Brad Wardell's Blog


Star Control: Origins Prelude 8 of 13 - The User Interface of Star Control

Published on Monday, August 20, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

Most fans of our previous games know that we make a lot of strategy games. Strategy games are all about having as much data on-screen at one time as possible.

But Star Control isn't a strategy game, it's an action RPG.  It took us a very...very long time to nail down the user interface we wanted for Star Control: Origins, mostly due to having to quit trying to make a strategy game UI for an RPG. 

SC__UI_Watermark

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Screenshot Friday 8.17.2018

Published on Friday, August 17, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control

It is...FRIDAY!

New screenshots!

 

The further you get from Earth, the stranger the planets.

The Codex is designed to help provide background on the lore of Star Control: Origins as well as a "how to play" guide wrapped into one.

Don't want to do any spoilers so I can't really show off some of the other pages. But over the course of your adventure, you'll start picking up a lot of...stuff.

Your ship from orbit.

Just little bits of polish.

 

Destinations on planets are now fully handled by things you can build in the building crafter.

 

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

5 Social Media Truths

Published on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

Being involved in gaming communities means dealing with a lot of drama.  The most common problem I observe are people who have no capacity for empathy.  It never occurs to them what someone might do back at them.

Here are a few truths I've come to recognize:

  1. If you attack someone's livelihood, don't be surprised if someone returns the favor.
  2. You have no right to anonymity. People should respect your privacy but don't confuse respect with rights.
  3. Do not assume that you can attack the "Bigger person" with impunity. There is no rule that states that your target won't punch down in response.
  4. If you dance around a dumpster fire along enough, you will get burned.
  5. Don't apply rules to others that you do not keep yourself.

For me, these 5 rules have been a survival guide over the past three decades I've been online.  As I once explained to a colleague, you cannot infinitely absorb abuse from people and stay balanced.  You have to either redirect it harmlessly or failing that, make sure the perpetrator is given a figurative knock with a rolled up newspaper.

The counter-response, the one I've heard decade after decade usually involves "you have to ignore them".  That sort of response only comes from people who have never been the subject of social media mob justice or someone dedicated to your personal, real-life, destruction. 

One example of someone who got a harsh lesson was a friend of my wife who heard me complain about the review bombing of my book.  Mind you, this book was released in 2010, long before there was any awareness of the concept of "Social Justice Warriors".  In brief, a handful of people from a particular political forum wanted to make sure my "vile" (i.e. libertarian-like) political opinions resulted in me paying a price in real life.  Sound familiar?

Now, back in those days, I was still firmly in the "don't dignify with response, ignore it" camp that our PR people always insisted on.  So I just took it and complained to my wife and her friend.  She insisted that I just had to grow a thicker skin and proceeded to write a glowingly positive review that quickly resulted in the dogpilers to turn on her.  She became incredibly upset and raged "My family can see these comments about me!" and proceeded to delete her review.  Doing so, incidentally, resulted in a long-running myth that my wife reviews our stuff. 

But the point was made: It's easy give advice that amounts to "ignore the haters" but it's another thing to actually be on the receiving end of it. Which is why I live by those 5 rules. 

Star Control: Origins Prelude 7 of 13 - The Aliens of Star Control Part 2

Published on Monday, August 13, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

In one of our other dev journals, we showed the pipeline of how aliens came to be in Star Control: Origins.  The process started with the artists and the writers working in parallel.  The artists would sketch up lots and lots of alien shapes, and the writers would design the history and lore and roles of the aliens. From there, the process would begin to merge to ensure that the final alien visual expression matched up with the lore for them.

Today we're going to begin walking you through how the Star Control aliens that appear in Star Control: Origins were developed.

Do you have enough Jeff in your life?

We first have to separate the difference between a character and a species.  In the classic Star Control series, there was Fwiffo, the character and Spathi, the species.  For the most part, Star Control: Origins focuses on species but there are also a few characters and one of our favorites is Jeff.

Ironically, as far as I know, Jeff's species is not revealed in Star Control: Origins.  I won't spoil Jeff's personality but you can get an idea of what he looks like and how he evolved.

