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Interview - posted by Saint_Proverbius on Mon 16 June 2003, 15:04:03Tags: Oxygen
1.) Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and why you decided to make something as complex as a space fairing CRPG?
Well, my name is Ariel Chai, and the Chai isn't japanese, it's israeli.(though I like the oriental tone).
I've been sinking my teeth into 3D since I was about 13 (with povray, heh), and although I always had a knack for drawing, it got more serious at that time as well. Like every CG artist (and programmer), there was always the desire to make a game, and with numerous classic RPGs as my inspirations, I started out with an isometric, futuristic RPG. Although I put a lot of effort on it, my team was far from motivated and being merely a designer, it was problematic to keep track of the programming development. Though it was a learning experience for everyone.
Further on, I developed an all-around modification for the Mac game Escape Velocity in one month's time - that proved to me I could work pretty fast. On the other hand, I just noticed that I wanted to change about everything in the game, and the scripting system was too limited/annoying.
I finished my army service about half a year ago, and while learning C++, I tried my shot at writing a basic game control for an imaginary isometric RPG - seeing that I did more in one month alone than what I did in a year with my previous team (i had a soldier walking in a screen filled with tiles/trees) and of course grasping how hard it really is to make a complex RPG with character animations and stuff, I decided to start seriously on a project which is while realistic to finish alone, just as cool.
Hence oxygen started 5 months ago, being a collection of a lot ideas I have, and inspired by numerous games that I enjoyed in the distant past, and in turn helping me to hone my skills. Being a toy project, I can work on it whenever I feel like it, and that takes off must of the stress granted on a demanding project like that. (you can awake the people in the back row now)
2.) Can you shed a little light on the universe of Oxygen? A little history? Why things are the way they are?
About the history, to be honest, not really - If I'll think about the history/details it'll take too much of my already small brain-capacity from the development. But for a general idea, when starting the game the Oxygen universe is not at the middle of military catastrophe, but rather quite a few years after a big war. unlike the usual winning side controlling the universe, that big (and long) war ended by an utter split and abandon of the sides, leaving the universe as a collection of different/weaker forces. Thus, the galaxy is made of your everyday rivalery/allied galactic forces (pirates, vigilantes, dark empire, etc...), while the game's punch is that their relationships change and get extreme as you play the game just to get things interesting and cooked up.
This helps squeezing the expected politics out, and laying out the universe as struggle between individuals/organizations - thus from a gamer's point of view, shaping the universe like the 14th century world of sea-trading, nation struggles, explorations and etc (this sums it up rather well)
3.) Oxygen will contain a mostly random universe. Other projects have tried this with the end result being that after a while, the random missions become stale. Can you tell us how you plan on keeping random missions interesting for players?
Although the universe seems completely random now, in the future it should follow a few subtle guidelines just to make sure it will be balanced and enjoyable. (but it will still be very random). In the lower level, non-random games are hard to replay - this helps boosts replayablity, and in the higher level, it would contribute to the gameplay's flexibility and sense of "unexpectability".
A major thing that makes random missions boring, is the fact you have a Random-Mission-O'-matic in many games, and the only thing random between them is the cash you get or the places the missions happen in - it seems too artificial for me to do. So, games that made the mission-signing a little more alive (Uncharted Waters 2, or even Sega's Shadow Run for example) added a lot of feel and enjoyment to the game, and the funny thing was that they had about the same number of different types of missions.
With that said, Oxygen will have many encounters and just as many sub-missions (sub, because you don't sign up for them, you meet them by chance) such as a distress call from a nearby trade-ship, finding out the civilian you transport is actually a convict in a wanted-list, etc , making the game less anticipated and more flexible.
Another thing to add to the spice, each mission you do would effect the universe in a subtle manner - for example, trading with a certain spaceport improve it's economics, which has the effect of strengthening the military force that occupies it, and in turn adding to the galactic force that controls it - with logical things effected.
So, you may ask "those are nice things to think about, but how practical are they ?" Very, - it's not half as complex as it sounds, just a long work, and it has been done before (in different manners) - I wouldn't have it otherwise or I would lose interest in the development
4.) In the latest screenshots on the site, you show off your isometric part of the game where players can wander around stations and the like. How large a portion of the game will take place as the pilot? What can the pilot do without his ship? Can a pilot engage in combat?
The isometric portion of the game was made for the spaceports. Although it would be cool to have fighting like in the classic CRPG Buck Rogers, where you flew a spaceship and had isometric combat in other ships/stations (i have to admit it really crossed my mind), it's too early to decide now, and I have to sadly point out - that it would take the focus out of the game-core's gameplay/development - being an overhead spaceshooter RPG.
