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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperPlaytestingStarLords3K a Strategic 4X Space Game
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Author Topic: StarLords3K a Strategic 4X Space Game  (Read 2350 times)
mahks
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« on: December 14, 2013, 03:07:35 AM »

Hello all;

This is my intro & "why I did it" post, see the following post for info about my game.

I am a Canadian living Thailand. I spend most of my time coding, reading, eating and cycling.

I've been developing an on-line 4X space game for about 6 years. Been play testing with a small group for the last few years and it is running smoothly, so I decided to open it up to a wider group last September. And ran up against a huge problem that I had not foreseen. I assumed that with all the forums & gamers out there I would get a few dozen play testers in no time. Nope! Only a few have responded to my posts on dozens of forums.

I think the main problem is the graphics, I have no artistic ability, so the game is lacking in that department. I am assuming it is that first impression that is killing the response. Those that do get past the visual hurdle, seem to be impressed with the game (assuming 4X is a genre they have interest in)

The other hurdle is, it is heavily strategic. There is no tactical component. Some have called the game "cerebral". How do you promote a cerebral game without being boring?

Anyway enough about my problems...

Why would I create yet another 4X space game?
Because all 4X I have played had poor AI and a lack of strategic & diplomatic scope.

I define strategy as the following :

Planning : This is a time element thing. Games usually permit a player to react fairly quickly to an unexpected situation. Fast reaction time eliminates the need for planning.

Logistics : Dealing with the logistics must not be onerous, but its effect has to be there so it affects decisions. This aspect can present many strategic opportunities, like cutting lines of supply, interdicting re-enforcements and the need for intelligence regarding it.

Intelligence : Lack of information can really add a lot of intrigue to a game. For this, fog of war is a must and it has to be persistent (what I mean is, if you have no assets at a location, you have little, none or old info about it).

Manoeuvre : Major & minor battles, feints, diversions, supply & trade disruption, siege, retreat, looting and scouting all add to strategic scope. Many games seem to devolve into placing the majority of assets in one big fleet and going on a rampage. Basically a FPS and about as far from the type of strategy I am talking about as you can get.

There are games that provide this type of strategy, but you would be hard pressed to find a 4X that does, and no space based ones that I have seen.

Another issue I have with 4X is the opponents. Many are PC based single player, so your opponents are AI and I've never met an AI that could out think me (I'm sure this will change soon). A 4X with live humans as  opponents would be much better.

To pre-empt all the why firefox only questions; when I started this project browsers were a mess, IE was so far out of sync with the rest, you almost had to write a separate page for it. IE did not support the new HTML 5 tags, which I really wanted to use. Chrome was either non-existent or still in its infancy, all other browsers had tiny user bases. I could probably get the site to run on other browsers now, but my political stance says why support MS or Google? The Firefox support community was very helpful, while MS & Google always give me grief.

Now runs 100% in Chrome.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2016, 01:49:24 AM by mahks » Logged


 Diplomacy, Trade & Conquest in the 4th Millenium
mahks
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« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2013, 03:10:45 AM »

Game overview :
  • 4X space game
  • Browser based, only runs in Firefox & Chrome
  • Closed Beta status
  • Basic 2d graphics
  • Strong focus on grand strategy & diplomacy
  • No action, not a RTS & no tactical control
  • Role play possible
  • Free & No Advertising



The manoeuvre element is the fleet. Fleets move between stars by an instantaneous jump, but then must wait while the jump engine re-charges. This slows down the pace of the game, giving you time to plan. It creates the feel of a turn based game, even though it is a persistent universe.



Fleet movement may be automated.
  • Patrol routes may be created to look for enemies.
  • Gathering routes take minerals to stars with a refinery. This works kind of like railway tycoon.
  • Other routes may be configured to move new ships to the front, return the battle weary for R & R, etc.
There is an emphasis on diplomacy.
Much effort has gone into creating organic "situations" that evolve into diplomatic crisis. These come about from conflict between several realms of influence. These being political relationships, trade, military actions, resource access and a feudal hierarchy.



