Category Archives: game design

When I was very very young, i remember reading some dead-tree magazine talking about online ‘chatrooms’ where people played a role playing game like dungeons and dragons. Its was probably a role-play chat room where people dialed in with their modems. It sounded amazing.

Imagine a whole alternate world where you could be a wizard! a space captain! a ferengi. A completely different existence free of the worries, stresses, concerns and hassles of the real world. Even as a kid I thought it sounded awesome. As I grew up, I found the idea even more appealing. Imagine a world with no boss, where you hang out in a space bar with aliens drinking weird space cocktails and talking about space stuff. No boss, no TPS reports, no income tax, just existing like a giant shared dream.

And then along came MMOs like everquest and killed my dreams.

Te way I imagined these online worlds were pure sandbox. No quests, no missions, no score, no rank, none of the status-chasing and accumulation targets of the modern world. I wanted an online bar. I wanted to be Quark, or morn…


One day I thought I may even get my wish when they did a star trek MMO. it was AWFUL. They were so scared, so paranoid, so terrified that the attention-deficit generation wouldn’t love the game, that the VERY FIRST few minutes of the (hugely goal-driven game) involve an attack by multiple borg cubes. Talk about skipping to the end. This was existing in another life, another world, another place I could call home, this was just a multiplayer LAN style game full of people shouting at each other to join quests. Amazingly, considering it involved real people, the average modern day MMO is LESS human than a singleplayer game. In a singleplayer game there is some voice acting and some interaction with the player. An MMO is a series of bland NPC quest-vending machines stood repeating the same offer like a speak-your-weight machine crossed with spam email.


The standard reaction to my kind of sadness about the state of MMOs is to point out that you have to play with people you know. To me, this misses the point. If there is a group of people I know, and can arrange to do something at the same time as me, I’ll go meet them for a drink or grab some food in the real world. The idea for me of an online existence is to meet new people, to chill out, to maybe explore the world a bit, but to feel no pressure. But this is impossible. I’m only Level 322 and everyone else is level 892, and the cool hats are only available at level 500+ unless you buy one on the market with 23,000 AddictionBucks.

The nearest thing we have to mazes full of human test subjects are MMO games. They are skinner boxes where not only are we all experimented on to extract more and more money from us, but we actually pay someone for the honor of being a test subject. I feel more ‘attacked’ and pressured in a F2P MMO or most MMOs than I do in the real world.

This is backwards.

Star Wars Galaxies (when it first came out) was as close as I got to that Zen State. I was a wookie, I didn’t join clans or go on quests. I knew a few people playing but not many. I spent a lot of time on Tatooine crafting stuff, building up my little hovel with its moisture vaporators. It was fun. I’d go into town now and then to sell stuff, trade a little, see what was going on. It was kinda relaxing.

Where is the MO for relaxed people who don’t want to grind. Is there ANY MMO that doesn’t have scores/ranks/missions? Maybe just Second Life? Is it not really built yet, because game makers don’t realize a lot of us are 30 or 40+ and have jobs and want to chill-out, not get into another rat-race?

Sooo. In discussing this on my forums I thought it worthy of reprising here. Basically ships in GSB2 can have an ‘escort’ order which tells them to stay with X meters of another ship (user-configurable distance). This is all well and good, but you still want those ships to be useful in battle. Whether the ships are fighters/gunships or larger ships gives this order a different outcome. Here is an explanation of the current system…

The current system has non-fighter ships heading towards the point on the radius circumference of the escort order that represents the angle between the ship they are escorting, and their currently selected target enemy ship. (see below…)

On the other hand… fighters (& gunships), when given an escort order keep picking a random position within a half escort radius range of half way between the actual escort ship, and the target ship. (See below).


Now its actually very simple to make ships that are not fighters copy the fighter behavior if they have the KEEP MOVING order (which is implied with fighters & gunships). However, my question to you is…would that be desirable? I have essentially made a guess here when coding the game as to how people are thinking. I’m assuming that if you tell a frigate to escort a cruiser, you are saying ‘ by all means attack the enemy, head towards them, but don’t get more than X distance from your parent ship’.
An alternative meaning would be ‘always stay within X distance of the parent ship. If ordered to keep moving, do so, without any preference for location.

The current system leads to ‘frigate bunching’ at the nose of a cruiser or dreadnought. This means stationary ships in some cases, and susceptibility to area-of-effect weapons and detonation waves. But it does ensure escorting ships move into range when possible. Of course, if you really want to enforce some separation, we have the formation order… hmmmm.

I admit it, it makes me cough and splutter a lot when people say ‘I don’t want to go to the trouble of designing the look of the spaceships, so I just slap down an empty hull graphic‘. It worries me because there are several downsides to this. Firstly, they are missing out a big part of the game, especially a big part of what makes GSB2 new. Secondly it means their challenges, screenshots and videos are going to give a poor impression of the game, because those naked hulls are…well naked, and simplistic looking. My engine can do better! Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly) it suggests that people think the ship design interface is too complex, or fiddly, or time consuming. This is something I’ve been working on.

