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Postby jackS » Fri Aug 13, 2004 10:47 am

Well, all other problems with adding more natively starfaring species (we've got several non-natively starfaring species in the documentation that have yet to make any appearances) aside, there's one distinct problem with continuing to add more and more species - namely, unless you're at the same time adding more and more star systems to the game universe, the density of intelligent life, moreover, of advanced intelligent life, gets more than a bit bloody high.
(As an utter aside, star trek didn't really have as many species as one might think as so many of them were able to interbreed and produce viable offspring - hence not different species - as all explained by that TNG episode... or was it a 2 parter...)

Having 5 species independent (at least of each other, the Uln were clearly the beneficiaries of Ancient artifacts) develop to the point of extra-planetary travel, and 4 of these to interstellar travel in a not too incredibly large region of space is a fair number. Unless one wants to wander down the well-traveled "common progenitor route" of Brin, or even the "common Thrintun algae farm descendants" route of Niven - you arrive at an inescapable conclusion - there wouldn't be enough room on the current map to put lots more interesting political entities.

So, from my perspective, this means one of two things, new aliens introduced aren't interesting political entites (discovering some bronze/iron/steam age entites puttering around their planet would be big news, but isn't likely going to cause any shifts in major alliances) or, they're coming in from off the map as it is.

Now, if they're coming in from off the map, that doesn't mean they're godly by default - indeed, a brief word about jumping towards godly and pre-godly things: we've already got the Ancients and the TWHON - more incarnations of ludicrous-speed engines powered by absurdium, protected by un-obtanium, and advancing weapons of class YWH-is-a-wrathful-volcano-god need not apply. It's very unbalanced, very cliche, and not really necessary - heck, the Ancients and TWHON are, at root, of fairly minimal, though non-zero (need them for good explanation of nano-plague), necessity. Another brief word about judging ship capabilities as commensurate with how cool the ship looks - when was the last time you saw a peacock slay a hyena with the sheer brilliance of its plumage? It's entirely possible for a ship to have as many of the qualities of a foppish clothes-horse as any potential ship owner.
We're hitting enough cliche landmines as it is without intentionally dancing across the memetic equivalent of the DMZ - I think we can do better than to wander down some of these roads.

Exploring and thereby meeting new species, even technologically advanced ones, could make for some fun game play - but given that we haven't come close to even doing a half-assed job of filling in all the species we already have, adding more species to the mix just to have more species is highly inconvenient, and, IMO counter-productive. If you're convinced there aren't enough species around, then, all apologies, but I've yet to hear an argument that convinces me as to why there must be more than the 13 known and 2(albeit Ancients is actually a name for what is evidenced to actually be a small set of different types of beings) indicated groups inhabiting the known regions of VS. If you want to place more species in the unexplored regions of the galaxy, sure - there are more species in the unexplored regions of the galaxy... but I don't think anything is gained from bringing in something from the edge of known space without some careful forethought. I disagree that "The number of interesting and unique species is what made star trek great in the first place" because I found the species in star trek to be almost universally not unique. The aliens in star trek were far too much just people - and I don't mean because they were played by people in suits - the aliens in star trek often had interesting and distinct cultures, but their mindsets were, on the whole, excessively human - they all thought far too much like us, in terms of love and hate, passion and vengeance, honor and glory. In that sense they were insufficiently alien - it was not that we could too easily identify with them, but that we could easily identify with them, and be correct in our understandings of what it was we were identifying with far more often than we deserved to be. Developing good aliens is a black art, and without significant investment, one ends up with lions,and tigers, and bears (in the bad sense of "with guns" - not in the good sense of "lions, and tigers, and bears" of Dan Simmons' Hyperion)
I'm not stone-set against having more aliens - but if they're going to players on the political scene (as even a bunch of roving drones would be, as they would affect the status of the political entities they were roving through, potentially quite a bit) I need to be convinced on a case-by-case basis for any additions, and I'm not going to be convinced without a developed context for introducing said aliens. If you want cute alien pets, menacing critters warranting a bug-hunt, or even bio-engineered xeno-fauna/terran hybridized cyborg singing dogs that philosophize on the fundamental nature of the universe when not performing in broadway musicals, the bar is assuredly lower.
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Postby jackS » Fri Aug 13, 2004 11:23 am

strangelet wrote:my mate had a wicked idea about the beholder. he said it should be crystalline in nature, and have vague forms half-lit writhing inside it's translucent hull.

if i was to make a ship (isnt the beholder sort of tear-drop shaped?) and have like 4 skins each bigger than the other, all transparent with different textures and such, the parralax of 4 transparent hulls inside eachother would look REALLY cool


perhaps it's merely a diction issue, but "writhing" doesn't seem to me to be entirely in character with Ancient mech-tech drone ship ;-) "Brief flurries of small shapes skittering about attending to unknown tasks" would be more what I'd imagine as fitting the Beholder, were it to have such an animated internal nature.

The 4 translucent hulls sounds like it would be very pretty. As to the overall steltek^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hteardrop (*cough*cough*) shape the Beholder currently has... it's not deeply wedded to it, although it is a nice shape - I think the key defining feature of the Beholder is that it should look as if it could have appeared fully-formed from the mind that conceived it. An exterior of elegant simplicity, without wasted aesthetic flare - it's a drone ship - beautiful in such simplicity in much the same way as a gemstone can achieve elegant grandeur without any particular artistry. In appearance, in contrast to the machined ships of man or aera, or even the complicated extruded surfaces of Rlaan manufacture, it would be as a katana to an AK-47 - though it may have required 160 folds, the katana appears as a single, sharpened piece of metal, whereas the AK carries all evidence of its manufacture on its sleeve.

