Thursday, March 13, 2014

Facilities and Space Games

Space games! And building stuff!

When you're building bases, there are typically two kinds of constraints that guide your construction.

One is topological constraints. This is when facilities have to be neighbors, or establishing connections uses up a lot of space (big pipes), or when a facility produces a certain radius of influence.

The other is spatial challenges. This is when the fitness test for your base comes from a specific location, so the line of sight and possible paths to/from that location matter a lot. IE, goblins attack - the goblins exist in a specific spot and move in a specific way. You configure your base with that challenge in mind.

I don't like overly specific fitness tests, because the more specific the test is, the less the player can express themself. For example, if my base must resist an attack by goblins, anything else I want to do with it is going to be secondary. Contrast this to Kerbal: Kerbal's fitness test is a very basic combination of gravity, hard surfaces, and thrust constraints. That's enough to challenge your creative instincts, but it's free enough to allow you to build landers, jets, space stations, rovers, fueling bases, science bases, dropships, and orbiting dance halls.

So, in my ideal base-building game, that's the sort of thing I'd like to aim for. Constraints that are loose enough to allow you to aim for anything, but tight enough to inspire creative construction.

Which means relying on topological constraints rather than spatial challenges or physics.

Here's the idea: the same construction mechanics can be used to build ground facilities, undersea facilities, orbital facilities, long-range unmanned probes, drop ships, and exploratory warp vessels. The capabilities of the individual parts within a facility can be expanded and modified using mods, with the core constraints fueling a never-ending challenge to fit this stuff together.

Fundamentally, we'll use the "big pipe" method of topological constraints, but with a huge, huge out that makes things far more interesting.

For example, you build a supercomputer. The supercomputer requires power, cooling, data, and intermittent human access. These are the four things you need to supply.

It's probably possible to supply them all relatively easily. The power and data are humorously oversized compared to reality, but they aren't so large that they are impossible to deal with. So you really end up with three waist-high sets of cables, either arranged going out in all directions, or stacked on top of each other in a three meter high wall of pipes. Human access is simply a clear path, perhaps involving small ladders to climb over a set of pipes.

Of course, the complexity in this situation arises when you have several supercomputers. Even if they can all branch off the same trunk pipe, there's still a difficulty in arranging it so that the trunk pipe reaches them all. It'll probably result in a three-meter wall of trunk pipes with a three-meter wall of branch pipes connecting to each supercomputer. And that's best case! You may need a much thicker set of trunk pipes, and you could end up with quite the wall.

Maybe you can't even create a clear path to each supercomputer due to the way the pipes get in the way. So instead you establish an 'intermittent' path. Humans only need access to these servers for maintenance, upgrade, and repair... so you put breakable junctions in the pipes. Humans can disconnect the servers to clear a path to them, allowing for work to be done when required, although it also requires the server to be turned off.

But maybe even that isn't enough. Maybe the pipes just don't work out because of other constraints in the base, such as tight corridors or other facilities placed too closely.

Here is where our 'out' comes into play.

Rather than supplying the facility directly, you can supply it by creating a controlled space that meets the condition.

For example, you don't have to hook the supercomputers up to coolant. You can simply cool the whole room to freezing temperatures. Now you don't have to run individual coolant pipes. You just have to supply the central cooling system with whatever supplies it needs, and it can be located somewhere a bit away from the supercomputers, freeing up a lot of space.

Similarly, you could rig up a floor with extensive high-tech electrical wiring. Anything connected to the floor draws from the floor's power supply without needing a specific cable run to that specific point. Of course, you can't touch the floor or breach it - you'd get fried! So you have to run actual walkways across it, and other supplies have to be run in from other directions rather than up through the floor.

Creating these supplied spaces allows us to instantly expand our facility management into new and very interesting situations.

First is, of course, the added complexity of these spaces. Constraints as to how exotic and/or sealed-off they are balance well with the ease of supplying a centralized point rather than a bunch of diverse points. For example, an electrified floor is handy, but it will kill you. A freezing room is handy, but you can't leave the door open and you need special gear to work in there for long.

Second is that these spaces allow us to move into or create exotic conditions, and then allow the player to create "exotic" conditions that are normal. For example, if you go into space, you can wear a suit all the time to provide you with the air you need. Or you can create atmospheric spaces! Undersea base? Same thing, except you can also draw in the sea water for various purposes. Need to do ultra-gravity manufacturing? Create a high-gravity enclosure... or create a base on a high-gravity world and create a low-gravity enclosure.

Nesting the spaces is also interesting. This is an atmospheric area, but it contains a cold room and a hot room, and both rooms have electrified floors...

Lastly, maintenance and repair suddenly become really interesting. You have to replace an air filter. But, uh, first you have to depressurize the area, remove the roof, bring in the secondary power cable via crane, disconnect the electric floor, and only then can you go in and repair it. Oh, of course, you'll need to wear a space suit.

Combine this with a networking system where bases provide ongoing resources and processing, and you can create a game where bases are interesting to build and maintain, but without the limiting and over-controlling challenges that normally test your bases.

I like the idea. I may try to whip up a prototype soon.

No comments: