Grogheads Interviews Emperor of the Fading Suns Creator, Andrew Greenberg!

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In 1997 one of the greatest 4x strategy games in the history of PC gaming was released. It was called Emperor of the Fading Suns and my life would never be the same.  Somehow, this game managed to combine  strategic intergalactic conquest with planetary tactical turn-based combat and development, with a seamless transition from galactic map to planet surface for turn-based battles.  The game was simply epic in scale and scope, with complex and captivating lore to boot. To this day, EFS remains a fantastic and unique title and absolutely has withstood the test of time, like few other games from its era have managed. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to sit down with one of the developers of this masterpiece, Andrew Greenberg.



By: Craig H. Handler,

Grogheads:  Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!  At Grogheads, we are all huge fans of the Emperor of the Fading Suns games and universe and it is such a pleasure to speak with you about the history of the game system and your future plans for the series.  Why don’t we start by you telling us a little bit about your background in gaming, how Holistic got started and how the Fading Suns universe was born. What are your personal favorite games to play and how have they influenced your own creations?

Andrew:  I used to be a reporter for a legal affairs newspaper, writing about lawyers. I started writing about vampires, found them a better class of people, and stayed with it. In the early 90s, while making games in Stone Mountain, Georgia, I went to a Game Developers’ Conference in San Jose. There I met the team from Several Dudes Holistic Gaming. It tells you something about the state of the local game development industry then that I had to go to San Jose to meet another game development studio from Stone Mountain.

In any case, we were fans of each other’s games and decided to combine our skills for a new company. The Several Dudes had proven their skill in strategy games, and while I had primarily worked on RPGs and adventure games, games like Civilization, Merchant Prince and Railroad Tycoon were definite favorites. We combined forces to create a company that could do all types of games in a planned, deliberate fashion – Holistically, if you will 🙂 We are all big fans of the classic 4X games – eXploration, eXpansion, eXploitation and eXtermination – but at HDI, we thought they needed an equally important 5th X – conteXt.

Fading Suns and Emperor of the Fading Suns (“EFS”) were the first products of that union. While one was a tabletop RPG and the other a computer strategy game, we designed them to directly support one another. The EFS computer game was a high-level look at the setting, with the player as head of one of the warring houses battling for control of the stars. As soon as the war ended, the RPG started. The player characters could then support the new Emperor or work against him.

One of the best parts of all these games has been what players created for them, as in the EFS mods, Fading Suns stories, Noble Armada fleets and more. I believe this is true for all good games – they mainly exist as frameworks for players to create the experiences they want.

Grogheads:  Although the lore behind the the EFS PC game has some obvious influences in popular sci-fi canons like Dune and Warhammer 40,000, as a game, it was so unique. Few if any PC games before (and after to this day) mixed strategic intergalactic conquest with planetary tactical turn-based combat and development. The transition from the galactic map to planet surface is so seamless and it is part of what makes the game so epic in scale and scope. The design was brilliant and far ahead of its time. Please tell us how the system came about and why do you think it hasn’t been repeated since?

Andrew:  The Holistic Dudes had already developed a number of strong strategy games in the form of Battles of Destiny, Hammer of the Gods and Merchant Prince. Battles of Destiny had taught them good lessons about combined arms tactics for land sea and air, and Merchant Prince refined it a bit, though that was definitely not a war game.

With EFS, we wanted to build on that. It was great fun thinking up new, exotic units that would have a specific role in the combat mix. Each one really had to add something and not just be another way to spell Red Shirt.

We had similar fun pondering space combat, and many of those lessons show up in Noble Armada. We had played the classic space combat games – Traveler, Star Fleet Battles, Amoeba Wars and so on – and wanted something different. We wanted something that felt both grand and believable. It had to mesh with the ground combat experience we had already devised while bringing its own pleasure to the game.

As for why no one else has replicated that, it is hard for any one game to handle more than a few areas. Many games now focus on their minimum viable product (MVP) and EFS is the antithesis of that philosophy. EFS is a great object lesson both for the good and bad of the MVP method. The game is what it is because we threw in everything we thought would be fun, but that also made it difficult to ensure we implemented all these aspects as well as we should.

