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ShawnCowles

Design Conundrum

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[heading]The Idea in Brief[/heading]
A tactical-focused space game where players control large starships with an emphasis on manuvering and tactics instead of the more typical dogfighting space game.
To highlight the difference: in this game the player's view is in 3rd person, free to rotate around their starship. They don't manually fire weapons, but they can assign priority targets for the AI gunners. Ship armor and weapons are very much dependent relative positioning. (most ships have their heaviest weapons in broadside, for example) The main inspiration for the gameplay is Battlefleet Gothic [Wikipedia].
The universe is infinitely* explorable (like Minecraft), procedurally generated as needed, from the planets and stars, to the human factions, and even the plot.

There's a lot more to the design than what I described above, but that's the cliff notes version.

*If I recall correctly, the maximum theoretical size is something like 11 trillion lightyears in radius. Or on that order of magnitude.

[subheading]Current Status[/subheading]

Universe generation done
Test ship model done
Basic flight in progress

[subheading]Conundrum[/subheading]

I'm torn on wither or not this should be a multiplayer-centric game. I think it would benefit a lot from having multiple people, but of course that comes with hindrances. The three options I'm looking at are:

Single Player - A standalone singleplayer game, pretty basic. Easiest option but the least rewarding for gameplay I think.
Limited Multiplayer - Players can run their own servers with minimum setup. Servers suitable for only a few dozen players. Difficult, because I would have to write the server from scratch.
Full Multiplayer - MMORPG style, servers that can handle hundreds to thousands of players. If I choose this option I plan to use RedDwarf Server [reddwarfserver.org] to form the basis of the server. Probably also the best opportunity for monetization, but also the most demanding in terms of infrastructure.

In any incarnation I'm using Panda3D as the client game engine. (which has bindings for the RDS client)


I'm just looking for any thoughts on the options I've outlined and/or the idea itself.
Thanks for reading.

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During combat, what does the player do aside from maneuvering the ship?

I myself was always interested in the big fleet battles where there were a few big cruisers and then some smaller medical frigates, fighters, etc.

Limited Multi-player; You could treat it like an FPS game or you could treat it like an RPG. Do you want people to build and customize ships piece by piece over time, or do you want static selections for all battles?

I think an FPS based layout, with your third person shooter view/etc, could be nice. You join a server to have a space battle, meteors/etc could be the playing field, and you must select one of the available ship types. This would be comparable to TF2 class selection, sniper/medic/scout/pyro/etc. How is it we haven't had a game like this come out, or did I just miss it?

I guess EVE is just a more in depth variation of this concept, but what about just a limited multiplayer game with single battles being the norm?

You could have death match arena style, capture the strategic point, blow up a space station; There are options.

MMO though... so much comes into play and with the success of EVE it seems there are quite a few young teams/companies trying to get into the MMO space scene.

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Limited multiplayer, as you've already pointed out, increases fun while being easier to execute than the massively multiplayer.
But single-player reaches an audience you won't get with a multiplayer-only.
It's a perennially difficult decision. You could make a decision grid to sort out all the pros and cons.

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I think a lot depends on your objectives.

If you are looking to actually sell this game and make money, then in my opinion it is a no-brainer. I would focus primarily on the single player market. The simple fact is that a multiplayer only indie game is a pretty tough sell. Multiplayer only games require a certain minimum player base in order to be playable, and someone looking to get their money's worth is going to want that playerbase to stick around, not abandon it when the next shiny AAA title comes out. I personally, would be extremely unlikely to buy a multiplayer only indie game (then again, I rarely buy multiplayer only games of any type, and have approximately zero interest in MMOs, so take that as you will)

That's not to say you can't add a multiplayer feature if you want to, either at release or at a later date, whichever suits. Once you've got some exposure and built up a player base you can better evaluate whether these features are worth implementing.

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I think a lot depends on your objectives.

If you are looking to actually sell this game and make money, then in my opinion it is a no-brainer. I would focus primarily on the single player market. The simple fact is that a multiplayer only indie game is a pretty tough sell. Multiplayer only games require a certain minimum player base in order to be playable, and someone looking to get their money's worth is going to want that playerbase to stick around, not abandon it when the next shiny AAA title comes out. I personally, would be extremely unlikely to buy a multiplayer only indie game (then again, I rarely buy multiplayer only games of any type, and have approximately zero interest in MMOs, so take that as you will)

That's not to say you can't add a multiplayer feature if you want to, either at release or at a later date, whichever suits. Once you've got some exposure and built up a player base you can better evaluate whether these features are worth implementing.



