Space Trucking

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Space Trucking

Postby Relee » Mon Nov 23, 2009 12:21 pm

Somehow I got to thinking about space flight/trading sims lately. Games like Wing Commander: Privateer and Freelancer, and MMOs like Earth and Beyond and EVE. There have been quite a few out there. There are also top-down ones like Star Control 2 and Space Rangers 2.

Wing Commander: Privateer was the original one for me. It was the oldest one of this genre I can remember playing, and the best. The graphics were kind of cheap and sometimes you couldn't shoot enemy ships because they were half-way between two 'grid points' on the pseudo-3D display and you could only point the nose of your ship to the left or right of the enemy, not directly at it. But, the game was crazy fun. I never finished the story mission, mostly I just did randomly generated fedex quests and did Space Trucking, buying trade goods at one station and shipping them to another station.

Wing Commander: Privateer had the player actually sitting in the cockpit; you could see the consoles and computer banks and stuff. It's not like modern games where you're outside the ship with a transparent graphical HUD. You actually felt sort of like you were piloting a ship through space. The fights were handled like being a fighter pilot, though the game also had an odd option to climb into a pivoting turret on your ship and shoot from there. A couple of the ship types had turrets; the main trading ship had a turret on top and one on the bottom, and the big merc ship had a turret on the back-side. But, when you were in a turret, you could only shoot from the turret, not the front, or pilot. Your main guns would be on the front. Having the turrets would be awesome if they shot on their own or if you could have a ship-mate in them, shooting along with you. I'd say that's what always inspired me, wanting a crew in a ship like that.

Besides having a crew there were other things I wanted, like being able to walk around inside of my ship, and being able to work on different parts of it. Things like, you're on a long space trip so you go into the back and work on the ship's computers or repair/maintain the internals. If you were hauling cargo you could go take a look at it in your cargo bay. Maybe you have EVA suits or a shuttle or a land vehicle or something, you could go work on that in the bay. That sort of thing. During combat you might repair hull damage or reinforce the shields, and after battle you might repair the engines if they took damage, that sort of thing.

The more I talk about it, the more I realize, there is no game like this... Yet, it wouldn't be terribly difficult to make one, would it?

I figure there are some different tiers going on here, and different ones would be more or less difficult. The ideal would be an MMORPG, but those are difficult to make and even more difficult to maintain. You have to have dedicated servers, professional game masters, tech support, accountants and lawyers and stuff. You need a building to house the on-site staff and servers, and a janitor and a secretary to make the building work. It's a real undertaking. Still, I could see something like Puzzle Pirates working great. You could run your own ship and people could play mini-games to do the various tasks like repairing and maintaining and hauling cargo on or off, that sort of thing.

Below the idea of an MMORPG would be a dedicated server system. Let the players host their own servers, like they do with FPS games. They might not be able to handle as many players as an MMO could, but instead of playing in one world with all the griefers and power gamers and what have you, you could make your own world for just you and your friends, maybe there's only a few dozen of you running around, maybe a hundred, maybe just four guys sharing a ship on a single dedicated server. You could even have local mods or house rules or something. Maybe it's a dedicated roleplaying server. Neverwinter Nights worked that way, and some folks made their own mini-mmos.

Of course, it could just be basic multiplayer, letting one player host and invite their friends to be their crewmates on a single ship, and they can only play together, or maybe their guys go into AI mode when their player isn't around. That would be easy enough to set up, the system could just poll your connection information and you could give it to your friends via IM, and then you're connected! I don't know if that would actually be easier or harder than making a dedicated server though, and maybe the dedicated server system could be integrated into the multiplayer, so that they effectively work the same way. You can set up a small dedicated server while also playing the game with your friends, or you can go all out and set up a fancy box.

The bottom tier would be the easiest, to just make it a single player game. You could have a crew or not, and just wander around your space ship alone. It might be a good idea to have that option anyways; just like hosting a mini-server and letting just a few friends in, you host a mini-server and let only yourself in. Then you would have all that space for you alone to explore. ^.^


Running through the game design in my head, I think I would combine the latter three. Let people set up a dedicated server, a local server, or just play solo. I guess if you're playing solo you could also do hot-seat play, letting your friend control 'their guy' while you control your own. It might also be possible to develop the game on a sliding scale. Start with the single player, then add multiplayer later. Just make sure to think ahead so that the multiplayer will work.