Grogheads:  Within strategy 4x gaming circles, EFS has a cult following and the game has reached legendary status among fans of the genre, including here at Grogheads. Was the game a commercial success when it was released in 1997? If it did not meet expectations, what do you think held it back?

Andrew:  The game was the best-selling game Segasoft had released, but that is not saying much. I know it went through at least two pressings, but we never got accurate royalty reports before Segasoft closed up shop. We were happy with the results, as it definitely attracted a lot more fans to the tabletop game. However, with a more experienced publisher, especially one in the strategy game space, it would have gotten much wider attention.

Grogheads:  PC gamers had to wait until the release of this year’s Noble Armada for an opportunity to delve back into the Fading Suns universe. What have you and Holistic been up to over the last decade or so? Please give us some background on the development of Noble Armada, (i.e. how it came about and how it fits into your plans to develop future content in the Fading Suns universe).

Andrew:  Back in the late ’90s, we had a publishing agreement with Panasonic Interactive Media for a Noble Armada computer game with strategy and RP elements. Unfortunately, Panasonic shut down that division while we were still early in development. We continued working on computer games like Warhammer 40K: Final Liberation, Merchant Prince 2 and Mall Tycoon, as well as our tabletop games (especially the Fading Suns RPG).

With the recession at the beginning of the 21st century, it became harder to get computer game contracts. The tabletop industry also went through major changes. We were all spending much more time managing a company instead of making games. We started licensing our IP and all began working on individual projects, like the SIEGE convention I run.

The new Noble Armada game came out of a conversation with one of the developers of the Fusion game engine. I was impressed by a space strategy game he was creating, and we discussed how to handle a computer game based on our Noble Armada miniatures game.

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Fading Suns Noble Armada questing knights

The new game is significantly scaled back from the original, as our budget was less than one percent of the original Noble Armada computer game budget. However, the mission editor allows us to capture a lot of the flavor of the Fading Suns, as well as for players to create their own adventures. As always, we want NALW to fit into what players want their game to be. If characters in the tabletop game are about to get into a space battle, they can fight it out with the miniatures game or the computer game. In addition, it does hide some hints as to what is going on under the surface.

Grogheads:  Noble Armada: Lost Worlds is based on a miniatures game. How closely does the PC game stick to the rule set for the miniature system? What are some of the unique features of the Noble Armada system and how does it differ from some other popular ship combat games, such as Star Wars Armada or Battlefleet Gothic?

Andrew:  The Noble Armada miniatures game has a number of unique elements. While we enjoyed existing space combat games, we wanted to play a space combat system that more closely aligned with real-world physics. This is a key reason many game developers get started – we want to play something that has yet to be made!


We worked hard to ensure that the computer game maintained close fidelity to the miniature game’s movement system. Spaceships can’t just turn on a dime in space. If they want to move, their pilots need to exert thrust in the direction they wish to go. If they want to turn, they need to exert thrust to counter their current vector. Thus, a key part of the game is maneuvering to line up your best shots.

In addition, we wanted to reflect the Fading Suns motif of technology in decline. Thus, instead of replicating air combat, which many space miniature games do, we went for an older template – the age of sail. Ships have to plan their actions and maneuver carefully to end up where they want to go. With a fleet, maintaining formation is key. Battles often end in boarding actions, with captured ships sold at prize courts.

Moving the miniatures game from table to computer required some compromise, but also gave us opportunities for cool mechanics, like a touch-and-drag facing and acceleration tool, as well as allowing the computer to handle any calculations players used to have to do.


Noble Armadas

Grogheads:  Noble Armada is very different from EFS as a game system. Specifically, Noble Armada has a much narrower focus, and seems to cover ship-vs-ship actions. Is there any strategic element to the game, such as resource management, research, diplomacy, etc.?

Andrew:  EFS handles the grand level strategy, where the player commands the armies and planets of one of the five most powerful families in the Known Worlds. The roleplaying game takes the granular approach, with the player controlling just one person. Noble Armada: Lost Worlds is the intermediary. You do not control the fate of humanity, but you make much more of an impact than can one person.