All the true complexity of its existence is hidden - that is the elegance of the vessel - while all the numerous systems for sensing, thrusting, firing, generating shields, are assuredly there, they are integrated with the ship to the point that that they are no longer modules to be ham-handedly inserted or removed - they are intrinsic, natural, expected. Unlike the ships of the extant races, where much is still new in ship-building one can imagine the Beholder as the product of systems so long marinated in working with each other that they ceased to be distinct - that the ship itself had become much closer to being the fundamental unit of construction, although that clearly still isn't the case.

... but yeah, 4 (or more, no need to limit oneself) translucent (probabably varying in translucency over their expanses) hulls would be quite likely magnificent. I'd advise that the outermost one should be much more transparent than the inner ones, as if constructed of nothing more than eddies in space-time. A fundamentally-teardrop shaped ship would be fine. Other suitably elegant shapes could work too.
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Postby hurleybird » Fri Aug 13, 2004 11:42 am

JackS:

You must beware of the trap of creating a hyper-realistic (and ultimatley unfullfilling) game enviroment. Most game enviroments (besides the few hardcore simulation games out there) are not realistic. As you create a more realistic game, your audience will decline. The less real the universe is the wider a user base you can hope to attract. I'll say it right now. Space is boring. If you want to create an ultra realistic space enviroment, then you are going to limit what you can do, and you are going to limit your audience as well.

I (and I assume, most of our potential audience) would not care if there's one distinct problem with continuing to add more and more species - namely, unless you're at the same time adding more and more star systems to the game universe, the density of intelligent life, moreover, of advanced intelligent life, gets more than a bit bloody high.
It's a game world, and creating a game world is a lot different than creating a realistic world. Star control 2 and Starflight (have you ever played these games, if not, you should give them a try, they can be DL'ed for free) had a huge number of races in a universe with a lot fewer star systems than VS has.

I'm not stone-set against having more aliens - but if they're going to players on the political scene (as even a bunch of roving drones would be, as they would affect the status of the political entities they were roving through, potentially quite a bit) I need to be convinced on a case-by-case basis for any additions, and I'm not going to be convinced without a developed context for introducing said aliens.


First off, I would like to know what you might consider a case-by-case basis basis, and a developed context. Also, as the guy from saturn pointed out, there is a certain value in having some races not widely developed, in order to build mystery. Just because something isnt well documented doesent mean it cant be fun. Look at freespace, with the shivans, they appeared out of nowhere for no reason, without anything known about them (and at the end of freespace 2 you still know almost nothing about them!) and many regard freespace 2 to be one of (if not the) best space sim of all time. Once again, I would like to try to drive this point home. Designing a game world is toltally different than creating a world for a movie, or a comic, or any other medium for that matter. KISS (keep it simple stupid) is an all important factor, much more than realism. To go beyond the KISS rule is possible, and can be very rewarding, but only if done right. Creating a huge detailed world right from the start as you seem to want to do is IMO not the right way to do it. You need to start simple and gradually give the player more information.

One thing that scares me from what you said is (I dont want to make accusations here, and hopefully im wrong) that it sounds like you view yourself in a position to acept or decline something a user might create if it doesent fit into your vision of the vega-strike. In other words, if i were to create the artwork and the simple mission scripting an invasion like this would require, and tried to commit it, would you then try to stop me if you did not approve of the work???

Exploring and thereby meeting new species, even technologically advanced ones, could make for some fun game play - but given that we haven't come close to even doing a half-assed job of filling in all the species we already have, adding more species to the mix just to have more species is highly inconvenient, and, IMO counter-productive. If you're convinced there aren't enough species around, then, all apologies, but I've yet to hear an argument that convinces me as to why there must be more than the 13 known and 2(albeit Ancients is actually a name for what is evidenced to actually be a small set of different types of beings) indicated groups inhabiting the known regions of VS. If you want to place more species in the unexplored regions of the galaxy, sure - there are more species in the unexplored regions of the galaxy... but I don't think anything is gained from bringing in something from the edge of known space without some careful forethought.


In a way I agree with what you are pointing out, but not with the conclusions you make. The reason why all the species (or factions) in the vega strike universe seem so lifeless is mainly due to the fact that we have no art for them, and no way to effectivley introduce them (in fact, I think we've probably overdone it a bit and created too many factions, cutting them down would be a good idea, that is more in-line with the KISS rule). However, I dont see this having any impact on why we shouldnt develop actually interesting races that arent around from the beginning though.

And While I did claim that the different races made star-trek great, I didnt say that they were unique. In fact, I think it was there human qualities that made the show popular in the first place. I just cant see star trek being popular today if the original had actually used realistic, un-human type aliens. It would have appealed to the more hard core sci-fi types, but it wouldnt have been able to acheive the huge penetration in society that it has today, because the general audience would be completley uninterested in it.

What I'm trying to say is, as realism goes up, you target audience becomes more narrow, and that is not a good thing.


Whew, I can toltally see this turning into the old realistic vs. arcade topic of yore, just hopefully it doesent become a power struggle.
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Postby jackS » Fri Aug 13, 2004 12:05 pm

hurleybird wrote:Sorry for being so argumentive with you lately, but I am just not agreeing with most of the things you are saying.


Don't worry about it - I can assure you I don't take things personally. :):):)
Open discourse regarding divergent opinions is a sign of a healthy culture :) (Divergent opinions expressed with explosives tends to be a sign of an unhealthy one. Lack of expressed divergent opinions is scary for entirely different reasons.)

To quote the sentiments of Voltaire: "Though I disagree with what you say, I shall fight to the death for your right to say it" - albeit hopefully I won't have to do the whole melodramatic fighting to the death anytime soon... (JackS glances upwards at the menacingly false smile of the Patriot Act and its brethren... grr...)

hurleybird wrote: Star control 2, Star Trek and Starflight where very big on exploration. Having a whole bunch of races at the start of the game is now where near as fun as being able to discover those races yourslef.


