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Put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip and come on in to the mothership!

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Halley's Comet of Journals?

Lessee, 2014 huh? Last journal entry was in 2008. Previous one was 2006. Geez, at this rate my next entry should be done by what, 2020?!

I've been possessed of late, animated with a need to write about games, mostly surrounding a topic in gaming that's become absolutely radioactive. Likely everyone who follows gaming news knows what I'm talking about, and it's extremely divisive, so I don't want to talk about it here. But I find that I feel so strongly about it that its cut into my game development time, so maybe writing here is a way of recovering balance.

So, with that in mind, be warned. Serious TL;DR ahead.

I'm not posting much about games these days, but I'm still working on them. Some of the ideas I've posted about ages ago are still alive. I'm not sure I'll ever stop loving space games, or wanting to make them.

This year, however, has been about beating the logic of the "sunk cost fallacy," the lie that you can't turn back now because you've spent too much going the way you're going. I had been working on a game using Torque 2D, but the farther I got, the more wrong the process seemed to be. Torque's a great engine, especially in its new open source form, and my project had started life on the closed source version (Torque Game Builder) as an epic space trading RPG set in a randomly generated galaxy. Initial development seemed easy once I'd picked up the scripting language of TGB, and once it went open source I started dreaming of a sort of Dwarf Fortress in space, with a huge emphasis on exploration, crew development and random encounters.

But as I succeeded, I began to struggle with an embarrassingly simple problem. I didn't want to make a 2D game.

Yeah, I know. Dumb. What's that they say about insanity?

I'd originally chosen Torque because it felt faster to get up and running for a lone wolf dev. My dirty little dev secret is that although I can program, I don't especially enjoy it. The faster I can move a thought into interactions on the screen, the happier I am, and I've preferred engines over rolling my own because I really can't stand the fiddly bits. I'm like an author that just wants a typewriter without having to learn the metallurgy and chemistry needed to build one.

Torque Game Builder had rudimentary 3D support, treating 3D objects as sprites. It was perfect for what I was planning. But the collapse of Garage Games took out TGB, or at least any future updates, and when the company came back from the dead with Torque 2D MIT, 3D didn't make it and wasn't planned. Not devastating, though, because there were lots of other goodies, and isometric was still possible. A big challenge was that the engine now lacked an editor, which was a hit to productivity, but I reasoned that I had lots to learn, the editor was around the corner, and the ability to customize the engine was compelling.

After awhile, though, I felt frustrated and stuck, less due to the engine and more to my own limits. The smart thing to do to learn and improve in game development is to make and COMPLETE small projects, but every time I've done this I've felt my motivation disappear mid-project. At this point in life I realize I'm only ever going to be who I am. Whatever is happening in my head that causes this experience is unlikely to change any time soon. So the best I can do is manage my own insanity and try to abstract and constrain gameplay in a way that doesn't balloon content and coding requirements.

(My success here may be debatable.)

So I lost a lot of time trying to shoehorn my ideas into 2d. I cut things out, I abstracted, tried to add gameplay to bolster weakened areas, saw the design contort in the wrong direction (life sim/RPG?) and through it all attempted to maintain my failing morale by playing games more like what I was likely to be making. Smugglers IV, for instance, showed me that abstract space combat might be fun. Weird Worlds gave me quick and dirty planetary encounters. Character portraits could stand in for characters. Exploration might work like in Planet Stronghold.

Maybe? Maybe? Yeah, maybe.

At this point I'd sunk probably thousands of hours into design and development. I'd gotten as far as a huge space map, randomly generated planet surfaces, rudimentary logic for procedural empires, some specific encounters. There was a bit of base exploration, a history generator that I thought could be turned into some sort of procedural story/mission generator and a sweet random word generator I'd stayed up until 5 AM coding one night. I was about to push into procedural cities.

At this point I was starting to notice that it was getting harder and harder to make the game more granular, and the more zoomed in I got the worse the game looked. I'm only slightly dangerous with art, and it's a heck of a lot easier to animate an asteroid than it is an animal. Add to that Torque 2D MIT still didn't have an editor, even months after release, and I was increasingly finding it hard to learn and experiment with risky concepts.

Eventually, I hit a wall. Carving up my design into more and more abstract representations began to feel like bludgeoning myself with a hammer. I think I stopped working on anything for months. Maybe lots of months.

Unity had been exploding through this time, maybe well before, but I barely noticed other than to note the growing number of "Made With" games out there. I think I'd last looked at it back when it was Mac only, can't really remember. But I have a habit of sticking to whatever I invest myself in, sometimes well beyond the point that it's not working (queue life lesson *bing!*), so I didn't notice.

It's a weird fact of my life that no matter how hard I try to get away from game development, even when it's not working,I can't stop doing it for long. I once gave up gaming entirely, no making, playing, thinking or talking about it allowed. I got into motorcycles and databases and stressed out a good gamer friend who suddenly didn't know what to talk to me about anymore. I lasted a year.

I guess this is a curse, one which some of you share. To me it's not about profit, or career or success. It's about the need to say something no matter what. To quote the annoying mission failure screen in Fuel, you.. "Keep trying, or fail forever."

So at some point I stopped being stubborn, started seeking other options and risked Unity. Hidebound as I am, afraid of change as I am, I gambled that it had to be better than being stuck where I was.

It was the best decision I've ever made.

I think I started experimenting near the end of last year and since then my productivity has exploded. As with Torque, I find there's a huge learning curve, and I've always had crappy math skills so I'm again confronting that. But the stability and maturity of the engine has really rescued my project.

So what do I have so far? Lots, though not yet tied all together, and no part by any means finished. But there are explorable solar systems again. There are MASSIVE procedural planets with biomes with levels I think larger than Fuel, a severe allergic reaction to Mass Effect's disappointing postage-stamp sized worlds. I've got the barest beginnings of randomly generated interiors I hope to turn into faction bases and alien ruins. I'm starting to learn Poser Game Dev (and just spent 3 days trying to model #*@!&$! boots) and as that comes along so will characters, armor, and gear.

Of course, it's only a start and I'm quite aware that there's far more ahead than behind. But what the hell! Even if it snowballs, I'm having more success and more fun than ever before. And when I think from time to time about whether this is the best use of a limited life, I'm not in the least bit regretful. Yeah what I'm dreaming about is ambitious, ludicrous, devouring of time and resources, but really, what else am I gonna do with myself?

See ya in 2020.




My Life in 30 Seconds

Hello gamedev. After ages being absent, I'm feeling a bit like Halley's Comet. For the old timers and friends who wondered, "Whatever happened to Wavinator??? Is he dead???" here's the 30-second digest:

I've been out of game development for years, mostly doing database programming for a healthcare company in California. Life and the job took up much of my free time, and the high hopes I'd had for developing an open-ended science fiction RPG where pretty much dead. In fact, I was so disgusted with the whole reality of indie development that I stopped thinking about games or even playing them for over a year.

The funny thing about some passions, though, is that no matter how far you try to get from them they still follow you. I heard this great piece of wisdom recently: "Some barriers in life exist solely to let you know how much you want something." And I can't seem to escape wanting to develop games.

So after a long moratorium, I've found myself going back over old notes and resurrecting bitrotting code (albeit with far less ambition than my previous kitchen-sink designs :P). I've gotten into game development using the Torque engine and have a flying ship with a stellar background up and working as a proto.