If you would take a classic CRPG, you could compare it's towns as the oxygen's spaceports. and likewise these are quite a center of attention, where the rpg-player takes a break from adventuring/action and manages his character "equipment" and such. (hence, they take quite a portion of the game)
5.) Are there plans for other environments for the pilot other than space stations? Can the player's pilot enter other ships in isometric view? Walk around on planets?
Other than walking in spaceports, another view was planned ahead. Planets, as many have guessed - serve for a different purpose than the spaceport view (that will be respectively handled by a small portion of habitable planets, and mainly by ... arrm ... spaceports), but rather the player's thirst for mineral plunge, and artifact hunt.
Since going out in a spacesuit, with a shovel, would be too hilarious - an appropriate gear/vehicle would be used instead, and due to the planet's size, the overhead point-of-view would be used again. This actually is a major thing to implement, and planned after the main framework will be done. (so don't hold your breath for it yet)
6.) Being a CRPG, the pilot will have skills to upgrade. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the skills and the impact they'll have on gameplay?
Skills mark how good a pilot is, and in a way it puts order in balance-issues. (i.e. "I have earned a fortune from that trade job, now I can buy a fighter with no worries, although I have no experience with it").
On the low-level, they represent the minimum requirements to operate different ships, equipment, weapons, and so forth. Though the real impact is the operation of different things, for example:
Negotiation skill: Effecting things like hiring profit, trading income, finding better wares special deals, etc
Combat skill: controlling accuracy of a weapon (yup, a shot will have a random offset degree), damage of a shot (a skilled pilot knows how to hit a ship's hardpoints), etc
As much as I've seen interesting skill systems, like the hero's games (mom, homm, etc ...), I'm going for a solid 4-6 skills with values from 0-100 here or I'll have a really unbalanced game.
7.) Can you tell us a little bit about other things in the pilot character that are tracked, such as reputation? Will reputation be tracked based on the individual associations you have or will it be an over all reputation? For example, can you be mean to the people at one station while having other people in a remote station still idolize you?
Must certainly. A character's stats are also made up of changeable ratings, such as Fame (your galactic exploits rating), Reputation (a villain, a hero, and everything in-between), and Loyalty (your relationships with the different organizations).
Reputation's main effect is for all those (many) people who don't belong to a certain group (merchants, individuals ...), and is effected by many different things. (doing illegal missions reducing it, helping someone in need increase it etc). Loyalty is effected by the relationships with certain forces and have the obvious effect on them.
So basically, that means that a pirate station can be hostile towards you, while a dark-empire fort will idolize you. while on the other hand, you won't have a different reputations with stations in the same sphere of influence. (you can see that as relationships with countries)
8.) Right now, there are two ships in the game, the Manta and the Hornet. Are there plans to include other ships? Can you tell us what class of ships there will be? What size?
Heh, I knew you would like to hear sizes, and of course I do plan to include other ships - one is being under development for the next version.
Fighters - popular among bounty-hunters and mercenaries, designed for one purpose - combat. Their slick build allows for very good maneuvering, and high shield-capacity which contributes for their performance in many battles. Although they're not designed for trading, they still have a certain capacity for cargo - which increases with the size of the fighter.
* The manta/hornet are two fighters (light/medium), which leaves about 1-2 fighters to add.
Trading-Vessels - these big and awkward ships are made for one primary purpose - high cargo storage. Their design leads to poor maneuvering, which marks them as easy hunting prays for the faster fighters. and while their weapon system is made primarily for defense, their high mass allows them to carry a respectable array of weaponry.
Different vessels may have different advantages (some are designed for better combat performance, etc ...), but their size means low-shield capacity, but high armor. (which is helpful for single fights).
* I'm currently working on a medium trading vessel (Neptune), trading ships are a center point, so there should be quite a few.
Bombers/Destroyers - unlike fighters, those are bigger and slower ships, designed to carry very heavy weaponry. They are still made as combat ships, so they have retain a decent shield-level while having a higher armor rating, and their size allows them to carry more cargo then fighters.
* I plan to make only a few, since they merely serve as "edge" fighters.
Flagships/Bigships (?) - there isn't a good game without one or two very big ships, i'll leave this field for your imagination.
9.) Are there outlets for players who aren't interested in combat? Will there be a way for those players to earn a living without killing lots of things? Can you rig a ship for running away by adding more engines and stripping weapons?
