One of the failings of our previous attempts at a game client is that it wasn’t exactly clear what the Player should be doing.

It’s not really enough to call a game out as a particular genre and expect it to fit in there and belong. Controls, graphical elements and camera alone do not an RTS make (not a good one anyways.) So we have to somehow design purpose into a game to make it satisfying which is something we lacked in our previous attempts.

There were a few telltale signals that we failed to do this before, Players asking for tutorials is one. We didn’t really see it at the time but rather than blindly provide what the Players were asking for, we should instead have stopped to think ‘why are they asking for this?’

If we were wise and took a step back we’d have come up with the answer which is ‘the game is too complicated to play.’

So in the age of casual gaming and short attention spans, how do we design something that caters for both the modern age and the classic unloved RTS genre?

The answer is to come up with clearly defined game loops.

All games have them, whether they are open-world style or linear - the setting simply brings the illusion of choice (much the same as our menial existence on this planet!)

A game loop is a clearly defined sequence of actions that leads to a reward, a purpose for your existence within the game if you like. Shallow Space will need to cater to both the 10-15 minute occasioning casual player (short game loop) and those who want to dedicate time to it 30 minute+ (long game loop.)

Game loops in Shallow Space

As you can see in the diagram above, they aren’t two separate concerns but in-fact woven together. It’s worth noting that this mechanism is completely transparent in-game, it’s just that decent game design tends to incorporate these elements and the Player subliminally expects to find them.

It is what makes a computer game so addictive.

Death will not be penalised, giving the whole thing a rogue-like element. We want Players to thrust themselves into large fleet battles without having the fear of losing everything and starting again, or having to worry about stuff like ship insurance etc.

But how do we fight boredom?

Well this is one of the main reasons for going multiplayer. When you have many people playing a game together you naturally get unpredictability.

Many of you raised the point that games like this might have no Players at the start, so we'll shamelessly fake them with bots until the real Players arrive.

The strategy areas will evolve in realtime, which will have a knock-on effect on the tactical areas (discussed here.)

That sweet location you found to put your base?

Bad news, it just happens to be smack bang in the middle of the marauder factions control area now, other Players can’t access your sector (aka. tactical area) because you've locked it but gathering resources from around you and trading has become more difficult - so you’re forced to start claiming space back yourself sector-by-sector or go and ask for some help.

Also we’ll have random encounters, strange anomalies, that sort of thing.

The ironic thing about reigning in the controls with Shallow Space is that we now have a much wider palette of computer game abstractions we can borrow from if needed. So we can feed in RPG elements if it fits, or just focus on keeping it simple and rewarding.

The idea is that we’ll make something you can play in your chair for hours or on the bus for a few minutes.

But we need to get those game loops clearly defined before we introduce the more complex stuff and sweet looking graphics.

At the moment, we’re in the race to create the short game loop and put it online in its simplest form. This ‘vertical slice’ of gameplay will tell us if we have something worth iterating on before we go crazy adding in the additional elements.

This is almost the complete opposite of how we were doing things before!

But what does this actually mean?

Here is a solar system abstract, one of the core systems of Shallow Space (designed down the last intricate detail thank-you Mr. Harper)

Pleiades solar system abstract 

Well we’ll model this solar system in-game; split it into planets and those planets into sectors and to start with there will be a heavy focus on the short game-loops:

  • So joining a game, looking at the strategy maps and deciding where to put yourself
  • Getting embroiled in a fight (alone/together whatever, learning controls as you go)
  • Getting the reward, building up your fleets
  • Quit or repeat.

At this point the game will look and feel like a computer game and will be available to play. Then we introduce some of the long game loop elements like resource collection and construction.

We hope this article gives you a sense of where we're heading, things are still moving quite quickly behind the scenes. We're taking the time to plan things properly this time and question every idea.

There will be another 'personal log' style article along shortly on getting the team back together, an intimate look at the dev process, along with some thoughts on the decisions made so far!