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The Blarg

Filtering out boring planets

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The Blarg    100
I'm tossing ideas around for a space exploration adventure. The player is given a space ship and is tasked with cruising around the galaxy looking for adventure. There will be a handful of planets that are interesting enough for the player to want to land on them. They could be planets with (possibly hostile ;) ) life forms the player would track and study. A few planets could have the ruins (read: dungeons) of long lost civilizations, containing valuable artifacts, technology, and possibly still-active defence systems. The problem is that the universe follows Sturgeon's Revelation. The cool planets with alien life and ancient ruins would only be about 5% of the galaxy. Everything else is gas giants and dusty balls of rock. Other space exploration games put content on the "boring" worlds in the form of resources; if nothing else, the planet can be strip-mined. I always found mining to be a bit of a chore. The last time I played Star Control 2, I felt mining was either a chore or too dangerous (damage to your lander actually translated to damage to your ship). It was before my time, but I think in the original Starflight it was possible to just grind for resources until you could afford the best ship upgrades before starting any of the quests. Rather than just leave players to visit every star system and planet until they find something interesting, I'd like to improve on the search for interesting planets itself. One thought I had was to give the player a "scanner" that gives information on nearby star systems. The scanner would start out by detecting basic information on any planets around a star (is it rocky? how close to the star is it?). The scanner could be upgraded to give more and more detailed information, revealing the gravity and temperature ranges of the planets, the existence of chemicals like water or oxygen, and eventually the "energy signatures" of artificial constructs. That's my idea. In a game like this, how would you like to go about searching for the silver needles in the galactic haystack?

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swiftcoder    18437
Scanners sound good.

To prevent the player from becoming bored in the early stages, it might be good to give the scanners the ability to pick up interesting stuff early on - but only some of the interesting stuff, so that one is forced to revisit the same regions once the scanners are upgraded.

I would also recommend giving the scanners a much larger range than the player can easily travel. This way the player can see very interesting systems a long way off, and it gives him a goal to work towards.

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Wavinator    2017
Quote:
Original post by The Blarg
I'm tossing ideas around for a space exploration adventure. The player is given a space ship and is tasked with cruising around the galaxy looking for adventure.

There will be a handful of planets that are interesting enough for the player to want to land on them. They could be planets with (possibly hostile ;) ) life forms the player would track and study. A few planets could have the ruins (read: dungeons) of long lost civilizations, containing valuable artifacts, technology, and possibly still-active defence systems.


Sounds like my kind of game. [grin]

Quote:

The problem is that the universe follows Sturgeon's Revelation. The cool planets with alien life and ancient ruins would only be about 5% of the galaxy.



Two comments on this: With all due respect to Mr. Sturgeon, you're making a game and nothing says that 99% of the universe has to be empty. And if you need an authority to appeal to, I'd like to offer Mr. Ian M. Banks, who in The Algebraist has a character complaining about the fact that the galaxy is overpopulated:

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"The answer to 'Where is everybody?' turned out to be, 'Everywhere,' but the stake at the galactic poker game is a wormhole and so we had to fund our own and bring that to the table. Then discover that Everywhere really meant Everywhere, and every damn thing you could see and every damn thing you couldn't belonged to some bugger: every rock, every planet, moon and star, every comet, dust cloud and dwarf, even the bloody null-foam of space itself was somebody's home. Land on some godforsaken cinder, pull out a shovel thinking you could dig something, build something or make something of it and the next thing you know an alien with two heads was poking both of them out of a burrow and telling you to [get lost,] or pointing a gun at you. Or a writ..."


In Bank's universe the Fermi paradox is answered by the fact that save for wormhole networks (which can be and often are destroyed) the speed of light and political shenanigans are the only factors that keep Earth isolated. Species occupy gas giants, the corona of stars and even the whole of light year wide nebulas.

So the limit of the galaxy's interesting content is really your imagination.



Quote:

I always found mining to be a bit of a chore. The last time I played Star Control 2, I felt mining was either a chore or too dangerous (damage to your lander actually translated to damage to your ship). It was before my time, but I think in the original Starflight it was possible to just grind for resources until you could afford the best ship upgrades before starting any of the quests.


I think it can be, and even Starflight 1 and 2 didn't escape this (2 elevated trade over resource gathering, which was more interesting). I think there are ways to make resource gathering fun and significant, but they depend on how casual versus hard core you want to make the experience.

Quote:

One thought I had was to give the player a "scanner" that gives information on nearby star systems.


This might work but my gut instinct says you've moved the problem. What you have is a world size versus world content issue, and I think it's better to either approach this with rigid limits (a story with nodes or a drive like in Frederick Pohl's Gateway that only takes you to certain places).

