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Sci-Fi Survivalism Game

  1. Oct 25, 2012 #1
    Hey, I've been practising with 3d modelling programs and mod development and I'm looking to make a game that I've come up with a story for. Basically I'm looking for some realistic advice on what you guys consider fundamental to a game that is based in space.

    The back story: In the far flung future (isn't it always the case?) attempts at geo-engineering planets and moons in the solar system have more or less left them plundered of resources, due to unforeseen costs of doing so. A large group of humanity have taken steps to become effectively nomadic, in the belief that this will avoid anybody using too much of one resource at once (whether or not this is true is irrelevant).

    So the player finds themselves one day, on their ship with their crew being months without passing anyone coming across a large cargo ship lazily moving through space. For whatever reason (not yet established, help beacon or damaged transmissions suggesting the cargo ship is happy for your ship to dock) the player finds themselves on the cargo ship when the docking port gets damaged and your ship, with all crew on board, gets broken away. The player finds that they are on the ship alone. The ship is failing to use its power sources properly, including oxygen-CO2 conversion, so every now and again the player must find a manually controlled cryosleep tank to rest whilst oxygen replenishes - this would effectively act as a save point. Due to low power, lights are kept at a minimum. The player has to search the ship, find out what is going on, why the ship is empty, why they're trapped, how they can do something about being trapped and what happened with their old ship.

    Personally, I am bored of first person linear "problem solving" (where, if you don't solve it in a particular way, you'll have to keep trying until you do - I'm looking at you, Valve, as much it is pretty annoying). Basically the only things I want controlled are the physics of the game, the "atmosphere" and the endgame. I want it to be a tense conceptual game, with tools rather than weapons. There aren't going to be any aliens. At least, if there is, nothing the player really comes across, maybe a sort of shadows and noises playing tricks on the player's mind. Furthermore, I want it to be gravity free, like it would be. padded control rooms and claustrophobic tubes. The player has to move about by pushing themselves from surface to surface or crawling through tight spaces.

    What do you guys think? I really want to make a space survivalism game (I've already got another survivalism in the works involving escaping a train crash, but that's another story) that really makes the players neck hair stand on end. Fighting aliens with big assault rifles isn't scary, you get used to it. To me, finding yourself alone with nothing but your own thoughts in an unfamiliar place with the feeling there is something dangerous going on around every corner that explains your circumstances, that's scary because you can't get used to not knowing something for sure.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 25, 2012 #2


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    It sounds interesting. I'd set air resistance to zero, or your players are likely to spend a lot of time floating in the middle of rooms, cursing. Or maybe a magnetic harpoon so you can reel yourself in? Also, my experience of Descent was that I got lost in the 3d mazes a lot. A self-constructed map and TomTom style "turn left in 10m" navigation instructions would be worth considering.
  4. Oct 25, 2012 #3
    I think it sounds good. The problem is that you're going to find it a bit boring if there really isn't anything else on the ship. That isn't scary. Add the possibility or a few encounters at least :)
  5. Oct 26, 2012 #4
    Oh yeah, I didn't think about air resistance, I was going to set that at 0 anyway, but it wouldn't really be like that in reality, so that's a bit of reality I'll have to suspend. I'll be honest my intention wasn't to make too much of a maze of it. To be honest I was going to make the rooms not too big to avoid this (ie on the ISS, the chambers are not that big). Furthermore, I wish to make more use of limbs. For example, there could be rungs dotted around the room and when the cross hair scrolls over one it (the cross hair) will change colour, indicating it is a usable point. Click on it would have the player reach out and pull them against the wall. If the player looks out into the room whilst up against the wall, I can use DoF focus to emphasis where the player would end up if they thrusted away from the surface they are against using the LMB, if they pause and hold their look for a moment (obviously I wouldn't use DoF too intensely). In the case of doorways and tunnels, like here: http://i175.photobucket.com/albums/w159/usmcnavgeek/Picture062.jpg

    (sorry if that image link doesn't show properly. I can't check it as I'm at work so the image is blocked)

    As I was saying, in the case of door ways and tunnels, the player can aim at the doorway, whose handles either side will cause the cross hair to change colour, and the game will know that you intend to go there so when you LMB jump towards it, when the player gets there, there will be an automatic animated pair of arms that reach out and grab the handles at which point the player can use W to go through the door, after which they'll be able to go through the room, S to throw themselves back, A & S to let go of the right/left handle (respectively) and use the corner as a jumping spot. That would really be the core "movement" mechanisms of the game.

