August 8, 2013 11:46 PM | John Polson
Curve Studios' design director Jonathan Biddle shares all he can about his newest project
The hook: White Space is intended to be a modern "roguelike-like" take on the early 3D games I played on my ZX Spectrum in my childhood, set on the surfaces of procedurally generated planets.
The rest: After spending around eight years exclusively on 2D games, I've been itching to make something 3D again. I've had many ideas percolating in my head over the last two years, but White Space seemed like the most immediately interesting and possibly easy to try, so I jumped into learning Unity around May. The screenshots I've been releasing are about two months into the development of a prototype. The prototype is really focusing on creating a compelling environment in which to set a randomly generated game, since White Space is sort of Rogue-like-esque-ish.
All of our successes at Curve so far (Fluidity, Explodemon, Stealth Bastard/Inc.) have required bespoke levels to be created by level designers and then made pretty by artists. With White Space, I'm interested in creating gameplay derived from the interplay of systems, rather than from prescribed layouts and solutions. The benefits of this approach are myriad, but I'm most interested in making something that is complex, deep, and engages over a long period. My motivations for this are related to my work on Stealth Bastard. Despite being very proud of it, I always considered it a hobby project. I felt that all the time I've spent on it over the last three years has kept me from making something more substantial.
The early 3D games of the 80s have been the biggest inspiration for White Space. Games like Mercenary, Tau Ceti, Driller and StarGlider gave me this real off-world, alien feeling, and powerfully conveyed this sense of being somewhere mysterious, all alone. White Space pitches you into this same scenario, part explorer, part something else. I don't want to talk too much in detail about the gameplay, since I don't like detailing specifics in the early stages of a project. I've got many ideas I'm going to try, but I've generally found it best to let a game tell you what it wants to be, and for a designer just to be an attentive listener.
I've already changed my course since starting the game just from feeling my way around the atmosphere it's created. I have to say that I really love this part of the creative process. Other influences include Carrier Command, 3D Space Tank/Xscape (DSiWare from Q-Games), and the Binding of Isaac. Like many other designers I've played a lot of Dark Souls, and this has made an impact in how I'm looking to structure my game.
The screenshots show White Space's randomly generated landscape system, combined with randomly generated clouds, lighting and weather effects. Since I wanted the planet surfaces to be generated and I'm not much of a coder, I had an idea that I could use a simple 2D tile system to create a 3D landscape. I figured I could treat the landscape as a series of really big, but quite detailed, 2D tiles that were instead built in 3D and then arranged with a pretty simple algorithm. If I'd failed at this step, I would've known that I couldn't have made this project without greater technical ability, and so probably would have dumped it and moved onto something else.
I'm pretty pleased with how the tiles have managed to create some quite organic looking, if stylised, landscapes. Despite some repetition in these placeholder tiles, I think the 2D solution has been a big success. All of the work in this prototype has been done by me so far, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what bringing an artist on board will do to it. The overall art direction is to do flat-shaded, low poly objects and environments with contemporary graphical effects, such as shadows, bloom, specular, particles, distortion effects, etc. I think this should create something that looks really unique.
Pay It Forward
The work of Bill Lowe on the game he's calling Before has been catching my eye for a while. It's just care and attention that has gone into composing the image, and the fantastic low poly-art style that work for me. I met Bill at the last London Indies event and he's annoyingly as nice as his screenshots.