If you're randomly generating the game universe why not have lots of potential activity per every planet? You don't have to go as extreme as Banks, but landing your ship could be a cause for risk taking or worry. Maybe it's roaming traders, or greedy, competitive resource gatherers trying to snatch up things before you can. Maybe pirates can drop in and cause problems. Or maybe (stealing this from Alestair Reynolds) there's some ancient force that's a consistent, if wildly mutated enemy threatening many of the planets in different ways-- this could be your traditional monsters in fantasy.


Quote:

In a game like this, how would you like to go about searching for the silver needles in the galactic haystack?


I think your scanner could work but needs a lot more gameplay. I've been playing with the idea that information is by far the most valuable commodity in a universe who's size dwarfs the player's ability to conveniently search. So maybe in a powers of ten fashion information yields a closer and closer lock on what it is that you're looking for. You could then use this as a basis to get the player in all sorts of trouble, such as having them chased just because they're looking for something somebody doesn't want found.

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TyrianFin    122
Scanner or probes are must! (I hate being blind on cosmic scale!)

And maybe old maps / rumors / news of exotic planets would help player to find silver neadels?

/Tyrian

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Diodor    517
Used to love the Burning Steppes in WoW - crawled my way as a level 20 rogue to the flight point in that level 50 area. Loved how desolate and empty of other players it was. I would sit on a hilltop outside the encampment and enjoy the view, reading a book and /waving at the few passersby (little else a level 20 can do there).

Definitely loved the desert in Dune 1. The game was made of adventure style rooms at different locations one could travel to by airship or worm, but everywhere there was nothing stopping me from going outside and moving away into the desert, as many desert "rooms" away as I wanted to (well, except for dying after a while).

I guess what I'm saying is I think hard edges to game areas are a stylistical mistake. If there's nothing outside of those areas, it doesn't cost much to add _a lot_ of nothing. It won't make the game 95% empty because there's no game outside game areas.

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The Blarg    100
Just to let people know, I only brought up the scanner idea as a suggestion. If someone has a better idea for "boring" worlds I'd love to hear it. :)

I like swiftcoder's idea of the scanner range being farther than the player's (initial) fuel range. Good way to build anticipation.

What if the detail given by the scanner depended on the distance of the star system? Players would have adequate information on the stars around them, but would have to travel towards distant stars if they want a better look.

Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Two comments on this: With all due respect to Mr. Sturgeon, you're making a game and nothing says that 99% of the universe has to be empty.
...
So the limit of the galaxy's interesting content is really your imagination.

Since I'm in control of my game's content, I guess it all depends on the atmosphere I'm going for. :)

I want to emphasize the frontier environment of the galaxy. I'm not assuming a galaxy-spanning federation like in Elite or Mass Effect. Players will, of course, eventually find interstellar alien civilizations and take part in a grand space opera. But players shouldn't have to rely on a supply of trade routes and pirate raids to keep themselves occupied. A player should boldly go where no one has gone before for the most part.

I'd like the discovery of life on another world to be relatively significant, like finding a good drop in an RPG. Finding life in environments where you wouldn't expect life would be even more rewarding. Finding ruins would be even more rewarding and exciting than that. I'm emphasizing life forms and ruins here because those would be the only things I'd really give a damn about if I had to explore another planet and didn't have to worry about mining.

So, if finding life and relics of ancient civilizations are equivalent to finding artifact equipment in an RPG, what is the equivalent of finding gold piles?

I'd be willing to include mining if I could make it not tedious and not painful. It's a matter of both what the activity is itself and how often players have to do it. I guess the mining in Star Control 2 was not that bad. But the sheer amount of mining it seemed I had to do to be able to buy anything plus fuel, combined with how damage to your lander equated to damage to your main ship and you had to go all the way back to the main base to heal your ship (which also cost resources), made mining a turn-off.

For those not in the know, in Star Control 2 HP for ships and landers was actually people. When you sent down a lander, you sent down about eight people from your main ship. If the lander took damage, the HP loss was people getting killed. And you had to go all the way back to Earth to hire replacement "HP" for your ships.

Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
I think your scanner could work but needs a lot more gameplay.

Definitely. I was thinking of making the scanner passive, but maybe it could also be used actively to gain more detail on a region of space for some cost.

Going with your observation on information, maybe one kind of upgrade could be gaining information on the game universe. Thanks to your prospecting, the scientists back home are able to update your whole star chart.

Quote:
Original post by TyrianFin
And maybe old maps / rumors / news of exotic planets would help player to find silver neadels?

