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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 entertaining.

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

Space War

Once 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?

I thought 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.

Rather than 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...

Go to part 3 >>

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