Monday, May 05, 2014

Starship Vignette

I've been brainstorming about a very specific kind of game. A game where you build something, and over the course of its mission/life, chunks of it are destroyed. For example, Kerbal's stages as you launch, transfer orbits, land, etc. This pattern allows the player to build many ships, and also to build their ships to a wide variety of complex, targeted tasks.

I came up with a few ideas, but the one I want to talk about here is the idea of the "Ship Vignette".

In this game, you build a starship. This is a proper scifi starship, with FTL engines and all that stuff. So you might put down various structural hull elements, lay out a crew area, plug in a few engines and generators and stuff. This isn't a brick-by-brick thing, and instead it's mostly module-focused.

However, when you complete your ship design, you don't pilot it. Instead, it enters mass production. Everyone begins to use your ship. You are presented with a variety of short vignettes you can play aboard your ship. Resisting a boarding attempt. Trying to safely land while damaged. Trying to repair it after a meteorite hit. Whatever else. Vignettes don't happen "now". They happen at some point in the future. 5 years. 10 years. 2 years. 100 years.

Each vignette you play through adds to the ship's effectiveness on the market right from the start, though.

Because that's what you're really doing. You're engineering a ship to be useful to a lot of people in the galactic market. So if you build a freighter, the economy will improve. Build a patrol vehicle, the safety will improve. Build a science vessel, you'll get breakthroughs. Build a colonizer, a hospital ship, an explorer... each one has a statistical effect, determining how your civilization expands and behaves.

And, of course, your success in the vignettes will be affected by the design of your ship. The layout, the available supplies, the amount of redundancies. Do you design in redundancies despite the high expense? Do you mount a turret on every ship because it helps get through vignettes? Or perhaps you release military vessels to reduce to the amount of piracy, and thereby reduce the number and difficulty of those kinds of vignettes?

I think this sounds relatively interesting already, but here's the real hook:

When you design your ship, modules you haven't researched yet are available to you. Oh, that warp drive isn't available right now, but it will be available in ten years. That cargo autoloader isn't available yet, but in twenty years...

Similarly, all the modules you have researched have a duration. Oh, that engine has a halflife of 10 years. That garden dome has a halflife of 5 years.

When you design your ship, you can pan forward and backwards along its operational life-cycle. Put the engine you have now into the ship at the beginning. Move forward 10 years in the ship's life span. Now you will have discovered the new kind of warp drive: remove the original one and put in the new one. If you were smart enough to plan ahead for its different size, shape, and resource requirements.

Or, alternately, mark the part for replacement with an identical part... adding to the cost of the ship, but meaning you won't have many 'engines failed in deep space' vignettes screwing you up.

Move forward another 10 years, mark it as "retired", so you won't have to worry about vignettes taking place further in the future than that. Oh, it may show up in other vignettes as an old clunker, but you won't have to worry about trying to push through brutal "everything is broken" vignettes. Of course, that limits the timespan in which its effectiveness is applied - take a cargo ship off the market after 20 years, and that means the economic boost will fade after 20 years. Extend its lifespan with replacement parts, it'll boost for longer... but less effectively or at a much higher up front cost.

As you build ships, the future steadily changes even as you march slowly towards it. Put out a fleet of cop ships and subsequent ships won't have nasty pirate vignettes, even though earlier ships the same distance into the future did have nasty pirate vignettes. Put out a science fleet and the new engine that was 10 years away is now 5 years away. Of course, your original designs still have it plugged into their design assuming a 10 year delay, so your older ships will feel clunkier, adopting that tech long after more recently-designed ships.

There's a lot of promise here, especially when you consider both "soft" and "hard" multiplayer.

Hard multiplayer would be when multiple players control either the same faction, simultaneously using the same resources and putting out ships; or control multiple factions with time moving forward at a specific set rate. These are strongly resource-limited and would really put a heavy emphasis on excellent design and future management.

Soft multiplayer would be sharing universe elements without actually chaining them together. For example, running into a nation or ship that was created by another player, although that player is not controlling them and may never even know you encountered them. Since these interactions are primarily via vignettes, there's no risk of a technologically advanced or warlike player dominating a less advanced player: there's no such thing as "going on an offensive" or "conquest". Moreover, stealing technological tidbits or performing cultural exchange during a vignette can net valuable resources for your next ship design without actually harming the other player at all.

I especially like the way that the ships you build continue to stack up. If you build a cop ship as your 4th design, it may have a vignette where it tries to save your 2nd ship design from your 3rd ship design. The 1st design may still be kicking around after your 30th design, a vintage clunker still serving as a staple in the less urban areas of your civilization.

Combined with a steady stream of current events as "today" moves forward, you can have a very strong sense of place.

I like it!


Drew said...

I think it would be cool for multiplayer for this type of game to be a Tai-Pan-style corporate competition, where you are benefiting off of the advances of one another while also attempting to outmaneuver your opponent economically. Competing for similar market areas while remaining within the bounds of economic law could be an interesting take on competitive multiplayer.

This would work well with hard as soft multiplayer vignettes without players actually being pitted directly against each other--whose trader vessel survived an asteroid field more intact given similar conditions, or whether the police vessel rescuing an opponents' cargo ship scored more 'points' in scaring off pirates than the victim scored in absorbing damage without losing its manifest. The police ship sure wants to save the day and be hero, but if a single lucky hit demolishes the hauler's engines that would sure look bad for Company B...

This could lead to some interesting uneven scenarios where different generations of ships score against each other.

Craig Perko said...

My thoughts exactly!