It’s been interesting to realize exactly how tied the design of the game and its interface are. I really want to get a layout for Star Revolution, but in order to do so I need to nail down exactly what I want the player to be able to do in the game. And that means making some decisions.

For instance…do I let the player walk around planets? Some games of this genre do, and some don’t. Games that focus on the trading and combat, like Elite and Privateer, do not allow players to walk around planets; they simply abstract the planet out to a series of menus.

But games that focus on role-playing style elements (conversations, quest objects, etc) tend to allow the player to run around the surface of planets. Starflight 1 and 2, Star Control 2, and the MegaTraveller games all do this. In the case of the first three, planets are barren except for minerals, random lifeforms, and the occasional trade post – there’s no indication of the settlements of sentient beings at all. MegaTraveller takes the exact opposite tack – visiting a “planet” means visiting one city on that planet, with all of the cities in the game being constructed out of stock buildings in different arrangements. You can’t leave the city and walk around in the wilderness…I guess the designers don’t know why you’d ever want to.

Now, the reason I need to hash this out is because of a derived question: what is combat on the surface of a planet like? Or perhaps I should generalize: what is combat outside of your ship like?

Shall I just ignore it and say you can’t get attacked outside of your ship?
Pros: Very simple to write.
Cons: I learn nothing. Doesn’t feel particularly realistic or satisfying to the player.

Should I have the player stay in a land vehicle the whole time and perhaps allow that vehicle to fire lasers on enemies?
Pros: Still pretty simple to write. Could be fun if I do it right.
Cons: I learn very little. Could be not fun if I do it wrong. Doesn’t feel very realistic. Means the player’s characters can never go inside any building in the world.

Should I allow the player’s characters to walk around individually and create a man-to-man combat system?
Pros: Could be very fun if I do it right. Been wanting to write this combat system for a while. I’ll learn a lot.
Cons: This means that I will be writing two completely different combat engines for this game – one for space combat and one for man-to-man combat. Not only will this be a lot of work, it could raise the complexity of the game too high (I have been wanting to try to keep the game simpler and more accessible).

Another serious problem will be helping players keep track of the immense amount of data these types of games typically throw at them. I don’t just want the interface to allow the player to call up old conversations (that’s easy); I also want it to help them remember where that particular planet with particular features was. Remember, that’s how Lister lost the Red Dwarf: “They’re all the same, those little blue-green planetoids! Blue-green and planetoidy!” This means special indicators on the starmap for which systems have been explored and which haven’t, as well as screens for calling up the data on every planet in an explored system. Lots of complex stuff, but the alternative is to require the player to take tons of notes, which most players aren’t willing to do any more (and let’s face it, neither am I). Besides, if you really were in the 27th century, you’d have computers to help you remember all this stuff.

It just seems like the more of these questions I answer, the more I have to do. This game is shaping up to be far bigger than Inaria, both in programming and in content, and I certainly hadn’t anticipated this.