“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure” – Bill Gates
Over the weekend I was feeling a bit nostalgic when I was creating a thread on a forum that I visit. The more I wrote, the more the flood of memories kept hitting me like a ton of bricks, making me realize how far I’d come since those early beginnings.
In fact, a few years back, on a whim, I had gone back and restored the original source code from archives to see if I could build it. It took some doing; but with the help of a VirtualBox VM, I was able to do it. And it actually ran! Imagine my surprise.
I designed and started to develop that first game, Battlecruiser 3000AD (aka BC3K), back in the late eighties. You all know the history surrounding the first game, which was released while still in late Beta by Take Two. So no need to rehash that. You can read more about that and more, in this blog.
Seriously, this is what some of the docs (1, 2, 3) for the game looked like back in the day. And it came with a total of 22 PDF files totaling over 100 pages. Seriously. And that was back in 1996. You can download a freeware version of that original game. And yes it still runs just fine if you use DOSBOX or a VM.
I remember back when it was mostly a contact sport to get any game to build, let alone run. Wrangling with Quarterdeck’s memory managers to wrestle every amount of free memory to actually run the game. Going from one compiler framework to another. I doubt that most even remember the likes of dev tools such as Borland’s suite (Turbo C/C++, Turbo Prolog, Turbo Assembler etc), Watcom, DOS4W extender (yeah, we had to buy stuff like this!), Fastgraph (the quintessential goto graphics library which, I kid you not, had a Fortran version!), 3DFx Glide (remember your Voodoo card?), Smacker video tools, Sound Operating System. And MASM (lol!!). Oh man, check it…
\masm613\bin\ml /Fo%2\%1.obj /c /coff /Zi /Zp8 /Cx /Cp /W2 /WX /Sa /Sc /DWIN32=1 %1.asm
And the makefile for the 3DFX build was a thing of beauty. Here is a glorious excerpt.
# Enable one group of three lines only #
# Glide #
!ifeq RENDERER GLIDE
AUXFLAGS = -DGLIDE_RENDERER
ASMDEFS = /DGLIDE_RENDERER=1 /DSOFTWARE_RENDERER=0 /DWIN32=0
LINKWITH = bc3k3dfx.lnk
OBJDIR = DOS\GLIDE\
UNBOUNDEXEC = bcglide.exe
FINALEXEC = bc3000ad.gld
# Software rendering
!ifeq RENDERER SOFT
AUXFLAGS = -DSOFTWARE_RENDERER
ASMDEFS = /DGLIDE_RENDERER=0 /DSOFTWARE_RENDERER=1 /DWIN32=0
OBJDIR = DOS\SOFT\
LINKWITH = bc3k.lnk
UNBOUNDEXEC = bcsoft.exe
FINALEXEC = bc3000ad.dat
After I went to Interplay to release BC3K v2.0, and which did very well, I went back to think outside the box in an attempt to finish my original ideas which I couldn’t do at the time due to lack of tech, inexperience in some areas etc. In the interim, I released two more titles, Battlecruiser Millennium and Battlecruiser Millennium Gold while still working on other tech.
The Bc3K dev build folder tree. Recognize any of those tools?
The culmination of those efforts, led to Universal Combat released through Dreamcatcher in 2004. I renamed the franchise because the publisher felt that the “Battlecruiser” name was too tainted as being niche, the drama of the original release still loomed etc. I rejected a bunch of names (e.g. Battleforce) they came up with. So as a compromise, I settled for Universal Combat seeing as I had moved the game from a single carrier (the Battlecruiser) to the command of every single asset (ship, vehicle etc) in the game IP, along with adding full blown fps on planets.
The game did well, and so I continued to work on improving it, thus leading to four derivative works in the Universal Combat IP.
Due to the direction that the industry was going in, and seeing as game dev became more and more expensive, while not yielding the same financial rewards as the past, I decided to retire the Battlecruiser/Universal Combat IP. To that end, in 2009 I released a compilation of all the games in both IP, as Universal Combat Collectors Edition.
That same year, have branched off to do a fighter combat game for Turner’s GameTap service as Galactic Command Echo Squad, I ported the graphics and other updates from that more modern GCES engine kernel into UCCE and released it as Universal Combat Collectors Edition v2.0, but without multiplayer (too much work for very little gain).
I have always had a fondness for that original IP; but unfortunately it became clear that the decline of the space combat genre, not to mention complex games themselves, was not exactly going to be something to spend money on if the core audience simply wasn’t there anymore.
