Monday, April 28, 2014

Interface Design

An interesting challenge in this project is to emulate the style panels of old mainframe computer system and adapting them to function in game. A simple google search of "pdp 8 panel" will give an interesting cross section of panels being used.

But the challenge comes until modern studies on user experience and proper interface design. This game is somewhat counter to modern practice which I don't believe is a reflection on the old panel design. I think it is a case where the older computers were operated by people with training on specific interfaces. This is similar to this game. I don't expect a new player to jump in, throw some switches and launch a space ship. Things are just not that simple.

But sometimes you gain accidental boosts to usability. Take for instance the beloved operating system Windows 8. I personally have not yet upgraded. I suspect I will when Windows 7 is no longer supported in 2020. But I did try parts of the game on a Windows 8 touchscreen and found the game much more enjoyable when controlled with a combination of touch screen and mouse/keyboard input.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

two dimensions

I opted to create space as two dimensions because I chose to focus more energy on gameplay than math. I hope that's a reasonable explanation.

The other side of this is that for the few that have jumped into the ship and started flying around I posed the question after they tried it out for twenty minutes. Simply asked, "Did it bother you that I designed the galaxy as a two dimensional space?" Which received the same basic answer, "I did not realize it was not three dimensional. no, didn't bother me at all."

The above image is a screen capture from the navigation system. The red dot is over the solar system my spaceship is currently exploring. The little blue dots are stars in the galaxy named Sordid. This is the starting galaxy, a friendly place with minimal threats in the center and danger/adventure as you move away from the center.
There are sixteen galaxies in this alternate universe. Each galaxy has around eight thousand stars, each star represents a game map one million pixels square. Granted each solar system unit is displayed as a square, everything revolves around a sun at the center. Each square solar system is 240 astronomical units (AU) across.
As big as it may seem, it is really designed to be large enough to accommodate many types of space travel in different classes of ships. A small explorer ship can buzz around a solar system from end to end in about 40 minutes. A larger transport may take several hours to do the same but I'm not sure exploring with a transport ship makes sense.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Screen art from the game - teaser

As you may have read, a huge inspiration to the game was the Digital Computer Corporation PDP-8 family of computers. They had a large number of interfaces. In the game I call them ROM panels. There are many but I've designed them to use similar interfaces because old computers don't work quite the same as new ones.

So when piloting a ship in the game, you are responsible for more than just picking a destination and clicking a "go there" button. You have to manage the systems of the ship. Each system has one or more ROM panels which allow you to control different aspects of the ship. One of the main panels is to control the distribution of electricity. The short of it is that your ship is not capable of producing enough energy to power up everything. So you have to make choices, sometimes tough choices, about what/when to power different areas.

The main areas are divided into six simple categories, Auxiliary Systems, Collection Systems, Life Support, Stellar travel systems, Interstellar Travel Systems and Combat Systems. There are also Intergalactic Travel Systems but that's a discussion for the future since they are not a primary system.

 Besides controlling what the reactor is running you also control the battery backup systems. From the main control panel you can run tests on the batteries, switch from A to B systems (if you spent the money to have backup systems). And most importantly, monitor how many Kilowatts of power you are consuming in the primary six areas.

Below is an image of the actual in game artwork. Please note, this game will largely be a proof of concept until I get some money to create better artwork or someone clicks on the employment tab and volunteers their artistic talents to making things look better. But for someone who can barely hold a paint brush, I think it looks pretty good. Inspiration came from the KL 10 interface used in some PDP installations. A google image search may surprise you on the small amount I changed the original interface which was really done for the sake of gameplay.

Note that across the bottom are switches used to control on/off for each main area. In the shot all buttons are turned on, for most ships this would not be possible (or advisable even on the ones that can).

Another huge aspect to gameplay is the in game terminal. I'll post more on that later with some explanation of how it works. But it is essentially a BASIC compiler with some extra features. The most significant is the ability to use reflection which allows you to control analog switches on the ROM panels. So you could write a program in game to turn switch 7 on or off rather than go to this panel and click the button.