Anyways, aside from the fact that I've moved from California to Canada to marry a wonderful woman who happens to live here (we're planning for June), not much is happening.

I'm looking forward to being a part of the gamedev community again.




Down, But Not Out

Sincere apologies to anyone who still checks this journal from time to time for the lack of updates again. I was down with crashed hardware for weeks, then got injured at work in the most unbelievably idiotic accident of my life-- my chair caught on a floormat and dumped me (yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's right... I somehow managed... to fall... out of a chair... obviously I'll be attending remedial "Sitting 101: Philosophy and Methods"[rolleyes]).

I think I sidestepped a fractured tailbone and lower back injuries, but won't know for sure until I get my X-rays back this week. Honestly, it would be hilarious if the past two and a half weeks hadn't been pain soaked exercises in what it will one day be like to be elderly (like the 2 minutes to tie my shoes or get into the car... a real laugh riot[rolleyes])

Anyways, FWIW, I'm feeling a lot better and getting things underway again.

Straylight Update

Make that 78,967 ship names. [grin] I'm almost done. Some random examples: Princess of Alula Borealis, Guardian's Lore, Mysterious Veil and Sojourn's Reach.

I've just got to finish up the pirate, ethnic and mythic names before I'm happy. Right now it looks like coming up with about +100k will be a snap, and with procedurally generated ships, will really be a subtle way of expressing the sense of a large and varied galactic society.

Status Effects: I've been working to finish up the basics of code for procedural status effects. The core idea is that you can be affected by a wide variety of forces via technology or spatial anomalies, some of which span light years. If I can figure this out, you'll be able to negate or take advantage of these effects as you encounter them.

As usual, more later...




What's In A Name?

Ya gotta love procedural development. I just finished randomly generating more than 10,000 starship names. And not the kind of crap gobbledy-gook names you tend to get from Markov lists, either! Examples include "Maiden's Dream," "Queen of the Heavens," "Titian Tiger", "Nightwind" and "Eastern Thunder." The names have weights, as well, which assigns them a greater chance of belonging to pirates, bounty hunters, freelance independents or even romantic cruise ships (like "Empress of Love").

This adds to the 2,000+ handcrafted starship names I've already created (and don't ask how long THAT took! [grin])

I started this side project, btw, because of how Escape Velocity, Freelancer and Independence War made me feel every time I ran into the same few ship names. I don't know if it bothers you as much as it bothers me, but when I'm told a dozen times in a row to hunt down "The Black Dragon" it loudly reminds me that I'm playing a game.

Anyways, there's more to tell, but I'm too sleepy for a more extensive update. More later...




Deus Ex Machina

Illuminati, Tunguska, Stonehenge, Roswell...

You know, I think the NSA has been piping sleep fog into my room. For the last few days I've been coming home and practically falling asleep as soon as I get to my room. Sure, I wake up around 10 or 11 PM, but by then, it's too freakin' late to do nearly anything!

Of course, getting only about 5 hours of sleep a night probably wouldn't have anything to do with it. [rolleyes]

Straylight Update

"We are not responsible for all of the evil in your world, but I fear a great deal of it is our doing. We have been shaping you since before you stood upright. Shaping you towards a purpose unimaginable. And a great deal of that shaping has involved winnowing-- sometimes individuals, sometimes entire civilizations."

The game world of Straylight begins 100 years from now on what I call Phoenix Earth. It is a world rising from the ashes of a nanotech induced apocalypse. The world is a contrast of high and low tech, of massive cities with monolithic, 3 mile high towers and raider and machine plagued badlands. We're reaching into space at the same time that we're trying to rebuild the world.

The people of the world know their Earth has been ruined by the wickedness, greed and short-sightedness of previous generations. But as the player, you will learn that this is only partly correct.

The Indwellings have been with us forever. They may be fallen gods, or benign shepards, or foul puppetmasters. Whatever they are (you'll have to play to find out [wink]), they represent an undying force in the game's universe, one responsible for guiding events and influencing human destiny.

When the game begins, you're a refugee from the wastelands, the sole survivor of a particularly brutal nanostorm (a constant scourge which can dissolve entire towns). You're raised in the safe haven of an arcology and use gameplay to choose your skills, career, patron family and several other character and gameworld factors.

Before you leave this beginning safe area, however, a plot-point must be resolved. This not only clues you in to who and what you are, it affects how you will play the game.

More on this in the next post...




The Risk of an Idea

A good friend of mine, who has practically become my codesigner for Straylight, has just returned from Nevada. Before he left to try out new job opportunities over a year ago we talked endlessly about open-ended games, consequences, and what real freedom might mean in a game like Straylight. In fact, years ago it was his input that made me see the merrits of cooperative play and console gaming, and without his fervent arguing on dozens of points Straylight might have well ended up as Asteroids: The RPG. Of course, it would have been done by now... but anywho...

The process of arguing a game idea, particularly a risky one, is always interesting because it relies so heavily on "mights," "ifs" and "maybes." Reaching out into the unknown takes a certain amount of faith, and maybe even a basic amount of skill of handling the very concept of "newness" (seen best in not treating it like the "oldness" you already know). Take, for instance, the idea of not being able to quickload in an open-ended game. Very controversial (just search the near-flamewar wasteland of Game Design under this topic if you want examples). Ninety-nine percent of the time I'm a foaming at the mouth, rabid "let the player play the way they want to" adherent, which means free-saving whenever, why-ever.

But as I've narrowed down the experience I'd like to be able to offer with Straylight the idea of removing the need to quickload has become EXTREMELY compelling. Not from an arrogant, "I say you can't save" position, but from a "death is uninteresting, loss is far more interesting" place. More and more I'm convinced that certain really fun, really engaging experiences will be impossible with saving. But while the idea may have promise, not a lot of games do it well, and it is very risky (remember the first Predator vs. Aliens and how the fanbase kicked Fox's *** in the press until they issued a save patch?)

So arguing an idea like this with my friend is a very fascinating experience. He doesn't, like many, fall back on the hazy "if it's done right" aphorism that seems to plague surface-level game design. That doesn't get you anywhere. Instead, he goes right for the throat. How, he asks, can you be sure that players won't fall into some unseen negative experience unanticipated by testing and planning and programming? How do you make the process of recovery from mistakes as interesting as whatever preceded making them? How do you distinguish between a stupid mistake (like accidentally firing on a dreadnaught while in a shuttle) and a fateful choice? What about crashes and file corruption?

My temptation is to reach for the mights, ifs and maybes. But the real answer-- the only answer you can ever give-- is that you won't know until well into building it. Sometimes I wonder if this is exactly how Fable and Freelancer stumbled. My friend raised that point during our last discussion-- that Molyneaux basically said that he was trying to do so many new things that the game they were making, over time, less and less resembled the game they'd hyped.

I'm not, of course, comparing myself to Chris Roberts and Peter Molyneaux. But its interesting to see how even the well-heeled and funded, experienced developers, when reachng out past the well-trod "X was popular, let's make a game like X" ideaspace run afoul of the same problem, again and again. It's almost as if, when reaching into the untested, you need to constantly keep the logic of your assumptions-- and all the implications for gameplay and the player's experience that they embody-- organically modelled and alive in your head as you plan; then that plan has to be reality-checked by bouncing it off of others and validated in playtesting as much as possible before coding.