    Yeah, sorry I couldn't really explain, I want to make it seem like there is something or someone that might be watching the player, so in that sense they wouldn't be totally alone. Rather, the solitude in an alien environment where nobody "has your back", things going wrong on the ship with fires breaking out and the such which would keep the player on edge; stuff would happen that would keep you on your toes, I don't intend for the player to literally walk around looking for something to do like they've been locked in the house after their parents went out or something. I just want to avoid the idea of some physically alien body that the individual has to literally fight with. It's very cliché, whether we're thinking humanoid like HL2 and Halo or something recognisable, like Starship Troopers. If there's going to be alien life on board, it could be anything. Which is an interesting point. It could be something more "grey goo" like, but a biological version. That way if the player comes across it, they'll have to either run away or experiment and see if they can find a method to keep it at bay.
  6. Nov 4, 2012 #5
    Loose ideas:

    - semi sentient (and partially insane/dysfunctional) computer terminals.
    - there is overgronwn hydroponic. If you eat the fruits you will see the aliens ;)
    - a robot with a menial function (or a toy) that terribly avoids contact but can make you mad from paranoia
    - chat (with predefined answers with a computer psychoanalytical program that would try to keep player character optimistic and give surrealistic advices like: "wait for an emergency team" or "You should think about improving your relations with other members of crew. Try for a while to see everything from their perspective")

    As additional attraction add a bathroom with a space toilet. ;)

    To make it scary? Add some bodies? Or other remains of the previous crew (like abandoned in hurry stuff, used emergency equipment)

    Concerning oxygen - assuming that at start the amount is breathable and there are big enough spaces, there should be quite plenty oxygen for one person for many days. However not for months. (so frequent hibernation might be an exaggeration which you might need for story purposes) So you might freeze your character and have him deforsted in different conditions (like auto defrost in case of emergency)

    Add visions and hallucinations. That can be scary but still remains hard SF.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2012
  7. Nov 7, 2012 #6
    Those are some great ideas, thanks! The only part I'm a little confused about is the paragraph where you address the oxygen issue.
  8. Nov 7, 2012 #7
    I'd try to rephrase:

    This, terribly unscientific site estimates amount of oxygen used per day at 550 litres of pure oxygen.

    2% concentration of carbon dioxide cause dizziness, but is not deadly

    Consequently, roughly counting, a person would need to use 550/2% =27 500 litres of air (assuming composition from earth atmosphere) per day. In other words 2,75 m^3. How big is the ship? Lets assume 10 chambers, (still boring size ;) ) each 4m*2,5m*2,5m =250m^3

    So enough oxygen for 90,9 days, before your astronaut would start feel really unwell from carbon dioxide. And he would presumably still have more than a moth to live...

    Assuming that you are unwilling to apply here some useful for story purpose departure from laws of science, I have different idea, how to:
    -both make the player frozen from time to time;
    -make than in realistic way.

    - no abominations likes FTL ;) at least for his ships;
    - he has limited delta-V so can only slowly move towards his intended direction; (which would be years away)
    - he has no reasonable chance to call help that would reach him reasonably soon (whichever reason, damaged transmission equipment, his life not worth risking lives of rescue team)

    Outcome - he has to be hibernated and the ship computer would defrost him only in case of emergency (like fire, and because the process would last a while the fire would have a chance to spread a bit...). Then he can roam through the ship as much as he want, though, fully realistically, nothing interesting would happen for next 9 months...

    So the only reasonable step would to cryogenic chamber and wait for next emergency

    By occasion - crazy idea - he has to first repair the leak in reactor. He does not have equipment for proper decontamination of the contaminated part, air in is to precious to be jetonized, so the only way is wait frozen for half lives to pass... :D :D :D
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2012
  9. Nov 7, 2012 #8
    I think that your two biggest issues will be as follows:

    1.) Managing to keep the game suspenseful/scary/intriguing without the usage of any direct contact with enemies or other living personnel, and

    2.) Making sure that the player has some sort of knowledge that they are in fact making progress in the game, and not just aimlessly wandering around a ship looking for clues.

