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Michael Schmidt is building an ambitious Gamestudio project. Though he is quite busy (who isn't?) he kindly took the time to answer the questions for this month's Aum interview.
Q: What type of game is Star Explorers?
A: The name "Star Explorers" captures the basic purpose of the game, to explore the stars. It is an exploration game, but it has other features like survival, combat etc...
Q: What is the player supposed to do?
A: The main objective of the game is for the player to seek out Earth-like planets. I don't have a complete story written, but in the distant future, earth will become less and less inhabitable. To survive, assuming we are still around, humans will need to find other worlds to populate. This game represents that initial search for inhabitable worlds.
Q: How does your code generate random galaxies?
A: I have another game called "Anomalies", which generates random 3 dimensional audio-visual formations. I used some of this code as a base for my current galaxy generation feature, so it is generating an invisible superstructure, and planting the visible stars at each joint of this larger entity. Once it's done adding stars it removes these invisible elements.
Q: What is the biggest problem you've encountered so far?
A: I am primarily an artist, so this project has been a great learning experience for me, especially when it comes to some of the more abstract aspects of programming. I would say the most difficult thing I had to do was designing the database that stores all the star and planet data that the player discovers. Since the final output of this effort is all text, rather than some visual effect, it was hard for me to wrap my brain around it all.
Q: And how did you manage to get past this problem?
A: As with all problems, patience and persistence is the key. Sometimes it takes walking away for a bit, maybe even working on some other part of the game, or a different project altogether. Eventually, a solution becomes apparent, and you can try again. Going to the user forum is also a great resource; even though it is small, the community is still very active and helpful, even the guys who make fun of you for not checking the manual :)
Q: How did you create the random caves system?
A: I took an old-school approach to making my random terrains and caves, using tiles instead of a more complex mathematical approach. So each cave tile has a certain number of exits, and it spawns another tile in the direction of that exit until they all reach dead ends. I plan to add a wider variety of tiles, to make caves more unique, but the basic functions are all there.
Q: How do you manage to keep a decent frame rate even in the vast open areas?
A: This is always an ongoing problem. As a designer, I want to add more and more features to make the planets more realistic and beautiful. However, each new feature takes a toll on the frame rate. Finding little ways to optimize the game takes a lot of effort. At one point my planets had very little vegetation on them, and they all looked like deserts, even the ones with plants. I found the "Serious Vegetation" script in an AUM edition, and I was able to update it to Lite-C and use it to get some decent looking vegetation. I plan to keep adding more features and optimizing as soon as I have a stable build that works.
Q: How do you plan to make your game stand out?
A: There are a number of other galaxy generators out there right now. I know as an individual developer, I can't really compete on the same level as "No Man's Sky", but I hope to find a niche by appealing to more old-school gamers like myself. I really prefer the single player game experience, and Star Explorers will be exclusively single player.
Q: What unique features will it have?
A: I loved the STALKER series of games, which had great single player campaigns, especially for the sort of desolate, lonely atmosphere they presented. I want my game to follow a similar model, which will stand out from the more busy, action oriented multiplayer games out there. There will be a survival aspect, managing your resources like fuel, ammunition, food, oxygen etc... will be key.
Q: Any estimation for a release date?
A: I hope to be able to put out an Alpha release before 2017. It won't have all the features I want, but it will demonstrate the basic gameplay, and allow users to explore a small galaxy, find resources, weapons, and upgrades for their equipment. It will have alien life on some worlds, plants, animals and intelligent AI that will be either friendly or hostile to the player.
Q: Will you try to get your game greenlit?
A: Yes, you can visit it on Steam: Greenlight here: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=700074180
Q: Please give us a few tips for the beginners out there.
A: In many ways I feel like I'm a beginner myself. I've been working with 3D Gamestudio on and off since 1999 or so, so I guess I have some experience, but I've always been working on my own projects, rarely part of a team. If you like making small, independent games, try to keep them small. If you want to make something big, find a like minded team of people to work with. Star Explorers is pretty big, probably more than I should be working on alone, but I really want to be proficient in all the various parts of designing a game. From programming, to character design and animation, to environment art, to AI and gameplay design, to sound design and music, to marketing and promotion, I want to have control of all these things, so for me it's a perfect project.
Thank you a lot, Michael!