In the "yes, but" category - I don't think that discovering uniqueness and being able to do valuable and rewarding exploration need necessarily involve discovering alien species. Think of it from this perspective - people still find visiting places on our own planet (the surface, let alone the unexplored depths) as harboring potential for personal voyages of discovery wandering through jungle ruins, hopping tropical islands, sitting on a boat and watching whale migrations - heck, the fact that they know that Disneyland exists doesn't seem to take away too much from the first time a kid goes there (and thereby costs the family huge amounts of money for a place that isn't really all that interesting, but that's just my personal take on things... some people actually like Disneyland... I digress). Admittedly, you can't say the same thing about everything - having seen lots of archival footage of the lincoln memorial, the white-house, the capitol building, etc. will probably somewhat diminish the effect of seeing it in person, if I ever do - but sightseeing companies still tend to turn a profit. I think the key is to make the individual alien groups rich enough that knowing that they exist and seeing a picture of them and a couple propaganda slogans cannot compare with actually wandering through their space and visiting their cities, their landmarks, monuments, etc. There should exist unique systems with unique features - unique bases, unique individuals, unique opportunities and experiences - that's how I see exploration as being a rich vein - you make places in the universe worth visiting because of what's there, even if you know that it's there, moreso even, I think, than you need to offer the thrill of discovering something that no one knew about in the first place - most voyages of discovery spend most of their time voyaging and precious little discovering - knowing that there's something to be seen doesn't precude personal discovery. I go to art museums - the art has clearly already been found, been seen by countless people - but I haven't seen it yet, and that's good enough reason for me to go.

I happen to think exploration of unknown space only becomes particularly interesting when known space is sufficiently interesting to provide reason to believe that more interesting things are out there waiting to be found. I just don't think you need to fill up everything with aliens in order to make things interesting.
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Postby jackS » Fri Aug 13, 2004 3:45 pm

hurleybird wrote:JackS:

You must beware of the trap of creating a hyper-realistic (and ultimatley unfullfilling) game enviroment. Most game enviroments (besides the few hardcore simulation games out there) are not realistic. As you create a more realistic game, your audience will decline. The less real the universe is the wider a user base you can hope to attract. I'll say it right now. Space is boring. If you want to create an ultra realistic space enviroment, then you are going to limit what you can do, and you are going to limit your audience as well.


I'm not going for hyper-realism. Oh, boy am I not going for hyper-realism - but I have certain aesthetic desires for what makes things sufficiently believable and, even more important than believable, consistent. Absent consistency, believability rapidly wanes, and the environment ceases to be immersive. As you've mentioned, it's not about realism, but about the immersive quality of a universe. Where reality tends to creep in is because there happens to be a fairly consistent universe already present and available, and one can draw from it when it isn't much of a sacrifice to do so - it's also convenient because most people have a tendency to assume that anything not specified as doing otherwise works in ways they're familiar with. Obviously, for a space-game to be interesting, one must take certain liberties, up to and including throwing out certain chunks of our knowledge of physics and generally forcing insanely optimistic guesses as to what is possible - I'm ok with that - doing otherwise makes for the sort of game most people won't tend to want to play. You can't ditch consistency though, and keeping the story straight as to how everything got to be the way it is isn't a trivial thing, even given the freedom to make parts of the story less than believable. Realism, where possible, is a boon - it saves time, it makes things easier to extrapolate from. Realism, where not possible, should get ditched - it's a video game. Believability, where possible, is infinitely preferable, unless you're content (which I am not, because I think we can do better) to wander around in a cartoonish universe that is more caricature than characterized by particular depth of setting. Sometimes though, believability has to get thrown out too - it to is subserviant to game-play. Consistency can't get thrown out though, which is why every time believability gets tossed, the fundamental nature of the game-universe tends to have to be re-examined so that it can be sewn back together.

It's a game world, and creating a game world is a lot different than creating a realistic world. Star control 2 and Starflight (have you ever played these games, if not, you should give them a try, they can be DL'ed for free) had a huge number of races in a universe with a lot fewer star systems than VS has.


Haven't played Starflight - read about it, haven't played it. SC2 was a great game, and I love it dearly, but it was not a serious-toned one. I don't see VS as taking place in a universe as much comically absurd as dangerous. Clearly there's something to be said for not taking onself too seriously when doing what will, at best, likely be space-opera (not to demean space-opera - I've bought plenty of books from authors such as David Webber and enjoyed many of them a great deal, but most sci-fi isn't written with aspirations of getting onto the top 100 list of best books ever written). I, however, am not particularly interested in spending my time developing a game-universe which, no matter whether or not it ends up achieving any better, does not bother to aspire beyond B-movie standards for background story.

Also, as the guy from saturn pointed out, there is a certain value in having some races not widely developed, in order to build mystery. Just because something isnt well documented doesent mean it cant be fun.

Well, there's a difference between documented internally and externally - not bothering to inform the player about various things is perfectly valid - never having bothered to answer the questions yourself is just a cop-out. The worry about it later approach can lead to nasty problems when you start stringing together actions that don't actually hinge on anythings and try to retroactively discover what the factors were that tied things all together.

Look at freespace, with the shivans, they appeared out of nowhere for no reason, without anything known about them (and at the end of freespace 2 you still know almost nothing about them!) and many regard freespace 2 to be one of (if not the) best space sim of all time.


