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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperPlaytestingSpace sandbox cube fun [new video 2012-04-20]
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zoq
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« on: March 28, 2012, 01:30:15 PM »

Edit ::: Dear readers, it would be immensely helpful for me if even if you weren't interested in the game, you could briefly reply why. I'm not trying to appeal to every kind of a gamer, but if the reason was something in the game (or the lack of presented material), I'd very much like to hear. I don't see many more sandbox games in the feedback forum, so I don't really know if they are hot or not.

I'm not sure if this should be here in in devlogs, but since my primary purpose is to get feedback, I'll put it here.

I have been writing a voxel-based 6 degrees of freedom Newtonian space sandbox for a while now, and as much as I personally enjoy developing it, I’d like to have a kind of a interest check to see if it’s worth turning into anything more than a hobby.

One of the main features is that the player can build their ship from cubes however they want and the ship’s behavior will accurately reflect that. So your ship will be fast, slow, agile, etc completely based on how you build it, depending on what materials you use and how you place the blocks. The same engine covers any ship from a tiny 1-man fighter to multi-kilometer long ships or stations to surface gun platforms. I haven’t implemented walking in ships yet, but I plan to.

As an example, here is a screenshot of a really simple fighter. The graphics are of course massively Work In Progress - lighting is disabled, textures are placeholders, no HUD, etc.
http://i.imgur.com/wQoXv.jpg

This is the blueprint used to generate that ship.
http://i.imgur.com/7WIoc.png

In the blueprint, # is non-functional structure block, udlr and 1-4 are engines responding to different keys, c is the cockpit, M are projectile launchers, D are magic aero-brakes and R is a (currently magic) rudder used in atmosphere.

As a wannabe explorer I’m personally a bit obsessed with large seamless worlds, and that was one of the first things I wanted to do. I’m not exactly sure how large the current universe in the game in practice is, but honestly it’s pretty large, in addition to being completely seamless. So, any star you see in the sky, you can fly to. The universe is of course procedurally generated.

I haven’t really thought of faster-than-light travel methods yet, but at the moment I’m not thinking about jump gates or B5-style hyperspace, instead probably favoring space compression or something like that.

The game doesn’t have real planets yet, but I have been experimenting with homogeneous cube asteroids of up to 4 km in diameter. I want everything in the world be completely destructible, which is the main reason for the size limit.

I know some people don’t like Newtonian flight, which is the reason the engine also somewhat supports atmospheric flight with the aid of specialized medium-based velocity-dependent force producing flat structures (professionals call them “wings”). In addition to local dogfight areas, there may also be systems/galaxies/clusters that are filled with gas, making atmospheric flight work even in the grand scale. Eventually all depends on what is fun and what is not.

There is no real game yet on top of the engine, but I’m thinking something like open-ended emergent mine-manufacture-trade-smuggle-pirate eventually. Not sure about multiplayer yet, because I think many people want to experience these kind of games primarily in singleplayer, but on the other hand blowing up your friends is also fun. It’s also way too early to talk about AI crews managing your empire like in Settlers or Dwarf Fortress, but it’s something I’d love to do if technically possible.

Unfortunately I don’t have an open demo for you yet. However, if there seems to be interest, I’ll see if I can tidy up the dev version enough to post it here. I have some problems with running Fraps on Win 7, but I’ll make a video asap if I can figure out what’s wrong.

As mentioned in the beginning, this is mostly an interest check to see if the idea is worth developing further. So let me know what you think!

Edit 2012-04-01 ::: I've made a short video, which can be found



Edit 2012-04-01 ::: Another video that shows some rock destruction effects and an exterior view of a ship:



Edit 2012-04-03 ::: Third video featuring ship shooting, click.

Edit 2012-04-03 ::: Video showing almost final ship-to-ship collisions, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_UpH1WICO0

Edit 2012-04-20 ::: I apologize for the lack of updates during the last few weeks, but I have been very busy at work. However, just now I finished the mouse-style block removal and addition. A short demonstration video can be seen

. Next I will most likely start doing artificial gravity for ships and avatar movement in general.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2012, 01:34:05 PM by zoq » Logged

peous
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« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2012, 01:54:07 PM »

Yes. Streaming infinite universe procedurally generated. But what would be the point to explore it Smiley ?
Anyway I like the idea of having ship characteristics bound to the way you build it, how do you plan to implement it ? will depend only on number of engines for example, or also shape-dependent ?
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zoq
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« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2012, 11:05:52 PM »

Yes. Streaming infinite universe procedurally generated. But what would be the point to explore it Smiley ?
Anyway I like the idea of having ship characteristics bound to the way you build it, how do you plan to implement it ? will depend only on number of engines for example, or also shape-dependent ?