    I like Czibor's idea of having dead bodies; that obviously will allow for the player's imagination to run wild, wondering whether it was a human vs. human quarrel, or possibly human vs. extraterrestrial contact that caused the death.

    I'm thinking that having the occasional object fly past the player, shooting across the screen at random times, would be a nice addition. This could contribute to the psychological aspect of it, making it seem as if the character is in fact losing his mind, because either that object was a figment of his imagination, or was moved by something or someone, which would also add to the suspense. (Don't make it too similar to Dead Space, with obviously wacky visions and alternative realities, but enough odd occurrences can really make it scary).

    As for making it apparent that the player is making progress, I myself like the idea of having certain parts of the ship entirely blocked off from the character (at least until he can figure out how to get there). Try to give those sections a certain illusive and mysterious vibe, therefore allowing for the player's curiosity to drive them to find a way to get to that section of the ship, rather than having an arrow and an accompanying description making it obvious.

    The further that they progress in the game, the more they should learn. Audio logs, notes, even just observational clues (seeing dead bodies,etc.) should contribute to either the suspense of what has happened on that ship, or should add to the player's knowledge of what actually happened.

    Do you have anything more to your story, or is what you originally posted about it? I feel like, if you want an extremely engaging ending, you would find some sort of sinister, extraterrestrial happening that almost entirely wiped out the ship and its people. You manage to find an escape pod in one of the closed off rooms, and program it to take you back to Earth. Once you arrive, you find it completely devoid of any human life......


    For that last ending to be somewhat realistic, I think that a somewhat large amount of time has to have passed. Maybe the player gives up hope, and decides to wait it out in a cyro-chamber. Then, possibly a large asteroid, or some other natural or mechanical disaster occurs on the ship, waking him from his long sleep, as he frantically races to an escape pod, leaving en route for Earth.
  10. Nov 13, 2012 #9
    Sounds pretty good to me actually. The player could use whatever means they have to get gravity working on the ship, restore oxygen, attempt to send out a signal, open/close airlocks and whatnot. How would one accomplish these tasks though? It seems a bit silly to send the player on a quest to "unlock the forward hatch" only for them to arrive there and solve a switch/lever/block-pushing puzzle.

    The premise of the game sounds awesome though. I am a huge fan of survival games, and star trek, so combining the two sounds fantastic to me.
  11. Nov 13, 2012 #10
    One more idea - the dead bodies should float in zero g. That's scary...
  12. Nov 13, 2012 #11
    I was going to start the idea that the air in the craft had effectively gone stale and that there was a system for cycling air that had gone stale. However as power was low and this is not usually an issue (anticipating a living crew to provide CO2) this regenerates oxygen very slowly. As such, there is little oxygen upon first arrival, so it may be that the player has a helmet on until the first cryosleep session. After this, they can take it off as enough of the stale air has been replaced. After this though, oxygen levels are not recreated as fast as the player can use it up. They can push if they want, or save when they want, but they will, inevitably, have to go in at some point or go unconscious and lose what they've achieved since the last sleep. These are minor technical things that I would assume could happen, however unlikely, so I would like to keep it on the table, so to say.

    Some interesting suggestions. I'll be honest I am a purist, so I don't want any nonsense like FTL travel :P Regarding the Δv, that sounds like a fair idea. I think the only way to ensure players don't actually f*ck the game up, the autopilot is stuck on travelling back to Earth. It may well be that they are not that distant from Earth, ie. around the Kuiper belt area, so the player's game isn't an insanely long travel home, it is feasible by the end of the game, but it gives the game enough length of time. The idea of waiting for an emergency could be a good one, but it could take a lot of fun out of the game. I'd like for the player to actually need to do stuff rather than only be playing when sh*t's going down, otherwise there would be no "atmosphere". But it could be that because the computer is malfunctioned and may occasionally lock the player into a room and send them into a deep freeze for a while (it could be that there is an terrestrial clock on the player's HUD, for the sake of a circadian rhythm) and the player would barely notice being frozen then thawed, other than the clock has jumped and a part of their HUD displays a temperature change or something. I think waiting for a half life might be a little excessive and I think to work on a reactor might seem a bit much for a guy who just captains a ship but is not an engineer, not very believable, I don't think personally :P but thanks for the input, definitely stuff to think about!