First, you have the inkblots:

Character_Thumbnails_LGSheet_02

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Star Control planet names

Published on Thursday, August 9, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control

We are in balance mode for Star Control: Origins and part of this process involves placing hand crafted planets to help with late game pacing.

Since we are hand placing them, we're hand naming them too.

If you have a planet you would like to name, feel free to suggest them here.  No promises but if they are fitting, we will do our best.

 

Star Control: Origins Prelude 6 of 13: The Ships of Star Control

Published on Monday, August 6, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

Not all ships are created equally.  This is particularly true for the ships of Star Control itself.  In the year 2088, the United Earth Advanced Space Vehicle Program (UEASV) had done its best given the politics involved.  But ultimately, what Star Control starts out with is a ship with very much the capabilities that a ship in 2088 would have, which is to say: it can... turtle around the solar system.

The first long-range ship program - the Vindicator program - was designed to allow the ship to be frequently updated with new modules.  Because the ship was designed to handle technology from different nations such as the United States, China, Russia, Japan, Germany, France, Brazil, etc. the interfaces are remarkably flexible.

Ironically, this need for flexibility has also made the Vindicator class well suited for plugging into alien technology that arrives...

image

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Trademarks vs. Copyrights - A layperson's guide

Published on Sunday, August 5, 2018 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

Every day, more and more people are becoming aware of intellectual property. As a software developer, this is great!

When I started my career, I routinely ran into people who couldn't understand how someone could justify $100 for a piece of software when it only "cost" $5 to produce it because they didn't understand the concept of intellectual property.

Unfortunately, enough people know just enough to get themselves into trouble.  So in this article I will try to walk lay people through two of the three major types of intellectual property (the third being patents). 

Note, I am not a lawyer.  This article is not providing legal advice and if you have specific legal conclusions you want researched, you should speak to a qualified intellectual property lawyer. 

What is "IP"?

IP can refer to trademarks, copyrights, patents and other forms of intellectual property.  A trademark is IP.  A copyright is IP.  A  patent is IP.

Copyrights

Copyrights protect original works of authorship from being copied.  It's pretty straight forward.  Original. Works. Of Authorship.  Is that that thing a copy of that other thing?

Songs, poetry, movies, computer software and even architecture are protected by copyright.   Copyright does not protect names, facts, ideas, systems, recipes or methods of operation.

A copyright comes into existence the moment you create something that could potentially be protected. You don't have to file something to have a copyright.

You can't copyright an idea. You can copyright an expression.

Here's a simple example:

You can't copyright a cake recipe.  If I make a cake following a recipe and you make a cake following the same recipe these are two different cakes because they are both unique expressions of that recipe.  On the other hand, if we had a machine that could duplicate your cake then those cakes would be copies.

At the end of the day, a juror is ultimately asked "is this a copy of that?"  That means thing A and thing B are put next to each other and if thing B is substantially similar, then it's a copy.  Substantially similar doesn't mean just "similar".  It means that one is pretty obviously a copy of the other.

More reading:

https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ33.pdf 

https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/187385/clone_wars_the_five_most_.php 

A good rule of thumb to follow on whether something is copyright infringement is to simply ask yourself: Is this a copy of this other thing?  Not similar. Not inspired by. Copied.

Famous Copyright Lawsuits

The question usually asked of jurors: Would a typical person recognize A and being B?

Sims Social vs. The Ville (EA vs. Zynga)

Rogers vs. Koons (Photography)

Star Wars vs. Battlestar Galactica (Too similar?)

My take

  • The Sims Social vs. The Ville are too close to call for me.
  • Rogers vs. Koons was pretty obvious copyright infringement to me
  • Fox would have lost the case handedly, BSG isn't a copy of Star Wars.

Trademarks

A trademark is a word and/or symbol to identify goods and services from one seller from another to prevent consumer confusion over the source of those goods and services.

Trademarks exist protect consumers and to contain the good will and reputation of the seller of goods and services.  "X: The name you trust!"

If the question is whether something is associated with something else or if people will "believe" something is actually something else, you are in the land of trademarks.

