Untitled Space Game – Episode 1: The Drawing Board

This is the first in a hopefully many-part set of blog posts in which I will attempt to document my thought and work process in my efforts to make a game in Unity. So far, the broad strokes of the project are:

  • Strategy/rpg set in space, heavy on exploration, crew/ship building and tactical combat
    • Like Wing Commander Privateer, sorta, but more strategy-oriented
  • The ship-to-ship engagements should resemble FTL, or Dungeon of the Endless
  • Semi-realtime – player can pause/fast forward time in certain contexts
  • 2D isometric/top down art
  • Done in Unity engine
  • Moddable – because as a solo dev, content is going to be hard to do, so crowdsource that shit

I’ve had these broad strokes swimming around in my head (and in various forms of written/electronic media) for a while now, but have been looking for the best way to start. Already just sitting down and really pondering the workload and plan, there are noticeable differences in thinking this out for myself vs for a team, which is a context in which I have much more experience working. For example, part of me wants to heavily design the thing out on paper, but another side of me realizes that any design work I do is solely for the benefit of helping myself shape the eventual game, rather than communicating a vision to a team or solving for manpower and production constraints. Of course, I could similarly call into question the point of this blog, but I’ll leave that bottomless rabbit-hold of self-reflection for another time, and try and focus on creating.

So how to actually begin? It’s weird, after all this time, to have the only real constraint be my own time/ability. The drawing board is big and blank and terrifying in front of me, and as much as I want to simply paste a snapshot of the finished thing in place and just trace over it, I know I have to begin somewhere. First steps and all that jazz. So the way I see it, I can divide up my effort as if I had a 3 man team consisting of a writer, an artist, and an engineer, and focus on 3 main big-picture things, in basically this order:

  1. Designing the world, lore, and gameplay rules
  2. Defining the general art style
  3. Pick some of the core systems to start prototyping in isolated projects, to figure out the tech involved

Even as I wrote those out I edited and revised them like 10 times, and now I figure that steps 1 and 2 are roughly parallel, but step 3 really relies on the other 2. I may be able to enlist the aid of some artist friends of mine to help get #2 rolling. In particular Erik and Jon might have some good ideas, although I don’t know how much they’ll be willing to do out of charity. As for step 1… I’ve made some decent progress in outlining the gameplay basics in Xmind format. The next step, given that it’s a 2d semi-turn-based strategy, might be to model out some of the mechanics in physical cards and paper. I bet I could enlist the aid of my tabletop RPG buddies in playtesting and tuning the core mechanics, even. I have to admit to a certain disdain for actually producing physical things, as I try and live my life as much digitally as possible, but I have to acknowledge a certain ease of creation and editing when the thing is just comprised of index cards, and it bypasses the tendency to get buried deep in the idiosyncrasies of a particular algorithm or section of code, and lost sight of the whole in the process.

So there we go. Step 1 – make a card game. Actually, I guess step 1 is get some cards. That’s my first goal for tomorrow. I should have some free time to do that I think.

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