My original plans for tactical space combat in Predestination involved making a good attempt at turn-based 3D combat, which is something no game has done well yet. I had intended to make line-of-sight mechanics and area effects a big part of the gameplay, but every combat would have quickly become a chaotic mess. Our main goal with Predestination is to bring proper turn-based strategy back to 4X games, so after discussing the idea with the rest of the team we decided to use a classic 2D combat plane on which tactical decisions are much more obvious.
I started prototyping the combat system last week with a chess board and some coloured squares, but I quickly ended up with pages of complicated rules and movement/attack tables. The Art Director suggested a hexagonal grid and we quickly hashed out a very simple, intuitive system using that grid that we’re all very happy with. We prototyped the system using a big hexagonal gaming mat and paper cutouts and ironed out all of the flaws we could see. The end result is a tactical combat system I’m really excited about: Read More
One of the things I’m particularly fond of in 4X games is custom ship design, both for cosmetic and gameplay reasons. There’s something special about designing your own ship setup and then testing it out in battle, and I really want to capture that magic in Predestination.
To achieve that, I’m developing a 3D lego style ship designer in which you slot together pre-made blocks to create your own ship designs. Most of the blocks will be purely cosmetic, but some will affect gameplay. You’ll add modules like shield generators, thrusters, weapons, armour plates etc to design your own custom loadout. You’ll also be able to research special mount blocks that give certain module types bonuses or modify their operation in some way, like long range or point defense mounts for weapons. A mock-up of the system is below: Read More
I haven’t really talked about energy generation, energy storage, and what you’ll be able to do with energy yet, so in this post I’ll throw my current plans out there. Every building requires energy to operate, and if there isn’t enough energy some buildings will switch off until power is restored. There are several types of power plant available:
- Solar: Basic renewable power source. Twice as effective on Desert and Barren planets. Doesn’t work on Toxic planets.
- Geothermal: Basic renewable power source. Twice as effective on Molten planets. Doesn’t work on Tundra or Ocean planets.
- Fossil fuel: Consumes fossil fuels, but outputs more energy than solar or geothermal plants.
- Nuclear: Consumes uranium, and outputs more energy than a fossil fuel plant.
There’s limited space for buildings in a colony, so you’ll want to waste as few as possible on energy generation. Fossil fuel and nuclear plants will save you a lot of space, but will consume resources. You’ll be able to research technologies to improve power plants, and because we’re using a tree system for research, many of them will be mutually exclusive. You might have to choose between improving solar or geothermal power plants, or choose between renewable sources and fossil fuels. Read More
I got to work on the planet exploration a bit more this week, and added in a lot of the planet exploration features I described last week. You can now queue up as many scout missions as you want and they will be executed in sequence. When a mission starts, it takes an energy cost from the planet’s reserves, and if that energy isn’t available the mission will wait until you have enough energy before starting. You can now delete scout missions, and they are now sent from the nearest settlement you own for reduced travel time. Below is a video showing some of the new mechanics: 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