TL;DR-version: look at the pictures and you get the gist of what this post is about. Also, the main thing in this post is step 0-2. The other are just in-depth exploring of that same idea.
Disclaimer: The images below, this are just mockups. The Pioneer-versions don't have to look as "flashy", I'm just using what I found.
Pioneer looks and works the way it does mostly due to it being created as a Frontier clone. But these are shackles that can be cast off, and I think things can be done far better.
Leaving the ship is a request that pops up often, but question is what is the goal one wishes to achieve with this? Exploring terrain in some First Person shooter-view is pretty pointless, unless we have trees, animals, and close-up high-detailed terrain. This is ridiculously beyond our capabilities. As is turning Pioneer into some Minecraft-cone.
As is having some FPS-mode to begin with, with interior of ships and stations needing to be modelled, which is vastly beyond the possibilities of current dev team.
However, I do feel strongly that pioneer desperately needs the possibility to convey the feeling (or illusion, if you will) of "leaving the ship". I want to "feel" that I've reached a destination, that I've stretched my legs, that I'm inside a space station! I believe this can be done at a cheap cost compared to the FPS-route.
I'd like to pitch my vision, or "dream", for an actually (almost) within our reach solution to making Pioneer far more immersive, in multiple stages
Step 0 - Enter station into a real Lobby!
When you land, instead of connecting to the Lobby, with tabs to different functions, you connect to an interactive image of a lobby where instead of clicking on the tabs you can click different doors or consoles/computer monitors in the image to connect to wanted function.
What is gained: Immersion! Being able to feel like you've actually left your smelly ship and get to stretch your legs by entering the station. It would open up for more 2D Lobby-images to be added later on. Different for different stations, or even faction specific, which would differentiate stations. We could have areas in the picture for putting fake adverts "Drink Cosmic Coke", or a faction logo.
What is needed: Initially, perhaps just 1-2 different images / sketches of a lobby, one for ground- and one for orbital-station, and some code. The station.json could specifies lobby image, and maps pixel coordinates on it for each lobby-function (like invisible "tabs" for BBS, Police, etc.).
To think about: You're now in the station, not sitting on the landing pad in the cockpit. Thus we shouldn't show radar, or ship control panel. But the player will still want access to some information (F3 InfoView, F2 map), which could be accessible through the some wrist computer (like the Pip-boy in Fallout), or hand held screen / pad. Also Game-control (like time acceleration) aught to be separated from ship control panel all together. This is stuff we need to think about for the new cockpits anyway.
Step 1 - A bar!
This is my main "dream": You enter the bar (click the door in the lobby-image, and get a new 2D drawn image), you see a bar with variable number of people, which could be done in two ways:
- We see silhouettes on chairs (each stored as a layer, so chairs can be empty or taken?) You click the silhouettes / occupied chairs, and you get a mission dialogue box with a random face offering you an illegal / shady mission.
- As above, but instead of silhouettes it would be the actual random FaceGen images slapped on bodies. All faces from the face generator are directly from the front, so this has a potential to look horrible, and require a lot of work to make it look decent, I assume.
red rectangles just show the interactive/"clickable" area of the image
What is gained: This would add a lot of immersion. All illegal missions are gotten by dealing with shady characters in the bar. Only legal adverts on the BBS (solves #1012).
What is needed: perhaps two different images of bars, with chairs, and silhouettes to place in the chairs. A bit of code to make chairs occupied / unoccupied. All criminal missions like Assassin, and GoodsTraders move to the Bar.
I find this idea pretty brilliant, but I'm not to credit for it in any way, since it's a pure rip-off from other space games, like Wing Commander, Protostar, and Freelancer:
Step 2 - Bartender is special
The bartender has a special function. When you click him he lets you know about rumours he's heard.
Perhaps modules can register "rumours" as new features are "hidden"/added to the game? I.e. someone writes a module which hides, or places something in the universe. The module could "seed" rumours that would pop up when the bartender is clicked, conditional on star date, and system. So maybe after 1y game time there's a rumour that pilots coming out of the Lyra-system with a lot of money. If you go there and click the bartender, he will tell you about a ship wreck leaking goods in orbit somewhere.
Mission scripts could thus lay breadcrumbs of "rumours" depending on which system you're in.
Extra: Step A - more cool stuff in the station
It would be nice if instead of a list of ships on sale, you saw them docked in the station. You click on them and you get info and sales pitch. Here I see two different options:
- Ships on sale are actually docked at the station, and we "just" use an external view to show them.
