I’ve been aiming to make a post about this for a while. Here is one preliminary design document I made a while ago. It calls for something similar to the situation described in A Deepness in the Sky.

Game Beginning

You start out as a young man, fleeing a vicious civilization collapse. As the member of a wealthy Qeng Ho family and son of a fleet leader, you are in charge of the only ship that escaped. You are powered down in orbit of a gas giant, watching the aftermath of the Fall. A lot of your archives have been corrupted, so you need to find some other traders or find a world to raise up.

The very first thing you do is name your family branch. Then you figure out how to take inventory of your ship systems, and how to scan surrounding space. You learn about light-lag. You have just enough fuel to get up to operating velocity. You can choose a target system.

Your aim is to become the leader of the Qeng Ho. This is not an easy feat; the Qeng Ho is a diffuse trading race, with no clear organizational hierarchy. There are several trading “families”, each with large offshoot branches (e.g. Vinh 2.0.3). The objective is to gain enough influence, and then call a meeting of the Qeng Ho. At this meeting you either convince all the families to follow you, or perform a hostile takeover.

You have as many years as are in your life to do this. Note that if you meet a civilization with hyper-advanced medical technology, this means a time bonus. You do have cryo-freeze for the time in transit between stars.

Personal Mechanics

Throughout the game there are personalities on your ship and on other ships that you can talk with. What you say affects what they think of you. If they hear bad things about you from others, they will enter into relations with poor expectations. Reputation influences the trades you can get, as well as favors you can ask.

If you gain a high enough reputation and interact enough with a person, you may become friends. You are not notified whether or not they consider you a friend until you bring it up. Friends will vouch for you or join in on a plan. Friends are much more likely to answer a distress signal you put out.

Traders that are well known often have available profiles. When you trade for someone’s profile, you can see their reputation with others, their personality, and most of their history. By gaining enough reputation with a person, you can find out what they think of other people.

Interstellar Travel Mechanics

A Bussard ramjet is used to travel quickly between star systems. A ramjet can only go so far before the mechanism breaks down. A ramjet needs to move at a certain fraction of the speed of light in order to scoop up enough fuel to continue operating. While flying above that threshold, your fuel tanks fill up. When decelerating, accelerating, or maneuvering, you burn fuel without regaining any. It is only possible to accelerate up to 30% the speed of light; a lot of energy is spent accelerating floating interstellar hydrogen up to your speed.

Ramjet engines can not be repaired on the fly. In order to fully repair an engine, you need to trade with a civilization that has the requisite technological level. This means that you may have to raise a civilization to high-tech in order to continue flying.

If your engine breaks down mid-flight, you will very slowly lose speed (from colliding with interstellar particles), and continue to drift until you either exit the galaxy, crash into a star, or are picked up.

Note that different regions of space have different interstellar medium densities. For instance, our local cluster lies inside a relatively sparse region, making ramjets less feasible. One aspect of choosing a destination in the game is navigating around low-density “bubbles”.

Choosing your target is important. Since you can only hear transmissions from the past, you have to judge whether or not a civilization will be as advanced as you want it to be when you arrive. Flying to a system that is at a peak level of technological advancement will probably have collapsed by the time your fleet arrives. This just means you have to spend time (although you have cryogenics, you still usually come out of it every so many months to make sure the fleet is still on track) helping them get back up to a sufficient level to repair your fleet.

Trading Mechanics

Planetary civilizations rarely want materials. They can mine almost everything they need from their system, and the price of lugging raw materials across interstellar space is too high for you. The exception is high-tech equipment. Civilizations will pay dearly for technology that they either cannot physically manufacture (as with Beyond relics) or are nowhere near the technological sophistication needed to synthesize the tech.

Civilizations value information more than anything. A faction will pay a grand sum for anything that will let them dominate their opponents. Advanced secrets help advanced civilizations keep their expanding infrastructure under control. Usually you can broadcast such information ahead of you, as long as its encrypted. This gives the civilization warning that you are coming, and when you get there you can trade away the keys needed to decrypt the information (on this note, the Qeng Ho constantly broadcast a certain amount of information for free to make sure that civilizations they meet have similar measurement standards, language, etc.).

Conversely, traders have a huge store of knowledge, but lack the infrastructure or resources to maintain themselves. Spacefleets will often bargain limited pieces of technology in order to buy volatiles, fuel, and new equipment. Sometimes civilizations will provide these for free to weasel better deals from you.