Obviously, this whole process of reaching into the unknown to solve problems isn't unique to game design. This makes me wonder what other methodologies other creative or pioneering disciplines might have to offer. Heh, we might turn this whole gaming thing into a science yet. [smile]

Straylight Update

And speaking of risky ideas...

After lots of good feedback from friends and the great folks of Game Design, I'm going to risk casting you in the role of an Indwelling, a spirit-like entity inhabiting human flesh. But I've decided not to spring it on you all at once, keep it story-drive and understated, and make you something of a human-spirit hybrid.

I'll explain more in my next post, but the gist is that you're the essence of destiny, the embodiment of choice. There are other Indwellings in the world just like you, embodying essential natures humans would identify with, such as fear or honor. Indwellings have symbiotically existed in humans throughout history, gradually uplifting us and directing our path. That delicate balance ends abruptly at the start of the game when you, the Indwelling of destiny, are murdered.

More later...




You DON'T Know The POW-er...

Welp, I've gone and done it. I've gone to the dark side. Severely disappointed that my legions of loyal journal readers didn't get me a single thing for Christmas, I went out and did the unthinkable: I bought an XBox.

Now, I know what you're going to say: Turncoat! Traitor! Console Terrorist! But hear me out for a sec... as much as I've ranted against the insipid simplicity of console games over the years, you've got to admit... it's hard to beat multiplayer co-op, especially when you can be in the same room with your best friend who has invested in two massive TVs. And it seems that the console market is increasingly starting to understand that people want to play games together once in awhile!!

So what was the reason for my selling out? Mouse and keyboard. I finally found a mouse and keyboard adapter for the XBox, and it works flawlessly. So you might say that I'm actually still representing for PC, especially when I kick the a##es of all my Halo playing, controller fondling friends.

Hey, you think that makes me a double agent? [rolleyes]

Straylight Update

I've been splitting time this week between learning the Torque Shader Engine and art techniques like normal mapping. The folks at Garage Games plan to provide pretty robust support for a wide variety of the shader techniques out there, and I'm way behind the curve on this technology. In case you're interested in this topic, I've found this guy's site to be very helpful (I'd be happy to hear of others you may know of, tho')

Casper The Friendly Ghost?
How would you feel about playing an alien spirit? This might be a severe wrong turn, but for the purposes of story and design I'm considering casting you in the role of an Indwelling, which is an ancient embodiment of a power or ability. Story-wise, Indwellings would be akin to fallen gods, responsible (Illuminati-style) for engineering many events on the Earth, particularly the "nanocaust" that gives the high-tech/post-apocalypse universe you'll start with. As an Indwelling, you'd be able to hijack or possess hosts and you'd be unkillable (no death, no quickload). More importantly, you'd build a dynasty over generations in order to become more and more powerful.

I'm not completely okay with the idea, but it does solve many design problems I've been fighting with (how to eliminate game-over upon death, how to add in a feel of families and bloodlines, how to kill empires via catastrophe, collapse or invasion and keep the game playable).

For anyone interested, there's a thread in Game Design on this. I think the chief problem with the idea so far is that it's hard to relate to a spirt, and that the idea might be a bit too fantasy / New Agey for a sci-fi game.

My goal is to come to a resolution on this by the end of next week.




2006 - Reassess and Renew

I like that the beginning of a new year is considered a time of renewal. It gives you a chance to wipe the slate clean, and I'm taking this time to do that Straylgiht.

I've not been at all happy with snail's pace of the project this past year. Yes, there have been many reasons for the slow progress, but the bottom line is that I have not kept my word. I've declared that I would do things, and I haven't done them. An idea I've found to be very effective is that "successful people are successful because they do what they say they're going to do."

Straylight hasn't been very successful at all. I've lost about six people who had signed on to do art or coding due to the lack of progress. I never finalized the design or technical needs spec, and a lot of the early momentum I had a year ago dried up.

I look at this as a time for failure analysis-- what went wrong, and how do you fix it so that it doesn't go wrong again?

The biggest problem with this project simply has been time. In December of '04 my goal had been to work part-time as much as possible in order to have as many hours as possible on the project. Initially this worked, but I made a mistake in taking on a writing project as well. Not only did this cut into Straylight, but the writing project itself had some management problems (spec changes) that required me to give up many more months on Straylight (I even had to quit a part time job in order to devote two months to the book).

So ultimately this has been a failure of time management on my part. It partly stems from overcommitting--too many projects, too many obligations, heck, even too many friends! O_o But time management is something that can be fixed.

So my strategy is this:

Work 20 hours a week on Straylight. (Just completed my first stint this past week, btw.)

Get more manpower as originally planned. (As a start, I've got a phone meeting this week with a dean of a local art college to discuss offering a work for credit arrangement to some of their students).

Keep this place updated so that I'm visibly accountable for making progress or not.

With a little luck and a lot of effort, '06 will be the year that Straylight really starts to take shape!




The Hits Just Keep On Coming

Ever have a week that makes you look around and wonder if you've offended someone on a cosmic level? This one's been like that for me. Yes, the hits just keep on coming, and include such wonderful experiences as:

Having to take off and put back on the entire right inner panel of my car door-- one hour before dark, right after work. Why? Because I decided to roll down the (electric) window and it decided not to roll back up. I'm now have a car whose right window should NEVER be rolled down.

Losing the security badge to the office I work at and finding WEDGED UNDER the rollers of the driver's seat (a near physical impossibility)

A boss that asks for a completely database 1 hour before I leave (She has pointy hair, wonder what that means...)

Well, at least it's not as sporty a time as I had when I was writing my book. [rolleyes]

Straylight Update

After having to put it aside for the last couple of months I'm back trying to get the Torque Shader Engine up and running. My goal this weekend is to spend some time mapping out the overall architecture. If there's time, I'm also going to try to get more art into the Torque Show Tool (maybe a completely textured starship) so that I can both keep my skills up and nail down one part of the asset pipeline.

Family, Montage Mode, Death and Rebirth
You know, maybe I should stop kidding around with this and get down to some serious stealing. After all, one of the Straylight's objectives is to capture the essence of sci-fi (or SF for you purists). So instead of trying to wedge the semblance of normal family and clan, why not leverage some of the interesting takes on "family" in SF:

Strong themes that often appear:

Natural versus engineered - As I've mentioned in posts, maybe this suggests a tech tree of genetic effects that mimicks character leveling, except its across generations.

Ancestor Ghosts - What if the knowledge and voices of all of your ancestors was available to you? That would really upend the "skilling", and definitely would require some system for continuous challenges.

Digital interaction - Brainphones? VR? Maybe "iconizing" some family interactions will help cut down on a major problem with this idea, depiction.

Dayclubs and simming - Is there a need for schools and classrooms in the future? If knowledge comes in the form of implants or RNA sequencing, kids would learn faster and family dynamics would look very different.

Mind Design - If you can tailor your child's genes, how much of their psychology can you alter? And how much should you alter? There's an interesting range of possibilities here which could make how you treat offspring critical.


Conceptually, I'm still groping for ways that will make this matter in terms of gameplay, rather than an arbitrary story. I've got to look at it in two ways: Is there any gameplay in being a member of a family, and is there any gameplay in heading a family?

I'm still not sure, but as it's late I'll have to continue this later...