My question would be, how would you make an entertaining single player experience with the type?

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@Caldenfor I guess the brief description I gave was too brief.

What the player does during combat is fly the ship around, designate priority targets, and issue special orders. These special orders boost one aspect of the ships performance at the cost of another aspect:
Examples (from Battlefleet Gothic):
Full Speed Ahead - Boost speed at the cost of turning and firepower
Come To A New Heading - Boost turning at the cost of speed and firepower
Lock On - Boost firepower at the cost of turning (no turns at all)
etc

The player has to strategically position themselves and choose which orders to give to maximize their performance. Orders can be switched as needed.

The game progression is kind of RPG-esque, kinda. The player has reputation with the various AI controlled factions. Reputation allows the player to requisition a certain number of "points" worth of ships and upgrades from the faction. Reputation is gained by performing missions and destroying the factions enemies, and lost by failing missions and destroying the faction's allies.

Reputation isn't "spent" by requisitioning ships, but it's the hard limit of what can be requested.
E.x. I have 300 reputation with the Terrans, and I'm flying a 110 point light cruiser I requisitioned from them. If I want a 220 point heavy cruiser, I first have to give up my light cruiser so I have enough "unused" reputation.

The main factions of the game are all AI run, and have wars, fights over territory, etc. The player is put in the middle of that and is able to influence it by their actions. There are also hidden relics and such to find in unexplored space that can launch more narrative plots.

I hope that disorderly rant clears up some things. I'm not sure what I've described will make a fun game without other human players, however. I'm annoyingly on the fence about it.


Though, I just had a thought. (although a little more technical than design) Write it for pure multiplayer with the limited model, but include a single-player mode that is handled like a multiplayer server no-one else is on. That would allow concurrent development of singleplayer and multiplayer code with the downside of a loss in performance.

You guys(girls?) have given me a lot to think about, thanks.

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I'd go for singleplayer.
Especially in a slow paced game you need to make sure that the gameplay is very well done and that the pacing contributes to the tension, not the boredom. With that in mind I suggest focusing your efforts on the game design and keeping away from difficult technical problems.
Bluntly put: There just is no use for a technically advanced but boring game.
Release 1.2.7 or the successor game can always bring the multiplayer functionality once the gameplay of version 1.0 has found its fans.

Feel free to disagree, but I've personally spent way to many weekends tackling unnecessary problems because I had napoleonic visions of the best game ever that needed specific features to cope with the thousands of people that were going to play it, when in fact I later stopped the project because the game design was inherently flawed.

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If you're giving the player command of a single ship to control from the position of a Captain (i.e. dishing out orders rather than physically controlling movement/aiming etc), have you considered expanding what the player can do? I think just worrying about strategic positioning of a single ship will present too little an engaging challenge, think of a game of Chess where you only controlled one piece, so perhaps you could add some other things the player, as Captain of a ship, could manage. For example, let's use a classic Star Trek example where as you take damage your shields become weaker, so perhaps you could manage a power supply to different areas of the ship, redirecting energy from rear to frontal shields, or from the engines at the cost of manoeuvrability. Maybe you could also use your 'reputation' points to hire more prestigious crew members who give performance bonuses, or something along those lines.

There was a DS game released last year I think called Infinite Space that had a few interesting 'spaceship management' ideas in there. Although the main combat premise was rather different, I do think exploring along these lines would give your players a bit more to think about, and would work in both a single player and multiplayer environment.

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I disagree with some of the posts here, I think you should stay away from increasing player activities with "mini-game" type stuff like energy management, shield configuration and so on. That just makes your game like every other game out there - full of busy work. I think you should be bold in your design. Make a strategy game. Make a game where you as the captain steer the ship into a dive... but the actual dive takes place about 20 seconds after your input, because the ship is massive, engines take time to fire up and so on. I'm not saying the game should be unresponsive - obviously there should be graphical and audio feedback that something is happening. And make the missiles move slowly also, so barrages can be dodged - make up any old sci fi physics to explain it.

It wouldn't cater to everybody, but at least it would be different, instead of just a rehash of things we've seen before.

I also disagree about making it single player, simply because a game where things happen slowly doesn't have the problems with lag that faster games have, so making multiplayer work is relatively easier.

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For example, let's use a classic Star Trek example where as you take damage your shields become weaker, so perhaps you could manage a power supply to different areas of the ship, redirecting energy from rear to frontal shields, or from the engines at the cost of manoeuvrability.


That's basically the whole point of special orders.


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