Every 4X game has a way to notify the player when something happens that requires his attention. Games will typically have a turn summary page reporting anything important, but I want a more direct visual notification that isn’t just a text list. The idea I’ve been prototyping this week is a taskbar that runs along the bottom of the screen and alerts the user to tasks that require their attention. If a planet has a building that needs to be placed or a problem that needs to be fixed, or if a discovery is made or a scout finishes surveying a planet etc, a small icon relating to the event will drop down into the task bar. When clicked, a window would open explaining the notification and with a shortcut button to go directly to the screen/window that will let you deal with whatever the notification is for. Either that or clicking the icon might bring you straight to the source of the notification.
For example, you could start building a colony ship and check a box that says you want to be notified when it’s complete. When it’s built, a little ship icon would drop down and land in the task bar. On clicking the icon, a small ship/fleet window would open and you could immediately give the ship orders. Similarly, if a survey mission on a planet completes, a notification could immediately appear in the taskbar and open the planet or solar system when clicked.
I got some great feedback on what type of system window to use, and have decided that a small self-contained window is the best option. This week I developed a modular window system that keeps track of all the windows that are open and has options to resize, close and minimise to the taskbar. The game now supports having multiple system windows open, which might be handy if you need to keep track of or compare multiple systems. The video below demonstrates both the modular window and taskbar system: Read More
I’m working on a trailer this week, so I’ve been programattically composing scenes in my engine and will film them when they’re done. The scenes all run in realtime so I’ll also be able to keep them in the final game as an intro. I’ve had to clean up the back-end code and build some new tools for this, but I’ll be able to use the new tools for other things like space combat and cutscenes. Below is a quick sneak peek at part of one of the scenes, which uses a new planetary ring system I developed today. The ring is actually drawn to the background, so I could add a lot more detail without slowing the game down at all. I may add more types of rock and ice asteroid, and make the whole thing much bigger or the individual asteroids smaller. I just thought the ring was too cool not to share. Read More
I came up with a new terrain shading technique that combines some clever texture packing tricks with normal approximations in the pixel shader to produce some awesome results. The lighting on the terrain is now extremely highly detailed, and zooming down onto the terrain looks perfectly smooth. I can also feasibly add more lights for particular buildings or the cursor to make some awesome effects. Below are a few screenshots of the current work in progress: Read More
Most of this week’s work on my space 4X game has been in putting together a good system for placing items like 3D models of buildings on a planet’s surface. Part of the difficulty is in the fact that the planet graphics are generated entirely on the GPU, so the CPU doesn’t have access to that data. I came up with a fantastic system that works around that issue and gives access to not only height data but also details like what type of terrain is on a particular spot or whether it’s in an ocean.
So now I can place buildings on the surface of a planet, zoom out, rotate the planet and the building appears to stay put on the surface. When placing certain buildings like a water extractor, I can make it only placeable on water or make it fulfil any other criteria I want. I could make mining drills that you move around to find the best spot, or geothermal power stations that can only be placed on fault lines. There’s a lot of versatility in the system, so it’s been fun to work with this week. Read More
Predestination 4X game Galaxy Map: System window demonstration
Please watch fullscreen (1080p available). The video’s a bit darker and a lot blurrier than the actual game because YouTube is bloody awful at encoding videos, but you get a clear enough idea of the effect in fullscreen. Read More
A video of the 3D galaxy map for Predestination. Please watch it in 720p fullscreen, otherwise a lot of important small details like the lines between stars and the galactic plane are lost. Read More
Space 4X games are typically played on a 2D map, not because of any technical limitation but for gameplay reasons. 3D maps are difficult to visualise and strategise on, for example they make it more difficult to see the area of space owned by a particular enemy. Those games that do have a 3D map tend to mechanically simplify it with a “star lane” mechanic where ships can only travel along set paths between certain stars. For all intents and purposes, that isn’t a 3D map any more; it has eliminated any mechanics that actually use the third dimension. The alternative is to use a 2D map (like this one below), which is requires a bit more suspension of disbelief.
While I don’t want to diverge too heavily from the fundamental mechanics of the genre’s previously successful games, I do want to have a crack at bringing a third dimension to the map in a way that avoids these problems. If you’re interested in space 4X games, please leave a comment on this post about whether you’d want a 2D map or 3D, or answer the post with anything else you’d like to add. I’d really appreciate it! Read More
An example of the playable galaxy map screen when it’s generated in 2D. It would also be possible to generate the map in 3D and then flatten it to 2D, this shouldn’t cause overlapping stars but might make the distances between stars unintuitive. Read More
One of the challenges in developing a space 4X game is that the game has to be played on the colony, solar system and galaxy levels. Master of Orion II had separate galaxy map and colony management screens, and the solar system view was a small window that opened inside the galaxy screen. This was handy because sometimes you’d exit out from a planet and want to fast-forward a few turns before returning to that planet. I like this functionality, and want to preserve it in Predestination.
This means I need separate galaxy and colony views, which I can already do with my GalaxyScreen and PlanetScreen. These are distinct screens that can be switched between instantly, but I need to build a visually smooth transition between them. On selecting a planet, I’d like the game to zoom in on the planet before switching to the PlanetScreen so that the two screens look identical and you don’t notice the transition. I also need a solar system window that can be brought up in GalaxyScreen. Read More
Today I mark the start of a new year by kicking a new project into high gear. It’s always been a dream of mine to develop a space 4X game, and more specifically to develop a spiritual successor to Master of Orion II. MOO2’s own sequel was a colossal let-down, removing most of the elements that made its predecessor great and ignoring decades of 4X games from which to draw inspiration. Since then we’ve seen some great titles like Galactic Civilisations and Sins of a Solar Empire, but I don’t feel like any have really recaptured the magic of MOO2.
This year I’m now in the perfect position to make that dream a reality. I have a stable job as EVE Online columnist and contributing editor for MMO blog Massively, which pays the bills but leaves most of each week free to work on the project. I also live with two close friends, one a talented artist and the other an all-around clever clogs with a flare for planning, management, writing and social networking. Although I write for a living, I am a programmer with a Masters degree in computer science from one of the UK’s top universities. Read More