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Solokeh

Space Simulation Game Design (Finding The Fun)

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I am part of a 3 man team currently entrenched in the production of a space simulator which we want to make semi-realistic, both mechanically and in scale. We are using Unity 5. I think we are completely capable of making a decent "Space Trucker Simulator" within our minimum development timescale. However, we want this game to have deep gameplay and design appeal for all gamers, not just those who've sunk thousands of hours into the EVE Online or Elite: Dangerous. we need players to have the ability to "find the fun" without having to spend weeks on end sitting in front of a screen. We know a little of game loops and basic design principles, but probably not enough.

Here is a list of the mechanical features we have already or wish to implement in the next few months:
  • Multiple ships with different flight models
  • 25+ elements to mine and sell
  • A semi-random per-system economy
  • Chatbot NPC "players" with high interactibility (Alliances, the ability to "offend" an NPC)
  • FTL travel between systems
  • Limited ship customization (weapons, engines, FTL drive, cargo space)
  • Rudimentary quests (gather x amount of y element, find a lost pilot, attack an enemy outpost)
  • Docking bays for fighters in large ships
  • Mid-size universe to explore
My question is, does this seem fun, or like just another boring space sim? We're just hobbyist game devs and have absolutely no expectations about the success of this game. Advice and/or suggestions are very welcome.

Here are a few screenshots, all assets are placeholder:

[attachment=32407:Desktop 6-26-2016 23-55-03-484.png]
[attachment=32408:Desktop 6-26-2016 23-55-07-373.png]
[attachment=32409:Desktop 6-26-2016 23-55-13-58.png]
[attachment=32410:Desktop 6-26-2016 23-55-25-465.png] Edited by Solokeh

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From my personal experience working on space games for many years, I will warn you now that they are a niche genre at best. This doesn't mean you shouldn't make your game or try to make it as fun as possible - it just means that many people will not find it engaging, and many people will.

Your best bet IMHO is to focus on entertaining the kinds of players who are likely to want to play your game. That may sound ludicrously tautological, but it's important. Trying to appeal to a Call of Battlezone player is not going to be as successful as trying to appeal to the core who just love flying around in space and doing stuff.

We spent literal years and untold sums of money trying to appeal to people who never did really click with the games. In the end the best bet was to double down on doing things really well and accepting that being a space game means that some people may not want to play.

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Look up StarFlight on wikipedia.  It has a article describing that oldie PC game which had alot of interesting aspects (exploring to have the randomness for the suprise element and problem solving).   

Edited by wodinoneeye

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Space sims are tricky, for sure.  I have the feeling myself that fun isn't the point of them, or that fun isn't what saves them; what saves them is having a compelling fantasy that can fill out the many moments of watching a dot in the distance resolve into a planet/station/sun/whatever.  (And lots of people are willing to do that, so there are certainly some well-crafted fantasies out there.)  

 

It's sometimes hard to guess what that's going to be in *your* game, though, because of the special relationship you have with it.  And also that you're new, and won't quite know what it is you're good at.  It's good to get it in front of people early and get them to say what you're good at, so you can put an emphasis on things you do well.  (Like if people say you make fantastic alien ship models, go hard on that, make it a game where that's really important.)

 

If I were making a space sim, I would play around with parts of the space fantasy that get a bit neglected.  It seems like everyone has dogfights, ship customization, trading commodities, contraband, some standard human factions (feds/rebels/pirates/zealots)... meaning there's a lot of opportunity for players to indulge in that particular space fantasy.  I had some fun with that fantasy in the past, but I'm not in need of any *more* of that fantasy.  But there's lots of other parts of the space fantasy:

 

-- talking to interesting & unusual aliens and learning about their civilizations

-- ancient alien ruins & technology

-- crew management, training, relationships

-- space survival (e.g., looking for scarce resources far from civilization, just to survive)

-- trading things that aren't commodities (e.g., things there are only a few of and only some traders are interested in trading)

 

Starflight's a great suggestion; you should really play it if you haven't.  It's always a surprise to me that that style of space game didn't become the dominant one.  

