Interesting AI observation
Friday, 15 July 2011

I have been writing a lot of AI code these last couple weeks and it is kind of strange. I have been working on AI for the different races in the galaxy. They need to be able to scout, colonize, defend planets, guard important ships, and attack enemy planets and fleets. All of this is pretty typical for a strategy game and in a normal strategy game the AI needs to be pretty smart about all of this because they are playing against a human. Except we aren't making a strategy game. The races in our game are competing with each other, not the player.

This changes the goal of the race AI. In a strategy game the goal of the AI is to make it challenging and fun for the player to win. In our game the goal of the AI is to create an interesting setting and provide the player with lots of opportunities to effect the outcome of the struggle for supremacy of the various races. For example, in a strategy game if a race needed to send a freighter between planets to transport some goods around, it would probably have to consider how to protect the shipment from the player. In our game destroying that freighter might be a quest. The game wants you to go over there and destroy the freighter. The race that owns the freighter might still try to make this challenging for the player to accomplish though. The difference ends up being subtle, but it's there and it's strange.

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Spaceship attributes & crew
Friday, 17 June 2011

Today I'm going to talk about attributes and crew because they overlap quite a bit.

Currently there are 6 "attributes" for your spaceship crew: Tactical, Helmsman, Structural, Engineering, Computers, and Captain. Each time you level up you get a few (right now 5) attribute points to allocate however you want. This essentially represents your generic, unnamed crew.

Tactical increases your damage and is the required attribute for weapons.
Helmsman increases your defense and is the required attribute for thrusters, engines, and defenses.
Structural increases your structure hit points and is the required attribute for armor, damage control, and structure related components.
Engineering increases your energy and is the required attribute for batteries, engines, power collectors, power plants, and shields.
Computers increases your attack and is the required attribute for computers, ECCM, jammers, radars, and sensors.
Captain unlocks hulls.

This is going to end up being different than fantasy games. In a fantasy game you usually have a specific class and then you focus on one or a few attributes that are best for that class and for the most part ignore the rest. For example a warrior would usually focus on strength, vitality, and dexterity while a mage would focus on intelligence. In this game while you might focus on a few attributes, you probably won't be able to ignore any of them.

You can also have named crew that further boost your "attributes". These crew are basically your officers. Since they are in addition to your normal crew you must have somewhere to put them so to be working they take up an equipment slot. You can have standby crew in your normal inventory but you won't be getting any active benefit from them. Also since these are actual beings not just cargo you can't just store them in a stash somewhere. They must be in your ship, so one way or another they are taking up a slot. This is going to make them a bit harder to get a hold of then ship components.

Another nice thing about named crew is that they will likely "level up" occasionally. This probably won't keep up with your leveling up pace, but will be a nice bonus here and there.

So how can you find new crew? You can recruit them by solving quests for them. You will be able to hire them. You will even be able to rescue them from life pods or crash landings on planets.

Unlike our previous games there probably won't be too many things that boost your attributes. Right now it is limited to your allocated attribute points, crew, and a few crew related ship components (artificial gravity, atmosphere, holo units, etc). This will likely make point allocation and crew fairly important.

As usual, do you guys have any thoughts?

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Spaceship components
Thursday, 09 June 2011

I thought I would talk a little about the item system in our upcoming space game today. First off I think this game is going to be pretty heavily focused on items, more so than our previous games. In our other games skills are also pretty important. Whether or not you should invest in or use Fireball as opposed to Ice Storm is an important choice. In a space game choices like that are more item focused. Do you want to use your tractor beam to immobilize them and then shoot them with your disruptors or just launch anti-matter missiles at them? Those aren't skills. Those are ship components you either have installed on your ship or you don't. Since items are going to be pretty important let's talk about them a little.

Requirements:

Items are going to have 4 types of requirements. First your hull is going to control how many item slots you have access to. Upgrade to a better ship and you will most likely get more slots to play with.