The game would be pretty straightforward. Procedurally generated 'area of space', with lots of stuff to explore, trade routes to form, alien menaces to fight... I figure everything will be optional. I think I had a really good idea for the alien menace mechanic for example. I was thinking about it more in the terms of an MMO but it would probably work in any of the other modes as well. The hostile aliens will gradually try to spread out their territory, taking over stars, planets, and space stations, while the friendly aliens and the players will try to fight back against them. The hostiles have limited resources for their campaign, so if they extend too far then they can't make as many ships and they're weaker and too far apart, and eventually they can't establish a large enough force to take any more systems. As the friendly guys push them back, however, their resources are more compact, so the less systems they control, the more ships they have. If the players and friendly guys push them all the way back to one system, they might get reinforcements from 'outside', or they might even go extinct and a new enemy pops up in some other part of the galaxy to continue that style of gaming. Heck, maybe that's how all wars work in this game, and you can even make peace instead of wiping them out. That would be neat.

I would want the ship controls to feel very "I'm piloting a ship." so you would be in a cockpit or on a control bridge, and probably be able to 'turn your head' to look at monitors and stuff around you. You'd actually be controlling the ship, rather than telling it what to do by simple directions. So, that would either have to be 3D or some kind of pseudo-3D like good old Wing Commander.

I wonder about moving around the ship, though. I can think of a few ways to do it. It could be full 3D and that would be rad, but difficult to program, and the art resources would be difficult to make or look cheap. I could make it isometric, and that would work for landing on planets and stations as well, but then there would be a disconnect from the flying in space aspect, plus if I do something like flying over planets or driving over planets, would it be 3D or something like isometric? That could get confusing. Another option is to do it side-screen adventure-game style. That would be sort of primitive but really easy to implement, and it could be a lot of fun. I could probably make a fighter-type piloting system and a side-screen walkaround in Flash and that would be the easiest way to develop the game, but there would still be that disconnect. Well the real easiest way to develop the game would be to remove the direct piloting interface, but that would ruin the 'I'm flying a spaceship' aspect. It could still be sort of fun, maybe a top-down piloting type like Star Control 2, and use that for landing vehicles too, and go for a super-close-up top-down view for planets on foot, and stations and buildings could be side-view adventure style, or even top-down too. I don't know...

Lots of ideas, it's tough. I could do it in any way I wanted but some ways would take a lot more work and time. Maybe I should make a simpler version as the first one and try to get funding and support before expanding it? Or I could make it open source and have other people contribute to the project. Hard to make money that way though.

What do you guys think of this idea? I think it could be a lot of fun to play, and a lot of fun to make as well. I could put all sorts of fun stuff in there, like a random alien generator, and give them different cultures and stuff. I could have the ruins of lost alien civilizations and giant space monsters and stuff like that. It would be a real Space Exploration game. ^.^
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby Jennifer Diane Reitz » Tue Nov 24, 2009 2:12 am

I wanted to make that game, back in my day - though there were no MMORPG's in that time. But, the rest was my dream. I called my never-made game 'Big Universe'.

If I were to do it today, I would start with the body - the avatar of the player. I would have it that the avatar could move as in Mirror's Edge, by which I mean that the player, in first-person mode, should be able to see their own hands, feet, torso, and body by tilting their view, which is to say, their head. The viewpoint would be identical to that of a living person: what you can see of your body, the player would see of their virtual one. And that body should be able to climb, walk, run, jump, cling, slide, hold, grab and move in a context-sensitive way.

If you approached a wall or surface, your avatar would naturally reach out to it at proximity, and if you stood there, it would run it's hand over the surface to admire or explore it. When you click with your pointer, the body would act upon - an object would be lifted with the hand, a button pressed with the finger, steps walked up, a ladder climbed - and also these actions would be available from keyboard, or from joypad as well. In a sense, beyond movement, it would be a few-button game, where context determines action. Buttons are to be pressed, objects lifted, and so on. The idea is to make it dreamlike, automatic, immersive by virtue of simplicity, but also deep. The depth comes from being able to go anywhere you can reach, take anything you can grasp, operate controls with your hands realistically, and put on your space helmet by lifting it and securing it.

It could theoretically be done with four buttons alone: take, do, action and drop.

I would have a space craft be a place and an object; you could tinker with it, repair it, upgrade it by actually doing. Take a module and open a panel and install it. Climb into the engine and cross-connect the wires by grabbing and switching them. Cycle the airlock by actually pressing the buttons and using the release valves. Clamber in space-suit across the hull, from hand-hold to magna-grip, to perform a mid-voyage repair on the hull. Or paint cargo on route to sale in another system.

Flying the ship would involve moving to the appropriate console and using the controls correctly. Multiple players could work together to land, take off, or battle.

And on a planet, procedurally generated, one could own an apartment, visit a mall, or rent a buggy and explore the wilderness, climb a mountain, and maybe explore alien ruins, or find strange gems, or just explore, using that avatar body with its realistic moves.