But it gets better, since it is a multiplayer game, it is also possible to gain control of a friend's ship and write software that can control your ship along with theirs.

Aside from reflection in the form of reflecting real world interfaces to source code another key addition to the BASIC compiler is the ability to use pointers and references. Granted this capability is geared towards those that have some understanding of programming, it helps to make for some interesting options in writing applications that could autopilot your ship. Or in the event you need to overload the value of a reflection panel but are constrained, create a variable with the overclock value you want and then point the address from the ROM panel to it. Granted it could blow up your ship but hey, no risk, no reward.

Digging up the past

Last fall I pulled down all the posts I previously put up regarding Oberon. I realize that this was a little bit of a mistake. But I wanted to get this post up first to say one very important thing:

None of the posts pre-April 2014 relate to Oberon

They do relate to the creation of Oberon and many of the ideas and concepts will land in the game. But the old posts are really just random thoughts wrapped around gameplay, not a story.

So should you choose, read the old stuff but be forewarned that some ideas are off the table.

Monday, April 14, 2014

the game

lore aside, the game itself is hopefully different from anything you've played. It takes some imagination and a little sense of humor.

The game is a multiplayer space exploration simulation, though using the word simulation requires some poetic license.

You are the pilot of a craft that you can customize. Ships can be bought/sold/upgraded throughout the gameplay and fit into various classes that perform functions like exploring, fighting, destroying, mining and transporting.

Trade, combat, crafting and all that sort of stuff comes into play in a number of ways. Mostly, you will make you own adventure. For those that need guidance, there are quests, missions and various ways to contribute to the universe.

But for the most part you will spend your time piloting one of the least reliable space ships you will ever experience in gaming.

Internal working of the space ship are slightly more complex than anything you are probably used to. Ships are controlled via a large number of panels, each controlling different parts of the craft. At the core of all controls is a terminal with a compiler that uses a language similar (very close) to BASIC. But more on the in game computer later on.

And then there was Oberon

In an alternate dimension, in an alternate universe there is a planet that is almost identical to earth in every way you can imagine except one. In 1967 the hippies took over. From there on out things are so much different.

Meanwhile on the earth in our dimension and galaxy, a clinically insane experimental physicist working on some weird thing about patterns, that nobody understands, made a discovery. It wasn't anything too crazy and he attempted to publish some articles but for one reason or another they never made it into any of the major scientific journals. But he did manage to put together a few bound volumes that explained it all that are still sitting on the shelf of the most unvisited area of the library in the university that employs him. His real name is not relevant, but in most situations when you ask him what his name is, he will pound his fist on the bar and announce, as if he is the ruler of Russia, "My name is Monk James!" and then settle back into his bourbon. No need to say another word, you are wasting your time.

You can't rely on Monk to tell his story anymore. Instead you have to rely on others to pass on the lore. Some get it right, most get it wrong, but everyone telling it admires the man in ways that won't make sense to you right now. I'll talk more about that later. Right now you won't get it, so I won't push him on you since it only depresses me to think you would not see his greatness, instead you will focus on your disbelief and misunderstanding.

The hippies made some interesting changes. The most significant change was in technology, basically it didn't advance. This led to a population of space explorers that built ships powered by computers that can barely calculate 32,768 squared.

The preferred system for explorer ships was the Star 100 for power systems operations and the PDP-8 for the rest. Of course, in our dimension, the thought of piloting a space ship with any combination of the two will send a couple vintage computer geeks into the streets laughing their asses off.

another beginning

this is a post about a video game that consumed my life from 1984 to 1988. I didn't play it, I was programming it. But there was a problem, computers were not far enough along for the game to work.

A lot of time has passed but the passion for completing the game is stronger than ever.

My inspiration from the Apple iie that was my life:

I'll go further in the next posts about the game. It will take a while to explain.