Second, each component will only fit in a specific slot type (see below).

Third, your ship has to generate enough power for all of your components. Most components will use power, some will generate power, and a few will be power neutral. So you are going to have to balance your power generation with your power usage. An interesting part of this is that this is a soft limit. You can actually exceed your power load. Right now for every 10% above your max you currently are, you get another penalty to things like ship speed and most of your regen rates. There might be situations where going over you limit is beneficial, but I see this happening more when one of your power plants is destroyed.

The fourth requirement is crew related. Most components are going to need a minimum level of crew to install and maintain. For example, an anti-matter engine might require a lvl 20 engineer.

Right now I'm thinking there will be no weight requirements. I have seen this done in a lot of space games, but I would like you to be able to find a decent amount of loot. Having weight limits really gets in the way of loot and loot is fun.

Slot types:

Fantasy games tend to have a lot of slot types (chest, legs, rings, left/right hand, etc.) and most items can only fit in their specific slot. Some space games do a similar thing also, but we are going to generalize the slots a bit more. Currently we have 3 slot types and many different types of items can fit in each type. So you are going to have to make some hard choices of which kind of components to equip. Should you equip another weapon for better fire power or equip a 2nd engine for speed?

There will be a bunch of similar types of components that get split across multiple slot types though. For example, power plants and power collectors both generate power for the ship, but plants might be restricted to heavy slots and collectors are in medium slots. In this case collectors would probably generate less power.

Durability:

I talked about durability quite a bit in my health post. In general, all components will have a limited amount of durability (health). They will be relatively safe until an enemy gets through your shields and armor. After that point though your ship components are going to start taking a lot of damage. If the durability of an item gets down to 0 it will no longer function until repaired. This can be a really big deal depending on what kind of component breaks!

Number of components:

I think this is one thing that I like better about fantasy games than typical space games. It seems most space games have a fairly limited number of potential items. Not so in this game. Right now there are a ton of base items (over 200). Then each of these has 5 separate tech versions. This represents technology advances within the same type of tech. The next technology version will usually have a nice increase in its normal functionality and use less power. Each of these 5 tech versions will also have 5 minor variations like Cheap and Excellent.

On top of all of that I'm pretty sure we are going to add rarities in the mix like many fantasy games do. Instead of magic modifiers they will be something like add-ons. You might have a rare thruster that provides more thrust, uses less power, and even does something strange like add to your attack or increase your kinetic damage resistance.

Right now I don't think that we will have set items, but I do believe we will have unique items.

Component type examples:

Thrusters/Engines - provide thrust and defense
Power plants - generate power for the ship
Batteries - store energy for instant use (like weapon fire)
Armor/Structure/Shields - increase how much damage you can take
Computers/Sensors/Radars - increase your attack
Beam weapons/Ballistics Weapons/Missiles - make things go boom

This is just a small list of the different types of components. There will also be specific use stuff like tractor beams, EMPs, and cloaking devices. Some of these components might also overlap some. For example, engines, thrusters, and power plants all overlap a little. Power plants generate power and thrusters provide thrust. Engines do both, although depending on which engine the engine itself might use all of the power it generates.

Ok, that's long enough. Do you guys have any thoughts?

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Spaceship health
Thursday, 26 May 2011

Health or hit points in RPGs is kind of a nice simplification of reality in RPGs. It works pretty well, but it's a little boring. I'm not sure in a fantasy game there are many other good options, but there are a lot of interesting things you can do when you are in a spaceship. Here's how I'm planning on implementing "health" in our upcoming space game.

Right now I think your "health" will be shields, armor, and then structure/internals. The interesting part is that each layer of "health" increases in cost for you.

Usually your shields are your first line of defense. Shields will automatically recharge fairly quickly over time so damaged shields aren't a big deal.

