Thursday, May 10, 2007

Player Ship Interiors +

Originally Posted by Neth:
I'm wondering though just how much people are wanting internal ship combat vs external ship combat. If when your captain calls a red alert do you think it would be ok to see your character going into the teleport and then loading up an external view of the ship as though it assumes you arrived at your duty station?
I'm inclined to guess that most players would be able to accept that transition, but I'm probably biased.

But maybe this is the right place to mention that I've been thinking this whole "exterior view" thing is a little misleading.

The fact is, all of us who play Star Trek Online will be experiencing it as a 3D environment flattened onto and displayed on the 2D screen of our computer's monitor. (I'm assuming ST:O will be a PC game.) None of us humans will actually be in space or on a ship; we'll all have to represent the gameworld as some kind of view on a 2D screen.

The thing is, the specific form of this representation isn't set in stone. We actually have two choices on how the exterior view could be displayed on our monitors:

  • unbordered -- "space" and the ship take up the whole monitor screen (with UI overlays)

  • bordered -- the exterior ship view is displayed in its own window, or as a screen on a ship console
I suspect some of us are simply assuming that Perpetual will represent the ship exterior view as an unbordered, full-screen view. But there's nothing that forces that choice.

If players can accept having the exterior view of their ship displayed on their real-world 2D monitor, then how much cognitive distance is there between that and putting exactly the same visual information on a 2D in-game ship console that is itself then displayed on their real-world monitor?

In other words, how far off is console control really from the "exterior view" that Perpetual has indicated was the better choice for a ship combat interface? We'd still have that exterior view; it would just be rendered as a subwindow rather than as a view that takes over our entire monitor.

Does the one additional level of abstraction really make a significant difference?

What if the console-displayed exterior view was the default, but you-the-player could double-click on the exterior view section of the console to bring it up in unbordered form?

It seems to me that implementing the exterior ship view in this way -- as a console display that can be zoomed into -- would satisfy both the players who prefer the iconic feel of a console interface and those who want the gameplay immediacy of an unbordered, full-screen exterior view.

Sure, that's extra work for the developers, but since I'm not one of them I can just snap my (flat) fingers and say, "Make it so!" :) But the primary question isn't one of technical feasibility -- it's whether the concept would fly at all. The technical stuff matters; it's just not the first question that has to be answered.

Am I completely off-base in thinking that most players wouldn't have a problem with a console-based display of their ship's exterior if they could switch to (or even default to) a full-screen view?


Back to the notion of using a site-to-site transport for quickly accessing a duty station (in support of the possibility of implementing ship control through functional consoles) -- here's another crazy idea.

Let's say that whoever "has the bridge" (normally the captain) whacks the button that activates the red alert. What if, in addition to turning on the red lights and the klaxon, this automatically transports players to their stations?

If I were implementing this I'd set it up so that a player not at their assigned station gets a modal pop-up message:

*** RED ALERT ***
You are about to be transported to your
assigned duty station. Are you ready?
[YES] [NO]
If they click on YES, poof, instant transport; if they say NO, then nothing special happens. They can finish what they're doing and punch the Emergency Station Transporter (EST) button, or make their way to their post by some other means (turbolift?), or even not report to their station at all.

Of course, the captain will want to know their reason for this dereliction of duty!

Overall, I think this approach has the virtue of making it absolutely clear what's expected of each player and gets it done in the most efficient possible way, while still leaving players free to make their own choices.

Does this go too far, or is there maybe some value somewhere in this alternative approach?

Originally Posted by Neth:
Also I am sorry to go back to this but has anyone though of how to deal with the stress of the number of mobile HUBs in the game? If it's just a few there would not be a problem but if every one and their grandmother wants to have one there is just no way to make it possible. Even limiting them to end game rewards is only a short term solution as I am sure you can understand.

I guess this depends on how you're using the term "hub."

My impression is that the intention for hubs is that there are just a few of these, basically serving the same role in ST:O that cities serve in fantasy MMORPGs: quest-giving NPCs, personal storage space, item trading centers, and so on. Most would probably be stationary starbases -- the idea that some of these cities could actually be mobile (ships) is actually a pretty slick one. (Sort of reminds me of James Blish's wonderful "Cities in Flight" tetralogy.)

So the possibility of there being many of these things seems remote. I would guess -- and this is nothing more than a guess -- that there'd actually be fewer hubs than there are sectors (leaving some sectors open as "wild frontiers"). If there are 27 sectors, then I'd guess that there'd be something like 6-20 actual hubs in all.

If that's the case, then the real issue is how "big" the largest player ships will be. My guess: nowhere even remotely as big as a hub. Again, this is just a guess, but I suspect even the biggest player ships aren't going to have all the amenities of hubs; they won't be anywhere near as complex or fully-rendered as hubs. (Which is fine by me, just as long as player ships aren't merely combat platforms -- players who like exploration and socializing are, IMO, far too important to ST:O's commercial success not to put plenty of features for them on player ships.)