I'm not saying Mass Effect 2 needed full-control first-person space flight. I've never been a fan of genre-mixing, and I doubt the RPG audience and the flight sim audience have much to say to each other. I'm just saying I needed more context. In Mass Effect 1, rather than fading straight from the navigation screen to the location, you'd have to walk to the airlock door in your ship and click on it to go outside. And that's literally all it needed. I saw myself come up to a door, then I saw myself come out of the ship into the docking bay. My mind makes the unconscious connections by itself: I am this man, I was on this ship, I went out the door, now I am in the Citadel, therefore my ship is docked in the Citadel. It creates a natural flow that Mass Effect 2 lacked.
The other thing ME1 did, of course, was let you take the horrible space buggy down to explore random planet surfaces, which frankly I could take or leave, but again, did go a long way to create the necessary sense of bigness. Then of course they stripped that all out in ME2 to make way for poking at planets with sticks from a safe distance, noting down whatever we found on our space clipboards. Oh, who will step up to the plate, strip the bureaucracy from space games, and give me full space flight control with actual space adventure whoosh blasty fun?
Oh yeah. I said I'd do it, didn't I.
I trust no one thought I was being flippant two weeks ago when I pledged to make a space game. I have indeed been messing with Unity3D. I find the best way to learn a new design tool is to have a big project in mind, then start making it as soon as you can, looking up manuals and tutorials every time you reach a gap in your knowledge. So I've dived right into Fun Space Game: The Game (working title).
I wrote in my post-Silent Hill 2 XP column about how embracing your limitations can help the creative process, and my skills are nothing if not limited. I definitely do not have the programming knowledge to make dogfight AI, so there's not going to be any. Instead, I'm forced to think in terms of a space game based more around evasion and stealth tactics. I find myself inspired by those little fish that swim really really closely behind sharks, so the sharks don't notice them and the fish can nibble on whatever scraps the shark leaves un-mauled. I like the thought of being a tiny scrappy little ship flying alongside big monster vessels and space stations, shooting down individual turrets or key weak points, or flying through a trench in the middle of the ship Luke Skywalker-style to blow up the monster's heart and give it indigestion.
The other thing is that traditional flight sim controls are a little clunky and unstable for the kind of fine movement I have in mind (or at least that's what I'm telling myself), so I'm sticking to something more FPS-style. Rotate with the mouse, ascend and descend with the equivalents of Jump and Crouch controls, kind of like how swimming works in a FPS like Quake. I already have the movement engine working and I made a skybox that I hate. I found a tutorial that helped me make a better one in Blender, which I also used to make an asteroid that I hate.
This really is a project that intrigues me. I intend to give quick updates here in this column whenever there's anything to report, documenting the creative process in this small way for as long as it takes for me to get bored and move onto my second novel or whatever. Watch this space.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.