In the tradition of many fine game development studios who have gone before us, we’re happy to talk about our game that you won’t be able to play for a long time. No, not Half-Life 3 long, or even Spy Party long, just a year or so until an alpha/beta type phase will emerge from its protective chrysalis and you will have the chance to crush all our hopes and dreams with the brutality and honesty of your feedback.
What is Star. Ship. Story. you ask? My that’s a clever question, we can’t slip anything by you. In short, Star. Ship. Story. (S.S.S. from now on) is a co-op space adventure with a custom generated story and persistant world effects. Let’s examine this a bit further using this handy chart.
|Things S.S.S. is||Things S.S.S. is not|
The idea for SSS grew out of my own gaming group’s desire to find a game that met the following criteria:
- Enjoyable for both hardcore and casual gamers
- Supports a wide range of players, from 2 – 10
- Can be played in discreet time periods, 30 – 40 minutes being pretty close to ideal
After trying just about every game I could find, I finally decided that the only way this was going to happen was if I write the game myself. So based on some ideas from an old game contest entry, I started to put together a prototype over Christmas vacation. About a month later I was testing some very rudimentary network code with my gaming group. It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t work very well, but we were flying around in a ship shooting at stuff. Development continued which leads us to today:
Of course all this is placeholder art (quite a lot of it programmer art in fact) at this point. It was, however, enough to convince us that there was something worth pursuing here, and so work continued. Eventually we felt that enough details were nailed down that we could at least start to talk about the project publicly.
The setting of S.S.S. is a uniquely generated star system inhabited by a selection of characters selected from a large pool. This story is not just a mad-lib style fill-in-the-blanks solution, it’s not a poorly branching linear-but-with-one-sorta-kinda-actual-decision, no it’s actually a real story. Ok, story is probably a slight stretch, it’s more like a story outline. If you’re interested in all the gory details, you can read up on some of the research we’re basing the story generation system on here and here and here. This is not all 100% worked out yet, and is the single greatest risk factor the project has left to tackle, so that’s what we’re currently working on.
So what good is a bunch of planets and a story to a game? I mean if you want a story you’ll just go read a book. S.S.S. is definitely being designed with gameplay first and foremost. Ship to ship combat is accomplished via each crew member manning a different station (helm, weapons, shields, engineering). On smaller ships, there are less stations, a 2 crew ship for example would only have helm and weapons. Each station operates differently and there are variations from ship to ship as well. The stations were designed to appeal to different play styles as much as possible within the confines of a real-time action game. These ship combat moments though are meaningless and fall pretty flat when devoid of any context, which is where that story comes back into the picture. You won’t be fighting constantly, and when you do, we really want it to feel like a big deal, I mean, your life is on the line! S.S.S. is designed to be pretty hard, so that your decisions actually matter and working as a team is significant. So when a pirate ship lures you into their trap with a false distress beacon, you may think twice before just opening fire. Also, your role in the world is dependent upon the story that is generated, so that will vary from game to game.
When you’re not fighting off pirates, arresting dangerous criminals or one of the other various roles you can be given, you’ll have decisions to make about where to go to accomplish the overarching mission you are working towards. These missions are varied and can include such diverse tasks as repelling an alien invasion, tracking down a corporate saboteur, recovering a missing military prototype, escaping the goons of the local underworld boss you owe money to, and many more. The crew will have the opportunity to make many decisions together in how to proceed in completing this mission. Along the way, along with ship combat, there will be opportunities to visit locations as an away mission. These away missions allow your characters to move around in a new environment (planet surface, spaceport, another ship, etc.), and use your skills in a new context.
While there is no experience gain or levels in-game, there are currently plans to have unlockable skills that you can swap out for your initial skills. These are not power upgrades, you’ll never see a strictly better version of a skill you start with, only variations that come with their own drawbacks. This allows you to play with different builds of skills to take on certain challenges you can configure for yourself. Speaking of configuration, each game is set up by you to have a certain duration, which determines the story that is generated. This allows you to tailor your gameplay experience to be around the time you need it to be. Have a few friends who will be getting on in the next 30 minutes? Start a game with a ship big enough for them, play with bots and as they arrive they can jump in and take over those crew positions. Once everyone has arrived you can quit the game and start over, or more likely, just complete the game you are almost done with before starting another with everyone there from the beginning.
Finally, what good are your decisions and intrepid adventures without some sort of permanence? Since the stories are procedurally generated, we can factor in your past actions. Expect to meet up with crews you formerly played as, now taking on roles as characters in the world that can be friendly, indifferent, or outright hostile to your new characters.
Multiplayer is probably something people will think of, and we’re thinking about it too. In fact we’re using a multiplayer mode to design and balance all the ship combat. This will be a distinct mode from the co-op game and will be finalized last.
Phew. Well hopefully that gives you a sense of what this crazy thing is that we’re building. You can expect lots more updates as we make progress that’s showable over the next few months.
In the meantime, you can sign up for updates on our progress here.