The reason for exploration would probably be finding new civilizations to trade with/steal from/crush under your boot as well as finding rare exotic stuff to mine.

Ship functionality is already implemented and working. The way it's done is physics, so the game calculates how much each engine will accelerate the ship and to what direction. The same applies also to the rotation, so the ship turns depending on where each engine is related to the center of mass and what is the moment of inertia along that axis. Each engine can be controlled separately or in groups.
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« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2012, 05:28:56 AM »

The concept seems interesting enough. I reckon it's something every spacegame player has dreamed of at one point. Problem is, so far it really sounds a lot like Blockade Runner.
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« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2012, 05:43:17 AM »

The concept seems interesting enough. I reckon it's something every spacegame player has dreamed of at one point. Problem is, so far it really sounds a lot like Blockade Runner.

Why is that a problem? Smiley

Regardless, there seems to be many similarities, but also differences. Given that both games are in a very early stage, it's difficult to compare actual features, but the design philosophy seems to me to be quite different.
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« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2012, 05:48:01 PM »

Sounds fun, but I'm a bit biased. I'm actually working on a space game with ships composed of parts too, although quite different in execution.

You might skip over most of your more complex ideas for now and concentrate on getting the core 'building' mechanism (if that really does turn out to be the core!) working in a fun way.

I'd be interested to see how you implement thruster/weapon groups/selection and AI ship control. Those are design areas I've struggled with because they introduce more complexity than I'd like to expose to the player, but I can imagine scenarios where fine-grained control is desirable.

I'm on the fence on Newtonian physics. I always liked Subspace and the subtlety in maneuvering, but the sentiment I usually see is that it takes away too much control and causes frustration (especially in shmups). Having different environments that offer both ways might be a good compromise, but I'd be wary of introducing additional controls that only affect part of the game.

I like the use of ASCII to represent the ship. It's portable, simple, human-editable, and provides a decent visual. I could imagine difficulty if you need to encode more information about a part though. Captain Forever (http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=8095.0) also uses this approach.

Here are a few other points that come to mind:
- How will you enter 'build' mode? Does there even need to be a separate mode, or can you always edit your ship?
- Does building take resources or incur some kind of penalty?
- Are individual parts destroyed, or the whole ship as one? If individual parts, what happens when I destroy a part that splits the ship into disjoint sections?
- How is the 'forward' direction defined?
- What constraints will prevent players from creating unbalanced ships in the sense that they have a ton of weapons, armor, or design that makes them overpowering?
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« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2012, 07:36:02 PM »

Independence War had newtonian physics, and it was most excellent. It can definitely work.
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zoq
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« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2012, 12:50:41 AM »

Sounds fun, but I'm a bit biased. I'm actually working on a space game with ships composed of parts too, although quite different in execution.

You might skip over most of your more complex ideas for now and concentrate on getting the core 'building' mechanism (if that really does turn out to be the core!) working in a fun way.

I'd be interested to see how you implement thruster/weapon groups/selection and AI ship control. Those are design areas I've struggled with because they introduce more complexity than I'd like to expose to the player, but I can imagine scenarios where fine-grained control is desirable.

I'm on the fence on Newtonian physics. I always liked Subspace and the subtlety in maneuvering, but the sentiment I usually see is that it takes away too much control and causes frustration (especially in shmups). Having different environments that offer both ways might be a good compromise, but I'd be wary of introducing additional controls that only affect part of the game.

I like the use of ASCII to represent the ship. It's portable, simple, human-editable, and provides a decent visual. I could imagine difficulty if you need to encode more information about a part though. Captain Forever (http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=8095.0) also uses this approach.

Here are a few other points that come to mind:
- How will you enter 'build' mode? Does there even need to be a separate mode, or can you always edit your ship?
- Does building take resources or incur some kind of penalty?
- Are individual parts destroyed, or the whole ship as one? If individual parts, what happens when I destroy a part that splits the ship into disjoint sections?
- How is the 'forward' direction defined?
- What constraints will prevent players from creating unbalanced ships in the sense that they have a ton of weapons, armor, or design that makes them overpowering?

Thanks for your post! I'll try to answer some of the points you raised. I apologize in advance that this will probably be a quite long post.

Any activable module, such as weapons and thrusters, can be bound to a key. Several modules can be bound to one key, and one module can be bound to several keys. This is done with ASCII config file, so it's easy to edit/share out of the game. Then, whenever a key is pressed, the game activates all the modules bound to it. I think that's all there is to it, but please explain further if you think this doesn't cut it.

