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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 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 ROCKED!!!

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 killed.

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:

Busy Environments

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 environmental element

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. NIFTY!

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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