Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Map Interfaces in a Star Trek MMORPG

Originally Posted by Crazyfist:
Will we be able to look at starmaps that show position of starbases, planets, nebulas, stars, and most into the question: starships. im wondering if well see the position of starships that starfleet owns and is aware of on the map.
To follow up on some of the suggestions already made, I'd like to see the following kind of hierarchy for things that can be mapped, in decreasing level of detail:

  • energy sources (stars)
  • objects
    • stationary objects
    • mobile objects
      • different sector
      • same sector
      • same system
      • visual range

The galaxy map should show all stars. These things put out so much energy that anyone in the galaxy can observe their location, their stellar class, and their luminosity.

No other objects are so visible, so no other objects should automatically be placed on the maps of all players and NPCs.


It should be possible to know where stationary objects belonging to or known to one's faction are located. Examples of these would be starbases, nebulae, and planets. (No, planets and even starbases aren't really "stationary," but they do occupy regular and predictable positions with respect to stars.) Non-aligned stationary objects, or objects aligned with another faction that have not been mapped by members of one's faction, should require personal investigation.

(Note: There's a gameplay issue here -- should every player be required/able to create their own maps of stationary objects belonging to another faction, such as the Romulans? That wouldn't make a lot of sense in a world where everybody in Starfleet has access to the internal data network, but letting everyone make their own maps might be appropriate as exploration content in an online game.)

Mobile objects should require closer inspection to reveal useful information about them, including their location.


The amount of information you should be able to obtain about another mobile object should generally depend on your distance from that object. (By "mobile object" I mean any physical object that moves around, probably as a result of intelligent intention. So "mobile object" includes both starships and space-dwelling lifeforms.)

If you're in visual range of each other (let's say that's about 500,000 meters for space-based objects, and 5000 meters for ground-based objects), you should be able to use your ship's tactical sensors or tricorder to obtain not only positional information but internal characteristics of the mobile object. (Cloaked objects should not be mappable at all, however.)

If you're in the same star system (roughly 15,000,000,000 km) but not within 500,000 meters of each other, positional information should be obtainable via short-range sensors, but only the basic internal characteristics of the other mobile object (object type, size, general energy output) should be available unless the other mobile object belongs to your faction. Two objects of the same alignment in the same system should be able to share more complete information with each other.

For example, let's say your ship is orbiting Earth, the RSS Sulnar is skimming hydrogen from Jupiter, and the USS Canary is on a routine patrol around Saturn. Even though the Canary is further away from you than the Romulan ship, you should know not only that there's a starship there but also what type of ship it is and that it's named the USS Canary because you and the Canary are of the same faction and therefore share data. Meanwhile the only thing you might know about the Romulan starship is that there's an unknown starship in the area of Jupiter. (Alternately, we might assume that any uncloaked ship in a star system always has an ID transponder active, so you'd know the ship orbiting Jupiter was Romulan and might also know its name.) But if the Sulnar is cloaked, it would never be visible on your system map at all.

(Note: An interesting possibility here might be to allow for variable sensor capability. The region of space around Earth, for example, would probably be littered with space-based observation platforms of all kinds, some of which might be powerful enough to see what the commander of the Sulnar had for lunch. Starbases and large "hub" ships might also have superior sensors. Similarly, the short- and long-range sensors of a Nebula-class ship might be able to collect more/better information at longer ranges than another ship. So the question becomes, if some objects are allowed to have extremely capable sensors, should that enhanced sensor data be made available to all faction-aligned ships in the local area?)

If you're in a different star system (or in deep space) but are still in the same sector as another mobile object, you should be able to obtain only the most basic information about it using long-range sensors. If it shares your faction, you should be able to know its type, name and last reported location; if it's a different faction or non-aligned, you should generally not be able to see it at all on a sector map. (Again, remember this is mobile objects we're talking about here -- stationary objects should be easier to locate.)

And mobile objects in a completely different sector should not show up on any map. One possible exception here might be ships belonging to one's own faction, but I think I'd limit even this to reduce clutter.

(Note: A marginally related issue here is communication: Should players be able to communicate at any range with any other player currently in the game? Even if this doesn't make sense with respect to Star Trek, does the availability of VOIP mean that instant communication with anyone, anywhere might as well be made part of the game? This probably deserves its own thread; I just mention it here as falling into the same general category of "information distribution" as mapping.)


So what does all this add up to? I think it means there'll be a need to supply four kinds of map, each of which shows a different level of information:

  • GALAXY MAP (passive sensors, static information)
    • stars
    • important stationary objects of one's faction not orbiting a star
  • SECTOR MAP (long-range sensors, long-term information)
    • stars
    • stationary objects of one's faction
    • stationary objects of any/no faction that have been previously mapped
    • mobile objects of one's faction (type, name, and general location only)
  • SYSTEM MAP (short-range sensors, moderately persistent information)
    • system star(s)
    • uncloaked stationary objects of any faction
    • uncloaked mobile objects of one's faction (detailed information)
    • uncloaked mobile objects of other/no faction (type, name, and position only)
  • TACTICAL MAP (tactical sensors, rapidly-changing information)
    • nearby stars and uncloaked stationary objects
    • nearby uncloaked mobile objects of any faction (internal details)
So how does this look? Too much detail? Not enough?

No comments:

Post a Comment