There are some big announcements coming in the next week or so for Predestination, but until then we have some new screenshots of the game in action. These screenshots show the three main parts of the game: Galaxy Management, Planetary Exploration, and Tactical Fleet Combat. All three areas are still work in progress, but they’re really starting to come together.
Most game developers work behind closed doors and don’t let players see early work in progress designs. With Predestination we aim to give fans a front row seat to the game’s development and let you help develop the game with your feedback and suggestions. We have a community website launching soon where you can suggest ideas and discuss the game, and we should be finally launching our Kickstarter campaign within the next few weeks, but today we want to give you an inside look at how we’ve been designing our first race:
We wanted the robots to look like they were originally designed as humanoid robots to serve another race but have had to adapt to survive when left to fend for themselves on their starting planet. When their power sources began to run out, they had to adapt to using fossil fuels and became all steampunky. They began building new robots and reprogramming them to do new tasks like mining for coal and designing new technology. Now they’re pretty much a fully-fledged race with workers, scientists, and military robots. Our new character artist Connor Murphy turned those ideas into the five concept sketches below:
We really love the top left design but want to keep that kind of tentacled concept for a more organic race. We decided on the top right design for military robots as it looks like a standard combat robot built by another species as part of a war. The bottom left robot looks like what would happen if those military robots were forced to adapt and become engineers or scientists, with the huge humanoid arms and hands being replaced with an array of tools.
Science robots (work in progress):
Today Connor got back to us with his first draft sketch of the Scientist robots. The left arm now has all these precise tools that remind me of the Borg from Star Trek, and there’s a window into the robot’s furnace that adds to the steampunk effect. It’s still a work in progress, so expect to see more race art from Connor soon! He’ll be focusing on the robots first and then moving onto the humans, aquatics, reptiles and other races.
I hope you’ve found this to be an interesting look behind the scenes at Predestination, it’s a real pleasure for us to have Connor on the Predestination team and the whole team just loves his artwork. Soon we’ll be launching our new community site where you can post your own ideas and have your say on what you’d like to see in the game. Until then, please feel free to post your ideas in the comments. If you’d like a reminder when something new is posted to the blog, like us on Facebook or sign up to our RSS feed.
Not all the races in Predestination will be organic; The race below assembled itself from a crashed transport full of worker droids, service bots and military hardware. To survive, they had to adapt themselves to their new home and fossil fuel energy sources. We haven’t named the race yet, but the population and ships will have a steampunk visual style. Different tasks like industry or research will be completed by specialised robots, so the military robots may look very different to the researchers or workers. Below is concept art for the race’s industrial worker droids, produced by our new character artist Connor Murphy:
Unique race gameplay
In the last post, I talked about the fact that each type of race is specialised for a particular type of planet: Aquatics on ocean worlds, robots on ice planets (so they can overclock themselves), lizards on deserts etc. But the differences between the races go a lot deeper than just their preferred planets and some stats. Every race type will have its own unique gameplay that suits that race, and a research field that only that type of race can access. Our current thinking for the robotic races is to give them:
- Factories that build new population rapidly.
- Population consumes energy instead of food.
- Unique technologies let you upgrade the population or produce huge mechs and ships.
- Terraforming technology lets you freeze over planets, turning them into ice worlds.
What kind of unique gameplay and technologies would you associate with robots? If you could have any feature in a robot race, what would it be?
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.
This is an update on the galaxy map. I’ve built the system window, and designed a smooth transition for opening it. When you click on a star, the star rises out of the background and its planets fade in, then the window around it fades in. When you close the window, the star shrinks again and visibly moves toward the star, even if it’s moved since the window was opened. So far all planets have terran graphics, but the distribution rules are already in.
I originally had a full solar system model with accurately modelled inner planets, gas giants, eccentric orbits etc, but for gameplay reasons I’ve had to simplify it down to a maximum of six planets. It would just be far too difficult to actually click on planets if I had proper solar systems, unless I made solar system view its own full screen and gave it zoom/scroll controls. I don’t think that would add much in terms of gameplay, and it would be irritating for people who want to quickly get to a planet. This is definitely one of those cases where I deferr to MOO2’s design, because if it’s not broken there’s no need to fix it.
After testing the system I displayed in my last video wherein the camera centers on a clicked star and the galactic plane comes up to the level of the star, I found it far too clumbsy. Trying to open the system view when you have to double click on a star that starts moving after the first click isn’t particularly fun. I’ve removed that mechanic and now instead just have the system plane right in the middle of the stars. I find it still provides enough perspective, and in terms of usability it’s a lot more friendly on the system window mechanics.
Like the system window transition effect?
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!
In this article, I’ll examine the advantages and disadvantages of a 3D map in a space 4X game, and discuss how I’ve tackled each of the problems a 3D map raises.
A few advantages of a 3D map include:
- A bit more realistic, less need for suspension of disbelief.
- Line of sight mechanics — A nebula between two stars could block scans, slow ships etc. While this is possible with 2D, it’s more interesting on a 3D map and there are more ways to get around the nebula.
- You can be fighting a war on more than two fronts. On a 2D map, it’s rare to get more than 1-2 enemies bordering your space. On a 3D map, you could get 3-4.
- Expansion has to be more tactical, as your borders are always in range of more stars than on a 2D map. It takes a lot more expansion before your “inner” systems are protected by a buffer zone, as you need to colonise every system in range of your inner systems to deny the enemy their use.
- I want to implement system tech like wormhole generators to link two systems, FTL missiles that can hit nearby systems etc. These would all be range-limited, and naturally on a 3D map there will be more systems in range for things like that.
