Monday, October 25, 2010

Deep Field Overview

Deep Field is a 4x strategy game, in the tradition of Masters of Orion or Galactic Civilizations, mixed with mild dungeon crawler mechanics, like you'd find in FastCrawl. However, because it's a flash game, I've done my best to make the game easier to pick up and play, while making sure that it's still hard to master. In this post, I'm gonna give a quick overview of the structure of the game.

First of all, Deep Field is meant to be a fast game. Taking inspiration from Oasis, my goal is that a player can play through a level of Deep Field in 10 or 15 minutes, and that a campaign will consist of 10-20 missions, instead of 5. Short game length gives a significant improvement to the speed at which a player can learn a game, because they can see the result of making good or bad decisions immediately, instead of realizing 5 hours into a game that they made a mistake in the first hour and now there's no way they can win.

The basic structure of Deep Field should be immediately familiar to many players.
  • The map consists of a series of stars connected in a web by traversable warp conduits.
  • Each star can be colonized, after which it begins to provide resources (Food, Income, Construction, Research). A star's total resource output is calculated by taking the base value it has for each resource, combined with any flat bonuses from buildings, research, or upgrades, then multiplying by any multiplicative benefits given by the star's population level, buildings, research, or upgrades.
  • Colonized stars can build buildings to improve resource output, or to provide special benefits like additional defense or instant travel. They also construct fleets which are used to attack enemy empires.
  • Neutral empires can be allied with for a cost, providing trade income and improved research.
The four resources each have their own function:
  • Food increases the population of the star. Population multiplies resource output for every type of resource the planet provides. Having a total of 10 food means that the star will build up to a cap of 3 population, which will then increase your total output for every resource by 15%. Additionally, a certain amount of population will be used up when you construct a new building.
  • Income is used to colonize new stars, and to create alliances with neutral empires. Additionally, planets and ships both have upkeep costs, which reduce the amount of income you get per turn.
  • Construction determines the speed at which the star constructs buildings and ships, as well as slowly accruing to increase the total number of each type of building you can have in your empire.
  • Research is used to... research. Unlocking new technologies gives a variety of bonuses.

The fact that food multiplies resource production for every type of resource, means that it's an important resource for every star in your empire. Most stars will specialize in two resources: Food, and something else.

Along with shorter game lengths, another major difference between Deep Field and most 4x games is that you have to physically move your mothership around the game world to be able to affect it. You can only build buildings, manage ship construction, colonize, create alliances or attack enemies using your mothership. Your planets will continue to produce resources or build queued buildings while you aren't present, but you can't make any new decisions about them without returning. I really like this mechanic for a short game, because it means that a turn is the same length regardless of whether it's the beginning of the game or near the end. Your endgame turns won't be bogged down by having to manage a huge number of planets and fleets. It also adds some really interesting mechanics, because now time feels like a resource you have to manage. Do you spend the next 25 turns exploring the galaxy? Or do you use the time to stick around and colonize more stars?

Originally, I had the enemy empires colonizing stars, sending fleets, and competing with you actively. But after a ton of playtesting, I found that it's more fun to have the enemy empires be static, other than sending fleets to attack you every now and then. This makes the game feel like a combination of 4x and Dungeon Crawler, which works well with the mothership mechanic. Enemy Empires do, however, become more powerful and start sending fleets more often as time goes on, so you can't just sit around in your empire and wait until you become all-powerful before striking out against them.

Finally, the game is going to have an extensive upgrade system between levels. As you complete levels, you'll be able to give yourself permanent benefits, like higher starting resources, special abilities, increased sight range, faster movement, more powerful ships, etc. As you become more powerful, you'll be able to complete more difficult campaigns, providing a long, smooth difficulty and progression curve.

Well, that's it for now, if you guys have any questions, don't hesitate to ask!

Thoughts on Strategy Game Resources

The purpose and exact function of the resources in Deep Field have changed a lot since I began working on the game, and I'd like to talk about some of the stuff I learned along the way. I think I'll likely write up two posts about the topic. This first one is going to cover basic resource mechanics, and the second one will be about the interplay between local and global resources.

When I began work on Deep Field, I set out to make a fast, fun, casual version of the 4x genre that I love so much. I thought, at the start, that I would do away with the general idea of having population that builds up over time. My plan was to make colonized planets provide a flat level of income for each resource, and have it only change due to constructing buildings, which would also provide flat benefits. But the more I playtested this, the more it grew to disappoint me. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming.

The reason was fairly simple -- without a mechanic like population, which multiplies the base output, specializing planets is pointless. If a planet can't multiply its output in any way, why would you care if your +4 research building was on planet A or planet B? That decision no longer matters, since you'll get the same benefit regardless of where you build it. You run into a similar issue with buildings. If you *do* have multiplicative population (5 population gives + 50% to all production), but you don't have buildings which provide multiplicative benefits, then your best strategy is always to build buildings on planets with high base food. It's better to build that research building on a planet with 5 food and 2 research, than to build it on one with 3 food and 10 research. Eventually, I realized that I need multiplicative effects on both population and buildings, because it provides the most significant synergistic effect when you specialize a planet. And deciding how and why to specialize your resource producing objects (cities, planet, whatever) is one of the most interesting decisions you have to make in any decent 4x game.

4x Lesson Learned:
Making decisions about colony specialization is fundamentally enjoyable, and there should be room for synergy between buildings, colonies, and population.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Damn... a whole month slipped by...

...while I stopped updating this blog. My previous estimates proved to be off (by a lot), but I'm still working hard on Deep Field. I've always been told by veteran developers that estimating projects is really tough, and man, were they right. I just... I'm terrible at it. Just terrible. Have to work on that for the future, I think.

Deep Field is in a completely playable state, just bug fixes, minor design changes where I've realized mistakes cropped up, and content. I'm aiming for the end of October, but considering my past timeline failures, I think maybe I'll comment that this is the end of October in 'DogInLake time'.

Additionally, I've decided that keeping track of all the changes I make and updating this blog is a huge amount of effort that doesn't give me much benefit. I'll be updating more frequently, but daily updates will turn into weekly updates.

For this upcoming week, I plan on eliminating all the show stopping bugs that remain, and finishing the content creation for levels, achievements, and long term advancement. Also have ask the guy who offered to do music if he could get some rough stuff put together, so I can get a feel for how it'll fit.