Personally, I felt somewhat cheated at the end of freespace 2 when (as I realized there were no particular plans to make a freespace 3) I came to the conclusion that they weren't ever going to finish telling the story, not that there'd really been too much of one. The Vasudans were horribly underdeveloped, there were precious few characters I gave a rat's ass about, too many instances of Deus Ex Machina, and, in general, I found there to be insufficient sense of setting. However, as the game focused not on spending time in said universe so much as just blowing things in said universe back into their constituent elements, the game was still enjoyable (Campaign was too damn short though... only took a few days to finish it). Obviously, we were meant to be flying past so fast we couldn't tell all the backdrops were cardboard and matte paintings. I don't see VS as being a game that's so fast paced and purely combat oriented that you're not supposed to notice the universe it happens to be set in. Setting becomes important when you actually spend time somewhere.


Once again, I would like to try to drive this point home. Designing a game world is toltally different than creating a world for a movie, or a comic, or any other medium for that matter. KISS (keep it simple stupid) is an all important factor, much more than realism. To go beyond the KISS rule is possible, and can be very rewarding, but only if done right. Creating a huge detailed world right from the start as you seem to want to do is IMO not the right way to do it. You need to start simple and gradually give the player more information.


And here we hit an axiomatic root of some of our differing opinions. I'm going to have to disagree with your premise as to how different designing a game world is - for a game world, especially for a game world, as the universe must be capable of responding to interactions that cannot be as carefully curtailed as in the crafted angles seen from a movie lens and the limited actions that the script allows characters to take, there is no such thing as overthinking the background. Actually implementing all of the features that one might wish in accordance to what is possible can be a self-destructive endeavor, but there is no sacrifice, save time, for detailing setting, and many potential benefits. KISS in this context would be better served by starting with fewer assumptions, not fewer details. Growing out from some smaller well defined skeleton is an incredibly useful organizational tool - but I see a clear difference of opinion on both the size of the eventual beast and the size of that skeleton to support it - as far as I'm concerned, we haven't come close to even building enough detail to have a skeleton, we barely have enough information to start to guess at the body plan of the game-universe, let alone to have figured out what points need their support well defined. Without a well defined setting, there are all sort and manner of corners one can paint oneself into.

As for the player, and what they know at any given time, that's a rather different issue, and only indirectly related by via the problem of defining what the groups that the player belongs to could possibly have known. What the player knows (and for ease of sentence construction we'll temporarily ignore things the player believes to be true, but aren't) about the universe is some subset of what the developer has defined as constituting that universe. Governing what and how much data reaches the player is independent of how much detail has been spent developing the universe.

One thing that scares me from what you said is (I dont want to make accusations here, and hopefully im wrong) that it sounds like you view yourself in a position to acept or decline something a user might create if it doesent fit into your vision of the vega-strike. In other words, if i were to create the artwork and the simple mission scripting an invasion like this would require, and tried to commit it, would you then try to stop me if you did not approve of the work???


I wouldn't try to stop you - that would be beyond pointless and horribly counter-productive. However, there are limits to how much time and energy I'm willing to spend twisting all of the existing details of the universe to maintain consistency in light of any particular desired addition. If I'm not convinced it's worth it, then the number of VS universes increases by one at that point. Which is fine. The more the merrier, really, and overlap just makes everyone's lives easier in the end, especially in terms of available art. But I'm going to keep spending my time and attention on developing the universe I've been working on.

Everyone is free to take as little or as much of what I've done and do with it what they feel like, making it as little or as much their own as they desire. And I'm sure we'll happily host all the files and art that need to be changed to do so. Should the fan-base decide that they're more interested in your version of the VS universe than any others that exist at that point, I imagine the default will become your universe, and discussions will have by that point mostly shifted to being about your universe. It's not about power struggle - but it is about realizing that in order to keep from ending up with a giant camel, you sometimes need to make room for more than one horse. In terms of the particular game universe I've been working on, yes, I do see myself as the custodian of that universe, and, while I attempt to be as ammenable to suggestion as possible, I do see myself as an arbiter of content - it's not a question of "can this be a part of VS", it's a question of "can this be a part of the universe I've been developing for VS". The VS engine is designed to be mod friendly, the artwork, background story - all of it is free to use and abuse in any mod, you could consider the universe that I've been working on as just the defacto default module for the VS engine. It doen't have to be. It's not that important to me which mod ends up playing the normal DC universe and which gets an "Elseworlds" label, so to speak.

However, for any particular universe, there has to be creative control. The E. Raymond cathedral vs. bazaar argument breaks down for things that are essentially artwork or are otherwise subject to subjective evaluation. Bazaars are constructions of necessity, and cathedrals are constructions that exist to exalt some particular set of aesthetics. Programs have objective measurements of performance and functionality, and so having many contributors need not lead to there being many opinions on whether or not a program is "right" or "wrong" - the word choice is itself contrary to how one tends to think about output, namely as correct or incorrect - not in the words used equally to judge moralities and whether a couch matches fits the rest of the decor. The subjectivity arises in discussions of which features to implement and which standards to support, a question of aesthetics, and perhaps not prone to being decided in nearly so democratic a process as the code is created. In any collaborative effort, even moreso for a creative effort, if a fixed framework does not exist that intrinsically limits and guides the work of the individuals, you run into exactly the issues addressed in chapter 4 "Aristocracy, Democracy, and System Design" of F. Brooks Jr.'s The Mythical Man-Month. Without at least the skeleton of things, or active supervision, stemming from a well defined and limited source, one endangers coherence, and weakens conceptual integrity, perhaps fatally.

Exploring and thereby meeting new species, even technologically advanced ones, could make for some fun game play - but given that we haven't come close to even doing a half-assed job of filling in all the species we already have, adding more species to the mix just to have more species is highly inconvenient, and, IMO counter-productive. If you're convinced there aren't enough species around, then, all apologies, but I've yet to hear an argument that convinces me as to why there must be more than the 13 known and 2(albeit Ancients is actually a name for what is evidenced to actually be a small set of different types of beings) indicated groups inhabiting the known regions of VS. If you want to place more species in the unexplored regions of the galaxy, sure - there are more species in the unexplored regions of the galaxy... but I don't think anything is gained from bringing in something from the edge of known space without some careful forethought.