- For singleplayer missions using designed custom maps, you can do a lot more with 3D than you can with 2D, there are fewer limits on creativity. I would go as far as to say singleplayer maps in 2D would be uninteresting.
Unfortunately, it also raises a few problems:
- Distance: Difficult to judge the distance between two stars unless you’re moving the map.
- Fuel range: Difficult to visually estimate whether a star is in ship range. MOO2’s fuel range mechanic prevented players from exploring too far from their colonies, necessitating expansion by colonisation. This mechanic is very important, and needs to be preserved.
- Nearest stars: In 2D it’s easy to see the nearest stars (best ones to explore first), but in 3D it’s much more difficult.
- Information overload: In some games, you get absolute chaos all over the map by the end of the game as every solar system is owned and there are ships flying all over the place. Working out what ships are going where is complicated enough without lines criss-crossing everywhere in 3D.
I like to think the perfect 4X game would use a 3D map but solve the usability problems associated with it. 3D would also open some great singleplayer scienario options, so I really want to try to do it. But I also want the option to make a flat map for fans of the classic 4X gameplay. With that in mind, each of the problems above has to have a solution for both 3D maps and flat maps. Here is how I am currently tackling each of these problems:
Distance: I borrowed a trick from Elite. I have a flat plane bisecting the playable field of stars and each star has a line drawn from it to the plane. You can see this in previous screenshots. In 2D mode, the distance is easy to judge and the lines are not necessary.
Fuel range: Merged the “fuel” mechanic with K240’s sensor mechanic; Each colony has a sphere around it inside which you can see objects (ships etc) in space, and travel outside that sphere is dangerous/impossible. The areas covered by sensors can be shown on the map as green wireframe spheres. I may try blurring or darkening everything outside the sphere to make it obvious what’s in range when the spheres are toggled on. In 2D mode this mechanic is much simpler, with just a circle around the colony cut out of the galactic plane. Below is an example from a really old previous version of the project (this feature hasn’t been re-implemented yet, but it’s next on my list):
Nearest stars: When you click on a star to bring up its system window, the map plane moves up or down to be on level with that star. This way you can see how far above/below each star is relative to the currently selected star, making it easier to see which ones are nearby.
Information overload: This will just have to be taken one UI element at a time. As a general rule, I like user interfaces to be minimalist: Elements should be immediately recognisable, with very few buttons and as little text as possible. MOO2’s UI is a good example, as the state of play can be immediately figured out by looking at the main screen for just a few seconds. I’ve seen some terrible UIs in 4X games (including dropdown menus, spreadsheet-like forms and massive text-filled UI elements) and I really want to avoid that. My concept artist is equally minimalist and has already stated that his mission is to get rid of any UI element that doesn’t absolutely need to be there.
At least, that’s the theory:
I think I’ve solved the problems above, but I have yet to run them by anyone else to give my solutions a proper usability test. I also wonder what other problems a 3D map poses, as I may not have covered them all. If you’re reading this and can think of any more or want to add your two cents, please drop a comment on this post.
As a side-note, it should be relatively inexpensive and simple to set up head-tracking for the game. I could install a pair of battery-powered IR LEDs in a pair of cheap cinema glasses with the lenses popped out, then use a Wiimote as an IR camera. That would let me add the ability to turn the map etc by moving your head, providing real 3D feedback. This could help make the 3D more real for players who have trouble with 3D maps, and it could add some awesomeness to ship design and combat. How I’d distribute them is another question entirely, but it could be very popular with gamers who own a Wii.
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. I’m increasingly a fan of a standard 2D map, but the options for both 2D and 3D are available.
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.
Above is a small cut out of a larger screenshot of the current GalaxyScreen (Click for full screenshot). This is the playable galactic field of stars. Details of all the planets at each star are already generated based on a previous project, so the next stage will be to implement the solar system window to draw those planets and their orbits. After that, I’ll have to make the transition for when you click on a planet to go into planet mode.
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-round clever-cloggs with a flare for planning, management, writing and social networking. Although I write for a living, I myself am a programmer with a Masters degree in computer science from one of the UK’s top universities.
For the past few years I’ve only put a few days per month aside for game development projects and always worked on them solo. In that time, I’ve built a procedural graphics engine able to render complex space scenes and zoom down onto the surface of planets in realtime. This year, I am kicking the project into high-gear with several days of development every week and two new helping hands. Below is a video showing off what I have so far (best viewed in 1080p fullscreen to see all the stars).
This blog will serve as a commitment device to make sure I work on the game every week; At least once per week I will write a blog update with details of the game’s progress, new screenshots, videos, or just gameplay ideas that I need to get on paper. If you’re interested in the game’s development and follow the blog, please consider commenting now and then to help keep me engaged and motivated.
Deciding on a name:
I’ve been throwing game name ideas back and forth for a long time, originally settling for the completely non-committal and thoroughly underwhelming working title of “untitled space game”. 4X games usually have words like “Conquest”, “Empire” or “Civilisation” in the name, and space 4X games sometimes sport recognisable space terms like “Solar”, “Space”, or “Stars”. Instead, I’ve chosen a name that has none of the obvious terms in it but should be in the vocabulary of any sci-fi fan: Predestination.
The Predestination Paradox (or Causality Paradox) is a theoretical event in which a person goes back in time to change something, but in the process causes the very thing he went back to change. I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline right now as it may change, but obviously time travel will feature heavily. For one thing, time travel a fantastic way to explain why each race starts the game at the same time and with the same technology level.
If you’re interested in this indie game development project, follow the blog and I’ll post updates as it progresses. There are also key articles listed on the left hand side of the page going into detail on various game mechanics like the research system and city-building concept.