Is That A Dead Skeleton Sitting In The Corner?

Geeze, no updates for weeks, this place is dusty again!

I have a most interesting life: A book that is about to be published, a job with a boss that tries to give me two hours to do work that will take two days, and a magically replenishing To Do List of items that are idiotic, mundane and completely unavoidable (includes: "Was burning smell while driving due to the paper towel the mechanic left in my engine? And what the hell are rocks doing near the altenator? Note to self: Find new mechanic.")

Straylight Update

Ever get the bug for putting some feature into your design and have it drive you crazy, to the extent that you're wondering what in the nine hells possessed you to try and add it in the first place? For me, this lovely little design apocalypse has been family. Right now I hate the very concept, and if I didn't already shave my head every day I'd be tearing out my hair.

Here's the basic problem: Straylight has the ambition of making time pass and the world change around you. I wanted to draw in two types of gamers into this world, the more hardcore RPG and strategy gamers and the more casual Sim or builder players. (I'll bet you that was my first mistake.)

If time passes and nothing changes, the illusion of a living, breathing world (often the aspiration of every open-ended game) will vanish. Everyone will seem immortal and everything will seem ageless. This is just the right feel for a medieval game, but is a disaster for a science fiction game.

So for months I've been trying to figure out how to give you two strategic options and make them matter: A player run dynasty, or some sort of faction. A faction, which can be anything from a starship crew to a thieves guild or even some sort of simple in-game business works just fine (on paper anyway). But a family introduces a number of problems, most prominently based around two things: Gameplay, and aesthetics.

Why have a family? At the most mercenary level, I first thought of it as being a kind of continue system. But that doesn't work because in an RPG-like game you invest heavily in a single character and by doing so, become emotionally attached. This makes the events in the game world more visceral and lifelike. So the "aesthetics" of an RPG (heroic involvement in a grand world) clash with the aesthetics of family (personal and often mundane drama on a small scale)

Okay, so what if I could shift the focus from a single character to a bloodline? No, that turns the game more into a management sim. Well, what if the game were more episodic and you played important roles at different times in the family's history? Nah, now we're really getting off track.

So what I've been discovering (the hard way) is that my thinking isn't at all yet clear on major area of the design. I don't yet know if this is a completely dead end that I should abandon and move past. I still have some hope that I can at least create the right feel with the Montage Mode I've talked about before, so it doesn't seem right to just completely dump it yet.

Briefly, I've been thinking of doing this:
-I've had in mind a whole faction system. I could just simply make family no different save for that they're faction members who are more likely than not to be ultraloyal. As a trade off, you wouldn't be able to modify them (cybernetically, genetically) like devoted hirelings, though.

-Anything that's messy and complicated about family (like rebellious children, or sibling rivalry) would either be dumped or put into Montage Mode, meaning you're presented with situations that in turn spawn world settings.

-In Montage Mode, your character's personality traits could trigger family related events. This is similar to Tropico. Not the best solution (as you're not in control), but at least it retains the taste (aesthetics again) of an RPG

What I still don't yet know is how to handle succession at death. The design already calls for your character to die after a certain amount of time (unless you find a fountain of youth or become post-human/AI). That's necessary for suspension of disbelief, I strongly think. And the story says that for some reason you keep being reborn.

But who do you play? One of your offspring? Or someone a generation or more later?

I don't have a real solution to this yet. As usual, more later (hopefully sooner than later this time around, though).




You know you've been designing too much when...

Today, a series of transmission stutters with my car finally culminated in a "Service Engine Soon" warning light, and the first thing I thought was, "you know, this random event just isn't interesting. There's no gameplay unless I'm a Mechanic Class."

O_o Guess I've been thinking about games too much.

Straylight Update

Unfortunately, nothing interesting to report here. I'm fighting a fire involving my book that's taking most of my time.




In Hades, All the Programmers Use VBA

Not much time this eve because I've been studying MS Access and VBA. From a C++ programmer's point of view, VBA is purgatory, let me tell you (and I know that Beezebub is laughing his forked tail off at me). Writing code with it is a little like trying to compose the Illiad in Notepad (or Edlin, if you're that old school).


Straylight Update

Not a tonn to report, unfortunately. I had to fly to LA to do training for my new job and that really ate up my time. I have, however, been thinking intently on how to merge map-based empire gameplay with RPG gameplay.

The most vexxing challenge is not how you make it work (I think I know the gameplay for that), but how to show it to players. Civ players are used to looking at an iconic tile map. Old-school RPG players are also used to looking at handpainted maps. But the two display drastically different information.

I've been wondering if a slow-time version of Civ on a 3D scale with true 3D movement would work for this? Because of time and difficulty, I don't want to wade into the realm of procedurally generated planets. I have a deep suspicion that as soon as you raise the visual bar that high, all content must match it. That would kill a lot of the VR gameplay I have in mind and help create a disasterously expensive expectation for realism across the board.

So I've been thinking of a VR mode that's summarizes important details without getting bogged down in visual detail. For some reason I have this thing for 3D terrain tiles, even though that might be ridiculously cumbersome. I likely won't do it, but I really like the idea of a grid of tiles, each tile which can be zoomed into an actual map. (Maybe I just like the idea of tons of maps to play on)

I've been using Wings3D to create mockups of what this might look like (with connecting roads and mountains and such) but haven't gotten anything yet that I'm happy with. There are plenty of issues to deal with when not using the fully procedural approach. For instance, how are distant objects that should be visible (like mountains) handled? How are changes to the map reflected in the RPG viewpoint (creating a crater, for example).

I've not yet had a chance to really dig down into the Torque engine or talk with the community to see how this might be dealt with, so I'll have to post more on this later.




What If People Were More Important Than Things?

This week I talked with a fellow who has started a foundation for artists, and is enthusiastic about seeing more positive computer games. We had a great conversation, and I learned that he's on a first name basis with several folks in the game industry (a VP from EA is on the board, apparently), but I came away from the conversation a bit troubled and wondering just exactly what a "more positive" game is.

I know I'm not working on GTA. In fact, two big things bug me about that game: the first is how it gets false props for being one of the first open ended games evar(?!); but the second is how its sleazy nihilism seems so lauded. Debates on violence and whatever aside, I consider the latter a corrosive example of a "negative game".

But where does that leave a supposedly positive game? Is it supposed to be filled with hearts and flowers and Sims you seek to drown in a pool? If your game has violence or conflict, is it automatically negative?

I've twisted myself into knots over this and the best I can think of is that it is the lack of consequences that make a game positive or negative. If you genocide some helpless race in a 4X game and the galaxy responds with kudos, that's not positive. (Although, tough luck explaining that nuance to Senator Clintion).

Straylight Update

The title of this post highlights my hopes for making planets and other locations much more interesting.

I break the problem into two categories: How to make uninhabitated locations interesting, and how to make settled areas feel alive.

Uninhabited Worlds: An Awful Waste of Space
Maybe its the case that a realistic cosmos is filled with dead, lifeless worlds. But as a character said in the movie Contact, "It would be an awful waste of space."

So let's instead imagine a galaxy whose worlds have been left with the muddy bootprint of thousands of intelligent species, most of which have gone extinct in the 13 billion-odd years of the universe's existence. Some have flourished into galactic empires, others have never left their cradle.

