This document describes what the experience is intended to be like playing Epiar v1.0.
To be entertained through acquiring more powerful ships, finishing more difficult missions, exploring the galaxy, and possibly following mini-mission story arcs with endgames.
The player is a single ship which moves in all directions on the screen. The attributes of the ship (picture, speed, weaponry) are determined by the type of ship they own and can be upgraded through money. The player cannot play multiple ships at a time. It is unclear whether the player should have the ability to own multiple ships in that all but one would be 'parked' somewhere (this might be a bad idea). The player may, however, amass a fleet of ships to order around, either through purchase or conquest.
The player has a shield and hull to defend himself. The shield typically takes the hits, while the hull usually can only be shot a few times before the ship explodes. The shields are powered by a reactor, which also powers any non-ammo weaponry, the engines, and others. The player can buy an upgrade to control power distribution, e.g. more power to the shields. The shields are broken up into four segments, forward, back, left and right. If a player is on the run and being shot at from behind, the back shield may fail completely while the front and sides work fine, so a shield distribution upgrade should also be available.
The galaxy is made up of planets, space stations and asteroids. There are no stars, and we may implement nebulae as hazy gas clouds. There are no black holes or other elements because of their radical effect on gameplay, though any good idea is open to discussion.
Movement Through the Galaxy
There are many movement options: thrusters (regular moving), jump engines (only for very large ships), and jump gates (for small ships to travel great distances). Jump gates typically have fees, and one can book an entire network of travel, e.g. go from planet A to D, via B and C.
One of the primary pieces of the game is the planet network: players will land on planets (or space stations, which for all gameplay matters, are the same as planets) and have the following options: see a planet picture and summary (for the sake of experience), be able to outfit their ship (not on all planets, equipment varies with the planet), visit the shipyard to buy a new ship or sell theirs (again, varies), go to a bar, seek employment through the mission board, or buy and sell commodities.
Distance Between Planets
Jump gate networks may take a day or two or three depending on the distance (let's say due to queues, e.g. you have to wait four hours before jumping at a gate: the player won't have to wait but the calendar date will pass), while jump engines are near instant (but require a lot of money and energy resources and a large ship), but the player may also manually travel between planets. Since Epiar is an open universe and the player may travel in any direction, we need to establish a reasonable distance. Very close planets might take about 30 seconds to travel between (this is practically the same solar system), while the average planet should be a few minutes away (we will have navigation on the HUD to help the player cross such vastness of space). Very, very far planets, on manual thrusters, shouldn't be more than 8 minutes away, as you're really testing somebody's patience (although auto-pilot is another idea for an upgrade).
The primary form of experience in this game is not EXP or levels but money. The more money (or money converted into material things) you have, the longer you've been playing and the more likely it is that you are powerful. You can make money by trading commodities, taking missions, stealing it (via battle with other ships), gambling (on planets), or via mining (which will cause pirates to love to attack you and requires a mining vessel).
Dedication to (Somewhat) Real Science
We'd like to at least propose the idea of a game that respects science, even if it requires incredibly leaps in technology. As such, we would like very few or no alien races: most colonies or other empires should be humans. This is due to the nature of the universe: while other intelligent life is likely, it's likely incredibly far away and very foreign (watch Sagan's The Cosmos in its entirety before arguing any of this).
We'd also like to explain things whenever possible: jump engines or gates will be 'folding space', etc.
The following is a textual example of the experience of playing Epiar 1.0:
The player is a new player, he has never played before. Upon launching the game, the screen goes black and a title screen and music appear. The title screen is an impressive but still motion render of what he imagines gameplay might be like in his imagination, somewhat like the fantastical game manuals that came with early 90s computer games: impressive artwork that pulled you in, regardless of whether it matched up with actual gameplay.
After waiting only a few short time, the main menu appears. He sees understandable choices such as "Play Game", "Load Saved Game", "Options", "Tutorial", and "Quit." Never one for tutorials, he hits "Play Game." He is asked a few basic questions such as his fictional name and a choice of three alliances, each showing that he would get a different looking startup ship and start on a different planet. Knowing nothing of the game's politics, he chooses the human-like one and hits play.
He is immediately launched into the game. A top-down, 2-D view, he sees his ship always at the center of the screen. There is a HUD (heads-up display) that indicates his shield status, hull status, credits (money), and that he has no weapons. There's also a basic radar with some blips moving about that seem to correspond to some other ships he sees flying around on screen. He is in the starting area: a culture-rich and relatively safe area of the game where he can trade copiously without fear of attack, learn the ropes by exploring the local system, and generally watch and hail numerous ships that seem to swarm around the area. It's interesting.
He is told via messages to his HUD that he is welcomed to the game and that the date is January 1, 3163. It also says that he can press '?' to get some basic controls, and suggests he lands on the planet beneath to explore it's features. He does so, and the game is seemingly paused, with a dialog appearing on screen with tabs at the top. The default tab, "Info" is selected, and he sees another one of those lush, pre-rendered graphics, this time clearly depicting the planet or spaceport he's landed at. There are numerous other options: Outfit (to buy ship upgrades), Shipyard (to buy a new ship via trade-in), Bar (for recreation), Missions (which piques his interest), and a maintenance tab. He clicks the maintenance tab and sees that he can refuel should he need it, and also that if he had a ship with multiple "mount points", he could change the location and direction of various mounted weapons on his physical ship, affecting his strategy while playing the game. He has no weapons and needs no fuel but he enjoys the picture on the maintenance tab: a wireframe render that is clearly his ship, but from a new angle he's not seen before. He clicks the Missions tab and sees the missions in a UI list sorted by difficulty. The first mission, ferry passengers to a planet he's not heard of for a decent 10,000 credits, takes his attention and he accepts it. Passengers are added on his HUD's cargo bay and the planet is put on his mostly vacant navigation map, along with one possible route via jump gate.
He leaves the planet screen and flies near the jump gate, targeting it and pressing 'H' to hail. He pays a small fee of 250 credits for use of the game and his ship rockets off like an elastic band through the game with some impressive graphics and with a sudden white flash he finds himself in a foreign area of space with the destination planet in sight.
Somewhat far from the cozy starting area, he sees new models of ships he hasn't seen before, and one is attempting to hail. He answers the hail with the 'H' button and sees a pirate demanding 3,500 credits for safe passage through this system. Not wanting to give up any credits, he clicks the "No thanks" button and the hail disappears -- only to find the pirate firing at him! He manages quickly to avoid the laser blasts and lands on the planet where a dialog box informs him the passengers have paid him and left, and added a bit to his reputation (later, he finds out, enabling him for much more dangerous and much more lucrative missions). He sees a tiny notice at the bottom of the screen that the game has auto-saved due to his landing, and he logs off to research Epiar strategies on the Internet after a satisfying bit of play.
- Ambrosia Software's Escape Velocity http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_Velocity_(video_game)
- Epic Mega Games' Solar Winds http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Winds