AI ship control I haven't implemented yet, and it seems to be a bit challenging to do in a way that AI doesn't cheat its way over Newtonian restrictions but can still behave effectively.

Newtonianess really is a big controversy for many people. My most basic motivation was that I think there are lots (one could even say "enough") of games that use the dogfight style, so why make yet another one. I do, of course, also think that Newtonian flight is super awesome, and I am happy to say that I think the flight model in this game is extremely fun! As a more deep philosophy I very much like games where the learning curve is long enough, so that after 2 hours it doesn't feel like you are a master of everything already.

However, it is true that in some situations Newtonian flight can be troublesome. In addition to wings and flaps and rudders etc, I might add some flight aid modules.

I have to confess that the ASCII file shown is by itself not enough to represent the ship for exactly the reasons you mentioned. There needs also to be a control scheme file, and a module description file. In theory these could be combined, but at the moment they are separate. Module description file takes care of telling the game which letter is which in-game module, and what are its parameters.

The simplest parameter is the direction. Every engine, for example, can only apply thrust in its direction, and (as of now) the one opposite to it. So, if one wants strafing engines (1234 in the image), they need to be directed differently than the main engines (udlr). Of course, modules are also rotatable if you designate them to be, but this is probably not very useful for maneuvering in combat. I plan to introduce a simple-to-use defaults of both the control scheme and the module definitions for players who want to finish their ships without much extra labor.

The building mode question is still open, so I'm skipping it. If I had to say something right now, I'd probably go for Minecraft-style where the player can manufacture a "dry dock" block which then will be able to manufacture a ship whose blueprint it is somehow given. Building may also take time, so for larger projects you may want to have more dock-blocks or more effective ones.

Building does also take resources, which you can gather from asteroids or acquire from NPCs.

Each block is destroyed separately, which should lead to a nice damage model and increase the importance of block placement in combat vessels. When blocks or sections lose physical contact to each other, they should become individual entities that is no longer affected by the previous entity, but is otherwise functional. In plain English, you can split ships. So, if you have a turret in such a split section and a control console nearby, you could still shoot with the turret (but the section would probably be spinning uncontrollably, unless you also had engines there). This is not yet implemented, though. If I happen to make a more complex wiring and piping mechanic this is all of course subject to change.

There is no special 'forward' direction. Most likely the one people act like is forward is the cockpit's looking direction, but of course there can be multiple cockpits and they may be rotatable. This shouldn't matter, because each module has its own direction that it obeys with no regard to any other module, thus the only way 'forward' ever matters is the players' perception of how the ship will behave.

Constraints are already quite high-level game design, so my thoughts on it are still tentative. The most obvious constraint will be resources. In addition to large ships requiring lots of basic stuff (think tritanium in EVE), special modules such as weapons will likely require more rare ones. You will be able to recycle your old ships to help around this, but expanding will require finding new materials.

Assuming resources aren't a limiting factor, there are two main restricting factors. First is the "functional resources", which means energy, fuel, ammunition, and things like that. I'm not sure if there will actually be a need for any ammo or fuel, but most likely every ship will require a generator of some sort, and the more functional stuff you add, the larger generator you will need. Guns may need some computing power to shoot targets if the player doesn't want to aim manually (a likely scenario in larger ships when there are lots of guns).

This is of course a very unsatisfying answer, because we just assumed that the resources aren't limited, so the player could just always put a large enough reactor in the ship to run everything and a large enough supercomputer to track all the targets in the universe.

A more difficult limit to circumfer is heat, which is something that I really want to add to the game. Each energy-consuming module will produce heat, and every module (also including non-functional ones such as walls) will have a bunch of thermodynamics properties like heat capacity, temperature, and melting point (or a more complex temperature - tensile strength function). If done well, this will naturally limit the amount of functional modules a ship of certain size can easily fit, without being any kind of a hard cap.

The ultimate restricting factor will be physics itself and the fact that the damage is block-based. More stuff you have, the larger the mass and the size of your ship is. Larger ships are easier to hit by enemies, but also are usually slower to turn. Massive ships are slower to accelerate (and decelerate!) than lighter ones, making them vulnerable in certain situations. Gun ports are always structural weakpoints (compared to the surrounding armor), and the same goes for the engines.
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« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2012, 12:58:04 AM »


Where and how vigorously do I shake my open wallet to make this thing happen? Wink *drool*

I personally would *love* to see a game that would allow you to build up ships, space stations, or ground stations in a 3D sandbox style. From a personal POV, I'd have the most interest in the space station side, fending off assaults from hostile intruders; and the ground station side, perhaps mining resources and fending off hostile indigenous lifeforms.

