Sky Nations is a Minecraft style airship game where you can create your own airships, battle others, and explore worlds in this procedurally-generated PVP game. Here I talk with MrBenjammin, the creator of the game, about what's to come from this project as well as what it was like developing it.
FDS: Why did you start the project in the first place? To tell you the truth it sounds like you had a childhood story behind this, you know that textbook phrase "childlike sense of wonder"
MrB: I've been making personal games for quite some time on various platforms, languages, and tools. None of them really saw the light of day except to a few friends but Sky Nations is kind of a combination of a vast majority of them in terms of theme and mechanics. I've worked on a pirate game with similar 'move around the ship while it moves' sort of mechanics quite some time ago and I really liked that aspect of it, going against the sort of clip into a seat and ride vehicles you find in a lot of games. That sort of stayed with me and I wanted to use it somewhere, I also experimented a few times with flying ships and mechanics and programmey [sic] things related to that.
Then Minecraft came out, and it really gave a great platform that everyone can understand for building complex structures so as a programmer I immediately wanted to mess with voxels and mesh generation! Then through quite a lot of iteration in mechanics, gaining more knowledge and working out how to do things, I didn't think I could get away with performance wise such as the ship to ship collision, I ended up with what I have now!
The theme and world is really a sort of childlike sense of wonder that I've been really exploring and iterating on, I hope to tell a sort of indirect story about it with what players can find in the world.
FDS: Is that what inspired from the change of a isometric view to a first-person Minecraft voxel style POV?
MrB: Yeah definitely. Originally I wanted a more RTS aspect to the game and I thought that isometric projection could make a neat setup for that. But I also found there's a bunch of problems associated with that. At first it was made of isometric blocks in a similar sort of way . The problem is depth becomes unreadable to players since a block whether its 30 blocks high or 1 block high, is the same size using isometric projection, so it became obvious quite fast that what I wanted to do with it wasn't going to work.
On top of that some of the more complex art work would be really difficult for me, such as characters. I had a friend who was working with me for art, but he also had other things he was working on that were a lot more important than a hobby game at the time.
FDS: What were some gameplay ideas you scrapped during the course of the game's development? Were there any that were absolutely paramount to the gameplay?
MrB: I've reiterated a lot, and changed quite a lot through the development. Originally it was going to be a lot more RTS based as I said, which that carried over when I started developing it in 3D, I had intended to do it from a top down view of your own character and you would get a sort of 'soft' control over units where you could give them jobs similar to dwarf fortress. I did a IndieGoGo crowdfunding for the game with those mechanics and unfortunately it didn't really captures peoples attention. Which I can completely understand, so I sort of scrapped that and went back to working on something I was thinking about on the side which was basically the 'moving chunks' which would become the ship's block to block collision. This allowed me to broaden my horizons quite a bit with the air ship game I have now. At the time I had dismissed as not feasible. One of the things I've kept, which didn't even appear in the isometric game itself, is the capturing of territory for players. It works a lot better in the setting I have now and should lead to some interesting player drama hopefully!
FDS: Now the game in its current state is PvP-only, how do you plan to implement NPCs and future non-player elements in the game? What do you wish to incorporate?
MrB: NPCs will come in a few different places to help flesh out a few things. As hostile monsters, I want to make some individual mechanics for them. For example, a robot that can jet pack onto your ship if you try to flee from him. These will provide some specific loot and may act as signs of other things. I plan on having a few animals which have some use to players but will also help bring a lot of movement to the world and give a better sense that you're in a living environment, such as flocks of birds. In the far future there may perhaps be some civilizations or procedural docks to sell items and resources between to help better flesh out low populated servers or perhaps private servers with less players. Finally there will be a few bosses, I'm undecided on the mechanics of them as of yet, but I know I want them to be a pretty big threat for everyone when they arrive on the seen and for them to be something you need to bring your ship to defeat.
Similar to games like DayZ though, players will be the biggest interaction or hostile threat you'll come across hopefully.
FDS: Normally procedurally-generated games lack a lot of focus. How do you plan to capture the audience's attention past the gameplay? Will there be a legitimate story and lore in the future?
MrB: There will be lore, it will be very sort of 'ambiently' told to the player through things they discover, such as relics of big machines, ships and monsters. There won't be a legitimate story due to the nature of the game. Where you have various players logging into a persistent player hosted server at various points of its life. Focus is quite a big problem in games like this, but some of the core mechanics coming such as territory capturing, salvaging and being able to set a world map maximum size (to prevent all resources losing their worth in something like a infinite world) should hopefully pull players together more and create cooperative play or aggressive play. Ships themselves being a sort of moving base should help players to keep relatively close to each as a crew as well.
I want to balance how you acquire quite a few items, so that there can be legitimate economies and other manners of ways to play in down time too. But that's something for the future when there's a player base I can have help balance something like this and help find various loop holes!
FDS: What can you tell us about your "item sculptor"? What purpose does it have in the game?
MrB: The item sculptor sort of takes the block building to a smaller scale. It essentially allows you to build wearable items from colored blocks. You craft a item kit in game then use it to begin sculpting to make clothes for various equipment slots on your body such as head, torso, arms, gloves, legs and boots. It's a nice way for players to express themselves as well as make unique items to trade with others. At the moment they don't provide any stat bonuses, if I can find a suitable way to balance them and give them a clear sign for other players of what they do despite being crafted they may give bonuses in the future.
FDS: Perhaps a combination system?
MrB: It's possible, the most telegraphable [sic] to other players is probably a system based on the colors you use. Such as blues could give a frost resistance.Since theres a lot of PVP, when you attack someone you don't want find out late they are the next iron man after you've landed the first blow.
But equally that derives the problem that you can no longer use a bunch of random colors if you want a fancy hat that is also functional. As I said, its sort of tricky situation between prettiness and functionality
FDS: How are the limitations of building and handling an airship implements? Can we just build a Millenium Falcon right off the bat?
MrB: Not quite, since it's a PVP game there has to be balance for ships. First of all the maximum size for ships is currently 32x32x32 blocks. Which is actually bigger than it sounds, or at least a lot bigger than I expected when I started playing around with limitations. Secondly, ships require power and thrust to run. All ships have a energy bar, this works a lot like a mana pool in a RPG. Adding blocks like power cells increases the pool, allowing you to have a large amount of energy and adding generators increases your regeneration of that energy. The energy is used for lots of things on a ship, but most crucially its thrusters. Thrusters of various tiers use up different amounts of power per second to produce thrust. For your ship to actually move you need more thrust than weight. Weight is determined by the blocks that make up your ship and what particular material they are. Such as strong materials like stone are very heavy and don't make a good hull for a ship. But metal which is much rarer is also strong, also light weight. Some machines or specific blocks can drain a lot of power at once, such as a cannon firing. Meaning its pretty crucial to manage it correctly and also protect your generators from fire.
I think I've made it sound more complex than it is!
FDS: Haha! What do you have planned for future updates? (Within a year from now)
MrB: NPCs are obviously a big one, capturing territory + some things that come with that, a larger variety of ship based machines. Modding support and a lot more blocks and islands, are the main ones that come to mind. Oh and a specific system for power/energy on static islands as apposed to how ships work is also a big one for building defenses and such!