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Flatspace - the Interview

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Flatspace - the Interview

Interview - posted by Saint_Proverbius on Wed 31 December 2003, 14:21:33

Tags: Cornutopia Software; Flatspace; Mark Sheeky

1.) Can you tell us a little bit about what it's like to be an independent developer?

Usually it's hard work for little reward, but there are benefits to going it alone. You can decide exactly what to produce and what features you want to add. Most indie developers do so to make their ideal game, and most don't make anywhere near a profit.

How Cornutopia got started?

I've been programming, like, forever but it was only on Amiga that I started producing games that were at least viewable. Under the name of Scorpius Software I wrote about 25 games between 1991 and 1997. Some were shareware, some got on the shelves (including Blade, an isometric rogue clone) but I didn't get to see any of the money. The publishing world was/is full of sharks. I renamed to Cornutopia, got a PC and learned how to use it, wrote an X-COM like game called Arcangel and started to improve my skills through a series of games. Flatspace is my 12th PC game, and the first designed from the start to be self published.

What type of games you enjoy creating?

Creating is different from playing... I like creating fast and simple arcade games I think. Nothing too graphically intensive because desiging decent graphics takes a long time and it's boring. To play I prefer turn based strategy, or something mindless and intense like Unreal Tournament. Creating deep intense games takes a lot more effort than a shallow one. There are very few 'deep' indie games, most are simple puzzle things.

2.) Flatspace has some interesting features from rogue-like games, including permadeath, graveyards, random universe generation, and so forth. Can you tell us a little bit about why you've added features like this? What made you think they'd be interesting in this context?

Well, I like Nethack. Random elements always make a game better because they really add to the depth for such a small amount of development work. Once you've completed Half Life, there is no real reason to ever play it again so why don't they add random levels? Getting the computer to generate as much from seeds can lead to great depth and complexity without much outlay. The real Universe is generated algorithmically after all.

The exploration aspects of rogue clones is rarely used in games, yet those are some of their most interesting aspects. Every game is different. It keeps the game interesting even at the start, a plot driven game gets more and more interesting until you finish the game and never play it again. If a game is just as fun at the start as the end then permadeath is not a penalty.

3.) Flatspace offers several starting career outfits, which is something that isn't typically done in this type of game. Can you tell us why you decided to allow this as opposed to starting in a generic shuttle type ship?

A choice of character just seemed to make sense.

4.) There are several classes of space station in the game, including things like prison stations, industrial stations, police bases, and so forth. Can you tell us what makes each of them different for the player? What can players expect when they run across them? Any tips for what to do at each of them?

There are essentially three types: trading/normal, police, and pirate (or independent trading posts). Each can vary in size and shape and some don't even have docking bays. The normal ones sell all of the cargo, a selection of upgrades and offer certain types of mission. The police ones don't see cargo but do sell some police related upgrades. They also display a wanted list, and allow you to see your own criminal record. In police stations you can turn in prisoners (passagers) to claim the reward for capturing them. Pirate stations import a class of cargo, but do not export (pirates are essentially consumers). Pirate stations offer a limited range of cargo, a range of upgrades and different types of missions. You can also sell passengers as slaves at a pirate station, an illegal act that always goes on your record but it is worth quite a lot of money.

5.) One of the big fun aspects of the space trading games is, of course, trading. Can you tell us how the trade system works? What affects the prices? Any tips on finding the best routes since the game is randomly generated?

Cargo is divided into categories and stations import cargo of one category and export cargo of another (you can identify the import/export categories with a trading scanner). The prices rise and fall naturally too, and some stocks are more volitile than others. Now, stations normally import a lower category (like a raw material) and export a higher one (a finished product) so you might easily find a station that imports minerals and exports light industrial goods but not the other way around. This means that stations rarely import Technological Goods, the highest category, so finding one that does is important. You make the biggest profits trading along a chain ABCDA, and not with simple ABAB trades between two stations because you won't find two that gel. The standard universe is always the same by the way, the same upgrades are on sale in same bases too.

6.) Outfits typically make the ship. Can you tell us a little bit about the outfits a player can expect the find in the full version?

There are lots of ship upgrades. There are scanners that can identify the armament or defences of a ship. There are robot crewmen that will do exactly the same job but without the need for wages. There are three types of missile counter measure too, the Xox reprogrammers are pretty cool. They will hack into a missile and send it heading towards your primary target.

Any personal favorites?

One problem with trading games is that players will ultimately end up with tons of money and nothing to buy with it. I mean, what's the point of being a trillionaire when all you can buy is a million tons of iron ore. I added a few expensive (but useless in the context of the game) items such as a top range Maddocks hi-fi, but my favourite is the Swedish Autochef.

