Stardock and Star Control

When I initially wished that I could still be at Stardock so I could work on Star Control, I didn’t have all the facts. I didn’t know that Stardock only got the name, not any of the content, and because of this they say they’re going to “reboot” the franchise.

Um.

As every schoolchild knows, the name Star Control had been trademarked by Accolade, so when Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford left that company they couldn’t take the name with them. They did, however, retain rights to all the content of Star Control, which meant that nobody could make another game featuring the Syreen or the Melnorme or the Ur-Quan without their permission.

Which they gave to a ragtag group of programmers intent on re-creating the original game (which for a long time was available only second-hand or through nefarious means). This group of codiferous rebels produced a new version called The Ur-Quan Masters and it’s a really good version of the game – anyone who played the original will feel right at home. Except that the exploit that allowed you to sell more planetary landers than you actually had to get infinite money was removed. Bummer.

Now, Fred & Paul gave the permission to use their content because it wasn’t a commercial project. This is not the case with Stardock’s Star Control game. And Fred & Paul sold their company, Toys for Bob, to Actiblizzion back in 2005. Which means that they are still Blactivizzard employees.

So, I’m seeing a few options for Stardock here…and most of them aren’t that good.

1. License the Star Control 2 content and get Paul & Fred to consult on the project. This will give the highest chances of success but will be damn hard to pull off. Fred & Paul may not be in a position to actually license the content for commercial use (I don’t know the legalities there). And Fred & Paul almost certainly won’t be in a position to consult on the project since they work for, you know, a competing game company. But if the stars were to align in this manner I feel confident Stardock could pull off a good new game. The fact that the original developers were involved would also cause the fanbase to be more forgiving of any missteps.

2. License the content but go it alone on both gameplay and story. This would tie the game back to Star Control 2, but unless they do a great job themselves it could result in a poor game hurting the Star Control brand. This is exactly what happened with Star Control 3.

3. Do a complete reboot with completely new aliens, story and gameplay. This is the worst possible outcome; the lack of involvement of any of the previous developers and the complete break with the original Star Control storyline means that fans will judge the game as harshly as possible, so unless Stardock pulls off an XCOM, there will be significant internet backlash and they don’t need that after Elemental. Again, it would be very easy for Stardock to ruin the brand like this. Elemental was supposed to be a new version of Master of Magic, but Stardock couldn’t get the license. Imagine if they had, and the shipped version of Elemental had been called Master of Magic instead…

So, I’ve got some misgivings. But at least there’s a chance for a new good Star Control game, which is better than no chance.

Chitin Update 6: 14 Hours

Units can now fight each other (some of the units in the upper-left corner are dead, that’s why they’re upside-down).

We now have fog of war in.

I made graphics for the other two unit types, but I haven’t started using them yet.

Screenshot-Starter Project

All in all, I’m disappointed in how little I got done this weekend. Three kids and all, yes, but I also fired up Dishonored for the first time “just to see what it was all about”. That was a mistake.

Soooo…I won’t have something to submit for #7DRTS. But that’s okay – by Wednesday I knew that Chitin wouldn’t be ready in time for that anyway; my wife was right when she said that Ludum Dares are for “single guys with no kids”.

I will be continuing the Chitin project as a 40-hour game, and I fully intend to finish.

Chitin Update 5: 10 Hours

Ten hours in and we can now select and direct our units. We’ve also got a (really ugly) minimap.

Screenshot-Starter Project-1

I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done in ten hours. I want the game basically functional at 20-25 hours so I can then polish it up and add content after that. The next two things I need are unit combat and resource collection; if I can get those in before hour 20 I’ll be pretty sure I can finish the game in my 40 hours. But I know I won’t get all the time I need to work on this over the weekend, even if I crunch (which is almost impossible with three kids). So what I submit to #7DRTS isn’t going to be the “final” version of the game. That’s a little sad, but not unexpected. Still happy with where the project is heading.

Chitin Update 3: 2 Hours

Got a little stuff done last night. Discovered the art I’m going to use; I mentioned it a long time ago on this blog but it’s worth a repeat: Oryx’s Lo-Fi Fantasy Sprites. Here’s a taste.

2moq99s

Aren’t they precious? They were originally made for a game competition called Assemblee about four years ago; since then they’ve become mainstays of the indie scene. Oryx sells an expanded commercial set so I contacted him and asked him if it were okay to use these for a non-commercial project; fortunately he was fine with that.

But I didn’t have time to get them integrated, so what you’re getting today is Colored Squaresville:

chitinhour2

To come – um…everything. I’ve got the design nailed and it’s simple enough to do in the time allotted. I have the graphics I want. I’ve got the skillz from writing my bigger game, Planitia. Let’s get it done.

And by let’s, I mean me. I have to get it done.

Chitin Update 2: Um…0 Hours

That’s right, I got nothing done from a coding perspective yesterday. Turns out my engine was having problems that needed fixing and that sucked up all my coding time.

But, I did some design work, so I’ll present that. First, my requirements:

MUST HAVE

* Map
* Buildings that either produce units or resources
* The ability to gather resources with units.
* The ability for units to fight each other.
* The ability to control units with band-selection and target specification.
* The ability to win the game by destroying all enemy structures
* Graphics for each unit, building and map
* A basic AI.

WOULD LIKE TO HAVE

* Map with different terrain types: blocking, slowing and normal squares
* Better graphics
* Sound effects
* Improved GUI
* Improved AI

WOULD BE AWESOME IF I COULD HAVE

* Multiplayer. Possible in seven days?
* Artist-done art (find one on IRC?)

