Monday, November 18, 2013

Sol Trader Q&A

It has been a while since I did a Q&A on this blog.  It's something I hope to change.  Today we talk to Chris Parsons, the made behind the space sim, Sol Trader.  It is an indie effort and shows a lot of promise.  You can even get Alpha access to the game through a small purchase.

1)  Can you tell the readers a bit about your game, Sol Trader?

Sol Trader is designed as a cross between two classic games: Elite and Asteroids. It's meant to be a thinking person's space blaster game: something that you can have lots of fun playing straight away, but which will draw you into a complex simulation with a full history and independent AI characters with their own motivations and goals.

2)  What are some of the inspirations behind Sol Trader?

The original Elite is my primary inspiration. I remember playing it with a friend aged about 13 on his BBC Micro and being enthralled with the wireframe 3D graphics and the endless worlds to explore. I loved the idea of discovering profitable trade routes and upgrading my ship. I also really like some of the character creation ideas from the original Oubliette, and the historical generation ideas from Dwarf Fortress.

3)  I love space trading games,  what makes yours different than other games in the genre?

It's meant to be fun and accessible, but with a surprising amount of depth under the surface. In most Asteroid style games, you shoot first and ask questions later (or never). In Sol Trader, if you launch from Earth guns blazing you'll have a very short life expectancy as the police ships close in...

There are some colorful character creation mechanics, too. Instead of just rolling some random stats, your starting skills and attributes are determined by your parents, your upbringing and the career choices you make. Time will be modeled in the creation process: the more skills and experience you aim for, the older you'll be and the more likely you'll get injured and suffer the effects of aging before the game even begins.

This generation process is also applied to AI characters, leading to a complex generated history of events which you'll gradually discover you interact with different characters.

4)  How does the economy work in Sol Trader?

The markets are coded realistically with different prices for buying and selling goods. Each planet produces and consumes a number of goods each turn which drives the supply and demand for a particular planet. Prices are determined by this supply and demand, so if a market runs out of a particular good, the price will automatically adjust to compensate.  There are a number of AI agents buying and selling in the markets, so prices can change very quickly.

This can lead to some interesting effects: a trader can turn up just before you sell a load of metals at a profit, and dump a whole shipment on the market, dropping the price for a while until the demand picks up again!

5)  Did you code the engine, or are you using a system like Unity?

I hand coded the engine myself using SDL and OpenGL. My programming career began in games development: years ago I worked on the PC games Republic: The Revolution and Evil Genius, so I had some idea of where to start with my own engine. It's been a bit of a slog but I've learnt a huge amount, especially about graphics programming, and this learning is partly what keeps me motivated to continue working on the game.

6)  What platforms is Sol Trader available on?

At the moment it's available for Windows and OSX. There is some interest in a Linux port: if there are enough players for it to make sense I'll take a look at that in the future.

7)  As an indie developer, how do you keep focused on the project and motivated?  I'm assuming you do this in your free time.

It's difficult, to be sure. Thankfully, my 'regular work' is flexible: I work as a freelance programmer, trainer and agile coach so I am able to spend some time on Sol during the day. Ultimately I love working on games, so it's much easier for me to keep going with this project than others I've tried in the past.

8)  Access to the game can get gained by purchasing the Alpha.  How has this model affected your development?  Do you feel more of a responsibility to work on the game since people have paid for it?

Yes, I do feel a sense of responsibility, although it's more of a motivating factor than a pressure.  Each time someone pays for the game, even in it's current unfinished state, it's an enormous boost to my morale and focus. Games take a huge amount of time and effort to write, especially when you're doing it part time, and I'm tremendously grateful for every early supporter.

9)  What are you working on now?

Today, I'm optimizing the new particle system to split up the storage long lived and short lived particles, to allow both in the system. This will allow drifting purple smoke from the jump gates and ship trails as well as engine/weapon flashes without the GPU falling over :)

After that I need to finish the code for firing of depleted uranium shells. Currently they (rather suicidally) fire from the center of your ship, so I need to leverage new positional code to make them fire from the guns and give them a proper calculated velocity.

10)  Have any future plans you'd like to share?

I'm hoping for a solid new version with more gameplay finished by Christmas, along with a new more promotional video. Watch this space!