I'll use this scenario to reason three types of uninhabited (by intelligence, anyway) worlds: There are what I'll call the "Utility Worlds," the "Wildlife Worlds" and the "Ruined Worlds."

Utility Worlds have something that's continuously useful, such as minerals or control stations that can boost warp travel. They often form some sort of strategic lynchpin, either at the company, faction or empire level. Storywise, they're uninhabited because they've been lost in fallen empires, or by periodic attacks by Siegers, or when the galactic wormhole network has from time to time reconfigured itself.

Wildlife Worlds are filled with plants and animals. This will be a mix and match affair of life that's been cross-polinated through the wormholes that connect the many worlds. Unfortunately for hapless colonists (and fortunately for the player), many of these creatures will be the most aggressive and deadly mixes that have managed to survive. Although the shapes of creatures can only have so many forms, I'd like to create a huge variance on the stats and abilities.

Ruined Worlds are those with riches and traps, some of them exceptionally powerful and dangerous. Ships might, for instance, find the equivalent worlds they can land on but not leave until solving a puzzle, or ones where automatic defenses left over from a million year old war shoot them out of the sky. From these worlds, technology can be mined and brought back to help one's own empire/faction.

(btw, I'm calling these "worlds" but technically they can be mixed and matched. You could, for instance, have a Ruined Island on a Wildlife World.)

Inhabited worlds take on a totally different flavor. In these locations, I'd like people to be more important than machines. Ultimately, this boils down to your weath and access to equipment or ships (or "stargate" equivalents) being linked to helping and impressing the right people.

I think the key to doing this is using stats and status effects, and setting up NPCs to be somewhat like puzzles. I also think its critical that NPCs actually move around in the universe, particularly so that they can either find and confront the player or interfere with the areas that the player has touched.

I've got a bunch more to say on this, but this post is already a bit too long, so I'll reserve the rest for the next time...




Or What's A Heaven For?

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for?"

I love that quote by Robert Browning because its so empowering, especially when you're working on a project with an insane scope. [grin] Since I've been thinking about galaxy generation stuff all day, I'll just jump right into it...

Straylight Update

Ysaneya and evolutional made some great points in responding to the last entry about galaxy generation here: Essentially, focus on creating a certain number of content rich places, then design the gameplay so that the content rich places are easy to get to.

But if a galaxy has differientiated regions, some boring, some exciting, I fear that players may blame the game for allowing them to do something that they won't have a positive experience doing-- namely, traveling to the boring places. Just like games that allow you to trap stupid AI, or reward creep and save, or provide lucrative rewards for uninteresting risks, players often feel compelled to do what a game allows. I don't know why, but I think it can't be ignored.

So if you offer them a galaxy, how do you make it interesting to go everywhere?

To answer this question, I'm going to break the problem into two domains. How do you create interesting interstellar space, and (a more granular problem) how do you create interesting planets?

Quick Detour: Why Is "Interesting" Interesting?
In games, interesting seems to come in two flavors: One which emotionally impacts the player strongly but often fades quickly, and another which reinforces the meaning (or the whole point) found in playing the game.

Beauty and immersive environments, I think, offer the most striking but short-lived embodiment of "interesting." Seeing places you've never seen before and witnessing breathtaking vistas and colors is very satisfying initially. But over time it's like being given an expensive gift every day. After awhile, the value fades as the experience becomes routine. (This isn't to say that beauty shouldn't be used-- it certainly should! But it shouldn't be relied upon exclusively to maintain player interest.)

OTOH, I think a more enduring form of "interesting" arises solely from the utility of the objects and environments found in a game. "That's nice, but what can I do with it," is something I've heard many a game reviewer and player say.

If this concept has any merit, then is it possible to look at the utility of the immense space of a galaxy and design the game from that standpoint? I think so.

Interstellar / Interplanetary Utility
So in a huge, open-ended space game, what is a heaven for? The answer depends heavily on the palette of gameplay options the player has.

In most space games, the interestellar / interplanetary medium exists as nothing more than a void you fly through and fight in. Because the gameplay palette is often limited to flying and fighting (and occassionally trading), space has no real point. The last thing you need is more of something which, while pretty, does nothing for you.

As a constrast, consider the map of a 4X empire game. Civilization on a HUGE world has a massive number of individual locations (game squares). Any one of them can do something useful for you, and there are layers of complex considerations for when to travel to, change or claim any one square.

Even though Civ is primarily a combat game, the ability to do more than just fight in any particular square means that the utility of game squares in general can be more varied. A square in Civ, for instance, can be excellent for providing shelter to a wounded unit. It can be a great resting place before a big strike. It can be used by a slow unit to lose a fast pursuer. It can provide water to nurture a city, be a source of disease, or play a pivotable role in winning or losing the entire game.

So why can't interstellar / interplanetary space be composed of a kind of terrain? The first step, I think, must be in expanding the gameplay palette. We need to be able to do more with a "patch of space" than just fly and shoot through it, and so our ships need more than just flying and shooting capability. If we handle suspension of disbelief, space can be wildly varied.

In Straylight, I'm going to use the idea of "average anomalies" and pair it with wormholes in order to give space terrain. Rather than conceptualizing interstellar space as an empty void, the plan is to mix and mangle science and sci-fi ideas to claim that variances in everything from the gravitational constant to rifts and dimensional misalignments create anomalies that range from the mundane to the spectacular. Within these regions gameplay will be jinked in different ways depending on your ship's loadout and the dynamic you've established among your crew.

The regions themselves, like a cell in Civ, will be areas that can be claimed, damaged and terraformed. Wormholes (of several different flavors) will provide the economic and military context for moving near or through these regions. As you grow in strength and the tech level of the empire you're a part of evolves, I plan to allow you to link regions in order to create larger regions.

What this ultimately does is make the game universe a strategic map. Mixed with a heuristic that mimicks expanding and contracting factions and empires, I think that plain old boring space will become much more lively. You'll find yourself entering a region with a host of strategic concerns which (if I do my job right designing this) will be simple to start with but grow more textured and nuanced as you expand.

Combined with a wider gameplay palette, I think there may be enough variability possible to fill up even a seemingly massive galaxy.

Ugh... that was much longer than planned... I'll touch on planet surfaces in the next entry. I think a similar approach can be used, but in order to really justify the expense of creating planets, I'm going to describe an idea I have involving "gameplay that follows you."




Getting Dusty In Here Again...

You know, with journal updates so infrequent of late I just might have to turn in my GameDev "Most Prolific Poster" badge. [rolleyes]

Life is quite busy! I'm trying to chew through database programming material for a new job, which is in healthcare. Although it's not the most exciting thing in the universe, I work with some really cool people. I'm also, thanks to the tender loving folks at the IRS, enjoying having more than $0.37 USD in my bank account... just don't tell anyone that I now program in Visual Basic, okay? o_O

The local lottery here is up to $250 million. The only thing I can think about is how many games I could make with that. (Of course, with next gen budget balloonage, probably two... anyways...)

Straylight Update

I finally have the cash to buy game tools! I picked up the Torque Shader Engine, Character Viewer and Torque 2D. I'm getting into learning the viewer because I really want to see what my models look like in their engine. But I can't seem to get WinCVS to download TSE! I'm going to fight with it a bit more before I try switching to an older version of WinCVS.

The real thing I want to talk about for a moment is this, though: What are some credible ways to build a galaxy?

