Realistic Space Game
This is the portal for a newly conceived "realistic" space game.
- 1 Networked Gameplay
- 2 Procedural Environment
- 3 Career paths
- 4 Scripting Engine
- 5 Ship Design
- 6 Ground Installations
- 7 Ship Control
- 8 Graphics
The most important first step in development.
Relatively Small Environment
The game initially starts off in an asteroid belt, as it's the realistic equivalent to having many teeny planets like in Freelancer type games.
If ever more systems are added, then instead of faster than light (FTL) capability, a deep sleep should take it's place.
Filling the Sector with Stuff
Each sector of space is given a number, and everything within is seeded by that unique number, creating a random universe that remains the same between all copies of the game.
Building a Fluid Asteroid Belt
Procedural generation of 'stuff' works best if you have the random number generator 'seeded' with some number that relates to one's location in the universe. However, we want the asteroid belt to be more dynamic - with things moving around within it. The idea is to have fairly large 'blobs' of asteroids that move as a group. Let's suppose each blob is a roughly spherical group of maybe 100 rocks - and maybe it's 1,000km across. We're going to have the entire blob orbit at some speed and distance from the star that's a little bit different from the other blobs...maybe it's slowly spinning too. Suppose the entire asteroid belt is made of a million blobs.
Each blob would be numbered uniquely from 1 to 1,000,000. It wouldn't take more than a few seconds to loop through all million blobs - and to generate a set of orbital parameters for each one using a random number generator 'seeded' from the blob's number. At the start of the game, each player's computer would take a few seconds to check all of those million sets of orbital parameters to decide which (say) thousand blobs are close enough to the player to be worth worrying about during (say) the next 20 minutes of top-speed travel through the game. We remember their numbers and forget the other 999,000 of them - so 1,000 blobs of 100 asteroids is 100,000 asteroids - which ought to be enough for 20 minutes of interesting game-play. But all we're storing at this point is a list of 1,000 blob numbers plus their orbital parameters.
Now, we look through those 1,000 blobs to find out which ones we can actually see (either on-screen or with radar or something). Maybe there are a few dozen blobs like that. Once we know where they are (and when they are - because they are moving), we can continually test just a few of the list of the million blobs each frame of the game to see if they are starting to get close enough to be worth paying attention to - and we can also continually monitor the few dozen "close enough" blobs to see if they are no longer close enough to be worth bothering with - and then we can delete all of their data except for the blob number and stop drawing them.
As we find blobs that enter our area of interest, we use the random seed approach again to generate how many asteroids there are, what their coordinates are relative to the center of the blob - then the shape, color, texture, etc of each asteroid - and the data for anything else within that blob that matters (wrecked warships full of useful supplies, alien artifacts with weird properties, rare metal deposits, etc).
This gives us a VAST space to explore. 100,000,000 asteroids is more than anyone could explore in a literal lifetime. It's "enough" - by any useful measure!
There are two tricky parts to this. One is that we can modify the world within the game. If there is a valuable alien artifact that happens to appear (at random) in blob #12,345 and we grab it and take it away...what's to stop it being generated again the next time? The trick here is to realize that over the (possibly) millions of random numbers that we generated to build our blob, very few of them are changed by doing this. Moreover, over a million blobs - the percentage that are modified is very tiny. We could have the server create a file on disk for every blob that's been modified.
Now, our client computers generate the list of blob numbers that it cares about - and sends that list to the server - which replies with a much smaller list of modified blobs...and when those blobs come close enough to the player to matter, the client can ask the server for a list of modified, missing and extra "objects" that relate to that blob. So the client computer generates the blob's contents normally at long range asks the server for the "mod-list" for that blob - and when the mod-list arrives, we modify the contents of the blob accordingly. Hopefully, the server responds fast enough that we get the modifications done before the player notices!
As events of the game unfold, the server needs to be told to create these mod-lists for modified blobs - and to periodically save them to disk in case the server crashes or something.
