Monday, March 27, 2006

Air Ace, scale, size and speed.

I've just updated the Air Ace website with a few new screenshots Here and it occurred to me I should perhaps blog about a couple of issues that are playing on my mind.

The game is similar to the old online games Air Attack Download it here which used to run on the UK network provider "wireplay" and of course Kesmai's Air Warrior, which was bought out and eventually closed down by EA games.

So there are two things that are causing me some concern:

1) Its damn difficult to actually track and hit a target
2) The game is going to be VERY big

The first of those, the issue of hitting another player is quite common in online dogfighting games. In fact, Air Attack itself seems pretty hard to hit anyone in, even though its thought of as one of the more user-friendly and less "realistic" of these games.

The problem is that of relative speeds. Typically in a flight combat sim, where the combatants are not seasoned players, the tendancy is to get into a turning battle. Basically they start in a head on fly-by, then immediately start a tight turn in either direction (for some reason, usually right), thereon they proceed to continue the same tactic ad infinitum.

Now of course your better players know how to avoid this with better tactics. But what of the new player experience? We dont want them to get constantly killed.

When I started on this project, one of my key aims was to give every player "a kill within 30 seconds", which is a goal which I stick to. This is bourne out of playing Red Baron and remembering how cool it was to be able to jump in the game and get a kill really quickly. Of course, the issue here, is that in Red Baron, the planes were relatively dumb AI's, in Air Ace, they are other real players.

So how do we make the promise of a quick kill come to life?

Well, here are some ideas, although I think it won't be a single thing that forms the final solution.

* Setup the game so that new players are spawned into the game pointing directly at the opposition and within range to make a visual identification
* Add some dumb AI planes into the mix and make them fly slowly and on a level so that new players get the kill quickly
* Make the new players have a lesser bounty so they dont get targetted by other players
* Make the new players hitpoints higher, so they can take more damage and not get destroyed
* Allow for some auto-aiming of the new players weapons
* Make an offline training mode which allows players some tutorials to gain better skills before going online for real
* Make the plane handling relatively quicker for newer players, allowing them more maneverabilty (essentially steering aids)
* Have some visual aids for directing new players towards a valid target
* Slow the relative speeds of the planes to a point where combat is less difficult

These things are all kind of indirect helpers, the only really viable way we are going to be able to guarantee a kill, is to incorporate a dumb AI aircraft specifically for that player to shoot down.

Hopefully we can incorporate some community features which will mean that other players take newer players "under thier wing" (pun intended) and teach them the ropes.

So thats something we'll have to experiment with. Perhaps a screenshot to come next time to show what the problem is. Even our attemps at visual aids to increase situational awareness (knowing where your enemy is).

The second thing thats playing on my mind is the problem of download size. Might not be a problem for traditional publisher based delivery (DVD disks), but given that a good terrain might consist of 100mb per level and we have at least 2 or 3 levels and perhaps 200 mb of ground items and planes/tanks/ships etc. Well you can see the problem.

According to Phil Stienmeyers blog, we're looking at around 20 cents per gig, for example from hosting on Amazon's S3 service. So lets say we can pack the game down to 300mb (unlikely but we can try) thats roughly 3 copies per 20 cents. so 15 copies for every dollar. Assuming a 1% conversion rate, thats going to cost us roughly 7 dollars to deliver enough copies to attract each sale!!!

Eeek! :)

Ok, so you might say "well dumbass, why not just shave your downloads and get more conversions", that is a possibility, but not with the current tech. Sure, we can go for a smaller demo download. Imagine we can get that down to perhaps 50 meg or so. But its still a fair chunk of change just for speculative downloads.

The other option we might have to employ, is to build in a bittorrent style download interace (using some bittorrent library) which allows us to deliver the game using shared peering systems. Of course there is another option and that is to try and get CD covermounts. But it still leaves us with a relatively large download issue.

I suspect that once we are more aware of the final scale of the end-product, we'll be able to make adequate provision for distribution. The fact that this thing is huuuge is mainly down to the high quality of the artwork and the requirements of the terrain system. Assuming we can prune back the terrain using some procedural methods, then our only issue is the other art assets. Which I expect we can live with as the terrain footprint is relatively large in comparison.

Hopefully what we can also do, is get a box deal which might allow us to deliver to more people, using a physical media, which lets face it, is probably optimal for games of this scale.

Its not like we deliberately set out to make this huge style game though, honestly, it was meant to be a really simple little game! its just become this beast which has a life of its own and must be sated or fear the worst!

I'll have to think on it a bit more.


Monday, March 20, 2006

GHAC Blog Posts Week 7

Ok, FPS Blogs so far:

Session 1:

Nick Rathbone has got GoldenEye
Ricky Anderson get The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay.
Chris Cousins - Marathon (Bungie)
James Barron - Halo
Phil Abrham - Star Wars: Dark Forces
Charlotte Cook - FEAR
Matt Thayre - Soldier of Fortune

Ian Baker and Oliver Turner have both chosen Far Cry. We are resolving the clash.

Session 2:

Graham Rust get Star Wars: Republic Commando
Joe Hill - Clive Barkers Undying