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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 3: Evolution of the Void...
When Void War began, it was a one-man prototype. Amazing how
the team has grown since then! As a designer and programmer, I started
working on this "quick and dirty" prototype to prove the concept. The goal
was straightforward - single and multiplayer skill-based space dogfighting.
Flying AND fighting. I started with some DirectX code I'd tinkered with a
few months earlier. I didn't have any support for modeling packages, so I
had to use a homebrewed 3D model format in TEXT MODE. My models were created
vertex by vertex on graph paper and then translated into text files. They
were pretty horrible. But again - this was a prototype to see if the concept
would work. The end result was embarrassing, but my frame rate
Ancient Void War art
discovered in prehistoric caves. Scholars believe the object on the right
was actually a depiction of some sort of space craft.
Eventually, I got the physics working, and the AI hobbling
along, and lasers flying back and forth. If you squinted REALLY hard, it
looked like a great space dogfight. Player controls were in, and I was
finally able to get into my dream dogfight in space, against an
AI-controlled opponent. With great excitement, I played my first-ever match
in what would become Void War.
The experience was so dismal the project was nearly
If you squint really hard,
it looks like a great space dogfight...
As it turns out, in the void of space, motion is pretty
relative. Even though I'd added little "cosmic dust particles" to give the
player a feel for motion, and there was a planet out there that was slowly
growing larger as you approached, it still felt like you were
standing still while the other ship was moving, even though you were both
zipping along. What was worse - the AI had no problem with relative
motion. It could bulls-eye a fly at 500 meters. It could clobber me with 98%
accuracy no matter how much I twisted, turned, and changed speed. It wasn't
just a matter of adding some 'stupid' to the AI, though -- I realized an
experienced player could do the same.
Void War sat on the shelf a couple of months while
re-thought the design. Drawing upon the lesson of
SpaceWar, I decided the answer was to add complexity to the environment.
Keep the players moving, and make it hard for them to get a 'clear shot'. To
do that, I added several features:
This was the easy one. My favorite battles in games like
Wing Commander, X-Wing, and Freespace took place amidst asteroid fields and
capital ship fleets. Particularly with the addition of inertia, dodging
around obstacles to take cover ought to be a lot of fun. And it was. I also
had some ideas for some other 'special effects' in space, like the
hypergravity well (borrowed from SpaceWar's "heavy star").
Early version of an
It worked - nicely! But it wasn't enough all by itself.
The Barrier Field
The problem (from a gameplay perspective) with space is
that it's infinite (as far as we know). That means really long distances
with nothing there. It means that no matter how many cool obstacles you
throw out there, players still won't have to go too far to be out in
wide-open nothingness. I also didn't want to get to the point where players
were flying long distances to fight each other. Void War needed to keep the
attention on the close-in knife-fights.
In games like Asteroids and the original SpaceWar!,
environments wrapped around - easy enough to do in 2D. Much harder in 3D. I
played with this effect a little with Void War, but eventually settled on
instead having a 'soft barrier' surrounding the arena. Basically this was a
gravitational field that gently pushed players back to where the action
takes place. The further you push out into the barrier field, the harder it
pushes back, until eventually you can't go any further, and the moment you
let off the thrust, you will be flung back into the 'arena.'
The barrier field in action
WOW. While the primary effect of the barrier field worked,
the gameplay potential of the barrier field really surprised me. In
multiplayer, I've found that people tend to use the barrier effect like a
slingshot. They lead other players into the barrier field, trying to evade
fire. Then they let off the 'gas,' switch priority to guns, and then let fly
an assault while they are being accelerated in some other direction - both
escaping their opponent and doing them a lot of damage on the way out. Their
opponents, since they were trailing behind, don't have nearly as much
gravitational force accelerating them, so they have to pursue the hard way.
But there still needed to be a bit more. While the players
had the option to fly around dodging obstacles and bouncing around through
the barrier field, it still wasn't quite there yet. The game still needed
yet more to it to challenge skilled players and reward clever flying.
Which we'll talk about next time...
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