Reboot and some design thoughts

TorchShips login

I’m working on TorchShips again in a very limited ‘as time permits’ mode. I’ll begin doing short updates on this site fairly regularly (bi-weekly or maybe monthly). At this point I’m mainly doing design work and some testing of the tools I’ll need to get the game out the door.

I’ve changed my thoughts about the direction of the game somewhat based on more research on Atomic Rockets, backer comments and questions, and from playing a lot of the new space games like Elite Dangerous, Kerbal, and Rodina. All of which are excellent and I highly recommend you check them out – Kerbal for one is amazing – it has turned my ‘not that interested in space’ older son to someone who understands orbital mechanics. He is now interested in a space engineering career,  and can intelligently critique the physics errors in the movie Gravity 🙂

I also am inspired by the feel and engagement caused by permadeath in large unregulated multiplayer environments. Rust or DayZ are good examples of this – when this works it is very powerful – actions have real consequences and players are forced to make critical decisions that really matter – emotionally and within the game. Yes there are a bunch of retarded griefers running all over these servers – but done right these worlds have room for all types – warriors, explorers, builders, and even 12 year old psychotics….

My high level goal for TorchShips is to present as many aspects of what living and fighting in space could really be like.

Based on that the design elements have changed somewhat from the original vision, here they are this point…

  • 3-D combat & UI.
  • Newtonian physics – your ship maneuvers in 3-D space using a reaction drive.
  • Procedurally generated world.
  • Muliplayer from the start, maybe some solo missions for tutorial purposes but at core game is multiplayer. Either session or server based like Rust/Dayz or possibly one large contiguous world like Eve Online (server technology permitting).
  • Some rpg/rogue-like elements but core game is space combat and some exploration, less emphasis on crafting/grinding/leveling. Progression is ship based, not character based – you start very small (small pod with limited weapons) and work up to larger more capable craft.
  • No FTL – the games takes place in a solar system other than our own but assumption is Humanity got there through sublight means.
  • No aliens or ‘magic’ technology.


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17 Responses to Reboot and some design thoughts

  1. markus baur says:

    no criticism – just a few thoughts: is trying to match eve online or elite in theri view of a unlimited game world really a good idea? this is going to be hard with a limited development budget

    such a unlimted world IS interesting – but i verly likely wont play in it for several reasons: i simply dont have the time (up to several hours per day) and i fear the addictive attraction such a world has on me

    i liked the episodic character of the first torch ship incarnation – you could play it for half an hour or hour per week without feeling that the wrold had gone on too far around you while not playing

    and i think there are many other players like me around ..

    finally – i liked the aliens in the first torch ship incarnation

    • I am going to include single-player missions, but probably not the more elaborate campaign I originally considered – just because of time and cost issues. In some ways multi-player is cheaper from a development perspective, the technology to handle large and smooth multi-player sessions is actually pretty mature, and I don’t have to generate as much content. One idea I got from reading the novel Lockstep by Karl Schroeder – what if we had several server types? Default is unlimited play time, but others could have play limits, so maybe you could only play in the server for 5 hours a week and time would only advance that much for the week – so you were not competing with the 100 hour a week crowd. That would help the more casual player and the ones that have real jobs 🙂

  2. So, I admit this all sounds fine to me EXCEPT ‘always multi-player’. I don’t really enjoy playing online games very often for a variety of reasons, and a game that was ‘online, all the time, and perma-death to boot’ would definitely not be what I interested in, even though I LOVE what Torchships would represent. I have no problem with the game including a persistent multi-player mode, but if the single-player experience is limited to tutorials I would have trouble getting excited about it.

    • see my reply to Markus above – I will see what I can do about single-player – maybe solid set of single missions/challenges linked together without the deeper back-story and campaign I originally planned

  3. Mike says:

    Glad to hear you’re back at it! It’s such an interesting topic.

    Having perused Project Rho and similar sites, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not possible to make a game that’s both realistic and interesting if it’s about a single ship. Are you quite set on having the player control just one ship? Either way, best of luck!

    • I do intend to keep a single POV, though eventually you may control drones and/or remote ships as a ‘fleet’ from your ship. One criticism I’ve gotten on the original concept and demo was the ‘god perspective’ of your ship and system was too distancing and not engaging. This is a pretty good point, some of the newer space sims do a much better job of this, elite dangerous for example – you definitely feel you are part of the action. I’m not advocating ‘sitting in a fighter cockpit’ UI, but I’m definitely going to think about and experiment with a more ‘you are there’ feeling and visuals.