Then 2012 came around and for some reason a bunch of space combat games started to appear. Including that on-going train wreck Star Citizen, as well as the outstanding Elite Dangerous.
Though they were getting all the attention even though neither one was really doing anything different or which I hadn’t done before, I was already committed to doing Line Of Defense which I started designing since 2009 and which went into development in 2010.
Then people started contacting me and asking why I was MIA from the great “space combat game resurgence“. Including my old fans.
The response was enough to convince me to, at the very least, go back and overhaul the old gal. Also, I wanted to prove to those extremist Star Citizen White Knight crazies who kept harassing me, that the game they were attacking me over, wasn’t doing anything groundbreaking, that I’d done it all before – though at much lower visual fidelity – and thus knew the challenges that awaited them. Plus, they (RSI/CIG) didn’t have the tech that I had built from the ground up and which completely overshadowed anything Roberts could possible dream up.
That interest led me to draw up plans for, not a new game, but a complete overhaul of the UCCE 2.0 graphics, fix some underlying nagging bugs, tweak a few features etc and add a few features that had gone into my two All Aspects games.
That was how Universal Combat – The Lyrius Conflict came about. And I branched the entire engine suite to v3.0x that it’s now on. Then I released it on Steam Early Access as a $29.99 (increasing to $49.99 in 2016) DLC for those who want to follow the development through to release, via regular updates.
In keeping with the tradition of the original Battlecruiser game, it is still the most advanced space combat game ever built; and is the only space combat game to date that has a complete modeling of an entire capital ship command, complete with crew modeling, persistent space/planetary universe etc. Even though it is still a massive sandbox, it still has various open-ended missions which take place in space and on planets.
And it’s not just about traveling through space doing combat, exploring, trading etc; the entire game is one massive AI framework in which graphics are just there as visual representation. Your crew get tired, they eat, rest, sleep, move around the ship, go on away missions, battle intruders on-board your ship, intruders (they’re bastards) still stuff, kill your crew, steal your ships etc. You can trade, mine, explore, pick fights, make alliances etc. All in real-time.
And the entire world is persistent, complete with massive space and planetary regions. No sharding. No instancing. No cheating. You can travel in either real space or hyperspace. I even made a video over the weekend (see below) showing how that actually works.
Seriously, you can do so much in these games, that it wasn’t particularly surprising to me that due to it’s original shoddy release in 1996, that most people simply couldn’t believe that such a game could possibly exist. But it did. And a lot of people, even some in the industry, made fun of my hard work; with impunity.
And I started to build all that back in the eighties. In fact, I went through my records this week and found drawings and notes I had made from back in 1987! It wasn’t until 1996, with a help of a bunch of friends with various specialties, was that first game released to the unsuspecting gaming industry.
Nobody – to date – has ever built this sort of tech or this type of game. And they won’t because it takes decades of toil, research and experience to do it. And it’s costly.
Apparently even $100m isn’t enough to build even half of a Battlecruiser game. But that’s largely due to who gamers gave the money to.
The premise of the original Battlecruiser 3000AD game still holds true today, but amplified by x100 due to the slew of options and new tech implemented over the years and right up to the 2009 Universal Combat CE.
Real quick, what was Battlecruiser 3000AD?
Total command and control
Command and control a military Battlecruiser complete with manual flight control of 4 fighters, 4 shuttlecrafts, 4 all terrain vehicles in space and over gorgeous planetary landscapes. Assign orders to over 150 ship personnel including officers, engineers, medics, marines and fighter pilots. Mine planets and moons. Attack space and planetary targets using fighters, all terrain vehicles or marines. Deploy or extract personnel and items from space or planets. Orchestrate invasions in any part of a huge game galaxy including strikes against space borne starstations. Order your ships and personnel using a variety of commands such as search and destroy, strike, escort, defend and many more. Use transporters to beam personnel to and from surface strike zones. Attack surface assets from space using devastating orbit to surface weaponry. Launch probes to remote regions to gather intel and stage your attacks. Trade hundreds of items with dozens of stations and bases.