Obviously, in a "persistant world", the number and size of these mod-lists grows - which slowly eats up disk space on the server - but that's the only bad effect - for the players, the number of mod-lists that they care about is limited to the distance they can see in the game. Admittedly, when a heavy amount of game activity has gone on - the local neighbourhood may be seriously trashed with dozens, perhaps hundreds of mod-lists being created there. But because the blobs are orbitting at different speeds - those mod-lists will gradually spread out and distribute themselves throughout the asteroid belt such that they don't stay bunched up for more than (let's say) a day or two.
If the server starts to run short of disk space - we can simply delete the oldest mod-lists using their time-stamps and quite automatically, those least-recently-modified blobs will magically 'repair' themselves. We may want to be a little more subtle about that though to prevent players from gaming the system. If a blob has a rare artifact in it - we don't want the player to realize that he can come back to that location a year from now and grab the exact same artifact again. So we might label blobs that were once found to have something super-significant in them so that we NEVER delete them...or perhaps, in general, simply apply an "importance" factor to each modification to a blob so that unimportant changes get erased very quickly and game-changing mods are never forgotten.
The second big problem with this scheme is that the blobs don't know about each other - so they will often move through each other (that's actually a desirable feature here because it makes for a more dynamic and interesting environment). So we'd need to do collision detection between the asteroids and figure out what happens between them. If the consequences are just modifications to the blobs containing those asteroids - then a mod-file change will do the job - but what we can't to is to make them spin off at different speeds and such because that would soon push them far out of the blob's radius. So probably:
- When two colliding asteroids are very different in size, we should destroy the smaller of the two (updating the mod file) - fire off some inconsequential debris (which would simply cease to exist once it's outside of the current play area) and maybe start the larger one spinning or something (which could be handled in the mod-file).
- With two small asteroids, we can just smash them both into debris and delete both of them.
- But for two large asteroids, I think we have a problem. One possible solution for that is to calculate when they are going to collide when a new blob is added into the scene (we know their orbital parameters - so it's a foregone conclusion) - and subtly nudge their coordinates such that they just miss each other - or perhaps just clip each other, if they just clip then you can set them spinning, smash up their surfaces and throw off inconsequential debris. Of course doing this means that when you come back to that blob sometime later, the position of the asteroid is back where it would have been if it had never been collided with - but the error will be at most the radius of the asteroid. This situation will of course be rare.
One horrible error with this (and one we certainly can't address) is that when nobody is near a colliding blobfull of asteroids, they'll pass harmlessly through each other - because until someone flies close enough for a computer to generate the contents, nobody can possibly know that a collision occurred. Kinda like "If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it - does it make a sound?"...in this case "No!".
Set Piece and 'hero' objects.
Sometimes, we're going to want large 'set piece' areas - very large planets, naval shipyards, mining colonies, that kind of thing. For these, the simplest solution is to pick a blob for them to belong in and create a mod-file by hand. You could have the mod file delete everything in the blob and create all of the new things you need. Now your set-piece flies around in orbit just like the other blobs. The game engine can be blissfully unaware that there is anything special about blob #654,321 until it loads the mod-file for it and gets instructions to load all of this special content and scripting.
One ikky game problem might be dealing with asteroid collisions wiping out critical game elements (like the store you go to when you want to spend your in-game cash). One possible way to handle that would be to search through the 1,000,000 blobs and find the ones with the fastest and slowest orbital speeds and use those for set pieces. The fastest blobs can only collide with things in front of them because nothing else can catch up with them. So the 'back' sides of all of the bodies within those fast blobs are a safe place to build large constructions. Similarly, the slowest moving blobs will never catch up with anything else - so the front sides of their asteroids are also 100% safe from collisions. Of course if you don't pick literally the single fastest or the single slowest blobs in the entire 1,000,000 set - then you might still see a collision (eg when the (normally-safe) front-side of the second-slowest blob collides with the back side of the absolutely slowest) - but those are astronomically (hehehe!) unlikely events. The probability of this happening is amazingly small - and (more importantly) the probability of it happening when anyone is close enough to notice is amazingly small times a million. If we actually cared about this, we could calculate the times when these events happened (like once every million years) and simply set the game in a period of history when it doesn't! However, I think the odds are too small for it to matter.
