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Nichollan

Possibilities and simplicity in sci-fi space games

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It is quite often possible to conquer planets, star systems, and the universe - at least in these browser based games. These games usually don't appeal to me however. I like exploration, visitting alien cultures... without necessarily having to be the emperor of one. I am too much of a simpleton to delve into all these numbers that players of these games are supposed to relate to. I need visuals, I don't care too much about the quality, but I definitely need visuals. In my idea of an ideal space game you start out small - not some military dictator of a whole planet. If you were able to explore and do a lot of stuff on the planet you wouldn't even necessarily start out with a vessel that could leave it. You can choose an occupation by e.g. being hired for some kind of military service - crush some rebellions or whatever... and possibly rising to great power similar to Napoleon, or be depicted as some legendary respected fighter (I think I was just thinking of Shin-Ra). You could also sign a contract with a trading operation, thus getting a transport ship and a start in a trading occupation - later you might get your own big trading company which has access to all kinds of funny goods. Another thing about my idea of the ideal space game, is that it looks so appealing that many people seek it as a social networking community without necessarily exploring much of the gameplay. They can play as part of the "working class" and get a small amount of in-game money as long as they log in once every other day - maybe seeing some ads along the way. They can explore the different places in the game by buying transport tickets and might observe a lot of the gameplay of others. These visitors should be inspired to try out, and maybe even pay money, to play the other parts of the game. A problem with having so many possibilities within a game, is that it can get complicated and overwhelming to new players. A game either has to be really simple, have familiar concepts, or have really good introductions to the different parts of the game - maybe not all at once, letting the player play a bit before hearing of the next. [Edited by - Nichollan on December 17, 2008 1:57:57 PM]

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Not all space games has to be EVE.

I better try the trial of EVE sometime, but it often doesn't quite sound like what I'm looking for. I heard that you could actually travel through planets without it affecting your ship at all, is this correct?

Didn't quite get around to it, but what I wanted with this thread is to discuss ideas of what could be possible in space games, and how the gameplay could still appear to have simple basics to players introduced to the game even though you have many, many possibilities later in the game.

The other day I saw someone saying that Star Trek Online was probably going to become the best space game ever. There appears to be lots of possibilities in the game - you are e.g. able to send an away team and explore planet surfaces and the interior of space vessels, but it appears like you are still forced into the role of a starship captain having responsibilities over a crew of many. I doubt you are able to start your own trading company in Star Trek Online.

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Star Control II, re-released freely under the title "Ur Quan masters". You control the captain of a rogue ship, trying to free Earth, a la Captain Harlock.

http://sc2.sourceforge.net/

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I'm not a big MMO fan so I can't speak to the social portion of what you're interested in, but I've been thinking about controlled ways to do what you're talking about for quite a while. If I understand you right, what you're trying to do is present the expansiveness and grandeur of space without having to be in the role of one who manage it all, as you do in these empire games. So it's a question of scope. How do you give players both a vignette of what it would be like to be a citizen of some great empire without drowning in details and complication?

One of the biggest problems I've encountered is that you need forms of gameplay that scale well without becoming too complex or losing their flavor. If you love being a merchant haggling with aliens, for instance, it would suck to evolve to an office bureaucrat riding a desk while hired minions have the fun. It would also suck for the best parts of the game to be located at both ends of the scaling system-- e.g., owning the trading company is the most fun, but you've got to slog through being a lowly trader to get there. Bad idea.

There's another consideration, probably more important than anything if you want this to be a reality: Your forms of gameplay have to be cyclical / repeating so that you don't need millions and a team of dozens taking years just to create all the content (this is assuming that you, like most of us, are not a god at procedural content generation).

I know that you said visuals were important to you, but one thing I'd consider is a little more abstract approach to a game of this size. Take exploration: How vital is it that you be immersed in normal mapped environments filled with highly detailed creatures and things? What is more important, to discover a few interesting buildings / objects / creatures / NPCs that are graphically very detailed and (given the scope) must by necessity repeat, or to discover a huge variety of the same but have to use your imagination a bit in terms of form?

In other words, what is the best part of exploration?

Other parts of the game need to have similar trade offs. Take trade, which is rarely done well in any game-- are there deals, races for goods, costs / benefit calculations for different trade items, fluctuations in the market a player can build a strategy around, relationship networks between buyers/sellers, growth and change of economic entities, etc. etc. etc.? For most games, the answer is no. Prices are cheaper in one location, more expensive in another, and as is most often done combat is where all the variety and fun is.

I think there is some hope for making a game like this, possibly as linked minigames. But I would first work out exactly what you want players to be doing and how you will reward them for doing it. Then you can figure out how much work you're in for as you try to scale the game.

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