A Point of Reference
Excalibur was born from the Bridge Commander modding community and as such we have to start there as a point of reference for the style of gameplay we want to create. Bridge Commander's gameplay was primarily focused on space combat and in practice the player spent most of their time playing the game in this mode because it was the best for combat. The interior view of the game was best used for cutscenes and dialogues within the single player mode but didn't offer much real playability.
Interestingly enough the first person element of Bridge Commander was originally intended to have more scope, with the player able to move between points of view on the bridge and members of the crew even getting injured during combat. I'm pleased to say that after some time the modding community managed to surpass even that by allowing the player to move around the bridge as they willed. Unfortunately even after this the interior mode of the game offered little reason to engage with it because, quite simply, there was nothing to do on the bridge that you couldn't do from the exterior view.
Making it Worthwhile
Given that Bridge Commander's interior mode was something of a damp squib outside of single player mode I guess it is a little surprising that we all wanted to include it again for Excalibur. We felt it brought a sense of immersion to the game that made it more than worthwhile so long as the player had a reason to engage with it. To do this effectively we simply had to think about everything that the captain had to sit it out for, particularly those occasions where the player was waiting for something to happen rather then being engaged by the game.
If your ship is seriously damaged in Bridge Commander you are quite often left drumming your fingers while the ship automatically regenerates after a battle. In Excalibur you can get your hands dirty in engineering helping out with repairs in order to get the ship operational again.
If you want to board an enemy ship in Bridge Commander you simply have to transport some men over and hope for the best. In Excalibur you could always choose to operate the transporter to get the men directly on the bridge, or even lead the boarding party yourself.
Just to be clear, our goal isn't to make it so that you can do anything and everything on a ship but rather to let the player get involved so that you are never forced to wait around for the game to simulate something that you could be playing yourself.
The bridge is all-important in Excalibur, if you want to take direct command of a starship through the space view the player's character must be on the bridge. From your bridge, whether you are in the interior or exterior view, you can issue orders to the different command staff to access the high level functionality of their stations through your user interface. If this level of detail isn't enough for you or if there is no one at that station you can go over to the console yourself and use it directly.
A good example of this would be navigation; if you wanted to navigate to a star system you could just issue a command to the helm officer and they will lay in a course. Alternatively, if you wanted more control over the angle of your approach in order to avoid enemy sensors, you could walk over to the console and plot a course yourself.
When you leave the bridge you hand command over to your first officer or the highest ranking officer left on the bridge. From this point on you can issue your commands to them through your communicator but you will not have direct command over the ship until you return to the bridge.