I imagine hand-mining an asteroid, and being attacked by a pirate. I would have the clever player be able to get back to their now disabled ship, and enter the air-lock. As the enemy docks, the player, still in suit, clambers into the ducts and works of the engine and support systems. Through a vent, the player would see the pirate find no one aboard, take off their helmet, and set about trying to take control of the ship. This is where the player crawls to the purge release valves and decompresses the ship, leaving the incautious NOOB pirate to choke and die as the air leaves. The clever player moves in utter silence (except for their own suit noises and breathing) to re-pressurize their ship, and once it is secure, to 'salvage' the foolish pirate player's ship. All of this done with their own (gloved) hands, on their own knees in crawlspaces, or on deck, looking down at their virtual feet at the former pirate. This is my dream.

I would have social places be such that voice communication radiates from the avatar just as voice radiates from a living person; the markets would be filled with the voices of those online, speaking freely, as if actually there. The same would be true everywhere, say on the bridge of a ship, and constrained only by real constraints, such as distance, or the limits of radio when in space-suit.

If I had my druthers, the technology level would be similar to that in Firefly, or many a Heinlein novel - not up to Star Trek, but instead where pilots need to fly, and suits need to be worn, and repairs need to be made.

That would a MMORPG that could actually hold me. A world where you could truly 'be' your character.
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby Relee » Tue Nov 24, 2009 6:18 am

I don't think we could make a full MMO like that, because of the limits of how much information you can send down the pipe. That may change if some of these 'New Internet' rumors pan out, but that would probably take a long time. Second Life is actually very close to what you describe, a lot of it could even be done by scripting and custom animations, but the pipe issue I'm talking about takes effect at the edge of the sims, simulator regions, relatively small spatial areas and when you cross them, there's a burst of lag as your information goes from one server to another.

On the other hand, a one-player version, or a few-player version using hackable local storage IS possible right now, most definately. You and your family or friends could share a Spaceship together, or a universe together, or hell, a multiverse together. What's a multiverse but another bit of universe accessed in a funny way?

The only problem, well my problem anyways, is the work it would take to make it happen. Designing and coding something that complex would take years for a major studio, and I'm just one squirrel. ^.^;;

I wonder if it would be the most popular game ever, though. Maybe. It would certainly be better than Spore. It might be even better than ProtoSpore!

My game wouldn't be nearly that ambitious, simply because I'd like to be able to complete it in my lifetime. It would still be awesome, though, I think.
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby strange_person » Tue Nov 24, 2009 8:49 am

Jennifer Diane Reitz wrote:If you approached a wall or surface, your avatar would naturally reach out to it at proximity, and if you stood there, it would run it's hand over the surface to admire or explore it. When you click with your pointer, the body would act upon - an object would be lifted with the hand, a button pressed with the finger, steps walked up, a ladder climbed - and also these actions would be available from keyboard, or from joypad as well. In a sense, beyond movement, it would be a few-button game, where context determines action. Buttons are to be pressed, objects lifted, and so on. The idea is to make it dreamlike, automatic, immersive by virtue of simplicity, but also deep. The depth comes from being able to go anywhere you can reach, take anything you can grasp, operate controls with your hands realistically, and put on your space helmet by lifting it and securing it.

It could theoretically be done with four buttons alone: take, do, action and drop.
That does indeed sound awesome, but I would do it a bit differently. The problem with a system like that is, in real life you have ten fingers and kinesthetic feedback, while an avatar can only point to one thing at a time. In a game like Mirror's Edge (Assassin's Creed and RE 4 have some similar features) which is primarily about gross motor skill, highly-contextual controls work great; the problem is when you get in close, start working with arrays of buttons or a tangled mass of wire, then it becomes a matter of painstakingly twitching the control-stick from one option to the next. For those situations, here is what I would do: whichever option you're looking at is properly labeled. The surrounding options are blurrier, showing just a color-code or a single letter or something. Someone who knows the layout already can use their whole hand, tap out appropriate sequential manipulations almost as fast as they can think; the less experienced has to examine controls and wires one-by-one, as if peering at the malfunctioning subsystem through and an inch-thick Field Operations Guidebook.
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby Coda » Tue Nov 24, 2009 9:51 am

strange_person wrote:The surrounding options are blurrier, showing just a color-code or a single letter or something. Someone who knows the layout already can use their whole hand, tap out appropriate sequential manipulations almost as fast as they can think; the less experienced has to examine controls and wires one-by-one, as if peering at the malfunctioning subsystem through and an inch-thick Field Operations Guidebook.


Actually the technology already exists to don a pair of glasses and have it track what you're looking at in a car engine and overlay a HUD illustrating disassembly and repair instructions. Naturally you can work faster if you already know what you're doing, but you can slow down and see the details if you need to.
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby Relee » Wed Dec 02, 2009 6:57 am

I wrote some more about this on my LiveJournal. Here's a link: http://relee.livejournal.com/697378.html
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby strange_person » Fri Dec 04, 2009 7:30 am

For the inventory problem, how about having the world include cheap, common extradimensional storage that can be matrioshka'd indefinitely? It would explain how a ship can travel between star systems with no visible remass, and it would make inventory-management suitably interesting. If you've got, say, five 'slots' (left hand, left hip, back, right hip, right hand) then you could have two holsters and a backpack. Inside the backpack you'd keep frequent-use items like medkits and alternate weapons, and another, smaller pack. The smaller pack might contain money and loot, and one or more deeply-nested containers.