    Good God, man, that's a brilliant idea!
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2012
  13. Nov 13, 2012 #12
    Yes, these are issues I'm going to have to deal with, but executed right, I think they could become non-issues.

    I want to avoid cliché shadows "running" along the walls, because there is no reason to believe ETL will move or behave in a way we expect it to. I'm think a possible experience, such as sudden drops and peaks in temperature, or flashes of luminescence or something electrical - something that could be seen as more biological in nature without being remotely anthropomorphic - something the player can tell is not just the ship playing up but is distinctly different, maybe the ETL bends light when it travels so vision is warped if you think you're directly looking at it.

    I must confess, I have not played Dead Space, or really many games for a few years. I've not found them interesting enough to pay the quantities they expect (particularly as a student).

    This sounds like a good idea. I don't want the game to be a futile exploration of a "scary" but otherwise tedious spacecraft, I want the player to feel they are achieving something in the game. Nightmares are free so I want to provide some sort of "journey".

    Haha, yeah I want it to be fairly "open world", but restricted to a spacecraft. That is, not linear and not being effectively pointed or shoehorned into a path, which can take a lot of fun out of an otherwise immensely fun game.

    Your second paragraph has summed up the fruition of the experience: learning, investigating and surviving!

    I saw this and was taken aback. I honestly hadn't put much consideration into the ending. That isn't to say I don't care, I was still working on it and I am a perfectionist, I won't settle for the first draft. However, the idea of coming back to Earth and finding it devoid of life is a fantastic one, hope you don't mind me working on that one! It also leaves the story open up for a sequel :P

    I thought about this then thought maybe the opposite could be a possibility. Just when the player finds themselves on course for Earth as a visible point of light in the sky, a fire breaks out or something, which the player, who by this point is conditioned into fixing the fire (because that's something one does on a malfunctioning ship for weeks on end) they don't realise how serious it is, and each time they try and find a new path to it, the door way slams closed as the fire, which ends up destroying the equipment for oxygen creation, gets too serious for the player to handle. They have two choices, one is to heed advice from the onboard computer (who is not entirely trustworthy due to said malfunctions) to go to the cryosleep room or find themselves being put through a maze by the onboard computer which attempts to shepherd them into an escape pod room - so they have (at least at this point) two options which bring alternative endings with the same result - crash landing on Earth which, as you suggest, is now barren.
  14. Nov 13, 2012 #13
    Oh I totally agree on the "switch/lever/block pushing puzzle", it would be insulting to the player and I don't think it'd be terribly realistic. I agree with your ideas about attempts to restore the oxygen replenishment system to a be more efficient and fixing airlocks and sending signals, each of which work for a while before failing for some reason or another. However, artificial gravity is a nono, sorry :P this is set in the future, but not so far in the future that this is really possible as this would be on a spacecraft, not a spacestation, which could theoretically be possible but spacecraft I think, for the time being, is out of the question. Coping with zero gravity is one of the main features of the game's manual control system. Having gravity would actually not work as there is not going to be any such "walk" system. The player may as well not have legs.

    Thanks :) I really hope it will be awesome. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet or anything but I was quite impressed with the idea I came up with and I do feel I have a knack for immersive stories and ideas haha.
  15. Nov 14, 2012 #14
    You're worried that the whole freezing and defrosting procedure would be somewhat ignored and only visible sign would be changed time?

    First - make the whole hibernation look as non-trivial medical procedure. Show that the character is inserting in to his veins a peripheral venous catheter. (if you are malicious make it a mini-game - hit the vein... ouch... you will have a bruise... try again... ;) ) Then show that the character is putting on some kind of anaesthetic /oxygen mask (yes, if we see from first person perspective that should be visible) Then make the reality a bit blurred...