Another nice aspect of this is that we know which blobs players have played a lot in - so if we want to add content after the game has been running for a long time, we can easily find blobs without mod-lists and create new content there with a very low risk of anyone wondering why that massive alien base wasn't there when they last looked.
Efficient collision detection
This organization into blobs makes for efficient collision detection in-game because you know that you don't have to do any calculations at all unless the imaginary blob-spheres are overlapping - and you can do the calculations at your leisure because they are 100% predictable. This would also allow things like having AI's evacuate their asteroids just before the collision and such like.
Players could be:
- Pirates (blow up other ships - steal their stuff).
- Mercenaries (other people pay you to blow up other ships - act as hit-men, etc).
- Police (get paid to protect people from pirates and mercenaries).
- Salvage operators (collect scrap and usable parts from blown up ships).
- Traders (buy stuff in one place, transport it, sell it for more money someplace else).
- Miners (dig up stuff and take it to be refined).
- Passenger carriers (move people from place to place).
- Explorers (make a map of where the good ores are located - sell the maps to miners).
...or they could possibly be a mixture of those things. However, we need to set up the game such that miners cannot mine efficiently if they are stacked out with weapons and explorers can't mine what they find because they can't be fast enough to visit all the places they need to be in. There should be specific ship designs that are optimal for one or other of these roles - although people can always add stuff.
Players have a "Ship Creator" tool to customize the look and functionality of their ships.
Modules makes the ship creator tool much simpler to use, and gives the game a need for some kind of currency.
Salvageable modules and parts mean that provoking engagements and pirating become an aspect of gameplay - also salvaging wrecked ships provides an alternative career path.
Not necessarily a separate module, but the locations of hard points of the guns should be variable.
Mining lasers are the primary tool of the space pilot, for use as weapons, for mining, and scavenging. Lasers are not slow, like Star Wars "laser bolts" but more instantaneous.
Other weapons like rockets, mines, and EMP's can be bought and scavenged for use.
Engine, Fuel and Cockpit modules are required for the smallest ship, and as the ships grow, the need for crew quarters and storage holds becomes necessary.
Perhaps a bonus for having spinning sections that give centrifugal artificial gravity.
Weapons (missiles, lasers, kinetic weapons), extra fuel tanks, solar panels, power supplies, mining equipment, holds for storing the product of your work, empty modules put there to make your ship look more formidable than it really is, escape pods, long range radar & tracking, robotic command module, defensive devices such as flares and chaff dispensers (to fool heat and radar-guided missiles), ablative shield (not 'force-fields' but large chunks of some kind of plastic or ceramic that the enemy has to boil away with his lasers before he can get to the juicy targets), crew quarters, passenger quarters, luxury quarters, backup command module, solar sail, medical bay, bulk cold storage facility, water tanks, grapples for salvage work, spare parts, airlock, small 'shuttle-craft', prison facility, extended life-support facility.
Because the asteroids are fairly small - and there are plenty of them, people tend to spread development over several asteroids in a blob - so "cities" are constantly shifting collections of modular buildings. It should be fairly easy for the right kind of ship to move modular buildings around - and there should be factories that make new ones and people who's job it is to deliver and install them.
- Habitats - places where people can eat and sleep.
- Entertainment domes - crazy places built to extract money from miners who just got their annual pay check. Ranging from "safe" to "extremely dubious".
- Factories - turn raw materials into products (ship modules, ground modules, etc)
- Weapons - the locals have to defend themselves somehow!
- Space ports - room to land a big ship.
- Landing pads - room to land a small ship.
- Refuelling locations - (maybe you don't have to land - a hose comes snaking up to you in low gee!)
- Refineries - turn ore into raw materials.
- Fuel plants - turn electricity plus water into hydrogen and oxygen.
