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Order to Chaos

So up until this point the test sector has contained a splattering of AI ships strewn about the place seemingly at random. But is this conducive to steady gameplay or concise storytelling? I think not…

Random ship placement, although it makes for good eye candy, it makes for maniacal combat situations.

Picture any other RTS in your mind, lets pick Starcraft for example; typically the enemy has a corner of the map where they will set up base, mine and gather units. Shallow Space isn’t going to be quite as static because of the fact the levels will be generated procedurally but we still have to have rules governing the overall experience, the most important of all these rules is the behaviour of the AI ships. So the AI ships will be brought into existence in one of three ways; they either get created at a factory or capital ship, they warp in perhaps as part of a mission or response to a threat or they start on the map as the level begins.

At the moment I’m focusing on that last part which is starting on the map; so why would those ships be there I ask myself? Well they would have either an offensive or defensive set of instructions – taking it one step at a time I focus on the defensive. So they could be escorting a convoy, guarding a mining operation, station or capital ship and fortunately all of these things have an operational objective that can be defined as a physical object in the game world. A station is a thing, a mining operation will have a central silo which is a thing and so each of those objectives would have something which would need to be guarded and so now I can shape the conditions in which the AI ships are procedurally generated setting their respective start locations and default orders around those objectives.

I’ve given the mercs a military outpost, so I’ve given them a reason for being, their objective

So now I’ve programmed all AI ships to spawn near to their objectives, I can define what that objective might be – sometimes an outpost or station, or it could be a capital ship. I’ve also programmed them not to hoard that objective, so a station may only need a guard of say three packs so the remaining packs will disperse looking for a fight or scanning nearby asteroids. Should the station come under attack and one of its guarding packs get destroyed or drawn away another free pack will be called back to the station to fill it’s place.

I’ve not seen this sort of intelligence programmed into a game before, but then I’ve never seen a procedurally generated RTS before either – the big question is, will it be fun? I think it will, especially when we add in the other layers of gameplay: Missiles, additional ships, customised ships, support craft, EW craft, RPG skill modifiers. There will be more than one way to disrupt and suppress the enemy and the enemies actions and reactions will be fluid, still governed by a set of rules granted but it will be that large mix of conditional parameters that will work to our advantage bringing order to what otherwise would be chaos in our three dimensions of play.

One Response to “Order to Chaos”

  1. Silenkurii says:

    Some good thoughts there. I particularly like the idea of ships that are guarding an objective, being replaced by other free ships. A commander would definitely pull some troops back to protect his assets. Players do this all the time in RTS games, so why no AI? Normally the AI is programmed to just pump out more units (magically) to defend it’s base.

    In terms of how the AI would enter a level, or begin inside a level generated, I think all three ideas are certainly viable. Perhaps the most common being that the AI ships are being manufactured by a ship yard. I’d like to see something different personally. Enemies warping in sounds exhilarating. If your mission is tasked to explore the area for a wreckage, or survivors from a previous expedition etc. and the all of a sudden, a Captial fleet warps in a few clicks away, then you find yourself needing to make quick decisions because there’s a threat very close by. There’s multiple scenarios that could be exciting there.

    Can’t wait to hear more about what’s written in the last paragraph there. Missiles, E-War, Skill Modifiers, Customised ships, etc. All of these different things will make the game great and are definitely needed. I’d love to see a weapon system similar to EVE Online where you have the choice of Laser, Shells or Missiles. Each have their own pro’s and con’s and can really affect the dynamic of combat. Missiles are slow but powerful so perhaps not the best choice against small nimble craft. Lasers are much faster but possibly much weaker, so not great against large ships. However, you could tweak both of these ammo/firing types by additional modules like tracking systems, stat bonuses, ammo upgrades, turret upgrades, CPU upgrades etc. Lots of possibilities!

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