Occasionally a civilization will become exceedingly advanced in one area of technology. They will invent something truly revolutionary. If you get your hands on one of these pieces of technology, you will have leverage over all other Traders. You may have to bargain hard to wrest the technology from the civilization at hand.

Combat Mechanics

Be warned. Consistent use of weapons will cause other traders to shun you and make civilizations bar you from their systems. Someone might even try to hunt you down if you destroy their civilization but leave even part of a defense fleet.

Space combat is a fickle subject to approach. It is best summed up by these two pages on Atomic Rockets, although every page there provides good insight.

Interplanetary Flight

This will probably be some sort of simplified KSP-like interface. That is, you initiate maneuvers to change orbit. The problem here is balancing technical details against flexibility and realism. Optimally, players should be able to identify their desire to conserve fuel against time constraints, and let the computer select the best orbital maneuvers to transfer between planets, space stations, Lagrange point colonies, etc. However, because players may want to do wonky things in orbit during a battle sequence (establish oblique orbits, do hard burns, etc.)

I guess you could distinguish between normal navigation and battles. Battles would probably happen around one central body, unless there was a moon involved. However, battles would probably happen really fast (over in minutes) or really slow (taking months).

And that’s as far as I got in describing it.


Minecraft Servers

I was once an innocent Minecraft player. I played a couple of single player worlds, back in Alpha. Then I looked into multiplayer. I joined a server. The server was called Age of Chaos. That was a fateful day; at the same time I discovered both the magic of SMP and the wonder of role-playing. AoC was a medieval RP server, and it was extremely fun, although looking back on it now I can see that it wasn’t that great. Alas, I joined it during its dying days. After the server went down, I was despondent. That was when I had a brilliant idea. I would create my own server.I had been thinking about concepts for a Minecraft server. I ended up setting up a server that would host a group of people from my school.

It was an RP server, and at first there were only 3 people. I set up a forum, and more people began to join. Some of them were from AoC, some from my school. Some found the server through the scattered ads we tossed out on online forums. TJRP was born (TJ is the common abbrevation for our school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology). The original iteration of the server thrived. The idea behind it was that there were three cities which would have varying diplomatic relations. As it ended up, one city became populated, and the other two fell off the face of the map (one managed to struggle along with one or two residents). Then another city popped up in the backyard of Elysia, the great walled city in the center of the map. Seralotta was the scientific center of the New World. Elysia was a neutral super-power, and Arboris, the half-dead tree city, suddenly revived as the magical city. Things were going just fine. Sure, we had a few disputes. Maybe more than usual. However, those were the days in which the seeds of doom were planted; a group of friends joined.

The core group of 5 people from TJ began to bicker, mostly because they knew each other. As the server spiraled downwards, complaints became more common. Suddenly I decided to reboot the universe. An apocalypse destroyed the New World and the inhabitants fled to another dimension. In the new iteration of the server, we introduced the idea of plugin-supported races. Each race had a different set of abilities. We decided on a two-city structure this time, with humans living in the two cities. The shaman-like Animists were traders, and lived mainly in caravans and in the great forest that dominated the center of the map. Ancients were the natives of the land, possessing great magical abilities but keeping to themselves. Crimsons were masters of Redstone, who also kept to themselves. The Emergents were the antagonists. A zombie-like telepathic race of infected individuals, they were the enemies to all in the first “season”.

The design was flawed, though. I don’t really want to discuss the events leading up to the fall of TJRP, for although it was months ago, it is still a sore subject. I become depressed merely thinking about it. I can relate, however, the fundamental errors I believe I made in creating the server, starting with the most axiomatic errors. The greatest problem was imbalance. Minecraft gameplay is inherently imbalanced. Imposing either behavioral or mechanical restrictions, such as through plugins, only stands to make the game less exciting and pleasurable. There is no way to balance Minecraft and keep a fun RP environment. The races merely exacerbated the problem by creating reasons for mutual jealousy. The second problem was isolation. This is correlative to imbalance. We didn’t have the members to support five races, especially the way we separated the races. We should have put all the players within close proximity of each other. That is what eventually happened, of course. After cities were razed by the Emergents, people naturally migrated to a quaint village built on a mountain. The last major problem was that we tried to induce story. We created “events”, in which a rough structure would provide some excitement and conflict into the world. It was executed in all the wrong ways, however. Instead of waiting for natural conflict to occur and then encouraging it into a full-fledged story, we tried to mould people into how we though the world should be. The story of the server ends with the inmates running the asylum.

