Rant | Wayward Terran Frontier


Infinite Maps

Posted On 22 Aug, 2013

If you were to look at the project bio, or watch any of my videos, or read any of my other blog posts you would have gotten the impression that this game was about exploration. So what is there to explore anyhow? Until now the game has been an empty room with a backdrop where you can spawn some stuff.

Well, lately I have been hard at work fixing that problem by constructing an infinitely large map.

Of course, like all the other games that boast infinite procedural maps Wayward Terran Frontier won’t technically have an infinite map. What I am building instead is an almost-to-scale map of a full galaxy. It will be around the same size as the Milky Way. So while the map may very well be finite, I don’t expect anyone to ever use all of it. You will definitely not run out of places to go.

I’ll address some of the finer points below.

Memorable stories rant

Posted On 1 Jul, 2013

I think story writers for games need to spend more time considering the mindset of their audience, and incorporate gameplay activities into their story writing. Writers these days often imagine how a fictional character would react to events in a fictional world, and then write the story to fit that character. Then they go to the game programmers and say “how can we force the player to view the actions of this character’s story” and it ends up feeling kinda forced. I felt this way when playing Deadspace, Deus Ex: H.R., Assassins Creed, and the Far Cry games, while I have found myself subconsciously avoiding other games such as Bioshock and Dishonored for fear of the same. Don’t get me wrong, those were all very fun games, but I personally didn’t finish the storyline of most of them. That’s because they are using a writing process that works well with books and movies, not one which works well for games. Also I’m bad about finishing game plots to begin with. Something has destroyed my attention span, not sure what. In my opinion, a better approach is to imagine how an actual gamer would react to events in an actual game world. You tell your programmer to make that game world (or program it yourself) and then you write game events to fit the gamer. Valve has been historically good at this, so I will use some of their games as examples of good ways to create an ingame narrative. Half Life: The player is motivated to fight enemies, survive threatening situations, and explore. Those are simply the things players do in first person shooters. Likewise, the game offers an environment where doing exactly those things advances the story and rewards the player. It need not be more complex than that. When the player shoots enemies, the scientists often thank him, making him feel like a hero. When he escapes a dangerous situation he feels like the environment is antagonistic as apposed to holding his hand and guiding him through the plot. Finally, when the player explores he finds clues to the greater plot of the game world (such as the man in the suit) which rewards exploration with a feeling of being immersed in an interesting world. Half life 1 is a completely linear game, practically on rails, and yet because of the way it’s presented the player feels every choice is their own. It’s because the writers anticipated player choices instead of trying to force them that Half Life 1 was such a compelling narrative. Portal: (Warning portal 1 spoilers) Portal is my favorite example. Portal is marketed as a puzzle game, it looks like a puzzle game and it plays like a puzzle game. On the surface it seems the only unique elements are a new mechanic (portals) and an antagonist that mocks you while you complete puzzles. You don’t really feel attached to your character because it’s just an avatar in a puzzle game, you see your character the way Glados sees your character. All of this is designed to control your preconception of the game so that the writers can toy with your emotions later on. Then, at what would be the logical end of a puzzle game, something magic happens: After you finish the last puzzle, when both Glados and the player are ready to discard their 1 Dimensional protagonist, the game allows the player to try what any typical gamer is going to try. The game expects the player to try breaking the game mechanics, it anticipates they will will try to leave the puzzle, and it allows it. I remember both me and Glados were equally shocked when it ended up working. At that moment, the game world becomes real, the characters become real, the stakes become real, and the player begins to become immersed. I don’t know about you, but I sat down every night and casually did 1 or two puzzles in portal as if it were my daily crossword puzzle. It was amusing and casual. However, once I escaped the fire pit the game changed for me. Suddenly I was reading the end credits and noticing that it was 4AM and I had stayed up all night to play to the end in 1 sitting. I had been tricked into becoming immersed. Now can you imagine if the game had been pitched and sold as a short story about a girl who escapes an evil robot? Imagine how that would have changed your preconceptions and ruined the “Wow” moment when you realized you could escape. What if, when you got to the flaming pit at the end, there had been a fast action sequence where a window popped up and said “Press X to escape the fire pit!”? Would that not have removed some authenticity from the feeling of breaking the game mechanics? What if Chell had voiced dialogue and…

Design goals: team ship control

Posted On 22 May, 2013

There are a lot of challenges related to making a space ship game that can be controlled by multiple people over the network, but for this article I will mostly focus on the fun aspects: roles, interactions and player experience. What I won’t discuss is the coding nightmare of simulating an entire networked multiplayer game running inside of another networked multiplayer game. If you want to know how I have solved those problems, you will have to wait until I’m done solving them.   The goal is to provide roles to the players which are optional, yet non-trivial so that the system is satisfying from all possible perspectives, all while making the roles simple enough that the learning curve doesn’t prohibit switching roles. The perspectives that need to be considered are: the person who wants to play alone, the person adding a friend to fill one of his optional roles, the friend who is being invited to fill an optional role, and finally the enemy player forced to fight against multiple players in a single ship.   The factors for each role will then be: is this role required for the ship to function? is this role valuable to the ship as a whole? is this role interesting enough to maintain a player’s attention? is a ship without someone in this role at an unfair disadvantage? can a new player pick up this role and benefit the crew without being frustrated by complexity?   I have selected 4 initial types of player role for the ships in Wayward Terran Frontier and I’d like to discuss why I made some of the decisions I have made and how I think they will affect cooperative gameplay. The roles are that of Ship navigation, gunnery, science, and engineering, and they all work together to answer the questions posed above. These roles are also tied directly to ingame objects which are the control consoles you can add to your ship during the designing phase. In this way I provide the ship owner with the power to decide which roles will be available to his crew during gameplay.   Required roles vs optional roles is probably the simplest discussion to get out of the way. I approach this question from the perspective of what you absolutely have to be able to do when you are flying a 1 seat fighter craft by yourself. Then I expand outwards to try and imagine what roles I would add if the ship were just a little larger. In Wayward Terran Frontier the navigation console is the only required role for a working space ship (although probably optional if you intend to make an immobile turret or support structure) and it is designed to control like a simplified version of the controls from other top-down space games. If all you have is a navigation console, you can move the ship, turn the ship, fire all the guns, and eventually dock with other ships. By design, all other consoles are 100% optional, but that doesn’t have to mean those consoles are trivial.   So what types of valuable additions could other consoles add without being mandatory? well that depends on your definition of mandatory. Gunnery consoles do not have their view tied to the ship so they can survey the entire battlefield, and they can make aimed shots with any gun allowing them to target the interior of ships as apposed to just the edges. They also will eventually have UI elements that makes it easier to hit moving targets. Science consoles will be required if you want to use transporters, but with airlocks, transporters will be a convenience issue only. Science consoles can also scan things to help in both exploration and combat, and they have the ability to reinforce shields during combat. Engineering consoles will replace the current system of seeing the inside of your ship and clicking on things that you want the crew to do, while also allowing the utility of toggling modules and conduits on/off and activating fire suppression systems. To give engineering consoles something to aid combat directly there will most likely be a way to manually boost the charge rate of specific modules by clicking on them when your friends yell over voice chat.   Maintaining a player’s attention during combat is important. It is absolutely imperative to avoid the situation where a player has a fully powered and properly configured console and for an entire fight all they do is click the “scan” button. The gunnery console is obviously going to take part in lots of shooting, and the pilot’s job is always interesting enough, so that leaves science and engineering. Science console solves this issue through reserve shield supply and transporters. Reserve shield modules allow the science console to draw new shield pixels around the ship in real time using stored energy, which gives them an active role in protecting the…