In a way I agree with what you are pointing out, but not with the conclusions you make. The reason why all the species (or factions) in the vega strike universe seem so lifeless is mainly due to the fact that we have no art for them, and no way to effectivley introduce them (in fact, I think we've probably overdone it a bit and created too many factions, cutting them down would be a good idea, that is more in-line with the KISS rule). However, I dont see this having any impact on why we shouldnt develop actually interesting races that arent around from the beginning though.

See, here we appear to be talking past each other somewhat - I don't see how you can introduce a new group, whether out of nowhere, or known to every being in the galaxy, without having first integrated it into the game universe - you seem to still be thinking about the construction of the universe as limited to what the player would know at the start of the game. Whether or not the player knew there was an alien invasion fleet poised to conquer the entire spiral arm doesn't change the existance or non-existance of such a fleet, and if one exists, it has to come from somewhere - have some history as such - and otherwise be integrated into the universe. To do otherwise is to introduce a series of effects without bothering to figure out the causes, which makes any future development remarkably more difficult because there isn't any basis to extrapolate from.

And While I did claim that the different races made star-trek great, I didnt say that they were unique. In fact, I think it was there human qualities that made the show popular in the first place. I just cant see star trek being popular today if the original had actually used realistic, un-human type aliens. It would have appealed to the more hard core sci-fi types, but it wouldnt have been able to acheive the huge penetration in society that it has today, because the general audience would be completley uninterested in it.

What I'm trying to say is, as realism goes up, you target audience becomes more narrow, and that is not a good thing.

Whew, I can toltally see this turning into the old realistic vs. arcade topic of yore, just hopefully it doesent become a power struggle.


My favorite line about aliens is, as uttered by one of Gregory Benford's characters, "The thing about aliens is, they're alien." I'd like to think that having actually 'alien' aliens is possible without alienating the audience. The psychological differences can be subtle and yet vast - indeed, the more similar a given alien is to us, the more craftily must the differences be constructed so that expectations aren't met all the time, that actions that didn't seem to be called for are taken or called for ones not because of some intrinsically different evaluation of the situation, that the alien who is "like us" should be the most disconcerting of all aliens for how different it is capable of being without exposing the roots of these differences so overtly that we come to expect the divergent courses of action they provoke.

As for power struggles, I'm uninterested in them. I don't much care for fighting, and I don't need power, although it does have its uses. If anyone is convinced that what the VS community needs is a different flavor of universe with a different method of stewardship, I urge any such person to take action upon those thoughts and work to fork off from, begin anew, trim, add and whathave you any material necessary to construct a universe that allows for the sort of experiences you don't think the one we've been working with does. The short version of critiques on all creative work is "You can't make everybody happy" I don't think we should try - there's no reason to intentionally isolate ourselves from potential players, and I think to do so would be to commit a great folly, but neither need we present only one solution to all people interested in using the VS engine to have an interactive gaming experience. Not everyone is looking for the same thing, even within a particular genre. I think the realism vs. arcade issue has long been a false dichotomy. The only question is what range of things the VS ENGINE can give you - the rest is just data (as pincushion mentioned, in this case it helps to have the newtonian underpinnings because it's much easier to go from more realistic to less via data changes than the other way around). If people want to do an arcade version, by all means, do an arcade version - all it requires is editing a couple config vars (regulating fuel consumption for given thrusts) and a handful of column multiplies in the units.csv text file.

It's been said that a lot of open-source work revolves around "scratching an itch" - that is, finding something that's been bugging you and fixing it, or something that's missing and creating it. With regard to the VS universe, I took the initial description I was given of "aera invading, rlaan might shoot us both" and I've been scratching my itches with it, and with various games I've played, TV shows I've seen and so forth. I'm very happy to be working on VS, not just because it's been an opportunity for me to get ideas I have expressed, but because, as an open-sourced engine, it gives other people the opportunity to engage in universe building - open engines will help to democratize game development. You don't need (well, the way copyrights are headed, I may be speaking too soon, but for now, at least) to make massive licensing arrangements to start writing novels or short stories, to paint, or to compose your own music. That sort of freedom, when it comes to making your own video game, even if only a limited few types of them - it's a good thing, and a big part of why I see working on VS as worth the time I spend on it. The opportunity I've had to participate in a collaborative effort in building a universe, game or otherwise, is something I appreciate a great deal. As I said, I want to encourage, not discourage people from building their own universes, whether they be entirely, partially, or minimally distinct from any others - but I'll be honest - when it comes to creative content, I only have so much time to spend, and I'm going to want to spend it where I can scratch my itches the most, and will be more interested in spending time helping people whose itches are more similar to my own than not. Now, with respect to the VS engine, and what it needs to do to support other visions than my own, that's an entirely different story, and time spent on the engine is worthwhile even if it doesn't help me. I'd love to be able to have the time and resources to make everyone's dreams into (virtual) realities, but, as even formulating my own visions will likely take more time than I'm supposed to have available (grad students being what we are) I obviously have to prioritize, and I'm going to prioritize by spending my time working on what interests and pleases me, even if that ceases to be the standard universe associated with VS. What will be, will be, and I'm ok with that - it's art, not an end to violence and world hunger ;-)
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Postby charlieg » Fri Aug 13, 2004 5:30 pm

Woah. That was just too much to read.

I'll just stick to being happy knowing how much effort you guys go to, writing forum posts that are so in-depth, that the game content must be, is, and will continue to be incredibly good.
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Postby zaydana » Fri Aug 13, 2004 8:49 pm

whoa... damn thats a lot of text. I think i gave up reading after about one quarter way.

