Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Valence-Class Carrier [overview]

The Valence-Class Carrier is the Sol System Service’s predominant tool to maintain peace across the Inner Orbits.

The vast majority of SSS craft are small, nimble fighters and are not designed for interplanetary travel, and as such require a ferry of some kind to support them across great distances. This is the carrier’s primary function.

Although more efficiently utilized in orbit and deep space, SSS carriers can also dip into a planet’s atmosphere for a time if needed to make a swift deployment or bombardment.

The hangar can hold up to 24 scout-fighters, 4 dropships, 4 patrol boats, and 1 stealth fighter, with some variance depending on the configuration of the multiple-leveled housing area. Ships ready for take-off are entered into a staging area where they are prepared for the launch-halls. These long chutes can slingshot small ships directly into a fray at high speeds without requiring these ships to expend large portions of their small fuel reserves on a manual take-off.

Flight control is monitored by a station at the top of the hangar near the center of the ship. Crew and pilot accommodations, navigation bridge and the primary Combat information center (CIC) are located in a structure (the “island”) on the starboard wing of the carrier, with a sensor tower rising up out of the top of this island. Deploying troop accommodations and ready rooms are located within the main hull around the hangar and staging areas.

The carrier’s power plant runs down the bottom of the spine of the ship, with one major thruster situated underneath the hangar doors at the stern. Twenty-five more maneuvering thrusters are dispersed across the rest of the ship, twelve of which are located on the belly of the ship for vertical sustainment in-atmo.

Point-defense batteries dot the hull  as well and some of the newer carriers come equipped with two massive rail guns installed at the bow. Combined with the gunmetal black color of the ship and its sharp wings and design, the very sight of an SSS carrier creates a sense of dominance to the Commonwealth’s foes and reassurance to its allies.

Notable SSS Valence-Class Carriers:

SSS Ad Infinitium - Ended the uprising at the Venus Penal Colony
SSS Occam’s Razor - Base of operations for the new Seeker project

SSS Veritas Vincit - Destroyed at the rebellion of Io

SSS Zeno’s Arrow - Settled the dispute at Ganymede

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Wonderful Future With Magnets

Magnets and How The Work
In search of game mechanics to include in The Seeker, I went back and looked at the some of the Commonwealth and Civilian ship schematics from over the years. One thing that I noticed is that many designs required magnetic alloys to be used in the ship hull to allow docking between ship-ship, ship-building, and ship-metallic surfaces.

Some prototype Commonwealth ships would be outfitted with a high-powered magnet that could be used to tow ships whose lateral thrusters had been damaged and slow down or catch rogue ships in areas where firepower could not be used efficiently.

I think that such a magnet, added to the Seeker's ship, would go a long way to round out the tools that the Seeker needs to complete missions with the greatest amount of efficiency while allowing the player to interact with the game world.

I think this not only plays well with the current missions, but also open up a few new puzzle mechanics that weren't possible before.

Different Ships, Different Specs
In researching games in this vein, I picked up an old game called FTL (Faster Than Light). I had to go through some less than favorable sources to get it, since games with themes that take place in FTL are typically banned, but my research position has granted me a few privileges, getting unsanctioned games being one of them. It took me a good part of the day trying to get it to run on the Commonwealth computer OS, but after that, it was a quite enjoyable game.

One thing that I found interesting was how the interior of ships were abstracted to show different systems (engines, weapons, etc) that allowed the player to enable/disable very complex systems without complex knowledge of the system underneath.

In the current Seeker demo, the only subsystems of NPC ships we expose happens after scanning a ship. Right now we force the NPC scanners ON and shut down the engines. There isn't much control over what happens.

I prototyped the idea of showing an interior view where you could disable/enable different components of a scanned ship, but found it really distracting to have a transition to the NPC ship every time a scan was performed.

However, the concept of being able to disable/enable particular subsystems of a ship is intriguing, especially if we have ships that have different tools and puzzles that require you to shutdown engine/weapon/communication systems or force a ship to fire a missle/turn on a mining laser.

Impact on Existing Missions
-The Flooded City: The flooded city stays pretty much the same. Our original issue with this type of mission is that there wasn't much to do but randomly scan until you found the Seeked.. or the Seeked blows up the target. With the magnet and enabling NPC scanners, you can position NPC scanning beams so they surround target locations to ensure that if the Seeked does approach the target, the player will be immediately notified.

-Red Square Skyscrapers: This is a typical chase mission, so the magnets and scanning doesn't quite have a use here. If the player gets too far behind, we could have ships with strong thrust engines that the Seeker could attach to in order to catch up to the target ship.

-Amazon Valley: Similar to the first mission.

-Alexandria Outskirts: Another scanning mission. We could disable the ships and then tow them with the magnet to a holding area.

-Industrial Chasms: A stealth mission. Magnet adds the ability to use larger ships to avoid detection.

-Occam's Razor: Since this is a pure battle mission, there's the potential for there to be lots of shooting and much less puzzles. So, this one probably won't benefit from either the changes to magnets or the scanner.

-Extra ideas: A stealth mission where you need to get to a particular sector of an enormous ship hangar populated by enemies. You can use your scanner/magnet to force ships to open locked areas, hide behind ships to avoid being detected by scanners, and disable ship comm systems to avoid alerting other vehicles.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Seeker Design Idea

I've been racking my brain trying to find an underlying mechanic for The Seeker for a good while now. Seeker is supposed to be about seeking. It's supposed to be about the benefits of efficiency and bureaucracy. But how do you make that into a game?

Idea One: Coverage, The 'Neural' Mesh, and Scanning All The Things

My initial thought was to make it a game about scanning the MOST of an area. Scanning would 'infect' that scanned object, creating a kind of 'neural' mesh that would, upon reaching a certain threshold, calculate the position of the Seeked ship. Kind of like a CRC hash that can be used to determine if there's something wrong with a file.

