Blog » Ultimate Space Simulator

Sometimes my friends will approach me about an idea they’ve had for an iPhone app. But first, they say, I must swear to never tell anyone. It’s such a big secret that anyone hearing the idea for the app will immediately steal it and become rich. Sound familiar?

Every time I tell them no. I won’t sign any NDA, I won’t even pretend to keep it a secret just between us. Their idea already exists on the market or it’s such a small niche that it has no value. But I like being emphatic that I won’t maintain any secrecy about the core concept. There was nothing special about Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Amazon when they first launched. Those ideas succeeded because they were at the right place at the right time or, like Amazon, they worked really hard to gain the trust of millions of strangers on the Internet. Just having the idea entitles you to zero dollars.

I’ll admit to being guilty of this for Sara’s Flare. Narrative secrets are kept close to my chest, but another reason I don’t spill the beans for Flare is because I don’t trust anyone to do it right. There’s also some promotional ideas that I’d rather not dilute before I’m ready to come to market.

I guess the Nostalgia for Infinity was a giant cone. Seemed cooler in my imagination.

However, I have an idea for another game that I’d love to see made by someone else so I don’t have to. As I said yesterday, I miss the space games of my youth and am glad to see some modern versions. Yet they’re all basically the same: a World War II flight simulator with the gravity turned off and asteroids turned on. I don’t believe in that vision of the future.

My favorite concepts involve huge ships and gargantuan scales, specifically Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe. In that world, massive skyscraper-sized ships called lighthuggers travel between planets at relativistic velocities. Ship chases involve acceleration competitions rather than pure velocity. There is lightspeed targeting compensation. And there’s also some fun sciencey-magic involving “cache weapons,” mysterious sentient weapons of stellar destruction.

Given a nearly infinite supply of money I’d license the Revelation Space universe and build a game where you control one of those lighthuggers. Given an infinite supply I’d make my own universe that’s more or less the same. It would be procedural from the Big Bang forward, generating galaxies from fluctuations in background radiation. The universe would tick on without you, like SimCity, but you could intervene and shape the fate of entire solar systems.

I’d call it USS, the Ultimate Space Simulator. Here are some of my notes. Please steal these ideas and develop this game.

USS game thoughts

Of course I want to make a space game, because that’s what I love. But simple trading games are kind of dull. Buy cheap, sell dear, get attacked by pirates en route. The only thing you can do with your money is make more money. And of course you start with a tiny ship and end up with a larger one. That’s about it.

Eager market for a, uh, hipmunking. Yeah, that’s a real word.

So my favorite idea is from the Nostalgia for Infinity from Revelation Space. A big, skyscraper-sized ship that has Hell-class weapons. You spend your money to fix this huge ship you inherited/found/whatever. That unlocks more abilities and lets me “brand” the game as the ship. Maybe it’s an alien ship.

Where did the ship come from? Now, the Nostalgia for Infinity is a vaguely standard ship for its time. There aren’t a lot of them, but everyone knows what it is and where it came from.

Possible origin stories

  • Your insane grandfather inventor built this (… Wernstrom!)
  • Warship from an undiscovered alien species. Either randomly appeared here from another dimension (didn’t warp in the living creatures) or it was evacuated after a war and drifted through space until you found it. Maybe it’s from another galaxy. Huh. I could call the game Andromeda, naming it where the ship came from. And there’s no listing for it in the App Store. Sounds good to me. But Gene Roddenberry already did a sci-fi show by that name, and there’s something called Andromeda Online that’s gone dark but still has a web page up.
  • Inheritance from your dad (nod to Frontier/Nomad)
  • You live on a ship disassembling planet and built this thing out of spare parts? Nah, it doesn’t explain why entire chambers are unavailable… unless you just didn’t have the time for them, kind of like how I’m building this game. You wanted a big, badass ship, so you just had some empty spaces for whatever. But that kind of ruins the sense of mystery about the whole thing, and how you managed to get the ship by yourself. And why you would build such a huge freaking thing?
  • Weird variant on the alien ship thing. Huge and badass as it is, this is a freaking tricycle in the dimension it came from. Like how the iPad is more advanced than all the technology in the world 50 years ago. That’s why it can be piloted by one yokel (you).