Immense, fully-dynamic universe
Features a fully dynamic and evolving universe with over 13 alien races, including the feared Gammulans and irritating Vesperons. Interact with 25 castes including military, raiders, assassins, scientists, traders, diplomats etc. Each with a unique agenda. Visit 25 starsystems containing 75 planets and 145 moons all modeled in 3D. Traverse this huge universe using wormholes, jump gates and other anomalies. Search asteroid fields for cargo pods or lure your attackers in and watch them die. Soar above the cloud layers of Earth, drive over the craters of the Moon and Mars or explore the vast rings of Saturn complete with rocks and debris. Visit a variety of moons and planets with different topologies, climate zones, cities, bases and other attractions. Watch in real time as the Sun goes down, night falls and stars fill the sky. Explore planets or space regions for days on end with no restrictions or limitations. Observe as this huge universe evolves around you and continues to evolve regardless of your actions. Visit regions as alien nations wage war on each other or watch such skirmishes as military ships engaging in combat against raiders threatening traders, diplomats and other harmless castes. Join in the fray or cloak your ship and go about your business undetected. Destroy stations and other surface based assets and observe as they are rebuilt over time and reinforced with more advanced components. A universe like none other in any game this side of the known universe.
The first fully-modeled starship
The first fully modeled starship. Access a variety of computer systems for personnel control, engineering repairs, tactical command, cargo manipulation, communications, navigation, power allocation etc. Repair and upgrade your ship systems with a detailed parts database containing dozens of components. Observe your crew as they move between decks or get stuck and take injury at locations with broken decks. Monitor their stats including artificial intelligence, fatigue, health and a variety of other attributes. Personnel move to a myriad of ship locations including their quarters, the galley, bridge, engineering etc. Watch your marines spring into action as they go in search of escaped prisoners or engage in combat with intruders that board your ship. Evacuate your personnel from decks that are subject to radiation due to reactor core breaches or quarantine your away teams that come back with infectious diseases. Clone dead officers from stored DNA signatures or hire marines and engineers at starstations. Stock up on rations or watch your personnel die of hunger. Assign your combat pilots to fighters or your marines to all terrain vehicles based on skill. With access to this complex ship, an awesome array of weaponry and a dedicated crew, the decisions you make can mean the difference between life and death as you assume full command control of your ship and crew.
Decide how you play
Most games lock you into a linear plot and if you manage to break free and finish the game, you have no choice but to shelve the game and go in search of another to fill the void. In this game you decide how you play, short term, long term or forever. The choice is yours and the variations are endless. With three unique modes of play, you can choose to either wander the universe as a Commander in Earth’s galactic force, Galactic Command, carrying out your duty of maintaining law and order in allied territories or explore the vast reaches of space. You make your own rules but step out of line and face a court-martial or worse, make a bad decision and your crew die. Decide what you want to do, where you want to go and how you’re going to carry out your goals. Do you invade a planet today or join an NPC controlled force as they attack an enemy station deep in hostile territory? Do you mine for valuable Iridium or do you destroy hostile assets for experience points that eventually lead to increase in the ranks? You can also join a campaign in the Advanced Campaign Mode scenario consisting of a series of missions that are directly affected by the ever changing universe. You can either follow the mission path or ignore orders and move on to the next task in the campaign. To get you going and hone your combat skills, enter Xtreme Carnage and take on space and planetary hostiles as you familiarize yourself with the operation of your fighters. The choice is yours, either way, one day, you’re going to die. You may as well die with a medal and for a good cause.
So if you are playing the free Universal Combat CE v2.0 on Steam, you are playing the original Battlecruiser 3000AD on steroids and with over two decades of technology improvements and tweaks, taking place in a massive 100% persistent game universe (space and planetary worlds) that is updated in real-time.
That’s how you build this kind of game. You simply can’t do it all in one shot. And you need a custom engine, written from the ground up, in order to do it. Even better if you have people who already have the experience building this sort of game. And that’s why I made the comments about Star Citizen since my first blog in July and for which I’ve been under incessant attack since. But whatever; that’s the gaming drama for you.
Anyway, my plan for this Lyrius Conflict DLC is to completely upgrade the graphics engine, visual effects, fine tune the GUI, replace the entire asset database with new and improved models for every single model in the game. This includes characters, weapons, vehicles, aircraft, planetary buildings, starbases, stations etc. Everything. Since all my games share the same IP, newer assets from more recent games such as the All Aspects games, as well as Line Of Defense, will be used so as not to have to re-create them from scratch. And the planetary terrain engine, which is procedural btw, isn’t going to be replaced because it works just fine. However, all the texture assets are going to be replaced with higher quality versions.
