Welcome one and all the to 11th annual Mod of the Year awards, celebrating all that is great about our beloved modding community, the developers, the...
Producer, Cinematographer, Level Designer, Edit, Writer, Modeller.
Alright guys. For those of you who follow me on Fallout: Project Brazil and are really awaiting the release of the 2nd Installment, you know that my half of F: PB has been finished for about 6 months now. I finished all the levels, the new 3D assets, new NPCs, and wrote and implemented all the dialogue.
That kinda left me with nothing to do, since I'm not a programmer. So I decided to take a break and work on another design for something I've always wanted to do since I was 16.
Now, that doesn't mean I'm leaving Fallout: Project Brazil. I love the story we've made, I'm really heavily invested in its success, and I am still talking to the two guys left on the team every week. When they show me progress on scripting the main quest I'm jumping right back into the trenches with them! Until then, I want to spend less time waiting, and more time doing what I love.
Shadow Star is a Science Fiction Role Playing Game that casts you as the Commander aboard a star ship exploring the galaxy during an interstellar war between four great empires. Played in a 1st person perspective, Shadow Star focuses on rich character interaction, emergent gameplay, and narrative quests as seen from the decks of your ship. The game allows the player to build their own fleets, manage officers and crews, and explore procedural star systems full of NPCs on ships and stations, similar to if Mass Effect or Knight of the Old Republic met FTL or the Elite series.
Shadow Star is set several million years in the future, long after humanity had gone extinct following a series of disasters referred to as "The Cataclysm of Old Earth." Their machine progeny survived to colonize the galaxy on their own, eventually reaching their pinnacle of evolution and adopting the role of gods.
After meeting in the depths of space, four great Progenitor machines returned to the moonscaped ruins of Terra where they resurrected our species as bio-mechanical hybrids identical in every way to us, but genetically engineered for life in space. Four human empires arose from the dust around their Progenitors and continued to expand across the cosmos as Forerunners.
Centuries later, you are born to a family living on Terra, where you entered a multi-national peacekeeping organization aimed at maintaining the law between the rising empires. When an interstellar war between the Serin, Torlan, Deadagund, and Lantus erupts, you are thrust into the captain's chair of your first ship, The Concordia, on a mission to find the lost Shadow Star to give your nation, or yourself, an edge in the unfolding events that will reshape humanity once again.
Whether you swear allegiance to the gods, the nation you were born to, or your own personal desires is up to you. One day you will find the lost Shadow Star and the Star Harrier Epoch, and that day will rewrite destiny by your hand.
There are no aliens in Shadow Star; no time travel or psychedelic physics - only humans who have grown strange to one another by the consequences of their actions. We are alone in the galaxy with each other and our self-made gods, the greatest monsters we've ever known.
Obviously, this is all still just paperwork. I haven't settled on a game engine yet, but I am building prototype models for our modular starships and their interior level design with CryEngine or Unity in mind.
This will be the first game ever made to feature a vehicle that is also a level design, in a sandbox open universe, with a first person Role Playing interface. There is no preexisting engine for that.
The amount of planning that has to go into something like this is just staggering. That's why this time of my life is perfect for that kind of innovative design. I can afford to take the time developing Shadow Star on my own and solving problems that in a professional setting with hard deadlines would be simply thrown out for something more profitable - and boring. :p
These are fully modular ships, meaning they are made out of little cubes like Legos. They click together following a very simple grammar:
The SPINE runs down the centre of the ship between a BOW CAP and a STERN CAP.
Fleshing out the ships's body are four types of square modules: SMALL, MEDIUM, LARGE, XLARGE, which take up 8, 12, 16, and 24 metres wide, and 10, 20, or 40 meters long.
The modules always end along the outer edge of the ship in a skirt called EDGING.
If you can have a FLAT --- module on the interior along the spine, and a SLANT \\\ module attached to the EDGING. If you need to alternate you have a TRANSITION piece that allows you to expand to new rows.
You can make pretty much whatever you want out of this system and render practically dozens to hundreds of unique designs. Whole fleets can be rendered this way. You just need more unique END CAPS and STERN CAPS to really give it a genuinely special look.
Each race has tis own individual thematic elements that carry through their lore and their design, and go to influence the shape of the modular kit. The Confederates above are supposed to be ugly, hulking bricks in space, very utilitarian, like a retro-futuristic NASA. The Serin Empire are all about their imperial vibe, having a zen-like religion based on serenity through conflict in worship of their god, Anax, whose colours are red, gold, and black.