 

For a "Starflight-like" that I love, that almost no one remembers and no one plays anymore, try Nomad (1993).  Especially for your idea of having high-interactability NPCs.  You could ask any NPC in the game about anything, and it had a few clever tricks to give the illusion that there was greater depth than the rudimentary chatbots actually had.  (Like the characters would know about each other and could tell you things about other characters that they would reasonably know.  If you asked about someone in their clan, or in their profession, they would probably be able to say something about them, and tell you their home base or their usual trading route.  And while most characters were generic instances of their species differentiated only by a few variables, a few were actual individuals, adding to the illusion that maybe everyone's an individual and it's just that you haven't figured out what to ask to make them open up to you.)

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I got reminded of the X series while reading through your feature list. Unsure if X has carriers but you can have AI ships on your fleet.

 

Sounds like your game isn't multiplayer, so I'm thinking why would a spaceship sim player want to play your game instead of the X series which is more established?

 

I remember building a trade station in X2 and setting up AI trade ships routes.

Edited by dustbiter

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I'm a huge fan of space sims 'in theory', but when it actually comes to playing them, I get really sick of them really fast. Like dustbiter said above: your post sounds like your idea is to make another X series game. If you haven't played any, you should.

 

For me, X series was addictive, but not fun. You spend the vast majority of your time going in a straight line from one location to another in autopilot. X:Rebirth tried to solve that by making stations super huge and adding a 'highway system', but they also chopped out alot of what made their previous games unique.

 

There's another game in development that got a kickstarted called "Limit Theory". Terrible name for a space game, as that title doesn't really suggest "space" in any way, but it's worth finding a youtube video. It's basically an X-series game with a procedural universe. Everything from ships, stations, races, planets, and starsystems are procedurally generated.

 

However, it seems to suffer from the same problems as most open-ended space sims do. Huge amounts of empty space. Good looking empty space, but still empty and the combat looks like it just breaks down into a "chase the dot" game, like the X-series.
 

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Thanks to all for the splendid responses. I've put about 150 hours into X3, and I never really got anywhere. My major frustration with that game is that the mechanics were so poorly explained (or not explained at all) that I would just start a new game when I didn't know where to go or what to do. I understand that handholding is not something space sims are supposed to do, but that's not really what I'm after. I don't want to tell the player to or how to do something, I want to give them confirmation once they've done it. For instance, T is the key for the tractor beam in my game. I never tell the player this, but the first time the T key is pressed, the ship computer states, "Tractor beam engaged". Or when the player first mines an asteroid, if 10 chunks of x element have been gathered for the first time, the ship computer states, "Resource chunk acquired". And when the player presses G, the ship computer states, "Resource chunk deployed". And so on. This allows the player to have a tutorial of sorts in order to acclimate them to the game's mechanics, without holding their hand. The universe, even in this stage of development, is technically infinite. I have a warp system in place, and if the player enters coords which have not been built in yet, they are warped to a randomly generated system. there will be around 999 built systems in the final game, and an infinity of random systems with enemies, stations, asteroid fields, gas giants, quests, resources, alien codexes, and so on. One more thing, the aliens in this game do not have magic translators or all speak the same language, there are codexes, or books, on specific subjects, written in specific alien languages. Say you find a Voltai'iik codex of economic systems, you can analyse that with your ship computer, and gain 100 new Voltai'iik words relating to economic systems. This paces out the game, so you can't go selling human military secrets to the Ail'ie Federation right of the bat.

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One more thing, the aliens in this game do not have magic translators or all speak the same language, there are codexes, or books, on specific subjects, written in specific alien languages. Say you find a Voltai'iik codex of economic systems, you can analyse that with your ship computer, and gain 100 new Voltai'iik words relating to economic systems. This paces out the game, so you can't go selling human military secrets to the Ail'ie Federation right of the bat.

 

Great stuff!

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You will not tell the player the controls or shortcuts?

And not introduce the actual stuff the player can do? So the player is supposed to randomly punch the keyboard?

Seems like a terrible design choice. I would not play that game, and many players will quit playing since it will SEEM you cannot do anything in your game.

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