After your shields are down, your armor will start being damaged. Armor probably won't auto repair at the beginning and when you do get automatic repairing it will probably be fairly slow. You will be able to pay someone to repair your armor though and it will probably be fairly cheap.

After your shields and armor are destroyed, you are in a bad position. Those were your only real defenses. Now all the damage taken is trashing your ship. Some of the damage will hit the structure of the ship. When your structure gets to zero you explode, so that's kind of bad. However, anything that doesn't hit the structure is hitting important internal structures. You know unimportant things like your engines or weapons. :) Repairing internal components will probably be much more expensive to fix.

In most fantasy games the only item you really have to worry about breaking is your weapon. Anything else really doesn't matter that much. With a space ship that's not true at all, so really close fights are going to be interesting. Lose your thrusters or engines and escape is no longer going to be a good option. Lose all of your weapons and you're screwed. Losing other important systems like your computers, counter measures, or batteries are just going to make the fight that much harder.

Pretty much losing any item will impact you in some way so this is going to impact your items strategy. Should you equip 2 thrusters to make sure if one is destroyed you can still move at a reasonable speed? Or should you just load up on as many weapons as possible? Or maybe you should have multiple shield generators to make sure you never take internal damage in the first place?

Anyway that's enough talk about things I haven't even implemented yet, but I think it's going to be interesting.

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Next game intial thoughts
Wednesday, 04 May 2011

Ok, it seems people have narrowed down on the main setting at least so I'm going to unofficially announce what we are working. Let me get the disclaimer out of the way first. The project is still really early. Pretty much nothing is set in stone yet, so anything I say now might change at a later date (even the main setting). Sometimes things sound better on paper than they do when you play them and sometimes you just have better ideas later on. In other words, take all of this with a grain of salt and don't think of these as promises, think of them as our current direction of exploration.

Really quick summary
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MOO from a mercenary captain's point of view.

Short Summary
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The galaxy is a rough but exciting place. The major races are all scouting, colonizing, expanding, and trying to take over the galaxy through diplomacy, technology, and even war when necessary (or when they feel like it).

As a mercenary it's NOT your job to manage all of those annoying people, build thousands of buildings, play nice with your enemies, or balance the budget.

It's your job to pick the winning side, maybe even help them conquer the galaxy if you're being nice, but most importantly make as much money as possible and build the coolest and deadliest ship in the known universe.

Overview
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In each game you start in a random galaxy with several races. Each race's goal is to conquer the galaxy, the problem is the other races are in the way. This is the plot of many strategy games like Master of Orion or Civilization (well Civ is planet bound).

These races expand their territory by scouting out and colonizing suitable planets. They build up their planets with more and better buildings that enhance their economy. They go to war and attack enemy races to hurt them or take their planets. They do much of this by building fleets of starships. They also research new and better technology to build better buildings and ships.

You aren't in control of any of this, directly at least. You are a mercenary in this very dynamic galaxy. Your job is really to survive and make a good living in the meantime. You can pick the side that you feel is right and help them conquer the galaxy for its own good. You can pick the side that you think is going to win and go along for the ride. You can even try to play the races against each other and simply try to pick the winning side at the last second.

You might just be a small mercenary ship but you have a lot of influence in the direction of the galaxy. You can scout out suitable planets to be colonized. You can attack and destroy defenses. You can find and possibly even steal technology to give to the race of your choice. You can even find items and arm whoever you want, including yourself.

At the very beginning you start with a small escort ship, but every so many levels you can upgrade to a larger ship like a frigate, destroyer, cruiser, battleship, all of the way up to a flagship.

That's kind of a high level goal view. From a moment to moment view, the game will be like Din's Curse but in space with your character being a spaceship. Still basically an action RPG. You explore the galaxy, solve quests for whichever race you want, battle enemies, find lots of loot, and outfit your ship with lots of items (instead of armor and weapons it's ship components).


That's basically the direction we are taking at the moment. If you have any comments, ideas, or similar games you think we should play, please tell us.

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