More reading:

https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/BasicFacts.pdf

Famous cases

Adidas vs. Forever 21 (the case of confusing shirts)

Starbucks vs. Freddoccino (the case of stealing good will)

Superhero (Marvel and DC have trademarked the word Superhero)

My take

It's pretty rare for a trademark case (within the US) to involve someone actually using someone else's trademark to associate their new product and service with it...so most cases involve third parties trying to pawn off on what they believe is the good will and reputation of their mark.

  • In both the Starbucks and Adidas cases, the argument seemed to be that people associate the stripes or the name+design of the drink with their mark and thus are benefiting from the good will and reputation of the former.
  • Superhero is way above my head. No idea.

 

Conclusions

On the Internet, everyone thinks they're a lawyer.  And sometimes, even general practice lawyers will opine on IP without really knowing much on it. 

I'm obviously not a lawyer but I have been through millions of dollars of IP litigation over the past 20 (mostly those patent trolls you hear about but multiple trademark and copyright suits as well).  

The very first IP lawsuit I was involved in was with Entrepreneur Magazine.  We had a video game called Entrepreneur and they argued that people would be likely confused into thinking our game was related to their magazine.  We settled and hence The Corporate Machine was born.  Would we have won if we had gone to court? Even today, I have no idea. You tell me.  It wasn't worth spending millions of dollars on though.

Anyone who tries to tell you they know the outcome is only showing they have no idea what they're talking about.  A better analogy would be to think of it as weighted dice.  When you're dealing with the courts, you are dealing with human beings and while different cases have better odds of success (No, you can't call your OS "Lindows") or failure ("No, Battlestar Galactica is not a copy of Star Wars") there's no sure thing.

Which is why a layperson's guide like this will get you 75% of the way because the last 25% of the way is largely dice rolling:

Copyright: Is X a copy of Y? Put them next to each other or describe in detail the two or list the source code of both, are they substantially similar? (i.e. a copy?)

Trademark: Would the average person familiar with the subject matter be likely confused into believing that X and Y are connected?

Star Control: Origins Prelude 5 of 13 - The Aliens of Star Control

Published on Monday, July 30, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

For most people, Star Control: Origins will be the first Star Control game they've ever heard of.  But long ago, back in the DOS days, there was a trilogy of Star Control games.

The first Star Control game was essentially a Space Wars style game with a strategy layer. There wasn't really any "lore" with it.  The second one, my favorite, was Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters. This game was filled with an epic lore that dated back over a quarter million years. The third one, Star Control III: The Kesari Quadrant, took its own direction, which many fans have since come to not care for.

When we began working on Star Control: Origins we had the challenge of deciding what was and wasn't canon in the Star Control universe.  Ultimately, what we decided was to make Star Control a multiverse.  Thus, Star Control II took place in what we call the Ur-Quan universe.  Star Control III takes place in the Kessari universe, and Origins takes place in the Origins universe.

Early concept of the Xraki

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Star Control: Origins Prelude 4 of 13 - The Mid Spur

Published on Monday, July 23, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

Star Control: Origins is a space action adventure game.  You are the Captain of a ship with a mission to protect Earth and explore the galaxy. 

From a technical perspective, Star Control is a story engine.  We don't generate new quests.  Instead, we are looking to populate a deep and rich world with hand-crafted Sci-Fi stories.  But we won't be doing it alone.  Much of our effort has been to create consumer (i.e. user friendly) apps like Adventure Studio, the City Crafter, and the Ship Designer, so that people can create compelling stories to share.

Of course, our job is to tell the first story: Star Control: Origins itself, starting in 2088. Over the past four years, we've written a lot of stories.  And while the main mission might "only" take 20 hours to complete, that is not the end of the story.  It's a big galaxy out there.  And mind you, this is just our universe.  People will be able to travel to completely different universes as well with their own stories and characters.  But it is also our hope that fans will want to help flesh out this universe with us over the coming years.

To understand how big our playing field is, let's talk about our setting: Orion's Spur.

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Realism vs. Fun II: Planets

Published on Saturday, July 21, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control

Making alien worlds is very fun.

But how realistic do they need to be for players to have fun? In Star Control, we've opted for cool over realistic since, in all likelyhood, most planets are either just big rocks, big ice balls, or balls of gas.  So having worlds made out of diamonds and rubies and gold and iron and other weird things allows players to constantly discover new things to explore.

 

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