One major problem I find in trying to come up with new game design ideas is the search for validation. You might have an awesome idea with great potential. Or you might just be off your freakin' rocker.

This is one of those areas. How do you even approach an idea as intimidating and potentially overwhelming as trying to generate the illusion of a seemingly boundless play space? Our galaxy contains between 100 and 400 billion stars, more than anyone could ever explore in any lifetime. How can you create the sense that not only can the player strike out in any direction as often as they like, but that there'll be something interesting to do when they get there?

I've got several ideas here. The first, as I've written about before, is "Go Anywhere Gameplay." Whatever you are as a character, that's what generates the gameplay. It could be a ship filled with mutinous pirates, or the cybernetics, AI and nanotech in your own body.

But that by itself is not enough. There needs to be the sense of story, there need to be interesting places to go, and worthwhile characters to meet/defeat.

I'm considering a number of issues here:

Simple one, but how do you name everything? I don't like the results I've seen of some of the random technologies like Markov lists, so I'm experimenting with phonemes. Ideally, I can both screen for inappropriate names (or even legally verbotten ones, like "Skywalker"), and create grammars that match the disposition of the race (harsh sounding words for a harsh culture, IOW)

What does the world look like and what is a planet good for, let alone a solar system? This is a hard design conundrum because it basically asks what the player can do and what they're supposed to be doing. Should every planet be a threat of some kind? Should there always be resources? How many "duds" can there be, even if it's realistic to find a barren, radiations blasted wasteland without life or minerals of value?

How do you (or do you?) keep the player focused? If the play space is too large, they may wander down so many paths that they get swamped and can't even remember the main goal.

I think one of the biggest secrets lies in giving the illusion of boundless space but making the player so involved that they don't need to find its edges. I'll explore this more in coming posts.




Just When You Thought It Was Safe

Sincere apologies for the lack of updates of late. I've been even shorter on time than normal. Not only have I just started a new job, I forgot that I now have to respond to edit requests for my book. I'll be doing this for another couple of weeks and trying to pick up MS Access as well. So progress is still going to be slow for another month to come, I expect.

Straylight Update

I'm in the process of trying to figure out several things:

Details of the 3D modeling format Torque requires
How much change you need to see in the form factor of equipment and building interiors as time advances from 2100 into the future (what should 3100 AD's equipment look like, for instance?)
How the Montage Mode (which gives you the ability to fast forward through months or years while the game world changes) should operate
What the best 25% of a 4X game is
Whether or not invisibility should, like Ghost In The Shell, be a major option in combat (you'd use hints like people leaving a wake walking through water)
How story might be broken into states which change random encounter tables

I'm always irritated that I don't have more to show for this, but I think it's important to plan so you don't paint yourself into a corner.

Some Details...

Montage Mode
I've touched on this before. This mode is intended to merge story with expansion/empire building gameplay. You would choose to park your character in a location for as long as you had resources to do so and the game world would evolve around you . While this was going on, you could set your character to perform automatic actions, such as training or working on some great project. During this mode, you'd get a chance to drop back into normal RPG gameplay whenever certain events appeared on the horizon.

Best of the 4X
I'm starting to think the best parts of empire game that will merge nicely with an RPG-like game are

Unit design
Strategic unit deployment (with proper grouping)
People modeling (so they're not just population points)
Tech tree advancement
Land development, at least in the beginning (eeking out roads, developing terrain)
City / base / station upgrades

I have several ways that each of these can be a part of your gameplay when you first start out, but I'll save that for later since this post is already too long.

More later...





Well, just a little over 10 hours ago, I finished a 34 hour marathon session on the last three chapters of my book. Sorry for not updating, but this has been the week that was: I was behind on writing because of bugs in the program, and I started a new job. So my week has consisted of working 8 hours in the day, then working 8 hours at night.

If nothing else, it shows me that I'll probably be able to pull a lot of weight for Straylight. [rolleyes]

You can't BELIEVE how psyched I am to get this thing "in the can." If I weren't flat out broke, I'd be celebrating... (maybe next week, when the check from the publisher comes in [grin])

Straylight Update

Nothing really focused this week. I'm going to look at setting a goal for recruiting and locking some of the more risky design elements. I also plan to dive into Torque character viewer tool as soon as I get some cash.




Open Your Golden Gates, George Franscisco!

Points for those who know what movie that quote is from!

Straylight Update

Well, I've pretty much blown today on trying to model a mockup of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the world fiction, this should be destroyed and San Francisco should be a partially submerged aquatic arcology... but what the hey...! I decided to again exploit Wings3d's new bend feature. This time, I wanted to see if I could recreate the bow the of span and the cabling. Months ago, I tried without this feature and found that trying to make curves from straight objects was murder!

It's technically not complete (I didn't finish end span details because I got bored). I also went nuts and used a few selection tricks to do all the cabling as well as the X-bar girders along part of the span itself. I think the cabling, which amounts to triangles, and the X-bars along the midspan would instead be done with textures. At 25,564 polys total (triangulated), those details are extremely costly-- but it might not matter if it was for a full level you could walk and drive across.




A Bridge Too Far

Mysteries of the Universe #7,271: How is it that all the 3D graphics tutorials made by amateurs out there reference the high end features of Lightwave, Maya and 3D Studio Max, tools which cost thousands of dollars? o_O

Straylight Update

Since my book's almost done I've been taking some time to remember how to use all of those dev tools I've had to put down (more than 6 months ago!)

One very cool tool is Wings3D. If you think you have no artistic skill but you need 3D models, this is, next to Blender, one of the best free tools I can recommend. I've been playing with the new Bend feature, which allows you to create very nice curves in objects.

Using it, I was able to go from this

to this

in under 15 minutes.

I've also been exploring what it takes to create even more elaborate structures, like suspension bridges:

This new feature is real a blessing because the colonies in Straylight will need lots of roads and bridges once you leave Earth.




Time keeps on slippin' slippin' slippin...

...into the FU-CHAAAAA![rolleyes]

Well, I know I've been doing something in these last few days, but everything's been a blur since I pulled a 30 hour day to finish the 75% of my book. Only 25% more to go!

In the mean time, I've been experimenting with Wings3D to mock up O'Neil Cylinders (these are tube-shaped space colonies with air, cities and land inside).

Here's a couple of shots:

It doesn't look like much in wireframe (it is just a mockup after all), but it's shows what the environment would look like and some problems that will crop up in trying to place content. By the way, I created it by extruding a cylinder in sections, selecting interior points, and using the deform option on the interior to generate makeshift hills and mountains. I then threw together some blocks for buildings, duplicated them, and then spotted the interior with a bit of color. I wanted to up the poly count, but Wings kept crashing on me, so I'll either have to wait for a fix or seek out another tool.

And because I've been getting a kick out of reading Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy (just finished the 2nd book), I'm going to have to include in the game something that looks supiciously like the Lady MacBeth: [grin]

Straylight Update

Ships in Straylight will (if I can get everything textured & animated) start with a sort of 2001 look and end up with a kind of modular anime fighter look (like Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star or the old Galaxy Rangers).

Gameplay-wise, this means several things: System Era ships will be slow, expensive strategic platforms. They'll cost hundreds of millions to buy, making them limited enterprises you can invest in but not really own to start. If you serve on one, you'll be hopping between ports for months, with the meat of gameplay either being a time-skipping montage or personal interaction and skill building. Combat between ships will involve slow, strategic moves limited by G forces mixed with fast action involving killer drones (this is more the Freelancer gameplay, except I see you being able to remote fly drone squadrons).