Being able to wander around inside the station, or in a space suit outside the station, making gradual improvements, would be wonderful. Smiley

I think there are a lot of games out there that give you ship-to-ship combat and customisation of ships and structures, so if you went out there looking to compete on those terms, it might be difficult, as you'd probably have to greatly expand on what is already out there to get people's interest. However, I'm not sure there are a lot of build-your-own open-ended sprawling-space-station sandbox games out there. I'd bet there would be a good number of people out there very interested in such a thing. Smiley

If you give it a go, best of luck.
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« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2012, 01:17:05 AM »

I think there are a lot of games out there that give you ship-to-ship combat and customisation of ships and structures, so if you went out there looking to compete on those terms, it might be difficult, as you'd probably have to greatly expand on what is already out there to get people's interest. However, I'm not sure there are a lot of build-your-own open-ended sprawling-space-station sandbox games out there. I'd bet there would be a good number of people out there very interested in such a thing. Smiley

I agree very much with this paragraph. Although I do believe that I can provide more accurate damage model as well as more free (free-er?) ship customization, it is not realistic to assume that I can match the mission design, UI, beautiful environments, sexy female computer voice, AI, etc, of AAA games. What I hope to provide is context for the battles.

As an illustrating example, perhaps the most fun strategy game moment I have had was in dwarf fortress, where my sorry excuse of an army was trying to defend against an invading army. In most aspects it was far behind from the real strategy games, but it was MY army made from MY dwarves and MY fortress and I very much wanted to defend it. When the battle was over, I created a hero burial-chamber for the fallen and gave the survivors a new barracks with their own beer stockpile. The battle was fun enough, but it was the context that made it so great.

In this game, when you intercept a mineral transport ship, it's not because a mission briefing told you to, it is because you yourself though of it and decided that it's worth the risk. When the deed is done, you won't get a nice debriefing dialog with animated heads, but you get the cargo for yourself to do with however you want. Maybe you want to expand your home station so that you can finally fit that space-ball field in your recreation wing, maybe you finally got enough lightbendinium to make a stealth drive, or maybe you just wanted to weaken the faction whose ship it was so that they won't be such a big threat to your territory.

I hope this will more than offset the inevitable lack of polish and fluff the game has. In addition, many of these areas are easy to improve later, whereas sandbox is much harder to add to a finished product.
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« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2012, 03:47:39 AM »

I think there are a lot of games out there that give you ship-to-ship combat and customisation of ships and structures, so if you went out there looking to compete on those terms, it might be difficult, as you'd probably have to greatly expand on what is already out there to get people's interest. However, I'm not sure there are a lot of build-your-own open-ended sprawling-space-station sandbox games out there. I'd bet there would be a good number of people out there very interested in such a thing. Smiley

I agree very much with this paragraph. Although I do believe that I can provide more accurate damage model as well as more free (free-er?) ship customization, it is not realistic to assume that I can match the mission design, UI, beautiful environments, sexy female computer voice, AI, etc, of AAA games. What I hope to provide is context for the battles.

What!? No sexy female computer voice? That's me out then. Wink (kidding) Having said that, the male Holly on Red Dwarf is a somewhat iconic ship AI, and doesn't really go along the sexy female computer line.

I suspect that if you nailed the customation and sandbox aspect, you'd get a lot of interest. Which sci-fi-loving kid hasn't wanted to build their own ship and space station? An accurate damage model would be icing on the cake.

As an illustrating example, perhaps the most fun strategy game moment I have had was in dwarf fortress, where my sorry excuse of an army was trying to defend against an invading army. In most aspects it was far behind from the real strategy games, but it was MY army made from MY dwarves and MY fortress and I very much wanted to defend it. When the battle was over, I created a hero burial-chamber for the fallen and gave the survivors a new barracks with their own beer stockpile. The battle was fun enough, but it was the context that made it so great.

I had a similar thing at the peak of my Minecraft-playing time. Some of my objectives were to link up and signpost a set of underground tunnels to my various outposts, fix up the front stairs and balcony in my main base, and set up some slime farms deep underground. None were set by the game; all came about because they were interesting things for me to do.

I think this is the sort of thing that defines a successful sandbox game; providing the sort of environment that makes people want to set their own objectives, and makes it fun to go about achieving them.

The trick then becomes: How do I make my game interesting enough to make people want to set their own objectives in this way?