    Make it clear that freshly defrosted person might be a bit disoriented for a while and that's a common side effect, especially if the whole procedure has to be done in hurry. Let's say according to standard procedures such person is supposed to be examined by a medical personnel. Nevertheless, there is emergency procedure (or procedure to defrost the doctor first if whole crew is frozen) - the person is restrained at start, however is supposed to solve a simple quiz, to check whether is already concious enough or not. (you have another mini-game)

    Ok, some time has passed. How to show that?
    -hydroponic - the ship should be able to produce its own food. Let player to restart it with a few plants. When he is concious back show that he has a jungle in one of the chambers.
    -moving cargo - one small robot and whole cargo to be moved because of some reasons. Or setting robot to sweep all the mess. Make that done.
    -what if the computer is idiot proof and simply don't let a person into a contaminated room? Wait for the half lives to pass... After the person is defrosted a new chamber will be opened which would move the story further.

    To make it even more scary - there might a difference in pressures between rooms. If you open a door you would be blown in one direction, pending on pressure difference. If you open a door and are a bit unlucky a dead body would be blown in your direction.

    EDIT: what about if ship is already moving away from Earth... and there is not enough deltaV to change that? However, actually there is an abandoned research space station and there is enough deltaV to go it and there should be some fuel...

    Merely aliens? What about some kind of cover up of a scandal? I dislike huge plots as unrealistic, however sabotaging the ship to collect fraudulently the insurance is another thing...
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2012
  16. Nov 14, 2012 #15
    By all means, go ahead! I'm glad you liked my idea. Anyway, that's why I spent the time to reply to this; I like the idea and figured I would try to contribute in some way.
  17. Nov 19, 2012 #16
    I'm worried that people will take too much advantage of freezing if a lot of time, therefore distance passes by putting themselves into freezing, effectively cheating their way to the end of the game, unless I restrict their ability to do this. I like the idea of the minigame, it would not deviate from the controls too much. I intend for controls to focus on the arms, so this figures as relatively easy. I'm liking this adaptation of the control system and addition to the game play.

    That's made me think of something else: what if the player gets a gizmo to calibrate. When they arrive on the ship, the player loses their sense of orientation because their gizmo is calibrated to the spacecraft they were on which, after a while, greys out because the player becomes so distant from their craft. As the game gets harder, they are given a little assistance with the opportunity to calibrate their gizmo to the ship, which has a "front", "back", "top" and "bottom". It doesn't tell them where things are, more its just a compass relative to points in the ship. They could stumble upon the room that enables this or, at some point, unlock a control room to calibrate (which involves them scrolling about a screen clicking on points to define locations for the gizmo).


    Because of the risk of millions of years becoming a part of the time scale, I want to avoid radioactive contamination, I feel the game's timeline could quickly spiral out of control with this sort of thing, unless we're talking about short lived radioactive elements in which case highly dangerous elements could render a room quarantined for a few days. I guess to avoid the individual being able to just continually go into cryo to pass time and beat the game, they could be warned at the start that repeated cryo in a short space of time will damage their physiology. Then, if they need to save or they need to go into cryo for whatever reason, they are told by the ship's computer of the odds of surviving cryo, having done it too much too often. The more often you do it, eventually your odds of surviving it drop. You can try doing it for a long time, say up to six months (if New Horizons is going to take around 10 years to get to Pluto, that means the game can last about 20 days if the player does the equivalent of a session a day, if a hardcore player, they'll complete it quicker but that's up to them), during which time the computer may wake you up, either for maintenance, an emergency, or false alarm due to faults.

    However, the possibility of a full scale nuclear problem could be viable nearer the end of the game. If there is a problem and the player refuses to do something about it (trying to contain the problem by shutting off rooms) then eventually the whole ship becomes contaminated and the only option is to get onto an evac pod. Of course, the closer they get to Earth, thus requiring they survive on the ship, the better their survival rate if they put off using the evac pod until the last moment.

    Oh, that would be cruel! *rubs his hands* certainly possible, as some rooms would be warmer than others, thus throwing things around at different pressures as you suggest.

    Although this is a great idea and I do want to consider it, I feel this might break from the "cabin fever" element of dealing with this ship which would help with the suspense. The fewer outside influences, the less the player can try and reason with the game as to why things happen (maybe that's just me...)