The System Era ships will give way to gravity-drive ships that can generate fields to compensate for the crushing effects of high-G acceleration. They'll be smaller, more aerodynamic and modular. The difference will be like shifting from sailing ships to ironclads in Civilization. But because colonization will take centuries, you'll still see the cost-effective System Era ships plying the starways, especially on the Frontier and Hinterland regions. So they'll be retired from combat and placed into service as civilian haulers, available for a fraction of the original price.

Because it's space, ships can conceivably last for centuries, allowing you to inherit the same vessel across lifetimes. These ships will also serve as deep space colonization vessels. And if humans get scattered by Siegers or an alien empire, the O'Neil Cylinder design will become generation ships (by mounting a Bussard ram scoop to one end and drives to the other).

Btw, here's an example of a Pioneer Class generation ship:

It might be a wasted focus, but I think it makes the whole expansion of human civilization experience more gritty and vivid. You'll start out as a citizen of Earth and in Master of Orion fashion, watch the human empire expand, split and in some cases even fall, all with RPG-like gameplay. [smile]




Why RPG-Empire games are COOL!

Well, shame on me for not doing any real work, but I've been coming up with some cool ways to fill out this blasted game.

Straylight Update

"Survive & thrive in a fantastical future and change the destiny of the human race."

That's the game goal. Building and relationships modification are going to be the primary ways to accomplish this.

I see three environments for this:

In a civilized habitat
In the wastelands of Earth and frontiers of alien planets
Inside something mobile, like a landship or starship

The goal is to make money and/or influence others. The money making part can be accomplished through building structures. In concept, this happens on a gridded environment, like Startopia, but with the ability to enter structures and interact with NPCs.

You'd influence NPCs by helping them achieve their goals. This is standard quest gameplay, except I think I'll be able to make the relationships between NPCs dynamic. Maybe Joe hates Fred and wants to see his business drop. Normally, a game makes you do a specific thing to make that happen, and then you get a reward.

But what if you could make Fred's biz drop by threatening customers? Or hacking into his shop's power regulator? Or by infesting his shop with nanite cockroaches?

Basically, Fred's shop would be an effect generator (business) with stats attached (attractiveness, defense, hack security, etc.) Fred himself would have stats, which in turn generate effects (ownership of the shop, advertising, etc.)

Scare off Fred, his customers, or sabotage his shop... in most cases, Joe doesn't care, as long as it gets done (he may care in some cases, and might tell you not to do certain things, but that just makes missions more varied)

Smooth Operator
As a young immigrant to the towers, you need cash to build up your enterprise. Your enterprise can be anything from "monster hunting" (nanite neurozombies & constructs in the wastes); policing; racketeering; space expansion and exploration; or running an operation.

The operation basically consists of people who perform some service or control some machinery, and the machinery itself.

If you want to create a waterpark, for instance, and make money attracting tourists, you would find a district in the tower to ally with, negotiate with NPCs for terms, buy the templates, rent some workers and building tools, and lay down structures RTS style. I'm seeing raising and lowering of interior terrain possible as well.

Or say your operation is a mining town. If it's in the wastes of Earth, you don't get permission, but you do need to bring in either expensive automated help or cheaper human labor. Or if you're really nasty about it, you use a nano-sequestration virus and bodyjack people into service (do this far from the law if you know what's good for you).

Then you start laying down structures. The structures create an effect, such as improving productivity, defense of the town against bandits and monsters, possibly even attracting in cheap victims labor.

Autonomous Agents Behaving Badly
I'll post more on this in the coming days, but I think I've got some improvements on Oblivion's proposed autonomous agents that make up a village.

Here's what I see as possible: You divide NPCs into "people units." The people units then use basic A* pathfinding to find attractors based on needs (Sims stuff here).

This covers the basic behavior that you see. But behind the scenes, you use an influence map or some nodal structure to create NPC interactions. The interactions are events that get generated and solved by rules you've devised that say how plots get solved.

This is then journaled, made available to you as a town foreman / interloper / bandit / citizen. You can then interact with the NPCs so that the radiate the events you desire.

The events they radiate can be very complex because they'll happen abstractly. If Joe is sleeping with Fred's wife, it's too expensive to animate that. But if Fred beats the crap out of Joe in the middle of town, that becomes a resolved effect using standard combat anims.

I've got a lot more to say about this, but I'll do so in the next post.




In A Jam

Mysteries of the Universe #5,769: Why is it that crappy strawberry jam, which is loaded with what I'm sure will be found to be cancer causing preservatives and diabetes generating high fructose corn syrup, three types less expensive than jam whose incredients is simply fruit? o_O

Anybody on this one? Anybody at all?

Straylight Update

Ah, enemies...

So the design calls for combat, stealth and trade over multiple eras. That's multiple planets, multiple cities. It's a pretty steep challenge, but I think that story and world design can come to the rescue here.

The storyline I'm going to go with first starts you on a ravaged, recovering earth. A major substory will be the world rebuilding, with the increasing appearance of "neurozombies," people who have been sequestered by nanotech & modified against their will. This will be a remnant of war tech, as will these huge sandstorm clouds of deconstructing nanites.

Alright, the enemy behind this will be a rogue doomsday AI that's bodyjacking people, creating the huge storms, and generally wreaking havock. It will be driven from the earth, and flee to space, where it's tracked down and destroyed. But not before it secretly scatters itself to the stars on clouds of nanites launched near the speed of light.

What does this do?

The result will be tens of thousands of "vehicle" characters, people who were forcibly downloaded into machines. These people will opt to become a culture of machines in space, transferring to probes and rovers and even large ships.

The rogue AI's nanite clouds and constructs will make an appearance on other planets. On Earth, the threat will start out balanced. But out in space, you may encounter fleets, sprawling factory bases, or even dust clouds where planets uses to be.

I would LOVE to be able to procedurally create aliens like Spore will do, but that's like wishing for a Lear Jet when you're homeless. However, I'm going to search high and low for graphics genuises that can help me populate planets with aliens and creatures.

One thing that MIGHT work is to simply accept that there will be four or five body types, and then try to scale the animations, vary the textures procedurally, and use attachment points for things like horns or tufts. It won't be anywhere near as varied, but a little is better than nothing.

Ultimately, I'm seeing four types of environs for enemies:

* Human cities, with bots, humans and later aliens
* Alien outposts, with aliens, bots and humans
* Land frontiers, with bandits, colonists / survivors (if on Earth), and possibly creatures or rogue AI constructs
* Space, with "post-human" probe/ship people as like NPCs in space, and alien and human ships with crews

If I can get a few scalable, reconfigurable animal body types going and mix and match human machine pieces, that should be enough variety.

I hope, that is...




Straylight Summarized

Straylight Update

I've been posting so many different ideas on in the forums of late that it's hard for people to keep track of the game's focus, so I'm going to summarize:

Premise: Survive and thrive in a fantastical future where you can change the destiny of the human race.

