Excalibur: To the Planets and Beyond
As the famous saying goes: Space is the final frontier, the words are synonymous with the Star Trek franchise, but to date no Star Trek game has ever truly come close to capturing the scale and near infinite possibilities offered by the Star Trek universe. Limited by scope and technology, we have had to make do with what we’ve been given, modders have constantly worked hard to expand the universe on all the games which have allowed modding. For Excalibur we hope to provide the most immersive experience possible, by removing the borders which have limited us over so many previous games, and dropping you into an immersive and constantly expanding universe that grows and expands around you, in this article we will discuss some of how Excalibur will handle environments, planets, space, stars and nebulae.
It’s easy to talk about all the things we have planned in Excalibur and we’d really love to talk about the awesome features and spectacular views of strange new worlds, or tell stories of how the development team have stood on the beaches of vast oceans beneath the sky of an ocean planet under the constant gaze of a vast gas giant but the unfortunate truth is we can’t but the keyword part of this statement is “For now.”
The key words for Excalibur‘s space environments are “procedural” and “dynamic.” We want to allow the game to generate content as it goes; this means that the players experience will be extremely dynamic, no two planets will be the same and no two solar systems will look alike. In bridge commander a solar system was static, everything laid out in a set of scripts which required things to be edited and reloaded, each planet had its own texture and many textures were reused. The background of space, or ‘Star Spheres.’ To the select few who ever ventured that far into the inner workings of the game were static textures with the occasional image of an unreachable nebula, and before NanoFX and Galaxy Charts, the individual systems and sets felt very isolated no matter where you went you never left the system.
In Excalibur our goal is to remove the boarders by allowing the player to fly seamlessly between interstellar space and interplanetary space. If you wanted you could fly your ship to the nearest star on impulse speed (if you have the time and patience.
Since we have opted to work procedurally this means that it will be very easy for a user or modder to construct solar systems. Solar system generation and editing can be as in depth as the user requires, a whole system can be generated by a single button press, or built from scratch : planet by planet, surfaces customised, textures imported, generated and regenerated, until they look just right. Moons and rings can be added to great spectacular views and while I really would like to talk more about what modders and players can expect, at this early stage it’s difficult to describe features that haven’t been discussed in detail by the team as of yet, the concept is certainly there and the technology to build it is available, we just haven’t gotten around to it yet. For this article we decided that it would be a good idea to go over some of the questions and suggestions made on the forums and talk a little about what features you can expect us to work on and perhaps understand our visions of the universe.
This question seems to come up a lot on the forums, we can say for sure that it’s a high priority, as to the extent of it we can’t say for sure at the very least you will be able to fight in the atmosphere of a planet/gas giant and shuttles and small craft will defiantly have landing capabilities, as for larger ships its difficult to say, we all know how the Intrepid Class is capable of landing and the Defiant MSD also seems to show features that resemble landing struts, but how about larger ships like the Galaxy and Sovereign Class, this is something the team will no doubt need to discuss. But if the ship is capable we’re going to try our hardest to get it in game.
Procedural Textures for planets
The team have looked at a few options for generating planets, and procedural is looking to be our best option we’ve been looking at several options including noise generators using multiple layers to create realistic looking surfaces, we obviously want to avoid something cartoonish and “unrealistic.” Planets haven’t been realised fully in the engine as of yet as the focus has been on improving our graphics capability, engine performance and working on implementing combat functions and hard points, once that is complete we will most likely be testing the various options to establish how they will impact the games performance.
Will we be able to travel to different Quadrants using transwarp drives?
At the moment no plans exist to include Transwarp, slipstream or other FTW (Faster than Warp) drives in the initial release of the game, it’s also unlikely that we will be including any content from the Delta/Gamma Quadrants as they aren’t within the scope of the games plot at this stage. However we can confirm that our planned procedural generation of solar systems, nebulae and anomalies mean that there’s really no limit where you can go or how far you can go. Our early discussions included numbers such as 1.571 Million Light years, but it’s still early days for space and we can’t say for sure yet, but space is big, and so Excalibur will be vast also.
Regarding Transwarp understand that we aren’t ruling it out and saying the engine won’t support it, in fact it would be relatively easy for a Modder to implement as it would simply be a matter of extending the existing warp drive mechanics to include a threshold limit say Transwarp extends the max limit on a ship that’s transwarp capable and once a ship exceeds the threshold limit say warp factor 9.99999995 it enters Transwarp and a new effect is created around the ship, and the normal penalties for travelling at such high speeds are negated, but that is purely a theoretical concept.
Stars-Specifically what kind of stars will we see in game?