Trade is encouraged by a mechanism whereby the number of types of minerals governs the efficiency of your refineries and thus your limits to production of assets. Since only a few mineral types are found locally you must trade with other areas to gain more mineral types.

The game is not played in "binges" (hours in a session) but in short play sessions. Think of a normal 4X that has its play session sliced into bits. This is by design, so that those with real lives may fit it into a busy schedule (or a fanatic gamer can play a session between all those other games) allowing them to play a deep, involving game even though "they have no time". Several people have interpreted this to mean it is a tick based game, it is not. Once your realm has grown, there is always things that need to be done, it is just not all time sensitive.

Fog of war is constant. If you have no ship or spy at a star you do not know what is there, you only know what was there last time you visited. This permits a "cat & mouse" situation, where cunning can win out.

Building assets takes a long time. This creates pressure to plan, as you cannot react immediately to a new threat by "popping out" fleets of new ships at a moments notice. You can build & assign additional builders to speed up a project, but there is cost there as well.



A large selection of technologies are available that affect all aspects of the game. There is no "tech tree" you just research the areas you want an advantage in. you may choose to be mediocre in all or focus on a few that complement your overall strategic direction.



There is a robust economic model that provides many ways to gain income and many ways to lose it. Taxation, tribute, piracy, export contracts, asset support, salaries are some of the factors.



In the beginning you manage all aspects, but as your empire grows you can do less micro-management and automate repetitive tasks.



There is a whole game within the game in regards to spies. Covert agents may conduct espionage, sabotage, incite labour or student unrest and incite rebellions. They can embezzle, slander and assassinate as well.

The game progresses though stages; exploration, buildup, contact and then the core game play begins with diplomacy, trade & conflict.

There is a play through of a typical 1st session on the website. Note this video has the old graphics and the colonising bit is out of date. The game begins slowly as you are mostly exploring and colonising, so the video may be a bit boring. Any suggestions on how to present a "cerebral" game and not make the presentation boring? This slow start is intentional as the game is complex and is designed so that a new player is not overwhelmed and has time to get his bearings.

http://www.starlords3k.com

We need a few more play testers, pm me if interested.
All feedback is welcome.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2016, 01:48:37 AM by mahks » Logged


 Diplomacy, Trade & Conquest in the 4th Millenium
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« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2013, 05:23:04 AM »

I think the main problem is the graphics, I have no artistic ability, so the game is lacking in that department. I am assuming it is that first impression that is killing the response. Those that do get past the visual hurdle, seem to be impressed with the game (assuming 4X is a genre they have interest in)

The other hurdle is, it is heavily strategic. There is no tactical component. Some have called the game "cerebral". How do you promote a cerebral game without being boring?

On a first impression the game menus do make it look like a web app. The color scheme i would say seems a bit too colorful. Other than that the visuals seem ok, the icons in particular (i like them, they have a retro 90s DOS game vibe to them).

I imagine finding players for such a game would be hard (online sci-fi 4x game, no combat). Sounds very niche.

How would you reach a critical mass of players for it to work, if it has no AI? Seems difficult. I recall playing online multiplayer of Master of Orion 2, a long time ago, and it was painful. 4x games and online play are a difficult thing to mix, given the long play sessions. And the fact that the opponent might bail out at any time. I didnt understand whether its a persistent shared universe or a individual universe in a single play session. Maybe something similar to OGame.
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« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2013, 07:25:35 PM »

The color scheme i would say seems a bit too colorful.
You are right, never noticed, did I mention I have no artistic sense?  Roll Eyes

I imagine finding players for such a game would be hard (online sci-fi 4x game, no combat).
There is combat and the military aspect of the game is very strategic, there is no tactical combat.
Finding players is a huge problem. But recently I posted on 2 forums that were not sci-fi oriented, and got a really good response. Seems these sites had a lot of strategy gamers (read thinkers, planners, not blast addicts), these guys are more interested in the game play than the subject matter or the graphics. The space game site posts fell flat. So I am looking for more sites that cater to strategy gamers.

