features and options available in a much larger 4X game but without overwhelming the player with every possible option each turn.

We were also committed to the design to make players’ turns truly simultaneous. From directing the growth of your empire to engaging in open warfare, the players or the AI can go about taking their actions independently, so you’re never waiting around for other Empires to make or resolve their actions.

From macro-level galaxy views to up-close ship-to-ship combat, the game’s visuals are stunning. Can you discuss the creative process behind crafting these visuals and how they contribute to immersion and gameplay engagement?

Adam: One of the things that was important for the game was to keep players in the ‘galaxy’ at all times. We didn’t want you to spend most of the time in menus or looking at numbers ticking up.

We came up with the idea of having two distinct detail levels: a zoomed-out, strategic view where all the info is presented in-world and a zoomed-in view to watch battles and see planets and solar systems in close-up detail – we dubbed this view ‘space-candy.’

Keeping these two views completely seamless was also a priority, again to keep the feeling of the game being one galaxy rather than lots of little distinct solar systems.

The art team spent a lot of time working on the look of the 3D elements – spaceships, planets, nebulae, and other stellar bodies and lighting – making sure they look beautiful and faithful to the Stellaris universe. Just as important though, was to make sure that everything was really clear from a gameplay point of view.

In a game this complex, there is a lot of information to parse, and to keep turn times down, the team did an amazing job of prioritizing and presenting all that info in a way that is also visually pleasing.

Nexus 5X - via Whatboy Games
Nexus 5X – via Whatboy Games

What challenges did you encounter while developing Nexus 5X, and how did you overcome them?

Adam: Some of the biggest challenges we had were in keeping the game competitive and balanced for a multiplayer experience with up to eight players. Even with a diverse range of factions, leaders, technologies, and play styles, we wanted to ensure that everyone had a fair shot at victory!

Our approach to this was to try to get as many people playing the game and feeding back to us as possible. Even before any public announcement or demo, we reached out to players in our existing community to enlist playtesters to get early hands-on and help us in development.

Gathering feedback and data from these playtests was invaluable and really helped us hone all the systems, factions, and content to get a really fun and competitive experience for all.

Could you share some details about the development journey of Nexus 5X, such as how many developers were involved in its creation and how long the game has been in development?

Adam: The concept of Nexus 5X is something that’s been in my head for a while now. After wrapping up our first game, Trials of Fire, we were approached by Paradox Arc, who were keen to see what we wanted to make next! We pitched them a very early concept of what would become Nexus 5X, and though a little skeptical of the promise of a 4X game in 1 hour, they were very keen to see if we could pull it off.

The original prototype development took about 5 months (with just me and one awesome 3D/UI artist), and we went back to Paradox Arc with a fully playable, but very early, version of the game. We all sat down and played through the game in multiplayer, and all really enjoyed what we played!

After we were green-lit to go into production, we started finalizing details and hiring a full team for production.

With everything in place, we started full-time production on the game in August 2022, launching into Early Access 17 months later! We had a very talented team of nine on the production of the game between code, design, art, and QA.

Lastly, what message would you like to convey to players who are considering trying out Nexus 5X for themselves?

Adam: If you’re interested, just jump in (and bring your friends)! I’d advise starting with a single-player game or two or going through some of the story modes before jumping into multiplayer. This will help to get your head around the decisions and rhythms of a full game.

When you’re ready, we have an awesome community on Discord if you want to organize games. Alternatively, just jump in and look for public games. Everyone is very welcoming!

Nexus 5X is a fast-paced turn-based board game, developed by Whatboy Games. The game was released on April 18, 2024 for PC. 

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