Anyways, back to the point - there is nothing stopping an 'organic' race being in the universe. Sci-fi is sci-fi, not because we are futurizing our current universe, but because we are using our imagination to make a brand new universe, even if it is only a parrallel reality, in the future. Really, scifi is just fantasy in the future.

Now, what is saying that an organic being in space is impossible, or even unlikely? We are always discovering new things, new creatures, new places in space, etc... and i'm sure if people were to let themselves think out of the box of the year 2004, they would be able to see that it is possible that anything could have been discovered by when VegaStrike is around to make VS seem completely realistic, or in its current state, completely unrealistic.

Really, there is no way to know what a realistic universe is in the future, so everything we are putting in there is a great big guess. However, this doesn't stop us putting it in there, does it?

If anything is stopping people playing because it is 'unrealistic' it is their own imagination, and it is the same for 'ultra-realistic' games. And bear in mind that a game is very different to a sci-fi series: unhuman characters in a game I believe would actully create a more immersive universe.

So it all comes down to consistency (like JackS said)... to have an 'immersive' universe, which will attract players, we need to have a consistent universe. I think that this is because the only current universal property of what 'we know' is that it is consistent, or it can be depending on what you look at. All stars look like stars (in their own way), all animals you cuold tell are animals (except stick insects), most fish just look whacky (but you can still tell they are fish)

In this way we need to keep the universe consistent - people need to be able to identify certain places, certain species, etc. And this is the first step to making a universe immersive. Of course, it goes deeper, but really making something that is not 100% in line with current scientific knowledge cannot detract from the immersive value of a scifi game. I mean, the scientific understanding of everything in existance has changed well over 100% in the past 500 years, and probably will so again in the next.

So, my main point:
There is nothing stopping a biological creature living in space. Something, somehow will probably happen in the next 1000 years that will make it possible if it is not already so.

Thus, lets put the biological race of strangelets into VS! Its gotta fit somewhere, and as long as we have artwork (which i'm sure we do) we will be able to make it at least as immersive as the current races due to all the support it has gained.

Forward with the biological race!
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Postby hurleybird » Fri Aug 13, 2004 10:45 pm

Awesome post there, JackS!

I actually couldnt find that much to disagree on, and even if I did I dont think I would even try to counter all of that :lol:

I only have one suggestion for you. Play starflight, starflight 2, or both. They are awesome games, they are extremely exploration based. Starflight 1 has the absolute best story I've ever seen in a movie, game, book, anything. The way that the story is presented is also ahead of every other game I've ever played. It has fractally generated planets, and the aliens are beleivable in the way that they are alien (not cartoonish like in SC2) and somehow seem human at the same time.

They can be downloaded at HOTU. If you ever get the chance, make sure to play them (though they can take about a month each to beat if you dont use a walkthrough!) Heck, the original took 10 years to make, was released in 86, and is my favorite game of all time.

Anyway, on a different matter. This discussion has enlightened me on something that is missing from VS, that is IMO toltally holding it back. I'll post my idea tommorow, because its going to be a long one!

It might be fairley unpopular though, and I doupt that you (JackS) will like it much, but hopefully I'm wrong.
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Postby strangelet » Sat Aug 14, 2004 7:29 am

holy shit jack.

you are one of the most prolific literateurs (is that another new word?...) i have ever known, i salute your expansive textual expression :) we are lucky to have such a wordy guy around - VS peeps take note... it's a rare thing for a dev project to have a guy devoted to text, and much needed...

and WOW if you're serious about the bio-race that would be awesome...

modellers - it's a piece of piss to make organic abstract shapes, and if you dont mind me texturing them, it's a one-step process with mah nu biorganix shader... UV mapping, if you're using NURBS should be kept default, trying to uv an organic shape is a pain in the ass.

i'm gonna scratch my head and come up with some text for these things.... i totally get to name them tho :)
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Postby strangelet » Sat Aug 14, 2004 8:21 am

They're called Starlings... they are not strictly sentient, but it has been theorised that they incorporate some kind of hive intelligence, with different hives spread out throughout the galaxy.

the starlings, (genus Sturnumastra, latin for starling (the bird) corrupted with the latin for "of the heavans") appear to have originated at the heart of dense nebulae, formed from the very stuff of the stars themselves, along with a few more exotic amino-cocktails... they still make nebulae their homes, although no details as yet have emerged about any of the theorised "hives" due to the difficulties of data collection within a dense nebula

- - (author's note - LOL of course we know that this means they have some dire purpose within the universe which the player is supposed to find out. my personal favourite is that when they swarm, they make stars ;) )
- -

their physiognomy is startling. their energy centers, instead of chemical are nuclear - each animal containing a biological heat-exchange reactor.

some kind of crystalline mineral deposit located in various different places across the many subspecies, generally a protected area central of the body which could maybe pass for a "brain", appears to have enormous electromagnetic resonating capabilities, enabling the starlings to propel themselves through space on biological "ion drives", emmiting a fine mist of pulverised matter into an ionisation chamber at the rear of the creature where it is energised and released at force through an electromagnetic sphincter (snigger).

they feed by extruding an electromagnetic ramscoop in front of them as they cruise the void, collecting single molecules of hydrogen from thousands of kilometers distant into their plasma-lined storage pouches.

they have been seen cruising the clouds of gas giants, dipping into and out of the atmosphere like dolphins, feeding on the rich gasses there,

their rections to aliens have been varied. when cruising through starling-inhabited space, ships have witnessed the beautiful spectacle of these whale-sized creatures flitting alongside their vessels, dropping into warp with the flick of their tails and reappearing just ahead of themselves.

in these instances the starlings appear to be entriely benign, even playful...

then there were the horrific attacks upon the research vessels sent into the nebulae to investigate the hive theories... although purely defensive (the ships were attacked once, then chased from the nebula, left to limp home)
they demonstrated the brutal offensive capabilities of their command of electromagnetism. beam weapons, rams, the ability to peel metal off a hull like orange peel - these reports have chastened the scientist's zeal and made joe spaceman extremely wary of them.