Stuff you could upgrade/unlock

  • Surface to space shuttles for transporting people
  • Engine upgrades for increased travel distance
  • A zoo area to rescue animals off planet (e.g. when Leela finds Nibbler)
  • Auto-repair so you don’t have to pay for repairs anymore
  • Unlocking weapons on the hull
  • Discovering what the Hell-class weapons are for (this could be the primary quest)
  • Hacking other ships in flight
  • Launch kinetic missiles (here I’m thinking of the “rod” from Anathem)
  • Terrarium for growing food
  • Ablative coating for mining resources in asteroid fields, kupier belts
  • The usual stuff: weapons, engines, storage upgrades, shield/armor

Stuff you could do

  • Orbital bombardment (kinda evil, though)
  • Ecological rescue (Noah’s Ark)
  • Asteroid/comet obliteration
  • War assistance (troop transport, relief efforts (thinly disguised FedEx mission there), actual fighting)
  • Uh, trading…
  • People transport (for such a huge ship to be used, it’d only be useful for military troop transport, planetary evacuation, rescue efforts (bringing in a whole bunch of doctors and equipment), wealthy dignitaries or celebrities)
  • Space combat (duh)
  • Dead Space-scale mining
  • Bounty hunting (difficult to implement)
  • Planetary scanning (get paid a bounty by finding habitable planets. Could make this a fairly interesting minigame.)
  • Xenoarchaeology (scan planets? How could I make this interesting? And what would be the rewards?)
  • Protection services (i.e. saber rattling). This could be a neat way of making money in the beginning. Your ship is so huge and scary that planetary dictators would pay you just to be in orbit. And then you could quit the app and it would keep track of how long it was closed and give you money in return. It wouldn’t be more lucrative than the more fun tasks, but it would help people who just bought the game but don’t have time to play it get some cash if they don’t find trading fun.

Big objectives

  • Fully upgrade/repair the ship
  • Discover the functionality of the Hell-class weapons
  • Help some military take over the entire galaxy
  • Obliterate/discover every world in the entire galaxy

Hell-class weapon functionality ideas

  • Cause nuclear fusion in Jupiter-class planet
  • Blow atmosphere off planet
  • Cause planetary rotation to stop
  • Tractor beam for moving moons (crashing them into the planet, pushing them out of orbit, speeding up or halting their orbit to mess with tides)
  • Accelerate stellar formation in nebula
  • Generate black hole (red matter, ugh)
  • Some sort of huge wide shot shotgun for taking down little craft
  • Create huge EMP pulse
  • Create stellar blowtorch (from Revelation Space)
  • Induce infall of rocks from asteroid/kupier belt
  • Remove stellar matter from a star (turn a yellow star into a red dwarf)
  • Cause a star to go nova (either by itself (which destroys it) or in the instance of accumulated matter from a binary system)
  • The usual suspects? Railgun, laser, flak cannon, missiles, auto cannon

It seems like there are lots of ways to be a jerk in this game, but few to be nice.

How to be nice

  • Donate money
  • Charity courier missions
  • Killing bad people (ugh)
  • Finding people things they need (i.e. Mass Effect 2 personal missions, or Dr. Chakwas’ serrice ice brandy)
  • Wait arbitrarily (Chrono Trigger, waiting for Marle to pick candy)
  • Clearing something dangerous away
  • Setting up like lamp posts along a dark path (not sure how this could be incorporated into a space game)

The solution to all my ideas of what to do with the weapons is obvious: have an evil alien race taking over the galaxy. You use your weapons to destroy their worlds and push them back. So that’s the “good” part of using your weapons. The bad part would be using against your human allies, which you would probably only do once, then reload a save or something.