    Same, obviously I don't want this to be monotonous and I've appreciated everyone's input they've given a lot of food for thought, but at some point I've gotta say no to some ideas to avoid the concept of the game being lost in a plethora of other things that build up to make a contrived plot. Though the idea of a much more alternative reason (as you suggest, fraudulent insurance claim) does make me think the player will be left feeling less like I've insulted their intelligence "Oh, aliens did it again? What a surprise... I mean they do stuff a lot these days." - I know this is sci fi, but I want to suspend disbelief in a way they hadn't guessed. I'll consider all the reasons it might have been abandoned, I hadn't considered something as material as a false insurance claim.
  18. Nov 21, 2012 #17
    What about if that was impossible to win game by being inner? I mean, to go to Earth one have to first switch on engines... while to do that... there is a long list of prerequisites...

    Or maybe switching on engines is easy, however, anyway the character would be defrosted by his computer for dealing with emergency... Failing to deal with it... realistic game over with stating the reason of death...

    How big is the accessible part of the ship supposed to be?

    What if computer enforced 10 months blockade of a room because of contamination? Realistic time scale not spend all time concious, while still realistic time for game.

    Part 1 - roaming the ship, repairing hydroponic, etc.
    Freezing and defrosting
    Part 2 - entering a few rooms that were earlier inaccessible (contaminated), switching on engines
    Freezing and defrosting
    Part 3 - emergency related to the engines
    Freezing and defrosting
    Part 4 - emergency related to landing
  19. Nov 22, 2012 #18
    That's a good point. I think the addition of consistent cryo being hazardous to health would be both useful but also realistic.

    Not sure yet, but I've got about a dozen room types listed, there will probably need to be multiples of some, then there are the passages between them.

    I need to do research on propulsion systems, such as VASIMR, and it may well be that any chosen propulsion system will affect issues faced such as potential radiation leaks.

    Could you rephrase this, sorry I'm not sure I get what you mean.

    On another note, it may well be that a room only remains inaccessible for a period whilst highly dangerous radioisotopes are quarantined and stabilise. After which point, the hallway into that room is kept as an "airlock" and to access the room through the hallway, the player has to find and get into a special hazmat suit to clean up the remaining long lived actinides. They don't have to do this, but they are unable to access the room until they are in the suit as the computer system won't let them through without the right protection.
  20. Nov 28, 2012 #19
    You float in zero G on a space ship, that would need decades to reach its destination. Let's assume that you even have enough food for a meager diet and enough oxygen. What would you do? Would you roam the ship alone? Solve sudoku? Play Quake XXVI on ship mainframe? After a while I think that practically everyone would give up and simply freeze himself, waiting for next emergency and hoping that one day would meet other human beings.
  21. Dec 26, 2012 #20
    Sorry it has taken so long to respond! I don't see why it would require decades. NH is nearly at Pluto and it has been less than 10 years getting there. With a decent advance in jet propulsion systems, I don't think (considering some of the ludicrous assumptions made by some science fiction) it would be asking too much to reduce this time. If we traveled at 0.1c (and that's a pretty conservative allowance by most sci fi) it would take around 6-7 months to get from Pluto to Earth. That's assuming we're on the edge of the Solar System.

    The Helios probes, sent in the 70s, maxed a speed of around 250,000km/s, which is not far off 0.1c, so I don't think it's a ridiculous random speed to choose for a not too distance future spacecraft. I've been writing the chapter by chapter progress of the game, to ensure there is always something to do (with a "random accident" function, sometimes a false alarm (malfunctioning onboard computer, sometimes real) and there are about 20 stages in total, if I split it into four stages per chapter, that's five chapters... one could easily set a chapter per month. I think with only five chapters, that'll allow the game to be short and sharp enough to avoid boredom, but pack enough suspense in to make a game worth playing. I'm looking on knocking up some 3D models for the interior parts, such as doorways, rooms, and eventually the whole thing. The layout of the ship will obviously depend on the route of the game (no point having them all muddled up and inaccessible and creating a paradox of "I need to access that room to finish the chapter, but I can't access it until I've done something that is a part of the next chapter" sort of thing.
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