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Creating an accurate space sim, according to ScrumbleShip

With ScrumbleShip, developer Dirkson is aiming to be "Dwarf Fortress in space." So what are the most important aspects to creating a believable space sim, while still packing in the necessary gameplay?

Mike Rose, Blogger

September 27, 2012

5 Min Read

At first glance, ScrumbleShip may look like Minecraft in space. Delve deeper, however, and there's far more going on under the hood, from voxel-based destruction, to materials that can melt like butter. "Dirkson," the programming half of team ScrumbleShip, is clearly very confident that his game is going to be something a bit special, labelling it "the most accurate space combat simulation ever." The team launched a Kickstarter recently to fund development of the title, and anyone who pledges receives the latest alpha build of the game, as well as the final product (again, the comparison to Minecraft proves apt). But what exactly does an "accurate" space sim entail? Dirkson has several key points that he believes mold that all-important element into the fray -- and, he notes, accuracy is one of the reasons that the game has come out looking similar to the Mojang hit.

In space, no-one can hear you bank

"Trying to convey what 'accurate' means in a space game is very tricky," he admits. In fact, he says, it's a lot easier to begin by explaining the elements of space sims that are not accurate. "In a lot of space games, ships fly like planes - they have wings and bank like planes pushing against (nonexistent) air," he notes. "None of this will be present in ScrumbleShip. Once you accelerate in a direction, you will move in that direction until another force acts upon you, just as you would in space." You won't just have an infinite inventory either. "A lot of other block games allow you to cart around an entire mountain in your back pocket," says Dirkson. "Each block in ScrumbleShip will need to be placed inside a ship's hold, and will take up physical space at all times." Where ScrumbleShip is really aiming to set itself apart, however, is damage to ships. While other space sims may rely on hit points or damage counters, this simulation is going far deeper than that. "ScrumbleShip simulates individual weapons strikes on each block, according to the material it's made out of," he explains. "Fire a bullet into a tungsten block? It bounces off harmlessly. Shoot a railgun into a steel block? Shrapnel flies out of the new voxel hole you just punched in your ship. Fire a pulse laser at a cube of butter? Molten butter voxels spray out of the resulting crater." This idea also spreads into the idea of death. Says Dirkson, "In most space games, ships explode when they die. In reality and in ScrumbleShip, this is very rare - if you want to win this battle, you need to hunt down every last working section of the enemy ship and damage it until there's nothing left to fight back."

Voxels aren't just for show

The voxel visual style isn't just for show, as it allows Dirkson to simulate certain types of strikes and damage in a far more apparent and visceral way. "It's tricky to work with," he admits, "but the results can be pretty fantastic. Voxel regrowth of organic tissues is particularly amazing to watch, and our voxel explosion system is shaping up beautifully." Adds Dirkson, "The fact that it ended up looking like Minecraft is mostly coincidence - one-meter blocks make the most sense from a simulations standpoint, as lots of math simplifies itself out -- *1 meter, /1 meter, etc., and 16x16x16 voxels was the lowest number we could make look decent. We also tried 10x10x10 and 12x12x12, initially." Dirkson notes that he was still inspired by Minecraft here and there though -- "Our default building method is quite similar, for example, and our demo limitations are a lot like the Minecraft Classic limitations."

Some players just want to watch the world burn

ScrumbleShip's core gameplay will revolve around building up your fleet of hand-crafted ships, then going into battle player vs player or team vs team. "You'll mine resources, use them to construct a ship and stay alive in the cold vacuum of space, and then find someone to fight using your ship," adds Dirkson. "Most of this will be in a persistent solar system on a player-owned server." Dirkson is aware that some players won't want their beloved masterpieces annihilated afters hours of painstaking work, however, and so he notes that most of the battles will just be simulated, such that all ships will return to their pre-battle condition afterwards. In-game currency will instead be the winner's trophy, as he or she takes cash from the loser to then go and spend on upgrading their ship to even loftier heights. scrumbleship.jpgHowever, for those players who are in it for the all-out brawl, a permanent damage mode will also be available. By offering these different experiences, Dirkson hopes to pull in a variety of player types.


What Dirkson believes will set ScrumbleShip apart from the flock is the sheer complexity in its many simulations. "If you build something in ScrumbleShip and it behaves a certain way, there's a pretty good chance that it would behave pretty similarly in real life too," he notes. "Most other games aren't trying to make anything that corresponds to reality, they're just trying to make a fun game. We'd like to do both!" In fact with ScrumbleShip, Dirkson is aiming to lose the Minecraft comparisons and be more "Dwarf Fortress in space," with far more complex gameplay than the majority of blockbuilders currently available.

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