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Vacuum Permeability - Challenges of the Space Age

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First off, it's good to be among the honorable gamedev veterans here, this being my very first post! I have always been enthralled by the vast expanse of space, and the wide range of possibilities it offers for games. It never fails to provide an inspiring atmosphere, and herein lies my problem: The universe is huge 1. Concept Issues Unless well crafted, a space-age games tends to leave me feeling small and insignificant, because its just so open ended. When I play some of these games, Im left feeling lost. Sometimes, if you stray too far into space, you no longer have a driving purpose, and it scares me. A game that has no goals, and just tells you to do whatever, tends to have no definite rewarding events, and strays from a plot (I'm thinking of the generic space trader games). On the other hand, a game not expansive enough, might arous complaints from the never satisfied public. An entirely plot-driven game can be entertaining and more purposful, but it can lessen the fact that YOU chose that particular destiny. I apologize for the vaugeness of the following question, but Im rather curious. Question 1: Can there be a balance between the two elements? Or are the elements simply 2 different game styles that should not be merged? 2. Graphic issues Space is really, nothingness. It's hard to dress up the realistic-artistic side of space when in reality you would be traveling through a sea of black with white dots. The all-purpose, generic response to this is to fill every sky with novas, particle clouds, electric arcs, suns, stars, and "pretty anomolies". I completley agree that this must be done, because otherwise, the atmospheric quality would be lacking. Even with the blazing skies, there is still a lack of orientation (especially in 3d space games), and a feeling of "oh no, ill drift off into the cold, lonely abyss". Anyways, here is my question: Question 2: What can be done to make space seem more secure? Or should the fear element be kept for effect? I have many other issues with this concept, but I've talked too long already, and I'm eager to hear your responses. Fire away!

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I'm not remotely close to be an erudite, but it seems to me that you're basing your premises on perceptions that are yours. Are you making this game for you or for the masses? I would rather ask people if they see and feel the things you pointed out as I do before considering them a problem.

Anyway, for 1, I belive it's a matter of gameplay. For instance, I personally hate the gameplay in HomeWorld. There is nothing between you and your targets and nothing to do until the ships arrive to where you sent them. As a RTS player, I prefer my units to move over the ground, finding things in the way, discovering new landscapes, it pleases my eyes.

for 2, I never felt fear playing a space-game, I don't see it as a problem at all. Instead I almost shitted my pants playing Doom2 walking trough a tiny/empty/pixelated hallway with nothing exepting the stereo sound of a monster hiding somewhere.

I personally percieve the space, in a game, as boring, if anything.

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Meh. I guess I'll drag this thread out of the depths of yesterday to focous my question.

In the average game, you are on foot, or in a vehicle, passing through numerous landscapes and landmarks. You can identify with the small details on the ground to locate yourself, and remember that spot if you ever want to find it agian. In space, this is lost, because most of it is empty. What I've seen done to counter this are things like asteroids and novas, but they are sometimes not the best of landmarks.

What can be done to give space travel a better feel of orientation and sense of relative position?

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I guess the most obvious answer is to make everything a lot closer together, and to constrain the action to a plane (with only very slight variations up/down). People don't navigate in 3D space very well, since there's never been a need for us to do this. Constraining everything to a plane makes it easier on our brains and will reduce the 'fear' the players experience. Reducing the distance is essential, if not because it makes travel less boring then because computers can't handle realistic distances with much of a degree of accuracy. See games like Freelancer for what I feel to be the 'right' way to make space more approachable.

Though of course, owl is entirely right in saying that this is a highly subjective matter. Different people, different feelings, different requirements.

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In our Uber-1337 [wink]space game our star systems are linked through specific 'jump-points', which provide basically super-fast travel, therefore limiting practical distance.
The truth is though, that space is really, really big, and if any realism is to be expected that has to be acounted for.

-Mark the Artist

[Edited by - Prinz Eugn on May 9, 2006 9:14:22 PM]

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I got introduced to the beauty of space gaming through TIE Fighter. Check it out. You could go into an evasive corkscrew until you wer 100 klicks from the combat site, but you probably wouldn't meet your objectives.

So short answer: add hyperspace transport. Look at the original Star Wars movies and imagine the drama. Your boys get intelligence that a crew is mining precious materials at some coordinates. You give them a half hour, than jump your team in to waste them. They may not be outfitted to jump to hyperspace, and have to return to the mothership, or jumping to hyperspace could take 3-4 seconds (like TIE fighter).