Firstly we now have a lot of fixes that make composite objects work better, and rotation speeds are fixed, and there is now a handy ‘reset to zero’ button for rotation speed. Plus the interface now only shows color layer options when they are relevant, because always showing three confused people, as there are rarely three layers to adjust…

But something that was suggested, and it was a great idea, was that the game should come not only with all these tiny little widgets, but also some pre-built big components you can drag and drop to make the process quicker. I agree. This now acts as a half-measure between those people who couldn’t be bothered to design at all, and those who spend hours adjusting each fin.  Here is a screenshot of a naked hull surrounded by some of the pre-fabs you can choose from.


Those pre-fabs are ‘composite objects’ and you can just right click on one and split it into all its components. Each one has a big pile of them, and you can delete one, move one, and then regroup as a new composite if you like. You can scale and duplicate/mirror/set colors for composites just like anything else, it’s one of the ship editors best kept secrets.

On that topic, I should probably give some love and attention to nudging people into using the hotkeys on that screen, as frankly I never touch the size or angle slider for anything, its so much easier to use a mouse wheel with ctrl or shift. Here’s a closeup of a composite, made up of probably 30+ components.


I’m going to spend some time today just making a few of these for each race. They act both as ‘quick-fixes’ to otherwise dull looking hulls, as well as a demonstration of the way composite objects work, which hopefully will nudge more people into creating their own. Eventually I’d like to see collections of them in the steam workshop or as lists of mods on the GSB2 website. I can foresee people getting reputations as expert ship designers!

If you just stumbled upon this post, this is a blog about the PC space strategy game ‘Gratuitous Space Battles 2‘ which is currently in beta, and you can pre-order the game and start playing right now by clicking this link here. Tell your friends!

Sooo. this is a post about the feature in Gratuitous Space Battles 2 that lets you edit the design of your ships. The game is in beta now, and I’m getting people actually playing it properly, so I thought I’d talk a bit about this feature, and ask for some feedback.

Personally, I think this is one of the coolest things about the whole game. It’s one thing to fight a battle with lots of cool looking ships in, but it’s another to actually design you own and then send them into battle. For the seven year old me who first saw Star Wars at the movies, this is a dream come true. I can spend a lot of time tweaking the position of a radar, or pipe or fin or spinning widget on a space battleship. That’s what life is all about.

For those currently without the game here is a screenshot so we are on the same page:


What I’m asking for is some feedback about how you find the editor. I know it has it’s bugs. The composite creation stuff can lose Z-values, and I’ll fix that soon. I know people also want a snap to center feature, and type able values. I guess I’m wondering how people are using it. Are you using the mouse wheel and shirt/ctrl to do the rotating and scaling? it’s TONS easier and faster. Are you using the arrow keys to nudge items a set amount around the screen? Do you mirror items one at a time or design half the ship then drag select and mirror them all?

Do you think there are enough components? if not, what is missing? are you actually using the composite functionality much? I should point out today’s incoming patch fixes a lot of issues, such as hiding unavailable color-tint layers, and fixing the rotation speed of objects being represented wrong. It also fixes loses your design by hitting the ‘shouldn’t-be-there’ main menu button. I know people would like to place components ‘under’ the hull, which may be technically problematic, but I’ll have to investigate.

I’m definitely looking forward to running a few ‘who can design the best ship’ competitions once the game is released, and I also look forward to one day having some free time and getting a chance to really play with this feature a bit more myself. Also…modders will hopefully use it a lot :D. In the meantime, pre-order the game to get access to the beta on PC right now…


Give me your GSB2 beta feedback

February 09, 2015 | Filed under: game design | gsb2

Sooo… lots of lovely nice, attractive, charismatic and generally awesome people have pre-ordered GSB2 (THANKYOU!) and are playing the game right now. Obviously in a beta, the key aim is to get as much feedback as possible. People always assume game designers are of the same mind as they are, as the players, but the problem is, we get ‘too close’ to our games, and often can’t see design issues that are staring you in the face. For example, it shocked me to see so many people field ships that were just naked hulls. I thought I’d made it really obvious how cool and new and fun the ship visuals designer was, but I clearly need to signpost that a LOT more. Here is some stuff I’d love to know from people playing:



How is the game running for you? on what settings and what hardware? I have had no negative feedback, and some great feedback, but you have *no idea* how much I sweated over performance. This game does a lot more than GSB1 graphically, and I was terrified of performance issues. Am I right in thinking it runs ok for everyone?



I know there have been some glitches here and there, with alt-tab in particular, and some people quitting the ship visuals design assuming that saved the ship. I’ve also fixed a few errant pieces of text, typos etc. Generally how is it? does i flow ok? do you have all the information you need and does it make sense? Has everyone worked out you right click a friendly ship in the battles to get in-battle info? I suspect not. What can be improved here? Someone on facebook suggested ‘radar charts‘ for modules which does sound extremely interesting.



This is always the big one, because nobody ever agrees! But I suspect dreadnoughts are too cheap and too easily self-defending, and that possibly frigates are not fast enough. I think we also perhaps need a few more modules in general in terms of variety. Have I got the mix of power/crerw right in most cases? Are some of those hull bonuses maybe a bit too good? are they apparent enough from the GUI (something I suspect needs tweaking). The game currently only has easy difficulty enemies. Too easy? To hard.

All feedback is great. I want to ship the best game I’ve ever made, one that looks great, plays great and runs great. The more feedback the merrier, there is already a ton of feedback on the forums.

In other news, don’t forget to check out the latest big pharma video blog. And of course you should tell your friends they can pre-order and play the GSB2 beta right now.