One kind of treasure I definitely want players to be able to find are ancient charts with the locations of other sites with cool stuff. :)

Quote:
Original post by Diodor
I guess what I'm saying is I think hard edges to game areas are a stylistical mistake. If there's nothing outside of those areas, it doesn't cost much to add _a lot_ of nothing. It won't make the game 95% empty because there's no game outside game areas.

True. I'll probably allow players to land anywhere they want on a planet for sightseeing, despite the fact that there would only be maybe two to four sites that actually have something worthwhile.

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badjim    100
" how would you like to go about searching for the silver needles in the galactic haystack?"

Side quests. Randomly generated missions that involve visiting interesting worlds. At the beginning you'll take some of those quests. Later on you might get bored of them, but you'll know that if there is a mission to somewhere then that somewhere is interesting, or at least inhabited.

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Washu    7829
There's no such thing as a boring planet!

If there is a set of boring planets, then surely there is a smallest planet amongst those boring planets, but that's interesting! Therefore you can eliminate all planets of any size not equivalent to the others. This would leave you with a set of all boring planets that are the same size... but isn't that interesting too? I mean, what are the odds that you would have a non-empty set of planets that are all exactly the same size?!?!?!? Therefore there are no boring planets.

[Edited by - Washu on February 16, 2010 2:05:22 PM]

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theOcelot    498
Let mining be something that the player initiates, but it proceeds automatically. Then you just have to find something for them to do in the meantime. They could leave the mining site and come back later or use the time for scanning (which could be a sort of minigame in itself if you wanted it to), or you could just allow them to warp game-time and skip the time when nothing is happening.

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Wavinator    2017
Quote:
Original post by The Blarg
So, if finding life and relics of ancient civilizations are equivalent to finding artifact equipment in an RPG, what is the equivalent of finding gold piles?


Okay two other possibilities: Gold piles could be gold, tin, etc. which you use to upgrade or enhance your ship, weapons and equipment (or they could be consumed resources similar to food in a rogue-like game).

The other possibility could be that you find low level debris like probes or auto-assembling gear that represents an automated advanced exploratory wave before you ever even got there.

I think the thing that bugs me about the whole procedural universe thing is the feeling that the space shouldn't be wasted. The problem I have with the scanner is that firstly if you make it upgradeable then it implies a lot of backtracking scanning areas you've already been to. The second is that, depending on scale, it makes any free travel on a planet pointless-- they might as well be made of nodes so that you can just get on with what's important. There would be some value to just basking in the desolate ambiance of some empty moon, but I think that would fade VERY quickly.

Quote:

I'd be willing to include mining if I could make it not tedious and not painful.


It's always tricky to make something as mundane as mining interesting. I hated it in Star Control as well, and Starflight got boring after while. In my game I'm experimenting with gambling in the form of risking limited resources, fuzzy mineral information and random planetary events so that it's more of a risk.

Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Going with your observation on information, maybe one kind of upgrade could be gaining information on the game universe. Thanks to your prospecting, the scientists back home are able to update your whole star chart.


This could be cool. Your mineral returns could fund a whole range of upgrades if you wanted to allow this. One thing with mining though is that I think it might be better to perfect its gameplay to the level that the gameplay is interesting in its own right. There's nothing worse than having to do something you don't enjoy just to fund the parts that you do.

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swiftcoder    18437
Quote:
Original post by The Blarg
So, if finding life and relics of ancient civilizations are equivalent to finding artifact equipment in an RPG, what is the equivalent of finding gold piles?
Anything that provides the same function as gold in a traditional RPG - to wit, buying stuff. Anything which can be converted (whether directly or indirectly) into upgrades and enhancements, is a gold equivalent.

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I'd be willing to include mining if I could make it not tedious and not painful.
Another variation on the mining theme is prospecting. Rather than looking for resources to mien for yourself, you are locating rich veins to stake a claim to, and sell the rights to a mining company. The primary benefit over mining, is that the player still has to explore, but no longer has to endure the painstaking process of extracting minerals.

A stock market system where multiple mining companies are in competition for resources, and can be played off against each other, would add an additional layer of complexity/interest.

Quote:
Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
I think your scanner could work but needs a lot more gameplay.

Definitely. I was thinking of making the scanner passive, but maybe it could also be used actively to gain more detail on a region of space for some cost.
My feeling is that the player will always be in one of two positions: a) scarce resources, so can't afford the risk to use the scanner, or b) plentiful resources, so scan everything.

You might want to consider including very valuable cloaked/buried alien artefacts, which the scanner can't detect, and dust clouds/interference that prevents the scanner from operating well/at all in some regions. Together these force the player to step back from the scanner once in a while, and deal with the universe in an unfiltered state.

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