If you know me, you’ll know I have a lot of (game) ideas, coupled with a less-than-spectacular attention span. Most of the games that I start would likely take 6-12 months of regular evening work (10-12 hours/week) for even a minimal game, while I usually don’t spend more than 6 weeks on a game before becoming distracted by a new idea. But 6 months of focus is a long time! I could make games that I could finish in 1-2 months, but they aren’t games I want to make. Thus, I have a lot of games that are 5% done.
Since I’ve become slightly bored with my current game idea (despite all that lovely room-archetype research I did in previous articles), I started psyching myself up for the “space commander” genre again. What if you had a text-based game (note I did not say adventure) where you interact with the game through a series of either text commands or buttons, but the game is very story-based with some action – you might have to say “Fire missiles on my mark!” and then actually say “Mark!” at the right time. But then I was thinking about adding a few more UI elements here and there to make it more interesting – a radar, maybe realistic or abstract representations of crew members, various other scanners, and then I remembered wait – I already have a space game I’m working on!
Two games back (before the Rimworld-like and the Terraria-like) I was working on a game inapproriately codenamed “shmup”, which was briefly an accurate descriptor until I remembered that I didn’t actually like that genre. shmup is a game where you control a single ship with the WASD keys and aim the ship with the cursor. You shoot and little energy pellets come out and kill baddies.
But the game isn’t primarily a combat game – my plans are for it to be more base builder, economics, and adventure.
Base builder games are games in which you build elaborate, well, bases – collections of structures and units that are optimized for efficiency and some other metrics – food production, weapon production, defenses, movement, and so on. Combat may be a major factor, but it might not be, too. Usually there’s a moderately high number of structures and complex relationships between them. Both Rimworld and Prison Architect are in this category – your entire purpose is to build up a facility that’s mostly self-sustaining while you make constant refinements or expansions. In Rimworld, you’re fighting off attackers and building a resilient colony (really a fort), while in Prsion Architect you’re (obviously) building a prison, but one resilient to uprising.
I like games that feature supply chains and assembly lines, for some reason. There’s something oddly satisfying about watching progressively more complex products come together after building a well-greased machine of a supply chain. Virtual City, The Settlers III (to a lesser, slower degree), and obviously Factorio all do this, where you have to secure natural resources, build the correct buildings in a reasonable proximity, and ensure you’re making something you actually need.
This needs little explanation. In many base builder games, you’re stuck looking at your base the entire game. Contrast this with most real-time strategy games and you have your bases, but the vast majority of the playable map is not your base.
I’d just like to see more games where base building is a major aspect, but not the only aspect.
Bringing it full circle
Describing a game that contains all of these things is easy enough that I can do it in one (admittedly long) sentence:
is a game in which you discover natural resources, subjugate asteroid-nations, and more in order to establish mining operations and trade routes that feed back into your space civilization, where you refine and export advanced technologies.
Basically there’s two aspects: explore+defend, and build+trade. These modes are different enough they may even warrant a different view+input mode.
You’ll always be in some sort of central command ship that issues orders and commands, so you’ll need to fly your ship somewhat near whatever you’re interested in interacting with.
For the base builder aspect, you’ll be able to place virtual “blueprints” of what you want constructed directly into space. Dedicated construction bots can build up your structures, or your command ship will have rudimentary construction facilities. There will be your main base, with thorough defenses, housing, and manufacturing, but also satellite bases where you have mining operations or resupply stations – all will need to be defended!
For the economics aspect, it’s not enough to simply harvest and sell raw materials; you need to manufacture stuff, too. Having good trading partners will be essential, as there will be a variety of resources in the game, some of which won’t be in your immediate area, so you’ll need to import some stuff in order to build more complicated, more expensive products. Cater your production to what you have the most of and import the rest. Of course, you can also use what you make – can always use more weapons and ships!
Lastly, the adventure aspect is not just something to break up the potential monotony of base building; it’s also essential to securing new mining operations. Some resource-rich areas may be on occupied planets – what then? Steal or negotiate? There may be other mining operations from competing corporations that you could also “acquire”. You can also discover exciting new natural (and unnatural) phenomena and study them, or report them for a bonus. Free agents might require escorts, planets and trade partners might request assistance, kidnappings requiring detective work, and more missions await players looking for a bit more action and a bit less base building. But your base could still be attacked while you’re out and about, so build your base-fortress carefully.
And now you can see why I never get close to finishing anything. This is, to me, an awesome concept that would be a lot of fun to play, but even if I pared it down to three resources, five mission types, a couple enemies, a couple types of weapons, and actually filled out all the other missing pieces and UI and sounds and graphics…even that would take me a good few months, keeping in mind I’d spend like 10-12 hours/week on this.
(Side note: I wrote this in Feb 2017, but forgot about it and didn’t publish it until Feb. 21, 2018. I also didn’t proofread it this year, so…sorry if there are typos or sentence fragments!)