Saturday, February 13, 2016

So It Has Been A Long Time...

...since I posted anything here.

Quite a lot has gone on; moving, various work adventures, my daughter graduated from college and moved in, etc.

For quite a few months I stopped doing any work on my side projects (Retrograde, etc).    That said, I have done a few things, and have started back working on a new project.

I've largely stopped working on Retrograde.  Initially I wanted to keep it pretty simple, kind of a space-empire Roguelike.  Combat was intended to be something like FTL.  Simple, mostly sprite based and top down.

Retrograde Title Screen
But, I was convinced by my friend Max to go full 3D/realtime for the combat (he keeps seeing Homeworld).  I did get that working fairly well, with ships able to have varying weapons, weapon mounts and turrets.  That part was pretty similar to Sword of the Stars in that respect.

But it was really complicated.  I made some nice back-end editors to help, but in the end I realized that it had reached that so-complicated-I'll-never-finish-it point.

Retrograde Star Map
So, I stopped work on Retrograde, and let things slide for a couple of months.

Meanwhile, Unity released their new networking stack (was that in 4.1?  4.2?  I don't remember now).  I'd written my own system of servers and client code ('Naginata') for Rogue Moon when we were working on that, and it worked really well.  I was curious how well the Unity system worked, and how easy it was to work with.

Retrograde Battle
So I went back to an old idea I'd had for a game, more or less a sort of Dwarf Fortress/Rimworld sort of thing.  A top-down 2D game with a procedurally generated world.  The vague idea was that you'd establish a town, and could then travel across the world map to investigate ruins, raid dungeons, etc.

Retrograde Destroyed Ship
The real push behind this was to investigate UNet.  And on the whole I'd say it worked pretty well.  The main problem was a lack of quality documentation.  Easy stuff was just that, easy.  But if you went off the very simple path, you quickly entered a land of mystery.

I'll probably write something about Dungeon Inspectors, and how that all worked, sometime soon. it all worked pretty well, and did what was intended.  After I got the proof-of-concept working, I set it aside and didn't do much for a few months.

Retrograde Star System Screen
I'd been having the urge to go back to Retrograde, but I knew I'd really have to take it apart and largely restart, and I wasn't sure what I wanted it to be anymore.

At that point, a Youtuber that I follow, Quill18, started doing a Let's-Play of a game called Aurora (or sometimes Aurora 4x), the 'Dwarf Fortress of 4x games'.  I.e. obtuse, obscure, but incredibly deep.

I'd heard of it before, and wondered, 'is it that Aurora'?

Dungeon Inspectors
Many years ago now, myself and my friend Charlie were heavy Starfire players (a pen & paper game originally by Task Force Games, and later David Weber).  Being a... very complicated strategy game, Starfire virtually required some sort of record keeping assistance, whether it be extensive paper documentation, or spreadsheets, or even better, some sort of specialized program.

The latter was Steve Walmsley's Starfire Assistant.  A VB/Access application, it handled pretty much all the record keeping and tedium involved in running a SF campaign (and there was a lot).  It was extremely useful, and very popular among Starfire players.

In the long run the current owner of Starfire and Steve had a falling out, at which point Steve left to develop his own game (computer only, not the pen-and-paper sort).

So, years later I run into it on Youtube.  Aurora had remained pretty obscure, but received a sudden amount of attention as one strategy-game type YouTuber featured it, which led others to try it, etc.  Aurora has experienced a burst of popularity (i.e. the forums and wiki are always hammered and down, use the Aurora 4x Reddit for info).

I played it a bit and, while it was complicated and deep... it was still basically just the Starfire Assistant at heart, a VB and Access program, and that showed a lot.  There is a lot of good there, but interacting with the world is in many ways limited to selecting from a couple of dropdowns and panels.

So I thought, there's a good project.  I'll make a sort of space 4x game in the Starfire/Aurora sort of genre.  Deep, technical and detailed, fairly... ok completely, light on graphics.  This is what it looks like:
Aurora:  Playing a Spreadsheet

And that's fine, for what it is worth.  I suppose it is exactly what it was intended to be.  But while interesting, I guess I'd say the impedence of the UI  really hinders my enjoyment.  A lot like Dwarf Fortress, the difficulty of interacting with the game is completely unnecessary.

So, I'm going to do my own take on this.  It won't be Aurora, or Starfire (or MOO or Sword of the Stars).  Definitely it will lean much more to the 'strategic side' like Starfire/Aurora, rather than MOO or Sots, for instance.  So more Hearts of Iron than Company of Heroes.

That's the new project I'm working on: Jumpship.

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