- Air plants - turn electricity plus nitrogen plus water into oxygen+nitrogen.
- Hydroponics - turn sunlight plus water into food.
- Recycling - turn scrap metal into raw materials.
- Science labs - invent new stuff.
- Assay & Cartography - places to buy and sell "maps" (actually, orbital descriptions of interesting places) and to assess the value of ores and other interesting finds (so we know you aren't lying about the maps!).
- Repair - repair your beat up ship modules.
- General store - buy and sell finished goods, food, etc.
- Crew training facilities.
- Police station.
- Communications beacons - for long-range communications.
Both "manual" and "scripted" options allow for a full variety of gameplay, with manual flight mode used for battles and for players that prefer a more hands-on approach.
Manual Flight Mode
Controls allow for full heading, pitch, roll?, and lift/strafe control.
Scripted Flight Mode
For scripting details, see the Scripting section.
For people in the 24th century, computers are the easiest way to go about precise piloting. Sample programs like "Geo-synchronis orbit", "Plot a course", and a mining program to give sample code for combat scripting.
For players with multiple ships, scripts for wingmen, search parties, or escorts could be made.
Basic Newtonian laws, of course without too much friction.
Perhaps in proximity with a very large asteroid, moon, or planet, gravity should effect the trajectory in manual mode.
With blobs of interesting stuff continually moving around - it'll be necessary to grab the orbital parameters of any bodies you're interested in so that you can find them again. As in the real world, the longer you observe a body and the more times you rediscover it in different locations, the more accurately you know where it'll be at any given time in the future. This should be reflected in the way the navigation system works.
It would be nice to have a display that you can split-screen, showing a 1st person view and 1st person views of your nearby robotic ships - with the ability to launch a robotic 3rd person view camera. Images from far distant ships produce worse and worse frame rates as they get further away.
The procedurally generated approach to making asteroids lends itself to nice LOD approaches - a far distant blob can just be a textured quad with some random splotches - as it gets closer, we can draw each asteroid as a distorted icosahedron/octahedron/tetrahedron and as it gets closer, break up each triangle into a group of four - then each of those into four and so on depending on distance:
______\/_______ ______\/_______ /\ /\ / \ / \ / \ /____\ / \ /\ /\ / \ / \ / \ __/__________\___ __/____\/____\___ /\ /\ /\ /\
...the new vertices introduced along the three edges are randomly displaced up or down. This makes a randomly crinkly surface that can get more and more detailed the closer you get.
We can also hand-build some 'set piece' objects that fit within a single triangle of the icosahedron/octahedron/tetrahedron - a mine, a colony, a trading post, etc. We could arrange not to split up the terrain beneath those objects so that they always fit.
It would be cool to allow other pre-built asteroid shapes that use equilateral(ish) triangles - but the plan would be to procedurally scale and distort those three basic shapes for asteroids of differing sizes where possible. However, if we want cool - but very rare - things like asteroids with holes through the center - then we might need some hand-made triangle meshes to use in place of the basic three. A torus-world would be a good example.
To make some variety - we'll want spikey worlds and smooth worlds, different textures (ice, rock, nickle-iron, dirty-snowball, etc) also different colors. It would be nice to try to keep the asteroids within one blob to one or two basic 'types' so that the overall character of the environment doesn't look too crazy-random, and so you don't see the full variety of objects within a single short part of the game. The look of the asteroid ought to offer some clues for miners so they can tell whether they are worth anything...at least roughly. It would be nice to have one "look" mean "always worth something - but never very much", another look to mean "rarely worth anything, but sometimes spectacularly valuable" and yet another to mean "super-valuable, for sure, every time". Those kinds of things should not be documented - we should let miners figure it out for themselves.
I'd like to have a "sensor view" for miners that shows a false-color spectral analysis map or something.
Things like trading posts, mining colonies, refineries, etc should be procedurally generated - by gluing together pre-built modules.
If your robotic/scripted ships are nearby, you should be able to control them in realtime - but as they get further away, this should get harder and harder until scripting them is the only way to drive them around.