SpaceCraft: Keep It Simple Dummy!

Posted By BOwen on June 20, 2012

Wouldn’t it be like, totally awesome to make the game you want without leaving anything out? Every aspiring game designer has the next big idea that is full of every little idea that is the next best thing since sliced bread so of course the game has to be like, equally awesome right? So why leave anything out?

In my desire for a certain measure of realistic detail in SpaceCraft I’ve been doing some research as of late. Various types of nebulas and their properties. The structure and composition of planets and solar systems and the conditions of habitability. While all that is very interesting I was reminded that there are reasons other than schedules and budgets to drop a feature from a game. No matter the game you’re working on there is one question you need to ask for every feature:

How does this feature enchance game play?

If the answer is “it doesn’t” then you should probably consider dropping it altogether. I was originally thinking that randomly generated planets should include all sorts of details like core types, magnetic fields, whether or not there’s any tectonic activity etc.. but I as examined details of our own solar system most of the details I wanted to randomize appear to be common. There are for example just two types of planets, ones with a solid surface and ones without and nearly every one has some form of atmosphere.

Yes, a molten iron core to generate a magnetic field is necessary for a terrestrial planet to hold an atmosphere, but if every terrestrial planet in our own solar system meets that requirement then why on Earth should I randomize it? Suddenly the nature of my questions began to change from “Does this planet have a molten core? and therefore this, that and possibly some other thing?” to “Does it really enhance game play if the player has to check a planet’s core data?” and “So can we land on this planet or not?”

Why did I spend all those hours doing research only to arrive at the conclusion that it was a waste of time? Well honestly, it wasn’t really a waste but if I hadn’t gotten carried away by the complexities of my own vision I would’ve spent more of that time coding the basics of generating planet data. The moral of the story is: Not every idea we think is ‘cool’ will make a game any better. We need to examine them objectively and be willing to drop the ones that aren’t worth our time and energy. If it doesn’t enhance the game in some way then it’s not a priority. Your average player isn’t going to care about what lies beneath the surface of a planet unless it’s something they can use in some way.

As for the state of development I’m afraid I was thrown off my groove for awhile there. Between some volunteer work that ate up much of my normal work hours followed by a particularly nasty cold I didn’t get much done last month. I’ve been getting my groove back this month and planning out a much simplier system of generating planets and other stellar bodies. One problem of a one man team is there’s so much to do it’s hard to decide what to do next!

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