Check out these cool designs you can make just with this kit:
Inside each section of the ship there is an instanced interior cell serving as a level, just like in any first person shooter, but specifically Fallout 3, Skyrim, or New Vegas. Everything is made out of cubes that snap onto a grid. If you'd like to read about this modular approach, which I learned in detail by making Fallout: Project Brazil, read this blog by Joel Burgess. It goes into detail on how the asset pipeline flows and how the art meets the technical design, with its pros and cons.
Making the interior and exterior play nice together in one big mesh is impossible (today, at least,) so I've decided to instance the ship's interior in a separate level from the outside world where the ship's exterior model exists in the sandbox.
There are no doors between the inside and outside of the vessel, only "spotlights" that transfer cargo and personnel between the ship and the outside. But the shape of the exterior informs the interior, and I'm thinking we may be able to do this procedurally, like with this script for Unity made by CDeniz on the Polycount forums.
As the ship takes damage on the exterior, the interior can react. Hallways and rooms can be swapped out for damaged models, and finally for corpse modules that are left open to space, any holes automatically filled with rapidly expanding and hardening foam.
That is a TON of data on the processor and RAM, so it will be very important to keep a fairly low polycount and the ensure the scale of our ships doesn't get out of hand. That may result in ships that look a little more "cube-y," but I think if the quality of our assets is high it won't be a major issue.
We want to avoid creating mazes, and having large hero rooms throughout the ship will help. There will also be "matter-stream portals" all over the ship in place of doorways, and these allow even disconnected sections to be freely selected from a list and traveled to instantly.
It'll be the first time anything remotely like it has been done, so I still have more questions than answers. The design has to be really meticulous, low on data overhead, and the lore has to fit the mechanics to be believable. That all has to come together as I solve problems I encounter.
The best way to describe combat would be like Battleships Forever, an indie game I love desperately, in the first person. Watch this video and get an impression of what I mean.
Combat in Shadow Star will be a lot like Battlestar Galactica, with extended slug fests between ships that have no shields, only Flak and Point Defenses to counter incoming shots. The pacing is fairly slow, and when ships take damage it's a major event. Lights flicker at low damage thresholds, fuses blow at medium damage, and severe damage destroys entire modules, finally leaving the interior cell with a hole in it if it's destroyed.
Repairing damage would require a dry-dock to rebuild that section, and drones to swap out the corpse module for a shinny newly fabricated module. The biggest ships will have the facilities to build new BASIC modules in the field just by mining asteroids and using their onboard factory to restore damaged ships. These Flagships are meant to sustain fleets on remote missions without access to friendly infrastructure, and are exceedingly expensive. Cheaper ships are meant to sustain heavy damage and then be recycled to build a new ship.
That said, we have lots of resource gathering in Shadow Star, and a unique mechanic to it. There are only Four resources: Hydrogen, Matter, Exotic Matter, and Energy. Hydrogen, and Exotic Matter are also used as currency, and will be accepted in the Galaxy's trade economy.
Every ship has a Nuclear Furnace that allows them to break down Matter into Energy. The Furnace is the "core" of the ship, and these supply Energy to the ship's batteries, which then power the rest of the vessel's turrets, sensors, engines, etc. The Nuclear Furnace does not care if its fuel is hydrogen or iron, and its only byproducts are Heat and Electricity, but adding atomic elements greater than Hydrogen to the ship's Furnace will supply greater energy.
Exotic Matter goes towards building Matter-Steam Portals, Engines, Nuclear Furnaces, and Missiles, and can only be salvaged from destroyed enemy engines, missiles, drones, or mined from a Neutron Star, a very difficult process requiring a very expensive station be built in a dangerous environment.
Gathering resources can be done by sending Drones, which launch out of a ship's missile bays or spotlights. They rapidly vector to a shipwreck, comet, asteroid, moon, or gas giant and begin stripping them for useful materials. They then return to the ship with what they have gathered once their cargo container is full, allowing the mother-ship to continue doing what it needs to do. Those materials are then stored in the Cargo Bays in large Matter-Energy-Containment-Suspension-Inhibitor-Systems, or MECSIS Crates. The ship uses Matter-Steam-Lines to retrieve those stored elements and take them where they need to go to be used as fuel, ammo, or resources in Fabricators.
Each ship has a number of key systems that require a BASIC module slot to use. The nuclear Furnace, Batteries, Nuclear Forge, Fabricator, Cargo Hold, Turret Magazines, Spotlight Rooms, and Barracks are all physically located within the ship, connected by hallways, portals, and corridors.
Procedural Galaxies are now a serious and explored reality. Elite: Dangerous is one of the first of such generations of games to come out with hundreds of millions of stars, and it has really proven that it can be done in a visually stunning way. EVE: Online also has their own galaxy of such size.
