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This section will be updated every 2-4 weeks
until the release of Void War. If you are
interested in knowing what to expect out of
Void War, or are simply interested in the mad
mind of a game designer, hopefully this will
be a tiny bit educational or at least
Part 2: Back to the Basics...
Steven Levy's "Hackers" is book about the pioneers of the
computer revolution - the programmers. It was one of the reasons I decided to
major in computer science and become a "software engineer." One of my favorite
parts of the book was the short history of "Spacewar!" Spacewar! is arguably the
first videogame (there were a couple others that were even more esoteric that
might have beaten Spacewar! out the gate, but they were not really publicized),
developed primarily by "Slug" Russell with some help from his fellow MIT
students back in the early 1960's. Fans of science fiction books and "B" movies
of the time, they created a game about combat between spacecraft. Since that was
really the focus of Void War from the design stage, I re-read this section of
the book and recalled that some of the issues that these early pioneers had were
the same issues I was facing with Void War's design
Spacewar! was "complete," they found that in spite of "realistic" space
physics, it had really become a "twitch" game. Spacewar! had
become the equivalent of the legendary western gunfight... whoever
could get an accurate shot off first won the game. These guys didn't
have more computing power to throw at the game to add all kinds of
"pilot workload" to make the game more interesting... the PDP-1 that
ran the game cost about $120,000 all by itself. Instead, they solved
the problem by increasing the demand on the player's piloting skill...
making them more necessary. The put a "heavy star" in the middle of the
battlefield that sucked ships into its center. Players were forced to
navigate... and to try and shoot a moving, turning opponent who was
also navigating around the star.
Viola! Instant gameplay!
Well, if these guys could figure it out, without any experience in videogames, without any nifty tools or past
precedents to draw from, why couldn't we? Why couldn't
a 3D space combat game be created that was as demanding of a player's
piloting skills as his marksmanship? Couldn't these two elements be
combined to add an extra dimension to game-play? Could this be
represented well and playable in a 1st person, 3D game? Could I make a
simple 1-on-1 dogfight exciting and fun?
the answer was "yes," but the answer of "how?" is a bit trickier. The
answer wasn't JUST to throw in the concept of inertia, or actual
"realism." I played (and loved) Frontier: Elite II, and an old game called "Mantis Experimental Fighter", both of which featured combat inside a semi-realistic, inertia-heavy space environment. The bottom line was... the combat
sucked. In Frontier's case, combat was only one aspect of the
game, so this flaw in game-play was only an ugly blemish on an
otherwise excellent game. Mantis was firmly in shoot-'em-up territory, and thus it failed miserably.
just chalking them up to failures and assuming that kind of game-play
just "doesn't work," I thought I'd break it apart and figure out why they didn't work.
But that's a story for next time...
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