One thing I would like to do is add a 3D bridge to the game. With 28 capital (transport, carrier, cruiser) ships in the game, it’s a lot of work, but it’s just one of those things that you either do it or you don’t. I would have like to build all of these capital ships similar to the multi-deck Starguard carrier we built for Line Of Defense, but that’s over $600K to build all of them; and I don’t have $100m of other people’s money to do it with. So with the 3D bridge, at least you get a more immersive feel. In the original BC3K game, it was actually a 2D image. 🙂
Depending on how things go with this Lyrius Conflict DLC (aka UCCE v3.0x) which I hope to complete and release by end of 2016, I plan to then do Universal Combat Advanced in which, using the UCCE v3.0x engine kernel, I will build all 28 capital ships, and all stations so that from start to finish, the entire game takes place in first person mode like in LOD. This will allow commanders to run through their ship fighting alongside their NPC marine crew against intruders. Also with the ability to board other ships (since all will be built in full 3D) and stations. Just like you currently can in Line Of Defense. And with at least 128 client multiplayer, similar to what I did with multiplayer in the All Aspects games. Not an MMO, as that’s way too much work.
However, given the sheer amount of work (creating the assets) involved in such a venture, I may actually end up just doing a remake of the original Battlecruiser 3000AD game which only had the Battlecruiser and 12 (fighters, shuttles, vehicles) support craft. That would allow me to build the inside of that ship in full 3D, make the full game work in fps etc. Then depending on how things go, spring-board to UC Advanced.
Make no mistake, at no point in time am I ever going to dumb down these Battlecruiser/Universal Combat games. They will remain as complex and niche as they have always been, and with zero compromises on my part. Think I’m kidding (1, 2, 3)?
THE FUTURE OF BATTLECRUISER/UNIVERSAL COMBAT SERIES
We have the following engine kernels:
- UCCE 2.0: The final build in the kernel (patch for retail & freeware versions) is 2.00.03. no further updates
- UCCE 3.0: Current build used in The Lyrius Conflict DLC currently at 3.00.06. on-going bug fixes/tweaks
- UCCE 4.0: Final engine build with all the graphics improvements and features promised for The Lyrius Conflict
UNIVERSAL COMBAT – THE LYRIUS CONFLICT
3D rendered cockpits/bridges (similar to AAW/AOA) for capital ships (x28), fighters (x29), gunships (x5), shuttles (x3) is already planned for 4.x. It’s a LOT of work and a LOT of money. Which is why the final price in Jan 2016 for this DLC goes back up to $59.99 from the current $29.99 discount.
NOTE: The ground and naval vehicles don’t need 3D cockpits since they use the new first person UI
My plans going forward, depending on scheduling and costs, revolve around two specific titles in the BC/UC series.
UNIVERSAL COMBAT ADVANCED
Based on the 4.x engine kernel:
- Full 3D interiors for all capital ships (x28) with the ability to move around in fps mode manually or using T-Shafts as in Line Of Defense
- Full 3D interiors for all stations (x14), starbases (x8) with the ability to move around in fps mode manually or using T-Shafts as in Line Of Defense
- Internal pathfinding and AI improvements to allow crew (and intruders) to move around inside these 3D ships/buildings
- Map representation of PERSCAN (similar to the one in Line Of Defense) for inside these 3D ships/buildings
- Ability to board other capital ships, engage hostile threats, take their stuff
- Ability to capture starbases, same as you can with starstations
- UI for issuing orders to crew inside these 3D ships/buildings similar to the advanced orders in AAW
- Animations for crew located at various stations inside these 3D ships/buildings. So you could walk into Medibay and see the MO moving around or doing whatever. Also crew moving around the ship based on their current and transit location as seen in PERSCAN.
- New campaign scenario. Will probably include all scenarios converted from The Lyrius Conflict
BATTLECRUISER 3000AD – THE REMAKE
- Yes. But only for the Galactan class Battlecruiser MK3 carrier. Including 3D cockpit renders for it’s support craft (fighter, shuttles) complement
- Yes. But only for the Galactan class Battlecruiser MK3 carrier
- Yes. But will only have ROAM and ACM scenarios for the Commander career
- 64-128 client-server session based multiplayer, similar to AAW/AOA games
As you can see, doing the BC3K remake (I will ofc change the name) will be quicker, cost way less, and depending on how the sales of TLC and BC3K remake go, can be the spring board to UCADV. And best of all, it can be done in tandem with The Lyrius Conflict since the 3D assets can be created alongside the new ones being created for that DLC.
So if TLC goes into final release by the end of 2016 as planned, it is conceivable that BC3K remake could be released by end of 2017.
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