although they appear to have lethal offensive capabilities, they are rarely used outside hive space. they can be frightened off with a few lazer blasts.

the only instances of unprovoked attack have been when a "parent' has been sighted with it's fleet of children, and has taken no chances with any threat the intruders migh have posed to it's offspring.

their reproductive habits appear to include courting, pair-bonding and child care until the child is mature enough to feed and navigate on it's own. no sexes have been discovered, and it is thought that any starling can reproduce with any other of that subspecies.

although some loyalty to a mate has been noted, the overriding demands of the hive ensure that after the period of raising offspring is complete, the parents and children rededicate themselves to the hive in a great swarming - millions of starlings migrating through interstellar space to their nebula of origin every 25 years or so...

the reasons for this pilgrammage have as yet not been discovered. perhaps a new "queen" is born in the hive, who knows?

the main part of the starling species is the Drone. the drone varies from 50-150 yards long and includes all the above physiognomy (author's note - this is the one i built btw guys)

other know subspecies include the Workers, tiny starlings varying from 1 to 4 feet long... in swarms of hundreds they live in and off the Drones and other large starlings, performing essential maintainance work... they have been known to aid the starling when endangered, flinging themselves at the enemy with disregard for their own life like tiny angry little missiles with shielded, thermal "warheads" (they can sometimes overload their reactors when they die)

also there have been sightings of huge (500 yards plus) "capital" starlings which appear to have orifices and organs dedicated to repairing and nourishing the lesser classes...

i'm gonna pause for another doobie, then get back to you...
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Postby hurleybird » Sat Aug 14, 2004 9:00 am

Sounds cool. These things are going to need to be animated, arent they? Not sure how hard tht would be.
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Postby jackS » Sat Aug 14, 2004 3:11 pm

suggestions I'd make:

ditch the beam weapon reference - simpler to discuss the dangers as follows:
feeding mechanisms can rapidly corrode hull surface
focused application of ion-drive as defensive mechanism can cause minor damages
swarming (though not truly intentionally) suicidal attacks often resulting in detonation of internal hydrogen, along with the intended kinetic impact, while individually weak can be devastating in when applied in number. (I doubt they've got sufficient nuclear density to go critical - it's also probably happier for their internals if it's a more passive rate of radioactive decay)

I think these would fit more in line with the sort of defense mechanisms such a creature might develop - given that its predators would not be ships, but whatever other odd lifeforms might live in dense nebula and gas giants, and against whom, such tactics would probably be quite effective without the exceptional loss of life needed to damage a ship.
Having an interstellar-powered ramscoop for something that developed in a dense nebula seems odd - you wouldn't need that kind of field strength to feed when particles are that abundant.

I think a more interesting thing than having them be warp-capable would be to just have them be very very old. The migrations/colonizations (not returning to a home nebula, but wandering out from settled locations) could take millenia, starting from a nebula, hopping from star system to star system, resting and "refuelling" on gas giants along the way, rebirthing the giant fuel-tank subspecies that fuels their accelerating phase (here one can choose whether they accelerate up to the fraction of lightspeed necessary for interstellar ramscooping, or they just go dormant during the long night after accelerating up to a decent clip - I'd go for the latter, as the first is difficult to explain as the result of any gradual change - whereas long term dormancy of decades-centuries, even for multi-cellular life, is well documented. Also, there's the issue that interstellar ram-scooping relies on hydrogen fusion...also relies on ionizing the hydrogen in front of you, so we're looking at a particularly odd duck that naturally evolved a fusion reactor and a forward mounted laser beam, the first of which is unsustainable in interstellar space at velocities of less than ~6% C). I don't see them as needing to have a dire purpose, actually, I think it'd be more interesting if, continuing the filter-feeding whale analogy, their real contribution was that they "sang" in radio frequencies. And, that, mixed in among the courtship songs and whathave you was what passes for an "oral history". So, by moving around, not only is genetic diversity increased and more colonies founded, but also the history is shared among the different hives (I also wouldn't bother with the queen style single point of failure - more just that it's a collection of subspecies in a mutually symbiotic relationship that all require the other forms to fulfil all the lifecycle roles) So, the research potential of studying the songs could be quite high - but perhaps the lack of completion of any such research easily explained by the skittish nature of a school of filter-feeders when confronted with a large lurking research vessel that, from their sensory perspective is probably quite freakish. It could be as simple as they stop singing about anything other than the vessels around them when they get spooked, but I'm just pulling this all off the top of my head.... but I think ancient gas-consuming life on unthinkably old migratory patterns singing ancient Starling songs remembering things from before humans had figured out how to chip flint... that'd be cool. And lots of symbiotic species, especially the huge refuellers - we could make them incredibly majestic in their travels, and dangerous only when confronted in their home nebulas, where they'd be raising children - one imagines that children would not be present during the migratory journeys....

anywho.. those are my thoughts... very dangerous to small craft that disturb their rearing creches in nebula, majestic and aloof in their ageless wanderings, vaguely curious while resting and resupplying in gas giant, scared of large vessels that try to observe them... tending to try to eat the probes that such vessels might try to use to gather data in their stead... enigmatic, but not in a dark way, just simply difficult to understand... rambling on about topics that still haven't been deciphered, perhaps the quality of gas 200 km to the Starling's port side, perhaps a song remembering the days of the Ancients and TWHON...

Still a bit cliche in its own ways. (Mustn't let them become Slylandro ;-)) I'll work on it some more later
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Postby strangelet » Sat Aug 14, 2004 5:30 pm

whatever fits man. i'll take your word for whatever adjustments you think are neccesary...
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Postby Anax » Sun Aug 15, 2004 5:42 am

heh - just thought of something. The best weapon to kill one of these things: a giant pointy metal stick with a moderate explosive tip to break through the outter shell and then some sort of toxin.