Second, the design notes (I present these as-is, they are kind of free-associating):

Chitin is about two colonies of bugs fighting over resources. There will be buildings, workers and combat units.

Workers: Mite swarm. This is a swarm of very small units (basically dots) that will harvest any resources near their nest. Mites can’t be killed, so there’s no way to stop someone from harvesting. Mite nests can be built near resources and they’ll strip the resources bare in no time; think army ants. There’s no “owning” a resource; if two colonies build a mite nest near a resource then both colonies will harvest it (depleting it twice as fast).

Combat units: Three of various sizes. Dead combat units can be harvested by mites so it’s best to fight away from mite nests you don’t own. Classic rock-paper-scissors setup. We’ll have spitters, armored melee and fast melee. Spitters beat armored melee because they’ll wear them down before they get into range. Fast melee beat spitters because they get into range quickly and spitters are relatively weak. Armored melee beats fast melee because fast melee has no armor.

Plus, how about a big gargantuan unit, like a beetle? Slow, hard to destroy, but spits powerful acid a long way and can kill a colony all by itself if left unattended. Worth a lot resources if it can be killed and harvested, so it’s a risk/reward thing for the player that tries it.

Direct control of combat units?

Hmmm…how about a slow but steady drain on – YES. You win the game not by destroying the enemy whatever, but by making your enemy run out of ichor. Ichor is the resource of Chitin and will be used for everything. Ichor will have a +- marker next to it just like a resource in Total Annihilation, so you can see if your ichor income is rising or falling. You start with a slow ichor drain and every unit and building you make increases this drain, so you need to get out there and use your units to explore (which means there must be fog of war).

Creeps. That’s it, I think. There will be other insects on the map, you use your combat units to kill them for food then plant mites next to them to gather their resources. As you do, your ichor goes up meaning you can make new units (and maybe upgrade them?) But if you have no bugs to harvest, your ichor level will drop based on how many units you have in the field; when it gets to zero, you lose the game (your colony is untenable).

Creeps are also of the three different types; use the right bug on the right kind of creep – but be aware that you could get ganked by an enemy bug army that can counter yours.

The player can directly control all units except the mites. There won’t be any pathfinding on the units – after all, they’re drones. It’s your job to get them where you want them to go.

The player will end up with mite nests all over the place but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. A smart player might lure a creep towards a mite nest before killing it.

So far I’ve got two buildings (colony and mite nest) and four units (spitters, speeders, brutes and the big bug) and one resource (ichor). That seems doable in seven days.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Feedback welcome!

40-Hour RTS Update 1: 0 Hours

Again, like with the 40-Hour RPG, time spent just thinking about the game does not count, nor does time spent adding new features to my framework. Only coding time specific to the game counts.

So, here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking about two things, an old game and an old computer.

First, the old game. Once upon a time, a long time ago, a designer named Howard Thompson came up with a novel wargame idea – a game set on an alien planet, inhabited by huge, semi-sentient hive-minded insects. He called this game Hymenoptera, and unfortunately a complete version never saw the light of day.

It also had the word “hymen” in its name, which caused everyone who heard it to snicker.

As Hymenoptera languished in development hell, Thompson’s company, Metagaming, decided to focus on small, simpler, easily portable and playable games that they called microgames. This strategy proved successful, and Thompson decided to create a microgame set in the Hymenpotera universe. He called it Chitin: I – The Harvest Wars.

I know that killer bugs have kind of been done to death in the RTS space, what with the Zerg and the Tyranids, but I think I’m going to do it anyway.

Now, on to the old computer. I’ve talked about Daniel Remar rather a lot on this blog, and I’ve mentioned his game Hero Core many times, too. Now, the interesting thing about Hero Core is that its native resolution is 200×180, which means that it could easily be replicated on the ZX Spectrum, which had a native resolution of 256×192. In fact, I always thought that Hero Core felt like a ZX Spectrum game – austere but imminently playable.

And then there was the Easter egg in Startopia that presented the game almost as if it were on a ZX Spectrum – and the game was still playable! The only real problem was that the text became unreadable, but you could still build and manage your aliens due to the use of very clear icons.

So for a while I’ve been wondering what an RTS on the Spectrum might have looked like. And I’ve already mentioned that by limiting himself to a small resolution and monochrome palette, Daniel was able to get effective graphics for Hero Core in a short amount of time.

So I’m following suit. my 40-hour RTS will use a low native resolution to make it easier to do the graphics (I’ll scale the final graphics so the window will be larger on the screen, I promise) and it will be about bugs fighting over various resources they need.

And I’m going to call it Chitin, after the original microgame.

Return of the Mack

“I just wanted to let you know that you did a great job fixing that bug. It was really tough and you did a great job on it, and because you got it done on time we shipped the project on time. This was a really big deal for us. I’m glad we hired you. Why don’t you take Friday off?”

— My Current Boss

Yeah. I think things are getting better.

So it’s time to come back out of my shell. Let’s do something fun and blog about it! Let’s see, let’s see…

Oh. Oh, yes. This is it. The next Mini Ludum Dare’s theme is…7 Day RTS.

That I can do. But I won’t be doing it quite as straight as they are because I do have a full-time job. Instead, I’ll be doing it as a 40-hour game. I’m still going to try to get it done by the deadline on the 29th, which means I’ll have two weekends to work on it. That should be sufficient. It’ll also mean more blogging!

Now I need some decent free graphics. I’ll be making sounds with SFXR/Musagi, of course.