Monthly Archives: June 2014

Sick and tired

I just loaded the game “DarkStar One” onto my computer and I’m already burned out.

What is it about space games these days?

At least Solar Trader (still “under development”, meaning Jesse hasn’t returned the code yet) has some nice subset games. There is the interest in navigating a clean path to a moving planet, sometimes a hundred squares away. And of dealing with a dozen resource vectors, all to keep the ship running. And then you have the cities where time and minesweeper-skills comes into play. It’s really a nice little game, probably one of my best, and I’m looking forward to wrapping it up.

But things like FreeSpace, Elite and DarkStar, its all the same. Get a ship. Put weapons on it. Move cargo from place to place. Take side missions. Blow up ships. Repeat. Repeat.

This got me to thinking of what I’d really like to see in a game. First off, Solar has a nice encounter table that really taught me things about Excel encounter tables – like they should be big and modifiable. Once you get the basics going, you should be able to add new stuff pretty easily (with minimal supporting code). This should also be true of planets as well.

See, I think the idea of “a man with a ship” is so overdone, it makes me fall asleep just thinking about it. For our dream game, say you aren’t really a spacer. You don’t own a ship, you never will. Simply put, you need to buy a ticket wherever you are going. Perhaps it will be aboard a liner. Or maybe just some planet hopping rust bucket. But if you want to go somewhere, you’ll enter someone else’s ship and face whatever it may bring.

And people. The game should have characters that are generated and placed around the universe, people you can interact with, who can take the role of NPCs. These would be friends and enemies, perhaps a whore or a bureaucrat or a sweet-shack owner, or a captain or a mercenary recruiter. Like encounters, these figures should have all sorts of traits that give your universe life. Imagine hundreds of them across your generated universe, all doing their little things.

And cities. Solar Trader had them pretty good, that each planet has a different city feel to it. That’s what I’d like to see in this imaginary new game, where a huge settled planet would have a sprawling city with all sorts of districts but a fuel depot might only have a couple of windblown shacks and a couple of shops. Encounters should be tied to the sort of place it is (i.e. executives shouldn’t be strolling down the street of some Palukaville and prostitutes shouldn’t be working below the walls of NeoVatican). This goes back to those huge encounter tables. Everything needs to drive off a table, with as little coding as possible.

I’ve got a bunch of other ideas – sprawling encounters that encompass worlds, like interplanetary wars and economic crashes and all that. It would be interesting, even if you just set it in motion and let it run. Allow a thousand years to tick past, then generate a character and step in. Who knows? Maybe our next game…?

Memory Lane –After the Fall

After Deathrace, I decided to go back to just writing games for myself and selling what sold and playing what didn’t. Defeatist, maybe, but you’ll go crazy otherwise.

Years ago I’d played this load-from-tape game called Hammurabi. It was the old play of the Malthusian equation where population grows faster than food production. For mine, I envisioned a hot seat multiplayer game. The time frame was the just after some cataclysmic disaster to some nearby city. Each player represented a farming community just off this target zone. Instead of just people, you had Lieutenants, Warriors, Farmers, Techs, and Drones (i.e. middle manager sorts with no real skills). There were four seasons and some basic rules – you planted in spring (one farmer could farm eight or so plots), you maintained in summer (a farmer could maintain twice as many plots) and then the fall harvest (again, eight plots). Winter was pretty cold so everyone hunkered in and maybe hunted some. This meant you had a campaign season in the summer, a natural occurrence in medieval times.

The game was a lot of fun. Un-winnable, but fun. You got points for the number of people you had times their morale level, added to your grand score each season. So the idea was to live as long as you could, as happy as you could.

If you’d lived under a dome, this might have worked. However, something always went wrong. Someone would raid you or you’d have a bummer harvest or something. And then people would start starving. Inevitably, you’d find yourself in the end-game state: three warriors living in a ruined hut, hunting nonstop to stay alive. But man, it was a lot of fun. We’d laugh about it for hours.

This game had our first occurrence of “God Variables”, which are hidden computer variables that you only learn as you play and which are reset each game. This means the game will not play exactly the way it did before. Maybe in one game, farmers can farm a lot more fields. Maybe in others, warriors aren’t really that much better in combat. You just didn’t know until you played. It worked pretty well. We used it all over the place in Solar Trader.

We never did get the tech angle worked out – it just didn’t feel right. And it never went anywhere: we just played it a lot and then Jesse went off to college in Atlanta and that was that. But still, we’ve been talking about another game, a true multiplayer. And this might be our next project…