  4. john says:

    This sounds interesting, but I’ll have to echo the multiplayer concerns. I’m not against multiplayer, but if it means I HAVE to always commit to several solid hours of gameplay, it wouldn’t be the game for me, I don’t have that kind of time often enough anymore.

    It’s amusing to me that Newtonian physics are creeping back into space sims just as NASA are getting more optimistic about things like Q-thrusters (can’t see them making for an exciting torchship though).

  5. john herlosky says:

    Kudos and good luck. Please keep up the good work!

  6. Heretek says:

    What about N-body physics?

  7. Bibidibop says:

    It’s great to read this project may be restarting.

    I have to say, I’m not a fan of it being persistent multiplayer either. With a potentially small player base, the game could end up being too sparsely populated to be fun. It might be worth considering populating the universe with bots in order to keep the population up, while offering a better mix of ship types for all skill levels, without having to artificially limit play time, or enact ship type caps. Human players then fit into that mix of bots. Also, please consider quick battle modes, and free battle modes, where a cap or minimum can be set by the host, and players can choose any ships they want for a one off battle, at an orbit of the host’s choosing.

    The issue with a time limited server, or only 5 hour increments, is it sounds too much like smart phone games which artificially limit how much a person can play, unless they pay money. You’re not asking for money to play longer, but the artificial limit can be very annoying. The smart phone aspects of pay as you play, which have been implemented in Godus have been very damaging. It also has persistent mechanics which run while the player is not playing, which punish the player for not playing.

    I’m a little disappointed there won’t be crew mechanics, even if it is very simplistic. I believe Star Trek: Starfleet Command has a simple crew mechanic where a player hires crew, and to get more advanced crew requires kicking the old officers out, and hiring better ones. Escape Velocity Nova had an add on of similar nature, and the officers would offer buffs to the ship stats. However, I have no idea if a faux human element will be fun or not.

    I like the other aspects mentioned, and I have no issue with there being no aliens.

    • good points on the time delay issue – hadn’t considered the comparison to F2P schemes – ouch 🙂

      I’m going to make the game focus on the player as an individual POV, so no crew dynamics, at least not yet.

      I do like the skirmish/battle mode mechanic- and I think I can fit that in the flow – so I’d be looking at something like this using the same code base

      single player – offline open world with bots
      multiplayer – coop or pvp – session based – you can start a session or join one – can play in private session with friends or open to the public – bots or no bots set by session owner – sessions can be restarted or reset
      multiplayer persistent world – some bots to handle low player population

      • Bibidibop says:

        Sounds like that can work.

        Also, the “god view ” can easily–well, “easily”–be managed by explaining it in-game as a combination of periodically launched micro sensors, and artificially composited sensor and scanner data. Sensor resolution and predictions fall off with distance, so the further the player zooms out, or into the distance, the less detail the player could have. The exceptions would be predictable, loud objects like planets, space stations, dangerous marked debris (marked in computer records, so they can’t be seen unless the player has amazing telescopes, only a marker can normally be seen), and perhaps non-combat ships running automated identification. Anything else might appear as an errant heat signature, and require time and further data to determine things such as velocity, mass, and ship type, let alone owner and intention.

        While detection would be automated, it will likely take a long time, so maybe a manual mode makes sense, even if just to pass time.

        Another way to get around the view being too objective is to jazz up what happens when an object is zoomed in on. You could purposefully make it come off like an elaborate interface, rather than a HUD. The limits of actually zooming in on something in the game with the player ship’s cameras should probably have focus limits, so if you are out by Mars, maybe a cheap ship can only see Earth clearly enough to see blue and white. In that case, the system might bring up a file model of the planet, and a quick rundown of pertinent information.

        If the player is in combat, that pertinent information might be the time it takes for a message to reach said planet, and the most likely amount of time it would take to get rescued. Outside combat, economic stats might be provided, or even advertisements, and a contact list limited to people at that location.

  8. Greg says:

    I’m really happy you’re continuing with your game.

    For a good book that is realistic, check out The Human Reach Series by John Lumpkin. It’s written with the help/advice of the guy who runs the Atomic Rockets site. He’s also got a warship classification system on his website. No aliens and only a little bit of handwavium.

    In many ways, that book represents the kind of universe I’d like to have in a game.

    I’m also against the multiplayer as the core. I’m very much a single player – and if you can make something like a quick mission builder, that’s even better. Let me pick a ship (or custom design a ship) and let me set up a battle with another ship/ships. I just don’t have the time or urge to look for other people to play with, when I’ve only got an hour or two a night to play. Especially 1-on-1 multiplayer battles – I’m too misanthropic to bother with that.

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