That's what i think is cool - scientists would have to/could totally rethink how they fight these things. Almost a backwards step in technology, with the potential for some very cheap and quick to make weapons/missiles. individual bullets wouldn't do much damage because it'd be like attacking someone with a pin - there's no hull to weaken. of course, then there's the lasers which would prolly burn them... or would they? if they like hanging out at the local gas giant for a rave, maybe they have high heat tolerance.... Also gonna have to have very different damage maps....
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Postby FlyByWire » Sun Aug 15, 2004 12:11 pm

Yeah, but scientists usually wouldn't be aiming for a kill. Instead, they'd be trying to stun one for research purposes - tagging, measurements, all those scientific things.
Military types would be trying to make a kill, cause that's what military does. :lol:
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Postby strangelet » Sun Aug 15, 2004 12:19 pm

i'm sure using the existing tex setup it will be easy to create "wound maps", the question is, can the code team do blood?!
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Postby Anax » Sun Aug 15, 2004 8:13 pm

heh - can we get blood to fly up and stick tot he windscreen? now THAT would be cool :P lol
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Postby hurleybird » Sun Aug 15, 2004 8:40 pm

Anax wrote:heh - can we get blood to fly up and stick tot he windscreen? now THAT would be cool :P lol


you sick, twisted person :)
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Postby Anax » Sun Aug 15, 2004 8:47 pm

hurleybird wrote:
Anax wrote:heh - can we get blood to fly up and stick tot he windscreen? now THAT would be cool :P lol


you sick, twisted person :)


And i know you were thinking it too :)

of course, would that mean having to install content controls :P

seriously though, at the very least the impact would prolly let off a red (or other colour?) mist or some kind.

oh how i love being a sadist :twisted:
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Postby Silverain » Sun Aug 15, 2004 9:52 pm

Just remember JackS' key point here - consistency.

All well and good to create new artwork for a new race (thanks strangelet). All well and good to put together a backstory (thanks again) - and personally I like the idea as it adds something else to the VS world, and it would be another mission/campaign type (exploratory visit anyone?).

Now comes the clincher. Develop a skeleton to ensure it merges seamlessly into the VS universe. Are they concentrated in one area of the known systems? Where? Scattered all around? Are they moving like a wave across the systems from point A to B on the other side of the known systems in their migration? What is the Aeran reaction? Rlaan reaction? Human reaction? Are the hive systems known? So on and so forth.

If we have this together, then we are well on the way to having another race with background detail sufficient to be usable.

Now, as a player, all I know is the GNN reports of strange ships at the edge of nowhere. Next reports are about some encounters. Next report is a scientist expounding theory that these 'ships' are actually biological entities! Next is a fixer mission to investigate some 'ships' to confirm scientist's theory... and so on. But this is all based on the theoretical blueprint already laid. The details to flesh out the blueprint is where I or someone else can come in to develop.
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Postby FlyByWire » Mon Aug 16, 2004 5:26 am

What is the Aeran reaction? Rlaan reaction? Human reaction?


The Aerans suffer from a militant viewpoint and a form of suspicious paranoia in equal parts. I'de guess they'de shoot first at the 'unidentified invaders' and ask questions later.

Rlaans are apparently pretty laid-back. They'de probably investigate, mull it over awhile, eventually conclude that there's no serious threat, then more or less forget about it.

Us humans are a curious lot, so I'de suspect that the human factions (and I guess it's safe to include Andolians and klik in this to certian degrees) would go for a series of close scientific forays.
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Postby Anax » Mon Aug 16, 2004 6:10 am

been thinking....

Remember someones idea (jacks?) that these guys just move very slowly? Well if 10000 years ago they lined up their colonials and pointed them in the direction of say 3 of these systems, you'd get a case where all of a sudden these guys would appear in a system. At first a scout or two, then trickle, then the whole bloody fleet, at which point they could take up residency in the local nebula.

Then we throw something in the mix. Ok, at this stage they're not gonna spread to the other systems in a hurry. we're still talking 100s-1000s of years at least to get to a nearby system, so technically they're not any threat at all, other than perhaps that one system they arrived at (assuming they're hostile or parasitic). What happens when somebody turns up in said nebula with a biggish ship. These things attack it and rip into it. The little ones may even be able to figure out how to control it. They now have a jump-capable ship. uh-oh. Perhaps big enough to ferry a queen and a substantial number of these guys to another nebula in another system. double-uh-oh. Then maybe they could get smart and start taking down more ships, or even attack a shipyard giving them lots of ships. oh crap. Exactly how fast do these things grow? if they're slow, they wouldn't take a lot to wipe out. If they're medium, there's a fight on our hands. If they're fast, and they can build ships fast, then we're in a world of trouble....

i guess in some ways it's reminiscent of the old Alien's series, except that you need more than just the queen to wreak havoc.... That and you're not gonna have some cute little thing burst outta your stomach while trying to dock with the station and not spill your thickshake at the same time.... :P
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Postby strangelet » Mon Aug 16, 2004 5:28 pm

i dont think we should be ascribing any more intelligence to individual starlings than an average dog... the hive mind is the tricky one...
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Postby strangelet » Mon Aug 16, 2004 5:30 pm

also it might be fun to fit cockpit "saddles" to these things and have a few hardcore adventurers ride them...

i still maintain that they are jump capable... but what if just one couldnt do it alone... say it took a flock of starlings to open a gate, which they all jumped thru?
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Postby zaydana » Tue Aug 17, 2004 1:48 am

i love the 'sadles' idea... almost like wormriding in Dune :)

And whats wrong with them being able to jump? Doesn't anybody remember moya from farscape?
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