I didnt understand whether its a persistent shared universe or a individual universe in a single play session.
It is a persistent universe but plays like a turn based game.

similar to OGame
Isn't OGame one of those tick based games with no map and no manoeuvre and no strategy?  Yawn
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Gregg Williams
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« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2013, 09:48:47 PM »

Sounds interesting, yet only allowing micro slices of game play, sounds like a big turn off to me personally. 4X isn't something I want to play in super tiny doses, and then try an remember what the hell I was doing typically. I've done that in like hour long sessions of simpler 4x games like HOMM and it was painful, I can't imagine it on a much more complex scale.

Are you able to custom design ships or anything? I guess that might fall under tactical play though depending on how you look at it.

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« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2013, 10:09:33 PM »

Sorry no ship design, what you do is configure fleets.

The game has more of a grand strategic viewpoint where micro management is minimized.

It is not meant to substitute for "binge" games, the target audience are those who "don't have any time", but like deep, involved games. Not to say a binge gamer could not enjoy it in between binges Smiley
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Gregg Williams
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« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2013, 10:26:26 PM »

It might find more of an audience if it worked on mobile, along with notifications when you have a new time slice.
Your also probably limiting audience even more with the fire fox only thing. I for instance couldn't load the game/page here on safari on my iPad.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2013, 10:37:12 PM by Gregg Williams » Logged

mahks
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« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2013, 10:37:27 PM »

Had a look at getting it to work on Android, could take a bit to accomplish. 

There are no restrictions on play, you can go in and play anytime, it is just that the design not not give any benefit to long play sessions.

The limiting factor is a jump engine recharge that takes 10 hours. So if you play once or twice a day, you can move all your fleets, while others can at best get 1 jump on you. But since your fleets may all be jumping at different times, you can "pop in" to see whats happening, jump a few, build some stuff, do some diplomacy ...
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Gregg Williams
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« Reply #8 on: December 24, 2013, 10:47:10 PM »

With the time limits it sounds like something that would be great to be able to say "notify me when this completes", and get a push notification, or email, etc. I noticed an "advise when done" bit, though not sure if this is the same thing?

I'd check out the game, but I don't use Firefox on my Mac :/ anyways I'm not convinced the visuals are your issue, I think you really need a good pitch at this point, as only a really niche group is going to be interested anyways, and most of those don't care about graphics to much.
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« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2013, 10:59:55 PM »

That advise notice is to cause an in game reminder.
I had some email alerts on the drawing board, but there did not seem to be a need.
Nothing is very time critical.

Not hard to download Firefox... faster to download than most games.

And I could really use a Mac user to ensure my code is Mac friendly Smiley
« Last Edit: December 24, 2013, 11:05:39 PM by mahks » Logged


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« Reply #10 on: December 24, 2013, 11:04:48 PM »

I think you really need a good pitch at this point

That was blurb about strategy was my attempt at a pitch to the strategic minded niche, but probably too verbose.

How do you make a good pitch for something "cerebral"

For example if you had just invented chess, how would you get the word out?
Just imagine a youtube video promoting chess lol Yawn!
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Gregg Williams
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« Reply #11 on: December 24, 2013, 11:27:36 PM »

Nothing being time critical is why I'd want alerts and ideally mobile/tablet support. I would quickly forget/grow tired of checking the game for nothing to really have happened/be ready.

Where as if most important actions caused me a notification (ships done building, research, engine cool down, diplomacy offer/whatever) then I know there is something relevant waiting for me to do, and it also reminds me to actually look at the game.