Synopsis: Play across generations as a citizen infected with mysterious, developing powers that can shape the future. Start on a recovering, ravaged Earth, expand to the Moon and Mars, then discover secrets that lead to interstellar travel and galactic exploration-- all from an RPG-like perspective. Command starships, evolve colonies, or grow rich expanding networks made up of legal or illegal enterprises. Follow the story, confronting a cadre of constantly evolving immortals like yourself, or play your own way in a sandbox mode.

Core Concepts:

RPG-like: Gameplay focus is on character interaction, combat, stealth and trade. There is skill building, items and a far reaching grand story.

Immortality: Somehow, you never seem to die. You can't be killed by combat or accidents. Only your immortal enemies can send you on to the next lifetime.

Generations: Success in one generation allows you to build up the next.

Reactive Cosmos: The world around you changes and grows and can be affected by your actions, or the action of NPC immortals just like you. You cannot quickload the world, so every decision counts.

Destiny: Dramatic changes sweep the world every so many generations, drastically altering the course of human events. You must try to build yourself up enough to stand against the tide, or even use it to your advantage!


Survive: You begin life in a sleeper coffin, a citizen of the libertarian-socialist Community, a high-tech utopian society that has survived the near annihilation of the human race. Choose to make your way in the massive arcologies and space stations of civilization, the treasure and danger filled wastelands, or the depths of space.

At first, you only have 3 concerns: Health, Energy and Morale, all of which slowly decline. Health is replenished by food, which also fortifies stats and resistances. Energy is replenished by rest, which also increases skills and aids in completing inventions. Morale is replenished by winning missions, gaining friends and improving one's life, and allows you to excel in integrating with mind-machine interfaces.

Health controls resistance to normal death. When your health drops below zero, depending on your luck, several situations spawn-- but all allow you to keep playing.

Acts like fatigue and limits physical activity. Energy amount drops with age, but can be enhanced with implants and nanotechnology.

Controls social reactions and the ability to interface with machines, a vital skill in a high tech world. .

You thrive by gaining status, money, allies and building up your personality.

Gives rise to better job opportunities and access to characters who can change the world.

Most equipment, items and hired help cost money by the hour or day, but allow missions to be completed which build status. The trick is to balance money going out and money coming in.

Protect you in combat, help you build yourself up, rescue you when you're in trouble. Allies have unique personalities and goals and will act independently with or without you.

Who you are is what you can do. Personality impacts your ability to take some risks or capitalize on certain challenges, adding a whole new dimension to character interaction and leveling. You can grow from an unsure cadet to a confidence inspiring captain, or young thug to brutal strongman, winning things like personal auras and special interaction techniques.


Ancient alien gods are fighting a war using human beings as pawns. Some have picked you as an avatar. Do you engage in the struggle against characters like you who have your powers and abilities to resist death, or do you try to shape the future your own way, in freeform gameplay?

The Avatar
You start the game viewing motes doting the Earth. Each is a destiny point, a life waiting to be born. When you begin a life, you immediately begin to accrue Lifeforce. Lifeforce is banked across lifetimes and allows you to access more and more powers.

Powers allow you to perform near-miracles, such as travel back in time, or see into the future. But each use of power drains Lifeforce, and the greater the use, the more visible across time and space you are to enemy avatars. Only enemy avatars have the power to send you onto your next life.

When you die, you can choose to instantly convert all Lifeforce of the last lifetime to reincarnating instantly as you were, or you can choose to become a member of your bloodline. Your bloodline includes family you've managed to gain, or clones and cyborgs if the technology exists.

Nemesis Characters
Twelve other NPC avatars share the world with you. None know who the others are, unless they use their powers. Each has a unique focus and will try to change the world in their own way. Some can be allied with, others must be opposed.

Each lifetime, avatars may be born into new bodies. Avatars can only be known by special hints during interacting with their characters. You may know that an avatar is an enemy who ravaged worlds the last lifetime, but in this, he may be masquerading as a pillar of a community protected by the law.

Shape The Future
With or without you, the world changes and grows. Businesses and entire worlds go through boom and bust. Factions rise and fall in power. Empires change governments, laws or culture, sometimes even breaking apart in peaceful or violent revolutions.

The game is played out in eras, each of a limited length. This gives you a limited number of lifetimes to accomplish your goal. At the end of every era, a dramatic event drastically alters the playing area. The end of an era may usher in a wild new frontier, an invading alien race, or a great war or catastrophe that must be survived.

You can choose to pursue the story and discover how to stop these cycles of destruction. Or you can decide to play freeform, building up your own personal empire to weather and even beat back the coming storms.

Feasibility: The game will depend on a number of techniques, including procedural development and focusing a wide variety of events through character interaction.

Prefab levels will be mixed and matched and populated with random interaction nodes and customizing artwork. The Torque Shader Engine should allow for custom environments such as canned cities and continuous random planetary maps. Cities will be procedurally generated from block parts.

System-based Gameplay
Trade, reputation, crime and stealth will all be system driven, meaning that you will have stat resources that are affected by challenges throughout the level. Sneaking, for instance, might involve keeping a low heat signature in space and sound signature on foot. This allows emphasis to be on numerical customization of environments, rather that art heavy asset customization.

Equipment and HUD minigames will spice up and fill out a great deal of gameplay. Activities such as scanning, item repair, engineering challenges and medbay challenges will be done through puzzle or action games depending on the equipment you buy.

Still in process, but should become firm once I get a sense of how much help I can expect to get by partnering with local universities to offer work experience for credit.

Whew! That's it for now!




C Spot Run.

You know, one of the things I hate about the book I'm writing now is breaking EVERYTHING down into tiny sentences. I have a bad habit of expressing myself with complex (convoluted????) phrases which pack a lot of ideas into the text. Call it my programmer's natural instinct for compression! [grin]

But everything in this book has to be broken down, step by step. I can't assume that you know ANYTHING. So instead of saying something like, "Hey, there are red apples in the world and they're delicious," I've got to say, "There are apples in the world. Some are red. Red apples are delicious."

I will be so happy when this is over this month. Then, aside from worrying about what I'm going to do next, I can devote more time to Straylight!!!




Dihydrogen Monoxide!!!!

I've gotten a chance of late to do a lot of swimming, which has been a blast and a great way to destress as I work full time on my book. I haven't been swimming in five or six years. What's funny is that I've been living for three years in a huge condo complex that has three of these

but never bothered to register with the powers that be to get a key. It cost $100.00 to do so, and I just figured it'd be better to spend that on game development!

Oh well, I guess we all have our priorities. [smile]

Straylight Update

A few cool ideas have been percolating that could really spice up the world & reduce dev costs:

Shadow Self: The shadow self is your will encoded in AI. It roams the wires, acts as VR assistant, and reports back on events in the world. Like a constant NPC companion, you interact with it through symbols and dialog. It can advise you of plots against you, business opportunities, and act as continual built-in help.

VR Command Centers: Ships, bases and businesses will be controlled in VR (think Matrix, Zion docking control). Emphasis will be on character interaction and minigames, with summarized decisions requiring your strategic input. No low level micromanagement!

HMI & Emotional Noise: Human-machine interfaces require a level head to control. This now makes the morale bar and personality stats MUCH more integrated. Morale will affect your ability to control things like ships, drones and power armor.

Nano-template Chips: Change the stats of items using a chip add-on! I hope this will clear the unrealistic expectation of having massive varieties of low level items.

The battle is always how to reduce content, and I'm hoping these will turn out to be satisfying options.



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