Category Archives: Uncategorized

WordPress theme failure

Not quite sure how, but our Twenty-thirteen theme for WordPress died at some point.   And our domain registrar forwards disappeared.  When Robert emailed me saying the site looked down, it took me some time to figure out what happened, but we are back up.  We are now on the Twenty-Seventeen theme so things may look a bit different, but we are back up…

My Dream List for ST

I’m just back from a vacation where I played an hour or so of Solar Trader every night (waiting for Jesse to finish off his diddlings). The thing is, every time I play, I think of new things I’d like to add. For instance…

1) Huge system with Moons: If I had it all over to do, I’d have spaced out the planets a bit more and put moons in. Jesse and I have spoken about this – it would be so cool to have missions to lunar bases. After all, if you can transport people to far away asteroid camps, the moon would just be a hop. But no, its a little late for that. Everything (gas, air use, power use) would have to be changed, along with some ancient and dusty original coding.

2) More encounters: Like 200+ encounters isn’t enough? I’d love to add new ones. Every time I see something on TV, or read a book, I think – there’s another encounter. Today, I thought about having a dream sequence that might happen while you are in the auto sleep bunk, where you fight your personal demons. It might be a fun sidebar.

3) New misssions: I’d like to add two new missions to the NQA (no questions asked) mission. One would be a photo recon of a deep-space drydock, where as soon as you go by, several picket ships go active and chase you. Another would be getting tossed into the game show “Hares and Hounds” where you have to fly a pod to a distant planet but several bounty hunters are after you. Both of these are doable – I just have to think it out.

4) Backstory: Jesse and I talked a lot about this one – it could be that you could pick these as helpful advantages (like starting with more cash and stuff). Backstories could help you in all sorts of ways. The neatest had it’s plusses and negatives – the haunted ship. Soon as you land, every rat and cat runs out and never comes back. Of course, if a haunting occurs, you take a morale hit and your passengers might go mad.

5) Patch & Go sales desk – like Pixies and the Souk and Droxias, you need a place where you can buy ship stuff. Since P&G has an empty button slot, this would be an easy thing to do. Now, before starting on one of those long long flights, you could gear up. Fun!

I don’t know how many of these I’ll ever add. Number 5 for sure – I could do that in a couple of minutes. The special missions, perhaps. Since OreLuggers is such a useful mission, it would be nice to get some variations in there. The others? I don’t know right now. I guess I need Jesse to wrap up so we can put this out to Beta.

Will it ever be finished? Anyone’s guess at this point…

Politics in Space

Funny thought came up today. A libertarian and a socialist write a game about a future. What sort of a place is it?

Jesse and I have been friends for decades, which is amazing when you think that we are polar opposites on every cultural or political issue. And what’s astounding is that, in thousands of weekly phone calls, we’ve never once had a nasty political fight. His points are always insightful and thoughtful, whereas mine are blustery rhetoric, but still.

So there came a time in the development of Solar Trader when planets and cities and such had to be added. We already knew what sort of universe this solar system of ours would be in 2075 (a bleak one, with immigrants desperately streaming off Earth,  heavy-handed rock bosses on Mercury, a reactionary government in Saturn’s drumstation, and the entire planet of Pluto a prison). Yes, it wasn’t a happy place.

So what would be a future a libertarian and socialist would agree on?

With a nod to Jesse, it would be a Chinese future, with their ruthless command economy dominating all. As we see now, China still pays lip-service to the ideals of communism, but really its all about the tightly-controlled and oppressed society, with a comfortable upper tier and a huge peon class. Their spaceport, a bleak thrown-together metropolis, is now falling apart, indicative of the planet it exists with.

And for me, there is its government-controlled mega corporation, humorously named “MaoCorp” (how could Chairman Mao ever support a corporation, anyway?). MaoCorp is the massive transport company the player (a FreeTrader) finds himself up against. MaoCorp has mob ties. MaoCorp crews hassle the player at every turn. In space, MaoCorp freighters might use their “defensive” weapons against the player if he gets too close (supposedly, they have an “exemption” for such weapons, which FreeTraders NEVER get). MaoCorp directors even send snipers after the player if he gets too successful.

So that’s the sort of universe that has slowly developed by two people with opposing political thoughts about what is “good” and “evil”.

I think the funniest place this shows up is, oddly, ship transponders. Each ship has a transponder, supposedly originally assigned by the Interplanetary Police (pretty much all that’s left of the UN, maybe). The player has a code assigned to him, as do all TreeTraders (an ISO number). Illegals tend to short theirs out. Dead ships automatically switch over to a binary SOS. Bases transmit their asteroid name (using long-standing designations recognized today).

But when Jesse first started working on mook navigation, he had all empty ship slots filled with MaoCorp ships, flying from a planet to a planet. The strange thing was, while most ships you could only see an AU or so away, you could see these guys all the way across the solar system. Why was that?