TJRP Forums | TJRP Wikia

As bad an idea as it may seem, I am thinking of starting a new server. This time, however, I will make it the most perfect Minecraft RP server possible. With my knowledge, I can resolve all the problems that plagued TJRP. This is how:

Good Members

In the end, its the players who are playing on the server. If the players are going to have fun, they need to get along with each other. Otherwise their wouldn’t be any RP. The idea is that members would be handpicked from known people. Anybody joining from the outside would go through a rigorous grooming process, including perhaps some time on the server in which their personality is judged. TJRP’s selection process was far to tolerant. Player responsibility also needs to be high for my idea to work. Players would have an active desire to work towards an entertaining plot, rather than “winning”, such as building the biggest buildings, collecting the most resources, or having the most powerful character. They would also realize that other people are working towards the same ends, and would deal with any disagreements in a reasonable way.

Eradication of Imbalance

Minecraft is inherently unbalanced. Therefore, why try to balance it? I say that the best way to combat imbalance is to embrace it. If you give everything to everybody, there can be no gradient, since everybody has equal abilities and does not have to work to get resources. Players would all have moderator-level powers. They could utilize WorldEdit and enter Creative mode. Since players would be trying to craft a story, they would use these abilities responsibly. They wouldn’t overbuild, they wouldn’t overuse creative, and they certainly wouldn’t grief. Building powers would only be used for time-saving reasons. It would represent many hours of work sped up, so that players can focus on the juicy RP, rather than the dull work required to upkeep the world. Players could also use the powers to represent in-character powers, such as if a powerful villain were to make an entire building disappear.

Tons of Discussion

The players would be actively discussing the direction of the plot, both in-game and on the forums. Players would converse out-of-character during a scene to make sure their characters are cool and that the story stays interesting. Use of an application like Ventrilo or Teamspeak would facilitate such discussion. It would not only help players debate points faster, but it would encourage a sense of camaraderie and even be used for fluid delivery of in-character dialogue. Due to a common sense of the plot, arguments would rarely, if ever, occur. Hopefully epic stories would also be produced. The stories could then even be recorded and/or dramatized. Having a record of past story arcs would be fascinating and help recruit more valuable players.

You may call me a Utopian or a Romantic, but I truly believe that, if pulled off correctly, this kind of server would be the most entertaining ever made. The only thing that holds me back is fear of another catastrophic failure like TJRP. That server was almost like my child. I had helped it along since infancy. It matured, grew out of control, and then abandoned me and died, spawning another server whose members mock me. It was heart-wrenching, and even the sight of a former member at school reminds me of that horrible experience of a creation spiraling out of control.

Epic-scale Strategy Game

One idea for a game that has stuck with me for over a year has been that of a massive-scale strategy game. A crude way to describe it would be a cross between World in Conflict(WiC) and Spore (except it wouldn’t be as lackluster as Spore). The idea behind it is that players start out at a low rank, and are promoted based combat proficiency on the battlefield. When I have described this idea to people, they have likened it to America’s Army.

Each round of the game takes place on large battlefields covering a multitude of environments. The game would undoubtedly be set in the future, so the environments could range from undeveloped farm worlds and water worlds to urban centers and various theaters of space. A single player presides over the whole battlefield as a general, setting basic goals and deciding strategy. Each battlefield is in turn broken up into districts, which ranges in size from a WiC map (usually a couple miles across) to four WiC maps. Up to 8 commanders control 0 to 6 squads (they can order more based on reinforcement points) within each district. Each squad consists of 4 to 8 players, with one squad leader.

Screenshot of World in Conflict

Screenshot of World in Conflict

The basic foot soldier is expected to focus on objectives set by the squad leader. The squad leader is in charge of directing which positions to take and which enemies to focus on. A commander sets goals such as strategic objectives (defined by the game), rally points, and drop zones to secure. They are also in charge of ordering more troops. Their basic strategic goals are determined by the general above them, or perhaps an intermediary presiding over the district.

