Space Traffic Controller Post-mortem

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August 26th, 2014 10:22 am

My jam entry is called Space Traffic Controller.  You can check it out here!

Space Traffic Controller Preview

Last week I was at the Unite conference in Seattle.  Seeing all the cool stuff going on there really got me fired up, so even though my entire Saturday was wasted flying back home, I really wanted to take part in this Ludum Dare.  Sitting on the airplane on Saturday I decided that I wanted to make a Flight Control style game, but with space-ships and galaxies instead of airplanes.  At the time, my idea to make the game unique was to implement a wormhole system that could be used to transport the ships across the map, but I eventually ended up scrapping that idea.

Even with only Sunday to work, I originally intended to make this a compo entry.  At the end of the day though, while I had something playable, I wasn’t really happy with it, so I switched to the jam and took full advantage of the relaxed ruleset.  Here is what the game looked like Sunday:

Sunday Screenshot

Monday, with the game now intended for the jam, I added some great music my brother recorded for me a long time ago.  I’ve used it a couple of times, each time changing the pitch slider in Unity, and I’m always amazed at how different the mood can be at various speeds.  I used the rest of the morning to polish and refine, adding textures and models, as well as a very basic UI using the new uGUI system in the Unity 4.6 beta.

At this point I was still intending to add wormholes, but while play-testing I decided I preferred the game without them.  The way I had scaled everything in the game made the screen kind of full, and I thought having things instantly transported around the screen would be too messy.  Instead I briefly started on a system to warn the player of impending collisions, but other engagements came up and I had to stop early.

What went well:

  • I’ve used LineRenderers in Unity dozens of times before, and had some sort of issue with their behavior literally every time.  I was prepared for the worst this time, but fortunately they worked exactly as I wanted without any headaches.
  • I’m really happy with the way the Sun looks.  It’s still basically just a solid yellow sphere, but I added a particle system at the center that slowly emits particles with a radius just slightly larger than the sphere and slowly rotates them.  I lazily used the same sprite as I did for the explosion particle system, and I think it looks great for the amount of time I put into it.
  • Even though its dirt simple, I like the way drawing paths feels.  I would have liked to add some smoothing to limit how sharp the ships could turn, but hey, it can’t all be prefect.
  • I did a good job of limiting scope.  If you look at the source, you’ll see that everything in this game is extremely short and simple.  This LD experience was much more relaxed than the serious time crunches I’ve had in the past.
  • I spent a couple hours avoiding making the skybox.  In that past I’ve always either used solid color backgrounds, pre-made skyboxes, or made 2D games, so I’d never actually made a skybox before and was kind of dreading it.  What I ended up doing was making a particle system that emits long lived particles from the shell of a very large sphere.  It looks ok, took all of 5 minutes to set up, and I didn’t have to do any actual “art.”

What didn’t go so well:

  • I wish I had taken more time on the models for the ships.  I made what was intended to be a placeholder model in about two minutes, but I didn’t end up improving it.  What’s worse, I lazily reused the same material from the planets on the ships with no modifications.  I also did that as a placeholder so that I could identify which planet the ship was supposed to go to, thinking I’d come up with a better system later, but I never got around to it.
  • Since the ships, planets, orbit plots, and flightpaths are all the same color, it can be difficult to see the ships when there are a bunch of flightpaths drawn near each other.  I could have solved this easily with a real texture on the ships.
  • I’ve made “orbit” games in the past, and have a library of code that uses physics to simulate the orbits of planets and moons around a sun.  It works great, but since I originally planned on entering the compo, I didn’t use it.  The planets simply rotate in a circle around the sun, which isn’t too terrible.  The moons, however, are just children of the planets, and rotate along with them.  Many players probably won’t even notice, but it REALLY bothers me that the orbits of the moons aren’t accurate.  On the red and green planets, the moons don’t move relative to each other, and it looks horrible.  I wish I had at least used the same system on the moons as I did on the planets, if not done the whole thing realistically.

In the end, I’m pretty happy with Space Traffic Controller.  I’m even more happy that I’m getting much better at setting a realistic scope in these game jams, and making a good, fun game within the those limits.


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