The player would start the game by scanning stuff. Ships made the most sense. Large ships provided larger scanned areas. If ships were grouped in close enough proximity, they would infect each other, which would, in turn, increase the total scanned area. Also, buildings could be scanned. The player would have to find structures with certain qualities that could be scanned, also increasing the scanned area.

A map (like fog-of-war in Warcraft/Starcraft) or a simple percentage would let the player know how much of the current level they've scanned. Once that percentage reaches some threshold, the Seeker would be alerted to the position of the Seeked and the chase would begin.

To make things more difficult, later on there would be NPCs or obstacles that would 'disconnect' parts of the 'neural' network created by the player. The player would have to prevent these NPCs and obstacles from decreasing the scanned area by disabling, destroying, or blocking these things.

My biggest beef with this mechanic is that meeting the coverage threshold is open-ended. If the player never reaches the threshold, the game never proceeds. This could be good or bad, but I view it as a negative because there is not a lot of skill required to scan things. The player must avoid the NPCs and other obstacles, but there is nothing pushing the player to improve themselves. In my opinion, this becomes a boring game.

Idea Two: Planning, Traps, and Time Limits
So, because one of my major gripes with the first idea is the open-endedness of the scanning task, my second idea starts with a time limit.

The player is time-boxed for some arbitrarily short period of time. Let's say 1 minute, 30 seconds. During this time, the player must set up as many traps, scan as many ships (for coverage), and block off as many areas as possible (to limit the play area).

After the 1:30 mark, the Seeked will activate and begin moving about. Very similar to the first idea, if the player enters an area of coverage, the Seeker is notified and can go find the Seeked ship.

Traps may include things that disable weaponry, reduce maximum speed (traps would be dropped like datamines). (Certain traps make more sense once the number of enemies increases)

The player's job during this time will be to watch for Seeked notifications, travel between Extremist-targeted sites, and scan ships in search of the Seeked.

This idea splits the game up into two stages: Setup and Action. (one could argue three stages, but I'm going to keep it at two). Both stages are engaging, but in different ways. The Setup stage begins to resemble the setup stage of a Tower Defense game. The player builds their defenses, enemies swarm the defenses trying to get to the target, the player either defeats the enemies or the enemies make it to the target. However, in Seeker, the player gets a chance to play an active role during the enemy attack.

I like this idea more because there are specific goals and hard limits. The limits force you to make hard decisions and sacrifice one strategy over another. It provides a context by splitting the game into discrete phases.

I also think having a 'setup' stage translates well into the different mission types discussed.

Some thought still needs to be put into these designs, but we're getting closer to a solution.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

First Post and Design Thought Process

My deepest apologies for taking so long to post to the blog. I'm still moving stuff between my old office at the Temple of Silence and my shiny, new office at Commonwealth Industires.

For those of you unfarmiliar with me, I'm Mike Daly. Up until about a year ago, I was coding Information Dissemination software for the Temple of Silence. Then, out of blue, I get asked if I'd be interested in creating a game to promote the positive identity of the Commonwealth. I've always had a love for making games, so obviously, I took the job.

Levi and I really wanted to create a game that would embody the power and spirit of the Commonwealth. We also wanted to make sure that we didn't promote any themes that could potentially tarnish the Commonwealth.

One of the little-known services that the Commonwealth provides is protecting our free skies. Great men and women put their lives on the line everyday to protect us folks from the evil that threatens to destroy our safety and way of life.

We thought that this thankless service provided by these brave folks is a shining example of the positive influence that government can have. So, this is where The Seeker started.

The idea was to make a non-traditional top-down flying shooter.

Starting off, we knew we wanted to create a game that did not focus on mindless shooting. Not only are there civilians to worry about, but most Seekers do their work in large cities where a poorly aimed shot could mean millions in property damage or lost lives. Seekers have a duty and obligation to efficiency. They attack only when logic dictates.

To us, what this really meant was we should be creating a puzzle game. Information must be gathered, traps must be set, contingencies must be determined all before the Seeker could do his job. So, we had that core tenant. You enter an area, you solve some puzzles that get you close to the 'Seeked' and then, only when you're absolutely sure, you carry out the rest of the mission by destroying or capturing the target.

The hardest part of the design process has been filling out the middle part. A few mechanics have been discussed, but nothing that has made us so excited to move forward. This decision will make or break the game in terms of fun.

More to come..

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Seeker's Characters

Players of our historical simulation, The Seeker, will be assuming the role of Seeker 0107 (Gamma Group), a special forces pilot within the Commonwealth's Sol System Security. He's a genetically engineered human trained and molded to be an amazing pilot, shooter, tactician, survivalist... and well, the list goes on. Of course, he's also loyal to the Commonwealth to a fault. 'Brainwashed' would be what the Extremists say. We prefer "Educated succinctly."

The Gene-Superiors are not without some side effects though. The Seeker and his kind lack a head of hair and are gifted with  full-black eyes with irises of a dim white.

The Seeker's co-pilot is a slightly older, more experienced pilot named Patricia S. Scope, or just 'Scope'. Lately, she's been having to watch her veteran comrades be replaced with more perfect soldiers like the Seeker.

"Excellence without consciousness, strength without doubt and humility... these are dangerous traits for the most powerful force in the Sol System." - Scope [recovered data flow]

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Early Concepts of The Seeker

A lot has changed. Much has stayed the same. Here are some older concepts of the gameplay for The Seeker, Commonwealth Industries' first virtual simulation.

-Near the Mass Driver outside Rio de Janeiro

-Red Square Spacescrapers

-Alexandria Outskirts

-Flooded Mobile