- One could use a fixed 2D drawn image of a ship retailer with empty landing pads, and then place 2D images of the ships on them. I guess the difficulty here is that the images of the ships need to be in the same "style" as the scene, or it might look weird. Thus for each ship added to the game, there would also be need for a 2D on-the-pad version to superpose on the shipyard image
Possibly you also have to "click" your way into/out of the station, by clicking the station building to enter the lobby, or click your ship on the pad to enter cockpit view.
I don't think this would add anything really relevant, but possibly open up many difficult questions that that need thinking through, but I'm mentioning it here to be thorough.
- When you land, instead of auto-switching to a lobby-view, you click somewhere to leave your cockpit? You would see your ship on the pad from outside view? You would click the station to enter it? Would the outside view be in-game rendered, or 2D Image hand drawn/pre-rendered in Blender?
- For an "interactive" image to work, there would need to be a lot of interactive area in it, like +50% linked to functions. Not like my mockup here:
So, I'm not sold on this at all, since I only see problems here, whose solution don't add much other than the joy of clicking your ship on the pad to enter it.
Step 3 - RPG your way out of the station!
After adding a bar, my second "dream" for pioneer is to really walk around and have turn based person to person combat, in a limited area (or "level") symbolizing the space station and some small region of the city or orbital station habitat ring. Ideally in isometric view (that would replace all the 2D drawn images I've just pitched above), and work pretty much like in X-com UFO / Terror from the Deep or Fallout 1-2. Alas, this is a pretty big undertaking, I assume.
Instead, we can build upon the 2D interactive images that will have been implemented in the previous steps (remember, you're still in my dream), and cheat and get the fun of the added game mechanics without all the work on the graphics. Fun such as:
- you can assassinate people not just by attacking the ship but by also killing them in person.
- You might stun and kidnap someone. Maybe that's a mission? Or you just take their special "Sirius Inc. plasteel armor", and credits.
- Perhaps you pull the fire alarm, or throw a smoke grenade to avert the patrolling security guard, before you assassinate someone.
- A new field of personal equipment would open up: medi-kit, bulletproof armour, gun, sniper rifle, stun grenade, ammo, and a shop for all this in the station, and player would have character skills to use weapons.
- Your crew can act as body guards when you land on a base. You can never trust the NPCs at the base when docked in a pirate infested system.
One of the problems in pioneer (imo), is that the graphics is "too nice", which makes adding new stuff very difficult. You need loads of time and skill. And you're always limited to what is feasible from a code/implementation perspective.
A text based RPG-adventure, pioneer becomes a theatre of the mind! I first thought my idea was crazy but I don't think it's as weird as it might seem, after I did some more thinking.
I see before me, that there are Quest modules that would require basically no coding skills beyond nested if-statements and dice rolls, that would take over when you exit the station, under some conditions. I haven't thought through exactly how this would work, because you wouldn't want more than one quest active at the same time, preventing conflicts with each other. Maybe different quests are active in different stations, or new BBS-missions would make use of the RPG side. Maybe bartender/rumours would point the player to different worlds, where only one quest is active.
What is gained: As mentioned above, with all the cool equipment you would be able to buy for your person, and not just your ship, I think this would really be a bold move, and make Pioneer unique and be a bit of a punch in the face of Elite : Dangerous, as well as make Pioneer relevant in an ever more crowded space game genre. I also think we have intelligent or "special" enough players to actually get away with this.
What is needed: An "Exit / enter city" door in the lobby image, that switches to a full frame Lua-window. We already have a GURPS system (Generic Universal Role Playing System) in place by Brianetta, so this could be built upon (BTW, GURPS is what Fallout 1/Wasteland originally used). It's a very well researched area, so what is needed is not coders or artists but some solid "thinking" about RPG and text adventure games.
What appeals to me here is that, once in place, the challenge is no longer on the coder / artist side, but "just" on thinking things through coming up with a good story (which is a skill of its own) and tone for the quests / missions.
Step 4 - Scenery!
A small step from the RPG implementation, is allowing the modules to include images.
What is needed: Actually, I think we already have code for this. (We're putting faces and ship-spinner in New-Ui).
What is gained: I'll let the two examples speak for themselves
EDIT 2018-09-18: I've noticed the images have disappeared, and have uploaded them again, now using https://imgbb.com/ (for future reference). I hope the images get to stay there for a another few years. Naturally, I have them saved on my local hard drive.