Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Proposal for a True Space Exploration Simulator - by Mike Fatum

Captain! She can't take much more! We look...too awesome!

With all the discussion here over the last day or so about space simulators, my brain got to thinking. And since I do most of my thinking while lying down in bed, it eventually got to sleeping. But before that, I had an Idea. A great and glorious Idea. One that could change the course of Gaming History if anyone actually wanted to fund it and program it. Which they don't. Yet.

But you will!


The genesis of this idea came from playing the excellent game Artemis at my birthday a month or so ago. For those of you who have never experienced it, Artemis is a lan-party only game. You network three-six computers together, each one representing a station on the bridge of a starship. One player plays the Captain, one the Helmsman, one the Science Officer, etc etc. The game is a ton of fun, and really makes you feel like you're on the bridge of a ship legally-distinct-from-the-Enterprise.

See? There's FOUR engines.
But the only problem I have with Artemis is that isn't not quite a Star Trek Simulator. The game's objectives revolve around destroying your enemies, and you can only really win by clearing the map through battle. This is a lot of fun, but it's the action packed Movie Style Star Trek, not the more intellectual Television Star Trek that a lot of us love. For example, in the game there are anomalies and herds of space whales out there. You can fly by them, (or, as I discovered, into the anomalies) but you can't study them in any way. The Science Officer is only there to scan your enemies and tell you their weaknesses.

Sir, the tiny yellow dot is weak to our bluest phasers.
But what if someone made an actual Star Trek simulator? One where diplomacy and exploration were featured just as much as combat? Well, there's four games you'd want to rip off and combine:

It's required that you dress like this to play Artemis. REQUIRED.

 Er...duh. You'd want to rip off the game that inspired this post. I've mentioned it before, but Artemis is a tremendously fun game. The amount of joy and camaraderie that comes from being the crew of a ship together is something that can't be matched, and is really what Star Trek Online should've done from the beginning. Use Artemis as the basis for the core of the game, flying around the galaxy, encountering new vessels, and yes, sometimes going to war with them. There's nothing wrong with Artemis for all of these purposes, and it would make a perfect base game for this time of endeavor.

The ship is already built!
What's the best way to have a game with constant replayability? Say it with me now: Procedural. Generation. The way Minecraft builds a new world for you every time would be perfect for the constant away missions. Imagine this: You discover a new civilization. The world they're on is uncharted. In typical Star Trek style, you send your entire senior staff down to check it out. And the world they land on is all new, every single time. The alien civilization might be on a barren rock, or a lush forest. The life you encounter could range from towering empires to primatives, and every time would be different. Stack Skyrim's Quest Generation system on top of that, and you have a whole galaxy of worlds that need different touches and specializations to achieve your goals.


"Name all your ships after me, or we're going to war."
 I'm only cherry picking one system here, but Civ's diplomacy system is tough to beat. Once we've met these alien civilizations on their procedurally generated worlds, they enter into a diplomacy screen. The smaller, one world based aliens will be like city states, and the larger empires like full Civilizations. You'll be able to pull out to a map of the galaxy you've discovered so far, and interact peacefully (or not) with these empires. As you're just a ship, not the head of the federation, you won't always have to make decisions like when you're going to war. But you will be an ambassador for your people and have to act accordingly.

The Adventures of Cool Dude, Nerd, Angry Dude, Scared Guy and Drunk Idiot
Ok, so this is not a specific game. But I've been wracking my brain on how to do the Science portions of this game. And I think, as much as you might scream "NOOOO", a series of minigames will do the trick. Perhaps more akin to Professor Layton than Peggle, the science officers job will be to answer the puzzle of each new riddle. Scanning a planet would be a minigame of matching colors to determine air composition. Testing an enemies shields would be closer to Breakout, bouncing protons off the enemy shield until one type gets through. If you had enough mini-games to rival your typical Wario Ware, the Science Officer's job would be really fun, as each new challenge was a slightly different experience.

So that is...the Idea. Let me know what you guys all think.

1 comment:

  1. What do you think about StarCitizen?
    From my reading Capital Ships might allow somewhat of what you are advocating. co-operative specialized team action.

    Ive always been more interested in the blend of trading, politics, exploration, and some combat. Too much combat and im bored..

    Ideally some game that rewards casual play (mini-games) as well as immersive, and some team play components. Getting that balance between Strategy, Arcade, Social and Trade.