Anyways I might give it a look later, though currently I'm in bed recovering from dental problems, so I'm really not touching the desktop, and just using the iPad which I can't load Firefox onto :/

I'd certainly make full range of browser support a priority though, Firefox is only like 20-30% of market share, and also completely prevents IOS Smiley

As to the pitch, its a good question. I'd probably spin it more towards the player than the game.

Maybe something like, Claim your seat of power, within the conflict that wages across the Vega sector. Explore the galaxy, build fleets, conquer worlds, expand and direct your empire, in this online persistent game of galactic kings... Plan your moves at your leisure with the active time system, that means its not how much you play, or how fast you can react that will have you dominating the galaxy, but how carefully you plan and execute your strategy for ultimate domination. Are you up to the challenge?

« Last Edit: December 24, 2013, 11:38:29 PM by Gregg Williams » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: December 25, 2013, 12:02:45 AM »

Nothing being time critical is why I'd want alerts and ideally mobile/tablet support. I would quickly forget/grow tired of checking the game for nothing to really have happened/be ready.
Actually after your realm gets going, there  is almost always something happening, so if you were to get alerts for each, your phone would be buzzing all the time. What I mean by time sensitive, is that it can be dealt with later.

I think you may have tweaked me to a perception thing I have been missing. I am constantly telling prospects about how the game is not burdensome, time wise, in order to connect to those "with no time". It did not occur to me that this was being interpreted as there being nothing going on in the game. The design is intended to allow those that want to, to play in short sessions and still accomplish what really needs to be done. There are many who play "constantly", meaning not they are in game all the time, but jump into the game every half hour or so to muck about.

I'd probably spin it more towards the player than the game.
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Gregg Williams
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« Reply #13 on: December 25, 2013, 12:36:13 AM »

Yeah I was very much getting the perception of it being pretty slow. E.G most things taking hours/days to happen. Especially with screenshots showing ships taking 9 days to be built, etc. It seemed like it was a play once a day and forget about type game, unless some action competed in between then.
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« Reply #14 on: December 25, 2013, 12:57:52 AM »

Some things do take a long time to build.
But one has many things building at once.
You are not limited to one build item at a star, you can have any number of builds going on.
So you may have a battleship that is being built and due in 9 days while no threat is pending. Then some diplomacy breaks down, you assign more builders to the battleship and its eta drops to 24 hours.

You could have 20 batches of 10 fighters in the queue and a batch may be coming online every few hours.

Yes it can be  "play once a day" if that is all you have time for, but it does not have to be played that way.
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« Reply #15 on: December 25, 2013, 11:56:54 AM »

Hi there, I agree with some of the above posts re: graphics.  While the game may play well, the first impressions will determine if someone engages with it at all.

Hiring a freelancer or carefully selecting graphic packs may be the way to go if you are on a tight budget.  In its current state, unfortunately it reminds me personally of an 80s dos game which is not a good thing.

Also, I'd recommend widening your scope when it comes to platforms you deploy to if possible.

Anyway best of luck!  Beer!
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« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2015, 01:32:26 AM »

Update :

2 new options now available :

- Design your own ships
- Negotiate treaties with Independent stars (NPCs)

Now 99% working in Chrome.

Graphics marginally improved, I updated the images in post # 2

Tutorial re-done, simplified, got rid of the videos, now text pop-up based. Could use some new blood to test the tutorial...
« Last Edit: October 06, 2015, 09:05:19 PM by mahks » Logged


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« Reply #17 on: November 05, 2015, 06:40:56 PM »

Running under chrome 100% now
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« Reply #18 on: November 06, 2015, 10:17:39 AM »

Hi all, it's true that the art of a game is the first impression but if the gameplay is good, can also have a good impression. Good luck, looks interesting.  Beer!
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mahks
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« Reply #19 on: November 10, 2015, 06:50:51 PM »

Problem is how to get a prospective player past the first impression of the art to see if they like the gameplay.

I find many of the players who do make it into the game are not so interested in the graphics, (they turn much of the eye candy off) They want the strategy and/or diplomacy.
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