This will be interesting, because Inaria really didn’t require much in the way of design. I pretty much just picked out the graphics I wanted and associated very standard abilities to them and that was it.

Star Revolution is going to require more design. The games I am taking as my inspiration, Starflight and Star Control II, were both excellent games and were both originally made for the PC, but neither game had mouse support. Adding mouse support would have greatly changed the design of both games, making them easier and better to play in all aspects except one – combat.

So one thing I need to decide double-quick is: what is ship-to-ship combat really like in Star Revolution? I’ve got a couple of options.

1. Arcade-style real-time. This is the style deliberately used by Star Control II and sort of unwittingly taken by Starflight. It’s worth noting the differences in the control schemes.

In Starflight, pressing a directional key on the keyboard caused your ship to move one “step” in that direction. Your ship would instantly turn to face that direction (if it wasn’t already). There were two weapon types: lasers and missiles. Lasers were pretty short-range and pretty weak, but were auto-locking – just press the enter key and you’ll get a hit. Missiles packed a much heavier punch, but moved slow and did not track – basically the missile shot straight in whatever direction you were currently facing. Getting a missile hit at anything longer than point-blank range was difficult but very satisfying. Thus, Starflight space combat was functional but not pretty, and the “insta-turn” feature of ships made it kind of unrealistic-looking. It was still fun, though.

In Star Control II, you fly your ship Asteroids-style with the arrow keys – the right and left keys pitch your ship clockwise and counterclockwise, the up key thrusts and the down key reverses thrust. Each ship type has at least two abilities, some of which are offensive and some of which are defensive. You use one ability by pressing the shift key and the other ability by pressing the enter key. It was deliberately designed to be a light, fun, arcadey experience. To the point that it was broken off and turned into its own game, called Super Melee.

2. Turn-based or semi-turn-based. The best example of something like this would be the Starfleet Command series of games. These games were based off the completely turn-based Star Fleet Battles boardgame, which actually was an excellent boardgame until it got too complicated to play. Unfortunately, the Starfleet Command games were based off the later, more complex version of SFB and thus are very difficult and tedious to play.

And once again I find myself wishing for a happy medium.

I’m going slightly off-topic for a second.

For years I’ve said that the first person to make a Civilization-style game that can be played single-player or multiplayer and finished in one and a half to two hours is going to become rich beyond the dreams of avarice. I used to enjoy games like Civ and Master of Orion and Age of Wonders, but they take so long to play, and saving and coming back isn’t really an option because you forget where you were and what you were doing and why that stack of units was out there in the boondocks by themselves. So I’ve been longing for games of this type that can be played in a shorter time – one evening, instead of a whole day.

And what do I get? Oasis and Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, games that feel like Civ and MOO (respectively) but can be finished in five minutes! Uh…five minutes? Can I get some kind of happy medium here?

It’s almost as if the only two markets that exist in computer games are “young and twitchy with lots of free time” and “old and bored with lots of free time”.

And now I’m going to get even farther off topic for a second. Tycho said something in a recent Penny Arcade update that really stuck with me. He’s talking about Grandia III:

With this much fun so close to the surface, the flagellation I endure finding the chewy center of other games stops looking like due diligence and becomes something like masochism.

And…well, that’s the way it is. Grandia III apparently starts dishing out its fun allotment right away, while a game like Galactic Civilizations II would take a couple playthroughs just to get used to the interface and how a game will progress, at which point you might begin to have a shot at beating the AI on Beginner difficulty. If you don’t feel like you fully understand and control the gameplay mechanism, then you can’t feel like you have a chance of winning, and if you don’t feel like you have a chance of winning then you can’t really feel like you’re having fun (in my opinion).

Now, someone will probably rejoin with, “Ah, so you hate losing so much that you’re not willing to play a game you might lose?” Please note that I didn’t say that at all.

One of my favorite ways to take a break from whatever I’m doing is to fire up Unreal Tournament 2004 and play an Onslaught game with 32 on each side. I use bots because I honestly can’t be bothered to go online and find a real game.

Now, about half the time I win, and about half the time I lose. And when I win, I dominate and when I lose it’s pretty much over as soon as the fight starts. That’s the nature of both the game type and using bots. But I still play knowing that I might lose and when it’s apparent that I’m going to lose I don’t just give up. The difference is that I know how to play UT2K4 and Onslaught and I feel that I’m in control of what is going to happen…mostly.

You do not feel that way initially when playing something like Starfleet Command, Civ, MOO or GalCiv. There’s this period you go through where stuff is happening and you’re not sure why and you’re not sure how to respond and then it’s over and all you can do is start another game and try to do better. The same thing can happen early on with RPGs as well. This is that masochism that Tycho mentions, and if it goes on too long then it can just not be worth it. Tutorials can really, really take that edge off and I have to hand it to the designers of Civ IV – it has an excellent tutorial, even if it is delivered by the disembodied head of Sid Meier.

I want ship-to-ship combat to be fun from the start in Star Revolution, but I want it to be a bit more complex than Star Control II combat. I want to get some of the more traditional Star Trek-style subsytems into the game – individual facing shields, beam weapons, missile weapons, and possibly even fighters – but I don’t want to get anywhere near Star Fleet Battles’ level of complexity. I want all of the controls and readouts on one easy-to-use screen. I want tutorials and a combat simulator so that players can get good at combat before they actually encounter a live enemy in the game.