To fit this into the storyline of a government-backed corporation that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about UN mandates, MaoCorp has rerigged its transponders to “bellow” their codes so they can be tracked from HQ back on earth (perverting their intended use). Worse, they have their OWN codes, essentially an “MC”, followed by the origin planet, the destination planet, and the current sequential run. So, even though you are orbiting Mercury, you’ll pick up the amplified transponder for MC742, the second ship of this series running from Uranus to Mars, way far away. Just another reminding of how corporations ignore regulations when it suits them.

So that’s the system you are in, planets under near-feudalistic rule, inept police agencies bickering and fumbling, the belt swarming with pirates, as well as student riots, food riots, and immigrants lining up around the block at the Chinese Embassy, hopeful that anywhere else must be better than this.

Yeah, it’s a great place to fly around, the Solar Trader universe.

(The first move for a liberal like me is to buy a handgun. What’s that say?) 🙂

What can happen to you in Solar Trader?

Jesse is currently finishing up the NPC ship coding, and I’m just playtesting (another way of saying ‘screwing around playing a fun game’). Oh, I’m logging bugs (and the Beta version will have its share) but its largely playable.

So last night, I’m on the pad on Uranus. Distance-wise, it’s a ways out from Earth, very far. But I’ve made it running a special FedUp haul. Now I’ve got a cargo pod fulla fish (don’t you know we discovered aquatic life on Uranus? Don’t you know it’s delicious?). But I’m depressed, really depressed by what I’ve been through lately. I’m not looking forward to that long sunward lug to Earth and now Uranus Control (a sphincter, one might joke) is denying me liftoff, saying I’ll have to wait a day.

Hell with that. I’ve got drugs in my possession.

Yes, so here I am, playing the role of a respectable pilot, shooting up in the control seat, bringing my morale back all rosy, happy, and blinky-eyed. Hoo boy.

“Look, man, if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to drive while I’m stoned. It’s like you know your perspective’s fucked so you just let your hands work the controls as if you were straight.” (points to those who get the reference)

So there’s the green light – lights on! Hardburn  on! Final clearance check! Go! My ship lofts high into the inky Uranus sky, drives akimble. And then the onboard computer crashes. All systems go down.

Frantically I try to get the thrusters (the minimum I need) online but fail. Now the ship is falling and at the very last second, the drives (not hardburn) come on. Uranus doesn’t have much atmosphere so airbraking won’t work. I go for the minimal approach under limited burn and pull it off.

And now I’m sitting somewhere on the pad, my ship steaming, everything still offline except my basic burners.

And I get a fine for not calling space traffic control and clearing in (my radio was down, too).

Rebooting a ship is a time consuming effort. It took a day to get the hardburn running. It took another to get radio. And every day, I got another fine. Go ahead and penalize away – I’m never coming back to Uranus – I’ve got my load and I’m ready to go. For some reason, I call for clearance – I must have owed them four or five cash cards for my various violations. But being a tidy little captain (the drugs have long since worn off) I call, I clear, and I lift.

I would go on to die trying to get into Earth orbit, a combination of a ship’s fire, a bad solar flare and some sloppy navigation. Oh well. Still, that was an adventure the spacers across the various shipping lanes still talk about.

Solar Trader Goals

Just to be clear, it’s not a promise, nor commitment, nor anything like that – BUT I do have a goal, or perhaps a target of getting a version of Solar Trade solid enough for the next Beta release by year end.

This means Robert has to finish coding his mini games, I have to code space encounters, and we both have to get some test & play test time on the game.

And yes, my public posting of this is part of my kick myself in the tail to get it done.

Check back here on January 1 and see how we did.

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…

Memory Lane – DeathRace

Now that money was flowing in and I was learning coding methodologies at University of Central Florida (who knew about linear coding – I was so sloppy, I still blush at the mess Eagles was internally), I decided to write another game for SSI, this one from an old board game I’d done a decade earlier through our startup Setheral Simulations. DeathRace was a pretty neat car game. My hope was to combine the clean driving system of Grand Prix with a combat system with a lot of dice. Never got the driving part to work very well, but blasting someone in the trunk with a shotgun was a very satisfying sensation.

I got that game running in its most basic form and was just getting sound effects into it when I sent it to SSI. Sadly they were not interested. I’ll give them that the game probably needed a lot better graphics (I was up to my font tricks again, but I really couldn’t get the sounds to come across well). But the other reason they gave was that the same gaming house that stole our cute little board game idea (after stripping off the good points and introducing crap) also were now producing a computer version of it. So my copyright-violated board game was now being snuffed as a computer game by the same people? What a sad irony.

And you know what? A year later I finally did manage to pick up their game and give it a play on the Atari. And it sucked. It really did. I wouldn’t have minded so much if my hopes had been crushed by a product of merit. But no, this was just a crummy arcade game that didn’t work very well.