You disable/destroy the mothership or disable/destroy the miners. You salvage the goods. That's hours of intel, planning, and good gameplay. Of course, you could add in rebellions, munitions, diplomats (to capture/escort), etc....

Seriously, play X-wing or TIE fighter if you want to make a space combat game, and you'll pick it up.

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Quote:
Original post by Humble Hobo

1. Concept Issues
....Sometimes, if you stray too far into space, you no longer have a driving purpose, and it scares me. A game that has no goals, and just tells you to do whatever, tends to have no definite rewarding events, and strays from a plot


Welcome to Life. Nice to meet you.

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1) You feel lost only if you have no purpose. A rational player doesn't "stray too far into space": he ventures into new space when he is going to an unfamiliar place, exploring an uncharted sector, following or looking for someone else, etc.

In a generic trading game, commerce and management drive the action and provide a purpose: you play the role of a trading firm (even if you appear to play the role of a person) and the game tells a story of entrepreneurial successes and mishaps.
If you find this kind of story uninteresting, it depends on your taste, not on structural weaknesses of open-ended games.

I think there are many successful examples of combined open-ended and imposed storylines (in which typically you begin as a businessman but gradually, through travels, you discover secrets that offer an epic opportunity to win the war/save the universe/meet important aliens).

I don't agree with the concern about limited branching in predefined plots. For example, imagine a Star Trek game about a war between the Federation and the Romulans: the outcomes can be peace, victory or defeat.
A rich game can offer varied degrees of success (e.g. obtaining a peace treaty with more or less bloodshed), but I don't think many players would feel constrained because, for example, they want to side with the Romulans against the Vulcans or because they cannot attack their Klingon allies.

2) Nobody is supposed to orient himself in a 6DOF environment only by recognizing imaginary, never seen before constellation; since the invention of the compass in the middle ages, ships provide augmented reality interfaces to help with navigation.

A starship should, at the very least, display continuously updated reference images (coordinates, planned and projected routes) similar to an airplane's artificial horizon, and offer annotations, both on maps and on radar displays, pointing out which dots are the important ones and what they are.
Additionally, specific instruments can sometimes be more important than anything outside the windows (e.g. angle and speed indicators when landing).

If the player looks at this kind of useful displays he has no need for meaningless pretty anomalies in the background; navigation by sight should be reserved for fights and obstacle avoidance, i.e. when there is something important to see.

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I have all sorts of fun with the lack of orientation in space. When ever I come in for a landing on a mother ship in space I usually just approach with what ever orientation I'm in (usually rotated about 90 degrees) and right myself after I enter the hanger. If you can avoid being locked into orentations in space, you open up all sorts of possible stratigies.

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You guys have been great!

I think for my particular game needs, the only space travel would be in the highest stratosphere, where there is a lot of junk floating around, a trace of atmosphere, and brilliant novas and various stars. My 'worlds' are connected by 'jumpgates' in the atmosphere, so it eliminates the need for deep space travel. But nevermind that, my 'world' idea is for another thread later.

Anyways, thanks for the suggestions. I particularly liked LorenzoGatti's navigation ideas, and I think I'll be implementing things like longitude/ latitude lines and various tracers or meters to check position and angle.

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IMO the last game to do space right was Tie Fighter.

The idea to allow players to keep their orientation in space is to have at least one close, big point of reference. Thats usually a mothership of some sort. Something that is close enough so that you can relate to its physical presence, and big enough that if its not in your field of view, then it is right behind you.

Its hard for player to track their orientation using planets in the background, for example. They dont have any impact on the gameplay, so our player brain tend to ignore them. Same thing for irrelevant junk or clouds.

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Secure? Landmarks? Easy. If it's two dimensional it's as simple as X and Y. When you're in one area of space you could be in area 51, 67. If it's three dimensional ad an axis for depth.

Linear questline, yet open ended? Pull an oblivion. Perhaps you're a bounty hunter. Bam! you start off, some guy gives you a bounty and the co-ordinates, you complete that mission and loot your targets ship to recieve a map of the known galaxy, co-ordinates to certain planets where you can trade or make a living doing whatnot, but the option to return to the person who gave you the bounty and continue on with the quest line is always there, and the co-ordinates never change.

So there you have it. Simply create a questline that is easy to follow, but doesn't have to be followed. And if you're afraid of getting Lost in Space then make it so the player has key co-ordinates documented. Even a monkey can figure out co-ordinates: if you perform a movement, and a co-ordinate changes BAM you figured out how to manipulate that particular co-ordinate.

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