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
I’ve been doing mostly under-the-hood code optimisations today so I don’t have any pretty screenshots to show for it, but I do have an idea to share that I’ve been wanting to run by other people. Master of Orion II is my touch-stone for game design, and it only had sandbox style games. But when I introduced a 3D map I realised that also adding singleplayer missions or challenges might actually be really cool. One example mission might be set up so that you own one planet that’s surrounded and you win if you can hold out until a doomsday technology is researched to let you smash your aggressors to pieces. Another might have a colossal galaxy and the challenge might be to find and secure a wormhole hidden somewhere in the chaos, then launch an attack fleet through it. 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