7.) Asteriod mining and scavenging is one of the career paths most traders that have it seem to neglect. Can you tell us how this works in Flatspace? What is there to make this interesting for players? Can you do this with any ship if it has the right outfits?

It's hard to make mining interesting isn't it? In Flatspace you can fit a variety of tractor beams that you can use to suck in bits of rock, or anything else like cargo pods or even whole ships. Some beams will refine as they assimilate (eg. ores to metals), some will safely bring people aboard and some will mince them for sale as meat. Any ship can have a scoop/tractor and some of the more expensive ones are small enough to fit into a fighter so you can become a true pirate. Killing traders and taking the cargo is more interesting than mining for sure.

8.) How many random mission types are there in Flatspace? Can you give us examples of them? Are there ways to unlock more with certain outfits or by completing certain goals? How are the rewards for the missions determined?

There are five mission types: deliveries, taxi, rescues, captures and kills. Resuce missions don't imply the pilot of a vessel and you often end up stunning the ship, or police station, and ordering the commander to release all of the prisoners so that you can grab the one you want. Pirate ships routinely carry slaves that need rescuing. Delivery and taxi mission rewards vary by range/distance and the others by the strength/toughness of the target vessel. There are no more mission types, instead more become feasable as the play gets better. You could accept that mission to destroy the Goliath Starcity right away but you are unlikely to survive the assault. It's best to wait you command a Battlestation fitted with a Triquoquaric Annihilator.

9.) What all combat outfits and options are available in Flatspace? Can you tell us what makes them useful to the player? How do they play a role in the battle?

There are a ton of weapons. Weapons can vary in price, damage, mass and energy drain and there are a few broad categories. Most games seem to give you cheap and rubbish weapons with tiny energy drain and tiny size at one end of the spectrum, and then add large expensive behemoth guns at the other. I've tried to add a bit of variety. The plasma weapons for example are always the same size, but cost more and drain more power as they get higher. The machine guns and cannons never drain power and the flamers are mid price, mid size but drain a lot of power, have a short range but really kill things quickly. Of course, there are big death rays too, the Positron Tesla Evaporator is a nice name for a nice death ray.

There are almost 30 types of homing missile or mine, all look different when they are screaming towards your tailpipe so it is possible to learn which is which by sight.

How many types of fighters are there and what roles do they serve?

Fighters are just normal ships. Some bigger ships have fighter bays and once you own one of the big ships, you can buy any ship that will fit as a fighter (normally something small like a Bat or Swingback). Target something, and you can launch everything on a seek and destroy mission. This looks like something out of Battlestar Galactica. The arcade sub-game pits you against a Carrier on level 10 but level 10 is hard to attain. The arcade game gives you a laser, shield, and a flare launcher plus three missiles that are restocked each level. On each level you face increasingly large waves of enemies, and it all takes place in a dense asteroid field.

10.) Can you tell us what benefit hiring crewmen provide for the cost? Is there any way to have a large crew and earn enough money to eek out a profit with their docking wages?

Wages or the individual skills of the crew don't affect the game. Crew can cost a varying amount of money to heal though. You never require a large crew but the big ships mean that you will make enough each trip to pay for the crew and more.

11.) There is a Police career and a Bounty Hunter career. Can you tell us the difference between the two? What do these two options do? Why would a player want to be one as opposed to the other?

Most/all of the professions are fluid, the player has a lot of freedom to do what they want and can change career at any time (you can buy a police enforcer ship to join the force). As a police officer you get a good, well equipped ship and you can also call for back up on the radio which can be used to great effect. The bounty hunter starts only with a scanner capable of determining the kill bounty of a target, and not even a radar but the ship is more combat oriented. You can still break the law as a police officer and become a fugitive, and as there are only two types of police vessel, the career prospects are limited. Essentially, you start off higher as a police officer but you can't climb much more.

12.) Can you tell us a little bit about the main story arc? How involved is it? Will the game continue after you've built the core? Does the core do anything for you?

The quest object, the galactic hyperdrive, is essentially the end. Once you've found and obtained all four bits, you ascend to the graveyard as a winner and there is no unfolding story. The premise was created primarily to explain why there are no planets! Planets in a top down game would be strange, Cosmic Pirate did it on Amiga but it's not realistic in any sense, and realism (or at least a consistent set of physical laws) is important.

13.) Can you tell us what plans you have for this property in the future? Addons? Sequels?

I have a vague notion of a sequel set in a more realistic first person universe. For plot reasons, the galactic hyperdrive would be some sort of time machine that flings the player back to the time when space was normal and 'curved'.

Thanks to Mark Sheeky of Cornutopia for taking the time to talk about Flatspace with us!

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