Larger packs (that is, those which contain more inventory slots and/or reduce the mass of their contents to a higher degree) would be more expensive. An empty pack could also be installed in the ship as a supplementary fuel tank.
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby Relee » Fri Dec 04, 2009 6:15 pm

I'm not trying to solve the problem of having to do encumberance. In fantasy, the Backpack of Holding is pretty much standard these days. In sci-fi, well, Borderlands is quite elegant with those little materializers the characters all wear to switch weapons.

Ideally I'd like to make a game with realistic encumberance and space issues so that it's more important that you bring what you need, instead of bringing your entire aresenal and closet in your fanny pack. Likewise, making it more important to take the jeweled goblet than stripping and robbing everyone you come across, which, also realistically, should take a bit of time. I dunno about you, but I can't loot a corpse in under two seconds. It'd probably take me at least a minute, probably five if I did it right.

Of course, there are times where you want infinite inventory. A game is a game, and if we start complaining about one 'realism oversight' we'll have to start complaining about others, and realism can get in the way of fun. It's just a personal taste. ^.^
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby strange_person » Sat Dec 05, 2009 4:11 pm

Ah, but my suggestion wouldn't be truly infinite inventory.
1) Cost. Hyperspatial bins may be cheap, but they aren't free, and the really good ones might be extremely expensive.
2) Convenience. Sorting through all those nested bins while you're getting shot at would be difficult and dangerous.
3) Trade-offs. A container you're lugging around for personal equipment is one you could have been using to extend your ship's operational range.
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby Coda » Sat Dec 05, 2009 5:42 pm

strange_person wrote:Ah, but my suggestion wouldn't be truly infinite inventory.
1) Cost. Hyperspatial bins may be cheap, but they aren't free, and the really good ones might be extremely expensive.
2) Convenience. Sorting through all those nested bins while you're getting shot at would be difficult and dangerous.
3) Trade-offs. A container you're lugging around for personal equipment is one you could have been using to extend your ship's operational range.

Not to mention that just because the CAPACITY is infinite doesn't mean you can actually FIT anything in there; a backpack can't hold a ship. :P
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby Relee » Sun Dec 06, 2009 9:53 am

I suppose it depends on the ship. If you have access to hyperspace tech like that it would make sense to make the outside of your ship as small as possible, so that the engines on the inside don't need to exhert as much force to move it. Unless moving the 'hole' is as difficult as moving all of the mass contained within, but then you wouldn't be able to carry your box of boxes.

So basically you're describing a tardis, and I could make a backpack you could fit one of those in.



You know, they do something similar in Neverwinter Nights? A Bag of Holding doesn't have infinite space, but it eliminates the weight of everything that goes in. It's crazy expensive though. They have other bags that only eliminate a percentage of the weight, and they're less expensive, but I'm not sure it's ever cost effective to buy one. ^.^;;
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby strange_person » Sun Dec 06, 2009 9:59 am

Well, I was thinking that there wouldn't be any actual zero-marginal-mass container. Instead, they'd get exponentially more expensive as the mass-reduction factor approaches infinity.
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Re: Space Trucking

Postby Alfador » Sun Dec 06, 2009 8:41 pm

Relee wrote:I suppose it depends on the ship. If you have access to hyperspace tech like that it would make sense to make the outside of your ship as small as possible, so that the engines on the inside don't need to exhert as much force to move it. Unless moving the 'hole' is as difficult as moving all of the mass contained within, but then you wouldn't be able to carry your box of boxes.

So basically you're describing a tardis, and I could make a backpack you could fit one of those in.



You know, they do something similar in Neverwinter Nights? A Bag of Holding doesn't have infinite space, but it eliminates the weight of everything that goes in. It's crazy expensive though. They have other bags that only eliminate a percentage of the weight, and they're less expensive, but I'm not sure it's ever cost effective to buy one. ^.^;;


Nesting enchanted packs? Here's how to optimize:

Step 1: Giant cargo container full of miscellaneous trade goods.
Step 2: Giant hyperspatial bag with a rigid portal the size of the cargo container's two smallest dimensions.
Step 3: Put said giant hyperspatial bag into a smaller hyperspatial container with an opening width of about a foot and an opening length of the smallest dimension of the rigid portal from step 2.
Step 4: Now put the smaller hyperspatial container into a hyperspatial backpack a foot on a side.
Step 5: Travel.
Step 6: Unpack.
Step 7: You better believe it's PROFIT!
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