While I love tech trees and elaborate game economic systems, we did not have the resources to implement them for NALW. You do salvage enemy ships after battle for firebirds. With that coin, you can buy better weapons, more ships and additional troops. As for diplomacy, that is baked into some of the missions, and the player has little ability to change the outcomes.

Grogheads:  Please tell our readers a bit about the action in Noble Armada. Is it turn-based or real time? What can players expect in an average campaign or mission?

Andrew:  The answer is yes 🙂 We call this style of play pauseable real time. Since you can pause the game at anytime, it can act like a turn-based strategy game, only with the player setting the turn length. Players can also opt for only limited pausing and enjoy it like a traditional real-time strategy game.

We designed each encounter to last one to five minutes. The same is true with skirmish mode, though players can certainly create more elaborate encounters if they so desire. Missions are three to eight (or more) encounters, lasting 15-30 minutes. Campaigns involve multiple missions. This is where we hope players will lose themselves in the game, enjoying it for hours on end.

In any mission, they may encounter other nobles, pirates, heretics, aliens, spies and more. Each planet has its own story, further illuminating the Fading Suns universe.


Boarding action

Additionally, NALW has a robust and easy to use mission editor for any player to enjoy. Some of the most fun I had with the game has come from playing these user-generated missions.

Grogheads:  Noble Armada seems like it could easily be part of a much larger system. Are there any plans to expand it by adding more of a strategic element to the already existing tactical gameplay? If not, what are your future plans for Noble Armada in terms of further development or DLC?

Andrew:  We definitely plan to continue adding more missions and campaigns, and promoting the ones our players make. We are currently working on a console version of the game and are having fun devising controller schemes.

As far as making a more robust game, we still hope to be able to revive our old plans for a Noble Armada game that incorporates all the elements we love – strategy, RPG, economics, tactics and more. That would require a much larger team (and budget) than we currently have, but who knows?

Grogheads:  EFS was supported by fans long after its development ceased. Mods like the Hyperion and Nova patches extended its life significantly. One of the key features of Noble Armada appears to be moddability. What aspects of the game are moddable, how do users access the modding “tools” and how was the game designed to encourage modding by fans?

Andrew:  I love the mods players created for EFS and am already loving the missions NALW fans are making. When we started making the game, the mission editor was a bear, and nothing we wanted to inflict on fans. However, as we moved along with development, we realized it could be something almost as fun as the game itself.

One of the best aspects of the games Holistic made has always been the fans they attract. These are almost universally the kinds of people with whom we like gaming – smart, creative, introspective and fun. Getting them involved in the creation process is always rewarding.

We ran a Kickstarter specifically to fund creation of that mission editor, and I am very happy with what the team pulled off. The editor is now exactly what I am using to create the official missions, and the game has a specific tab for user-generated ones.

During the Kickstarter, we set up the missions so players could easily distribute them back and forth – trading, gifting, or even selling them. The game saves them locally as .ini files in their own directory, and players can share them freely. They can also edit existing .ini files, either with the Mission editor or any text editor. I’ve really liked the ones I played and look forward to more.

Grogheads:  You probably get this question a lot, but I have to ask…will there ever be a true remake of EFS, and if so, where can we send our donations to fund development!?!  While we are all waiting for the remake, will we get to see a re-released version on in the near future?

Andrew:  I will admit that the success of our Noble Armada Kickstarter already has us thinking of one for EFS, but doing that right requires a lot more resources than did a mission editor. It will also require good, talented partners, both to help with development and promoting the Kickstarter. Maybe when we put those together you will hear something.

As for GOG, we are already discussing partnering with them on some of our games. Remember that we made a lot of games – Merchant Prince, Hammer of the Gods, Final Liberation, Battles of Destiny and more. We will see how those discussions go before committing to anything.

Grogheads:  Well, we sure do look forward to what the future may bring from Holistic and the EFS universe. In the meantime, thanks again for the taking the time to indulge us.

Noble Armada: Lost Worlds is presently available on steam and directly from Andrew’s website for $19.99.

*Editor’s Note: After publication, Andrew clarified that he is only one of several of the creators of EFS and the Fading Suns universe. We apologize for not giving full credit to the entire team from Holistic Design Inc.

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