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Star force academy – in search of Space Monsters

Distant Orbit – some new design ideas

Almost as if to underline my previous post about designing games around a loose brief I now find myself in the unusual position of having a far bigger game on my hands than originally intended.

The design for Distant Orbit was to be quite simple. As a super hero deep space star fighter you are dispatched to multiple planets to defeat the bad guys and destroy large monolithic towers. Once complete you leave the planet, pick a new destination and repeat. As the game progresses the structured levels become more complex and more challenging.

I’m at a stage with the game’s development where I’m spending as much time playing as I am coding. All graphics just now are placeholder.
What I love about this stage of development is just how rich the ideas can be thanks to the fact that you can actually play enough of the game to visualise such things.
Already things are changing.
For example; originally I had wanted to make the game as a simple shooter where the player adopts the role of an anonymous star pilot.
With each loss of a ‘life’ a new starship would become available and the game would continue.
But as I was playing the game it occurred to me that it would be so much cooler if actually the player adopts the role of a team of star pilots. So with life #1 the player is actually in the role of a young Cadet pilot named Aero. She has her own ship and that ship has its own laser style.
When Aero’s ship takes too much damage (there’s an on-screen energy bar indicator) she retreats and the next pilot slides in to view. I currently call him Fuzz :)
When Fuzz takes too much damage the final pilot in the party slides in to view.
So the characters in the game nevere actually ‘die’.

What’s great about this is that it allows me to do a few extra things with the game. First it allows me to create some cool character graphics for each pilot.
Second it allows me to weave a story and some interplay between the characters. The story is simple: the pilot buddies are from the Star Force Academy. As they fight the alien threat they grow in experience and ultimately will gain enough experience to graduate. So initially they fight as cadets but once the system is cleared the cadets will gain rank.
This drives a consistent theme throughout the game and keeps the player interested. It also allows me to script some suitably cool ‘buddy chat’ between the characters.
The presentation for such chat is as you would expect in that the characters portrait appears on the screen in a greyed strip with text alongside.
Note: for ease of localisation I use the Arial/Sans-Serif font family and save the text file in UTF-8.

Although I haven’t coded it yet I’m also considering a system of repairing and powering up each star ship. The reason for this is simple, it provides me with a means of locking content. Similarly I would like to lock pilots. So essentially the initial three pilots are the default. With enough experience the player can add to the party from a group of more experienced academy pilots.

I guess the point here is that I left enough flexibility in the design to allow it to happen. Better still since there’s enough flexibility in the code structure that I’ve created to make these games the transition from design idea to code was straight forward.

I look forward to being able to show a little more as the game nears completion.

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