One major problem that becomes immediately apparent is discipline. How does one keep a player on task? The first solution that comes to mind is to let superior officers give or take promotion points based on the performance of players below them. However, this is easily abusable, both in the giving or taking of too many points and in the complete disregard for dealing with promotion points. The best solution is to have proficiency judged by the game. So what kind of criteria does the game have?

  1. Completion of given objectives

  2. Objectives are judged by the difficulty regarding enemy presence in the area and a number of other minor variables, the most important of which is subordinate proficiency. Failure to complete an objective due to it being impossibly difficult or having an inept team would barely count against a player. Conversely, failure to complete simple objectives would be counted against a player.

  3. Rendition of reasonable objectives

  4. A commander, whether at a high strategic level or as a squad leader, has a responsibility to give orders which make sense. If a commander is extremely incompetent, his commanding officer can choose to temporarily demote him, allowing another to take his place. In addition, sound tactical decisions are encouraged. Deciding to attack a position without much intel, even if the position is strategically important, is a bad choice. If a commander has access to tactical aid, poor placement will result in removal of promotion points.

  5. Combat Proficiency

  6. If the player is a grunt, he is also be promoted based on statistics like accuracy, deaths, and kills. Heroism and initiative may also be rewarded, such as single-handedly taking an objective or destroying a vehicle.

A player who accrues enough promotion points will be promoted to the next rank. There may be multiple ranks per command level to ensure that there will most likely be a command hierarchy even if two decimated squads are merged. Even if a player is promoted, though, it is possible that he will fill a slot lower down in the structure. If there are already enough commanders, someone qualified to be a general may be forced to serve as a grunt. However, if his squad leader is killed then he will instantly fill that slot (unless someone is of a higher rank than him). When a soldier dies, he is placed in a reserve pool. Until a commander orders another squad, he has to wait. Fortunately, battlefields are huge, and most likely, especially at the height of the battle, someone will need a new squad. Nonetheless, a delay time while waiting to be ordered also acts as natural motivation to stay alive. Be warned though, cowardice will be punished highly! Soldiers who pass qualification courses for things like vehicle piloting, administering first aid, and sniping will be able to fill special support slots.

Alongside infantry, commanders will be able to order a range of vehicles, including tanks, transports, and dropships. Other vehicles, like helicopters and ships, will be available as a special unit which must leave after a period of time. Tactical aid not delivered by a player includes artillery (including orbital strikes), airstrikes, and reconnaissance. All tactical aid (i.e. units and abilities not able to be ordered with reinforcement points) is able to be gained through spending tactical aid points, which a commander receives for performing well on the battlefield. Tactical aid points are different from promotion points in that they do not stick from game to game and that they are awarded for quantitative properties, such as objectives completed and enemy units destroyed.

The first person gameplay of the grunts would mirror other mainstream shooters. Each soldier has an array of guns, with the maximum weight decided by the planet’s gravity. Secondary weapons such as grenades and tactical devices (repair kits, radar kits, radios, medkits, etc) are available. A soldier can resort to melee if he runs out of bullets or is restricted by the environment (close quarters, pressurized space environment, presence of volatile props). The game’s varying environments also heavily affects gameplay. For instance, combat in space is an entirely different experience. Players would be able to move almost infinitely far (but would be penalized for abandoning objectives), and combat would be a lot slower. Players would have to worry about keeping their suits intact as well as jetpacks. Vehicles would also play a larger role. Alongside dropships becoming more versatile and critical, spaceships would start playing a role. In some cases the commanders might even be able to control large cruisers with a deadly array of weapons. Space stations would also hold a lot of firepower for whichever side’s soldiers could maintain control of it.

The story of the game would revolve around two distinct sides. I haven’t thought about it a lot, but I suppose it would involve two budding empires which emerge from different sectors but end up clashing for control of the core colonies. Whichever side dominates the colonies gains ultimate control over known space, since the colonies are the main centers of knowledge and raw material production. Humans have developed faster-than-light travel, but have not yet perfected material synthesization, so the majority of humans still rely on farm worlds and other such production centers to get metal, food, and leisure products. The FTL will probably be like The Mote in God’s Eye, in which ships can manipulate certain zones of space determined by gravitational fields to jump between stars. These jump points are hard to calculate, and only one exists between each set of stars. FTL communications have not been developed, so the only way to get a message to another system is to send a ship (a jump disables electronics and requires a sentient being to boot the systems back up).

Maybe I’ll draw some concept art later.

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