In this game, when you intercept a mineral transport ship, it's not because a mission briefing told you to, it is because you yourself though of it and decided that it's worth the risk. When the deed is done, you won't get a nice debriefing dialog with animated heads, but you get the cargo for yourself to do with however you want. Maybe you want to expand your home station so that you can finally fit that space-ball field in your recreation wing, maybe you finally got enough lightbendinium to make a stealth drive, or maybe you just wanted to weaken the faction whose ship it was so that they won't be such a big threat to your territory.

I hope this will more than offset the inevitable lack of polish and fluff the game has. In addition, many of these areas are easy to improve later, whereas sandbox is much harder to add to a finished product.

Yeah, I also suspect for the most part a sandbox game really needs to start out that way as the central focus.

.. maybe you finally got enough lightbendinium to make a stealth drive..

Oh, and *please* include a material called "lightbendinium" in the game. I love it, it would be awesome. :D
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« Reply #11 on: March 31, 2012, 03:31:42 PM »

I have made a short gameplay video demonstrating basic asteroid shooting. This the first video I've ever made for any purpose, so please don't hesitate to give any suggestions Smiley The video can be found at

.
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« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2012, 10:41:45 PM »

so please don't hesitate to give any suggestions.
I'm wondering if a small explosion, or even a few flying particles at the point where the rock is destroyed, would give a useful additional indication as to which rock fragments have just been destroyed. I realise it isn't finished yet, of course. Smiley
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« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2012, 03:29:17 AM »

I'm wondering if a small explosion, or even a few flying particles at the point where the rock is destroyed, would give a useful additional indication as to which rock fragments have just been destroyed. I realise it isn't finished yet, of course. Smiley

Thanks for the suggestion! I made destroyed rocks shoot some white pieces, and it really helps. I've uploaded

, where you can also see a ship from outside, as well as how the engine produces ship movement.
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« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2012, 04:34:30 AM »

The white pieces give a nice visual indicator that (i) your shots are actually doing something; and (ii) give you a reference for where you've hit.

Looking good. Smiley
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« Reply #15 on: April 01, 2012, 04:59:21 AM »

The white pieces give a nice visual indicator that (i) your shots are actually doing something; and (ii) give you a reference for where you've hit.

Looking good. Smiley


I should add that I consider most of the visual aspects just placeholders. At the moment I'm concentrating mostly on the engine and gameplay, but if I decide one day to put this on sale as either an alpha or a release version, I'll hire an artist/hired muscle to make real textures and smack me on the head until I'll program visual effects properly.
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« Reply #16 on: April 02, 2012, 01:19:38 PM »

I probably should make a proper DevLog. Yesterday I added a mouse support and today I half-finished ship-to-ship module-wise collisions.

The first step is just to make it impossible for ships to go through each other and at the same time make it possible for ships to fly inside each other provided that there is room. And of course, this has to be fast enough that even large ships flying into each others cargo bays do not reduce framerate noticeably. Initial tests show that the performance should not be a problem at all, so I'm quite optimistic.

The second step is to combine that with the physics system so that collisions transfer kinetic energy. So, bumping to other ships can lead to either or both (depending on the masses and collision locations) the ships to change course and perhaps start spinning. Again, the feature is worthless without good performance.
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« Reply #17 on: April 02, 2012, 02:14:23 PM »

Blockade Runner has a head start, but it is in no way has a monopoly over minecraft-in-space.

The more the merrier, and I love sandbox space games. :D
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« Reply #18 on: April 02, 2012, 03:43:37 PM »

The white pieces give a nice visual indicator that (i) your shots are actually doing something; and (ii) give you a reference for where you've hit.

Looking good. Smiley


I should add that I consider most of the visual aspects just placeholders. At the moment I'm concentrating mostly on the engine and gameplay, but if I decide one day to put this on sale as either an alpha or a release version, I'll hire an artist/hired muscle to make real textures and smack me on the head until I'll program visual effects properly.

Of course. Smiley There's certainly going to be a lot of polish that happens down the track. Concentrating on the engine and gameplay first of all definitely makes the most sense.

The more the merrier, and I love sandbox space games. :D

Also, I imagine that each of these games will concentrate on different areas, and ultimately end up to be very different games.

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« Reply #19 on: April 02, 2012, 11:37:03 PM »

Blockade Runner has a head start, but it is in no way has a monopoly over minecraft-in-space.

The more the merrier, and I love sandbox space games. :D

Well said. The world has more than one FPS, more than one puzzle game, and more than one platformer, so why not more than one space sandbox game?
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