Well, nobody said you can't be a pacifist trader (I can't imagine a person buying a trading vessel for the weapons), but it's a tough world out there, you'll need to make sure you can defend yourself. (of course, you're going to see a lot less action in a trading ship)
Weapons will have no effect on cargo and vice versa, so if you don't use their space, too bad. (if I don't have it this way, things get mixed up, and too many ships will have access to powerful weapons). But in the economical level, you could invest your funds on an engine/thruster-upgrades rather than a shiny new (and big) weapon.
10.) Can you tell us a little about the ship systems in the game? What things can you upgrade? Can you upgrade a lowly ship like the one you start with to be useful late in the game?
Yes, there would be upgrades (to improve velocity,acceleration,rotation,energy-capacity,energy-recharge,armor,shields, shields-recharge and special systems), and I plan the ship prices to be quite high, so the average player would probably do some upgrades instead of fully investing for a new ship. Other than that, there would be several accessories that could be bought (tracking devices, better targeting systems, cloaking devices (ooh yeah), etc.)
However, with that said, a lowly-ship wouldn't be much useful for advanced missions/stuff.
11.) Can you tell us a little about the trade system in Oxygen? Will buying and selling of goods affect prices on a station? Will there be a system to make trade route management easier by tracking last known prices? Or being able to guess price by the type of station/planet?
About the economy, a station would have a fixed set of goods, a current/maximum economical level value (effecting things on higher scales), and a price rating per good. Trading with the station will have a direct effect on prices, while other things like escorting a trade convoy to a station would certainly change things up - and on the A good's price will get higher the more you buy it, and vice verse. while returning slowly to the default value as game-time goes by.
The type of station has no effect on the goods so guessing won't help much, However learning trade routes is the basis of every game's trading aspect, either by directly checking the station's goods out, or through gossip in the local tavern or from a passing merchant ship.
As for tracking prices with a built-in feature (rather than writing them on a piece of paper), it seems very logical that I would be implemented in the DSS(DeepSpaceScanner) map, as part of the interface development when it gets to that stage.
12.) Listening to gossip is one of the things in your overview on the game. Can you tell us what role gossip might play in the game? Will gossip be free or for sale? Will there be things the pilot can do to affect the importance of the gossip he receives? Certain skills or statistics that might allow a well known or charismatic pilot to get more gossip from people?
Gossip helps making track of what's been happening around that part of the galaxy, and special opportunities (such as someone looking for a special mission, a special plasma-blaster deal at station-x, etc...), information about planets/stations (for example, station-x in the vorvul system offer high-tech fighters)
The main skill effect on gossip would be his negotiation skill, while having a negative reputation/loyalty with the person you talk to will likely have him/her ignore you. however, obviously - luck is the main effect on gossip.
As for buying gossip, it's a little rough to decide now since it hasn't been implemented yet, if there will be very useful gossip then it would be proper to have a price for it.
13.) For home brew game maker wannabes, can you briefly share some insight in to SDL and Kyra. Why you used them and what advantages you think they provided Oxygen? What are the disadvantages?
Well, SDL is very powerful and simple at the same time, it saves the developer a lot of hassle with multimedia stuff, such as sound setup, graphical usage, input control (keyboard, joysticks, mouse, etc ...) and more. This drastically helps me to concentrate on actual development of oxygen rather then the technical (and annoying) stuff. The only disadvantage I can think off, is the imperfect sound - which can be fixed by using OpenAL (made by the same guys)
Kyra is a sprite-engine library for SDL, personally it had all the features I ever needed - alpha transformation, palette change, tree/node parenting, visibility, pixel-perfect collision detection, frame/action concept for animations, simple xml .dat encoder, straightforward memory usage, and more. But above all, the code is designed really well, which helped me get an unmatchable drawing speed for oxygen. (32 bit 1024-768 is very demanding). As for disadvantages, Kyra treats iso-tiles as sprites(with nodes), and filling the whole screen with those tiles can slow things up on slower computers. the second would be that text is a very clever usage of sprites - while it allows having attractive fonts, it should not be used for debugging-text.
Other than that, one bit of advice I could give to home game designers, would be that You should try to take as few things to work on at a time and aim your goals low and ascend them as you progress, otherwise you'll get to a point you have too many open issues to work on at hand, and they are in no level to be proud off nor to be evaluated by other people. (a very common thing which leads to leaving projects in the middle)
Thanks to Ariel Chai of Oxygen for taking the time answering all these questions with gobs and gobs of info.