Friday, August 8, 2014

Ship Configuration

I've been spending this week working on something that doesn't really lend itself to sexy videos or screenshots, but is going to be very important for the game: Ship Configuration.

In Starcom: Nexus, every ship consists of a hull that has a number of hard points where modules can be placed. Everything a ship can do comes from its modules: Converting fuel into energy your modules can use comes from reactors. Detection and long range radar comes from scanners. Plasma bolts come from your plasma cannons. Shield generation comes from your shield generator. And so forth.

All modules are stackable. If you have 5 plasma cannons, that's five times the fire power. If you have 2 scanners, you'll have twice the detection capability.

Technologies unlock and improve the capabilities of the modules you already have. Your 5 plasma cannons may only fire once a second at a range of 50, for 30 points of damage, but with Plasma Coherence and Helium Cooling, you get improvements to all of them. As mentioned in a previous post, technology comes from Research Points which are a non-grindable resource-- you have to discover and do new things to get them.


Very preliminary gif of the ship builder screen. The actual builder screen will also show the cargo hold, and give detailed information on your ship's capabilities and the selected module.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Exploration: Dyson Sphere

One of the main goals for this game, besides exciting spaceship combat, is a sense of exploration and discovery. Our real universe is full of amazing, bizarre and mind-blowing stuff. A science fiction universe should be double so. Besides encountering bizarre celestial phenomena like black holes, pulsars and strange planets, there's the possibility of stuff that we've only dreamed of, like ancient derelict craft, wormholes, and artifacts terrible and wondrous.

In this latest concept art piece for a player ship design, I asked the artist to show it in the context of a Dyson Sphere. The player, having discovered the signal necessary to unlock its portal, prepares to descend into its interior. What will you find inside?


Friday, July 18, 2014

Dialog System

I spent about half of this week working on the dialog system. Rather than fall into the Not Invented Here trap and rolling my own, I investigated some existing solutions and eventually decided on ChatMapper to create the dialog trees (technically graphs, but everyone calls them trees) and Pixel Crusher's Dialogue System to handle the interaction in game.

Both products work well and are certainly have more features than anything I would have come up with in a reasonable time frame. I encountered several quirks that slowed me down and their documentation could be better organized, but Pixel Crusher's support has been very responsive-- I reported a bug and a question and a patch was posted within 12 hours.

This is not the final UI, but I now have a working in-game dialog. In my current prototype, when the player approaches the Saurid station a dialog appears and the player can converse with the commander.

In-game dialog window on top of the ChatMapper tool I'm using.
The next step is to add hooks into the dialog system's variables and logic, so that I can tie the interaction with the game-- e.g., the if the player discovers something that the Saurid might know about, this would appear as an option in the response menu. Or in the other direction, an interaction in the dialog might trigger some game change, such as starting a mission or adding information to the player's map.

Btw, if anyone knows of any good resources for dialog tree design, let me know!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Game Website

Another quick post to say that the game now has its own website: http://www.starcomnexus.com/

There's a new 60-second video up there, showing the current state of development.

Giogio is starting a fresh round of concept art to illustrate some more aliens, ships and other game features. I'm pretty excited about these!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Concept Art

Just a quick post to show off some concept art that Giorgio Grecu has done for the game.

Small, fast player ship.
Saurid Commander. The Saurid will be one of the first alien races you encounter in the game.
Alien capital ship

Friday, June 27, 2014

Celestials: Nebulae

As I mentioned in the last post about Tech Trees, exploration will not only reveal the storyline and provide the player with new encounters, it will also provide a means of advancement via Research Points.

Research Points will come from the player doing and finding new things. Science and Science Fiction have both shown us that there's a lot of really cool things out in space. In Starcom: Nexus, celestial phenomena will not merely be cosmetic, but potentially offer research points as well as game play effects.

For example this week I added nebulae to the game, a staple of science fiction space. All nebulae will reduce player (and enemy) detection abilities, which may be used to a tactical advantage. Some nebulae may have additional effects, like energy discharges.


Player admires a pretty sunset created by a mix of nebulae.

The player fires lasers blindly in the direction of a recently spotted enemy.

Player jumps to a star at the edge of nebula.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tech Trees

First Attempt Tech Tree Interface

Aside from preparing a demo for this year's FIG Boston, this week I started work on Tech Trees.

Tech Trees will work similarly to skill trees found in most RPGs: players will periodically get to unlock technologies that lie along various research branches. Technologies give bonuses to various ship functions and/or unlock new ship modules. For example, before players can build missile modules for their ship they'll need to research the appropriate technology. Once they have missiles, new technologies may give them longer range, more powerful warheads, better target seeking, etc.

Starcom: Nexus will use a slightly different system than the standard "leveling up" found in most RPGs. To research technologies, players spend Research Points. Research Points will be earned by observing and doing new things: seeing a star nova at close range, destroying an Omen missile frigate, or befriending an alien race. The players will only get the RP the first time they "observe" and event.

The idea is to have a system that rewards exploration over grinding. There may be some grindy aspects if a research event isn't 100% guaranteed to "drop," but generally players will be encouraged to seek out and explore strange new things, even if they aren't tied into the main story line.

Even though I've made progress, there's still some open questions on how Tech Trees will work, such as how much information players start with about the various tech paths:

  • Does the entire tech tree start visible, with players being able to see every future research and its benefits? This is typically how skill trees work and lets players aim for specific technologies they want, but removes some of the mystery.
  • Do players see all of certain tech lines, with other lines being hidden until the player has unlocked certain prerequisite techs. This lets players aim for specific weapon/defense builds, but with the possibility that other surprise options will open up.
  • Do players only see the immediately accessible tech nodes, withe future nodes becoming visible when their prerequisites have been completed?
Obviously if the tech trees are predetermined, the mystery only exists the first time the player plays (or until she or he unlocks all techs), but an important design goal for the game is to give the player a strong sense of exploration and discovery.

Ideas? Opinions? Leave a comment.