An excellent question and one we can actually offer some sort of answer to, so far we haven’t nailed down the mechanics of star how they will look how they will behave etc, the best estimate is that they will appear as close to a real life star as we can possible get, most likely it will be a cross between a small nebula and a gas giant, tricky exactly to say at this point.
As for the types of stars there’s an interesting diagram on Wikipedia and around the internet called the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, that’s probably the kind of variation you can expect with up to seven star (septuple) systems (Nu Scorpii is the only known example.)
Excalibur’s answer to Bridge Commander’s ‘star-sphere’ is currently in the works and, while we are not ready to reveal the details, it is adaptive to where you are in the galaxy and promises to be a very exciting and experimental feature that will appeal to those among you who love detail (and statistics!)
Will Planets be full size/scale?
It’s unlikely that planets will be full size 1:1 scale, not because the engine can’t support it, it probably can but because of distance. The problem we have is while the engine can probably once completed support vast distances (galactic scale). Having 1:1 scale planets means having 1:1 scale distances which is where the problem lies. When designing a game especially a space sim game you have two main aims: 1. realism and 2. game play. While it is realistic to have 1:1 scale planets and distances it completely pulls the fun away from the game, initial tests showed that at 1:1 scale it took over an hour to travel at full impulse between Mercury and Venus. So the most likely scenario is that planets will be scaled along with distances so we can maintain a balance between the visual aspect and the game play mechanics, but it the goal is that any changes won’t be noticeable.
What kinds of planets can be expected?
At present there are 26 classes of planets planned using the Star Trek A-Z catalogue system (See Star Trek Star charts.) Here’s a brief run through of what you can expect
Classes A – H (Rocky Terrestrial Planets, The variations in class represent variations in surface size, composition, atmosphere and surface temperature.
Classes I, J, S and T (The Gas Giants) differences represent variations in size, temperatures and pressures.)
Classes L, M, O and P (Habitable Planets) difference represent variations in size, temperatures, and water/ice coverage.
Classes U, V, X, W and Z (Dead Worlds) Worlds that have become dead and barren variations in surface type, temperature and atmosphere composition.
The other classes not mentioned K, N, Q, R , and Y are reserved as special worlds which do not fit into any real category or have few variations Venus for example is a Class N Planet, and the criteria for being a class N planet varies so little it doesn’t require additional classifications.
Will Stars be fixed star fields like bridge commander?
Short answer: No
Long answer: No the starfields in Excalibur will reflect the stars in the localised region of space, so all those stars you see in your starfield are reachable. The only “Fixed” textures attached to a star field will be the galaxies of the local group. Nebulas will also appear on the star field as reachable destinations provided you are near to them the goal is for nebulas to be vast, in the real world and star trek nebulas are dozens or hundreds of light years across, however we have not yet decided on how the much vaster nebulas will be handled in the game yet.
Anomalies –What can we expect?
While the mechanics of anomalies haven’t been discussed yet, and will need to be decided on an anomaly by anomaly basis, black holes, asteroid fields, radiation fields, and hazardous nebulae are the most probable anomalies you’ll be able to encounter in the game, and while asteroid fields are defiantly in the game, there’s dozens of others that have yet to be decided on including, neutron stars, wormholes, pulsars, gravitational eddies, graviton ellipses, subspace compressions, tachyon inversions, tachyon eddies, particle fountains all of these would need to be discussed much further down the link and at this early stage we can’t rule out any.
How many locations can we expect to see in the game?
Well with the procedural generation system there’s really no theoretical limit. In terms of stock locations with art work done by the development team (“stock locations” if you will) then you can expect a significant number, depending on when the build tools are completed the team assigned to planets and space environments will most likely begin creating systems and integrating them into the game up until the release. The focus will of course be Romulan & Federation space and the major powers of the Alpha & Beta Quadrants with Canon locations being given priority. (You can expect regular updates on locations when this process begins.
We realise that so many of the questions have a “wait and see” approach and when asking for features this tends to be the answer you will get most of the time, features will occasionally be dropped or added as the game requires it, believe us when we say we wish so hard that we could include everything possible, every ship, species, planet, particle, anomaly, alien, technology, nebula, weapon and effect possible. So while our goal is to produce the best, most immersive Star Trek game to date, we realise that there will always be room for development and it might not be perfect and include every feature you can imagine. However, as modders ourselves, we believe that to approach such a perfect vision there will come a point where we have to hand over to you guys. We want to provide the community with the tools to expand a new frontier to develop, improve, customise and explore, the universe is a big place and Excalibur team can only produce so much of it, the rest will be up to you the community and the modders who have worked so hard in the past. As the great Captain Picard once said “Make It So”!