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Hey, It's My Birthday!

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You know, I must be getting old. I'm not into this whole blogging thing. You write thoughts that disappear into the wind, never guaranteed that you'll have an audience. It's a very disconcerting feeling. At least when you post in the forums there's a chance that your thread will be seen and ignored. But with a dev journal, here you're a subset of a subset of thread readers...

The thought actually reminds me of a cool Humanities class I once took that covered ancient Egypt. The invention of writing was thought to have magical powers, whether you could read it or not, and the early Egyptians were very concerned that it endure forever. So throughout Egypt you can find wards on obelisks and other ruins that are as simple as a "No Tresspassing" sign, inscribed into eternity.

Anyways, it's my birthday today! I'm into birthday resolutions, and one of them is to keep a better account of how Straylight is going. If nothing else, it'll keep me accountable.. even if only to the wind.

What's been happening with the project?

Well, first off, not as much as I'd like, but it is still moving forward in fits and starts. I'm going through a crappy period financially and it's kind of tough to focus on creative work when you're worried about whether or not the sheriff is going to throw your stuff out on the front lawn. Actually, that's just gallows humor. It may suck right now, but I'm fine-- just not able to do as much as I'd like.

I'm working on a book right now, as well, to teach beginning programmers C++. You wouldn't know it by the length of my posts on Gamedev, but it's pretty hard to come up with 1,500 to 2,000 words a day! [lol]

I've had two big developments in the past two weeks as far as Straylight goes. The first is that I may have a business mentor to help me create a business plan. He's got a lot of contacts and may know people who can help me create a startup company. I'm going this route because if I don't turn this thing into a serious business effort it's going to become impossible to do in the next few years. I think the graphic expectations alone will just be impossible in 5 years, and game budgets are only going to get bigger.

The other major breakthrough that I'm really psyched about is in design. For the longest time I've wanted to put you in a sci-fi universe and give you lots of freedom. If I had my wish, I'd let you do anything you wanted, but that's of course an engineering impossibility. What I've settled for is trying to give you a mix of "go anywhere gameplay" and dramatic adventure.

The "go anywhere gameplay" is a phrase I use to mean no matter what's on the level / map, you have something fun to do, some goal to work towards. You could be flying your ship, walking around town, sitting in a bar, or in the brig. Doesn't matter, you'd still have some activity that's enough to keep you interested.

The dramatic adventure part involves freeform, unscripted gameplay that I'd like to rival story. THIS one is a large female dog, pardon my French. There are tons of factors like pacing and immersion to worry about. This has been by far the toughest to crack.

It's not detailed enough to, well, go into detail, but here's a sense of what I've come up with:

I think I have a way of tossing you into the game as a nobody while still making you dramatically relevant, if you choose to play along the freefrom storyline.

The setup is that you've got something wrong with your head. And people may be trying to kill you for it. You don't get this right away because you're an immigrant with only enough money to either start a business; get some skills and get a job; or buy a dinky ship and try to make a living that way.

If you follow the story, you'll realize that your quantum soul has been hacked and some shadowy figures have decided that you'll midwife the most powerful AI in the known universe. What happens to your sanity is only an afterthought. Worse yet, those who did it are part of a competing group of secret factions, each of which has done the same to others. These other avatars are now fighting and assimilating each other, and if you're not careful, you'll be on the menu next.

What I think is REALLY cool about this idea is that it doesn't get in the way of you being Joe / Jane Nobody making your fortune in a hostile universe. The plan is to break the freeform story up into chapters which escalate the action. You're the sole trigger of the escalation, though, so if you ignore the story (as I love to do) the other NPC pawns will just keep waging war against each other. They'll come after you according to your visibility in the game world, though, so you'll need to keep this in mind as you build up your personal empires.

Now for the even cooler part: To make the game more freeform I've been trying to put in some "virtual life in the future" aspects. I've wanted you to be able to open a shop and customize it, buy and build up property, or run around GTA-style raising mayhem.

In the past, life sim elements have always ended up being distractions or annoyances. It's hard to manage this stuff when you're trying to adventure, and it always felt like it didn't belong. Now as a part of the whole AI-in-your-head thing, I think I've got a way of making it seamless and natural.

In the coming weeks I hope to talk a bit more about this as I work on it. More later...
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I like the idea about them coming after you according to your visibility, it's nice and self-balancing. If you become highly visible, get into a few scrapes and decide you didn't enjoy them, would you be able to 'recede from the public eye' again?

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