The I-Novae Engine has shown that even procedural PLANETS can look amazing. Just check out I-Novae Studio's incredible work here, on their youtube page.
Navigating those Sandbox Type Galaxies requires a radically free-form gameplay, and it really doesn't allow for much in the way of storytelling. You can't have a narrative when a player can jump pretty much anywhere, and the finite amount of purposefully scripted content is spread over a small number of locations. It also doesn't make the game feel "solid" to me. It feels like time and distance aren't real, and everything is just a frenetic, almost boring series of mouse clicks to go from here to there instantly. There's no sense of place or magnitude to it.
To that end, Shadow Star is going to take a page out of Mass Effect, KotOR, and Faster Than Light's playbook, and have a star map with jump cordons which form stellar road-maps. Only in the end game, after the player has captured the eponymous Shadow Star, will their fleet be capable of jumping anywhere in the galaxy at whim.
Here is a very quick concept mockup of how that star map would work. The player's camera orbits the star they are currently in orbit of, zooming in and out and rotating around it. They can then select a star and plot a path to it. Main Quest objective locations are highlighted with a gold ring. Side quests in blue.
I'd also like to plan to implement some realistic astronomy into this system, letting players get a grasp of scale and structure in the cosmos. We won't be re-creating the Milky-Way. The idea is that millions of years have passed since 2014, and the galaxy looks much different, affording us some artistic license.
Navigating in a star system from planet to planet will take time and energy at relativistic speeds. Ships can cross 1 AU in about 25-15 minutes. That time goes to impact things like Quest Timers and buildings that drones are constructing in other parts of the system or galaxy.
To make that more interesting, ships have an Acceleration Coma they can enter at the press of a button. The ship's entire body of mass is linked together into one massive particle, and its force of acceleration is imparted onto that frozen point. The ship then accelerates, travels to its destination, an drops out of this coma, where it returns to normal space-time behaviors. To the crew, this goes by in the blink of an eye.
Enemy ships will still fire at the ship as it moves, but will be unable to hit it. The ship also cannot fire.
Navigation isn't accomplished with AWSD and mouse trashing, but instead targets are selected, or an overhead map is opened, and much like in Homeworld 1 & 2, waypoints can be set on the map relative to the local star, or selected objects.
Once a waypoint is set, the ship will accelerate until it reaches its destination. If that target is an enemy vessel, the ship can be ordered to set a distance to target by selecting the Enter Obit command, just by Right Clicking and selecting that from the NAV menu. The ship will then automatically pilot around the enemy in an arc at a set distance.
I haven't built the bridge assets yet - I wanted to finish the exterior hulls and modular rooms & halls first. The Bridge/CIC will be full of NPCs and Terminals, each one on the level below the command platform in the Pit.
Every NPC officer will be assigned to their terminal, and selecting hem will bring up an option to access their terminal, give them simple commands, or open their dialogue menus.
On the Bridge, planets and ships appear as icons floating around the room, so even if they are not visible on the simulated windows, they can always be located by looking around the room. By holding down Right CTRL, the player can use their cursor and use it as a mouse. By tapping Right CTRL and aiming at an icon, the terminal, NPC, or icon can be selected, and its context menu pop open.
If the player sits in the Command Chair, they can navigate the room with the mouse and turn 360 degrees with ease, but their movement controls are disabled in place of they key now used to bring up the helm, coms, weapons, and sensors. The HUD for the ship also display in 3D space over each terminal.
This combination of First Person and Omniscient command and control interface is toggled by walking up to terminals and activating them. The player can directly link their nervous system with the ship and see it from outside, controlling every ship system directly, or by talking with officers in first person.
The player issues broad commands to their Officers:
+ Attack this target.
+ Conserve Ammo
+ Fire Defensive Missiles Only
+ Fire at Will
+ Return Fire Only
+Vector to this Location.
+Open Coms channel when in range.
+Spotlight Marines to this location.
+Scan this region for... (resources, ships, cargo, anomaly)
Those commands are then carried out by the AI, depending on their stats.
Shadow Star also has a totally new Role Playing system under development that uses 5 stats to determine a player's personality and traits. These are: Charisma, Aggression, Intelligence, Perception, and Endurance. these are integrated into every area of the game.
Additionally, the player and NPCs have Merits and Demerits that serve to further add perks or banes. These can improve relationships, boost the performance of ship systems or crew, or do the opposite.
I'll get deeper into this system in the future, but it is mostly fleshed out and ready for testing. We'll probably run a few table-top testing rounds with it and use those sessions to plan for the balance and implementation in the game.
I hope you enjoyed this little window into what I'm working on. I'll keep everyone updated further as I start making more concrete plans.
You can also read about all this in the actual design documents and watch us on Facebook.
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