Category Archives: Games

Cathedral Galaxy Regional Maps and GM Resources

Complete Set of Region Maps

The Cathedral Galaxy setting is now complete with a full set of regional maps, each highlighting a particular area of the galaxy and an aspect of the setting. Extra lore and artwork are scattered throughout, in addition to the larger overview map and establishing descriptions of each region posted here. Enjoy!

My next step is writing a story in this galaxy. I will not make any statements on how long that will take!

In addition, I’ve had a few people ask me about setting role-playing games in the Cathedral Galaxy. That idea intrigues me, and I’m happy to learn that players are interested in using my universe for their games. So, I have put together some lore and gameplay reference materials that you may use. Click through to read more.

Game Master References

Updated 23 September 2022

Continue reading Cathedral Galaxy Regional Maps and GM Resources

A spacecraft engineer’s review of Flotilla

I just picked up the latest Humble Bundle sale entirely because of the gameplay video of Flotilla. Flotilla is a terrific little gem of a game that puts players in tactical command of a small squadron of combat spacecraft, with a little irreverent stomp-around-the-galaxy exploration to frame the battles.

Screenshot from the Flotilla web site.

What it gets right

Spacecraft physics-wise

The simultaneous turn-based mechanic. I’ve written before that a realistic movie depiction of space combat would play out like a submarine movie: long periods of tension between scenes of rapid action. Flotilla only allows players to issue orders every 30 seconds, and then watch how their tactics play out – which plays right into that tension/action dynamic. It also is probably pretty close to how communications lag and astronomical distances would force a true space fleet commander to operate.

The focus on both spacecraft position and orientation. Ships have well-defined firing arcs, strong points, and weak points. These features make it essential for players to consider the 3D orientation of their spacecraft and their targets: I learned very quickly that the basic orientation control mode (in which you specify an enemy for your ship to face) was not sufficient if I wanted to get through combat unscathed. The advanced mode (which lets you specify yaw, pitch, and roll Euler rotations for each ship) let me perform much more advanced maneuvers; faking out my opponents so that they exposed their vulnerable points to me while I absorbed incoming fire with armored surfaces.

Gameplay-wise

The simplified interface. The game is very clean, stylish, and accessible. It’s easy to set up complex tactics in the fully 3D environment. I also appreciate that you don’t have to keep track of a bazillion unit types and special abilities – but, at the same time, each ship class has particular strengths and weaknesses.

The combat balance. It’s possible to approach a battle with a large fleet and blast your enemies into space dust…and it’s also possible to slip in with a single destroyer and land surgical hits to wipe out a superior force. (It took a while, but about half a hour ago I took down two destroyers and four dreadnoughts with a single destroyer. I even tricked two of the dreadnoughts into colliding – that was very satisfying!)

What it gets wrong

Spacecraft physics-wise

The specifically top/front armor design. All ships have strong armor on their “tops” and “fronts,” with weak armor on their “bottoms” and “rears.” I think it’s great to have weak and strong faces, but if the engineers who designed these ships knew that they were going into space – where only the enemy’s gate is “down” – why would they make all ships the same in this regard? It would make more sense for the different ship classes to have different strong and weak faces.

Forces do not exist. There is no gravity, and no orbital motion. All battles take place in deep space. Orbital dynamics would certainly complicate the gameplay – but the cool thing about including orbits would be to add complexity to players’ tactical options. (In orbits, it’s actually easier to move in some directions than others. That’s a phenomenon that players could manipulate.) More importantly, the direction a ship’s engines are pointing has no effect on its motion. It would have been neat to see some coupling between the 3D positioning and spacecraft orientation, instead of letting vehicles slide “sideways” at the same speed that they move “forward.”

Gameplay-wise

No collision warnings.¬†The movement hint lines really need to turn red or something when you accidentally drive them through an asteroid. Or when two ships’ movements will lead them into a collision halfway through your turn. Even after I knew to look out for these situations, I still sometimes drove my own spacecraft into each other. Those are real facepalm moments!

Orientation can be tricky. While I love the abstracted spacecraft graphics because they make me feel like a fleet admiral looking at a tactical display, it’s sometimes hard to tell at a glance which spaceship faces are “up.” A little extra coloration or something would help indicate the weak and strong spots. In addition, Euler angles are not my favorite way to represent and manipulate orientations of spacecraft. I would prefer to use the same planar/vertical interface that sets 3D motion to specify the front-facing direction of my ship, and then roll the spacecraft about that axis.

What it gets hilarious

Everything about the Adventure Mode. That owl warlord will rue the day he challenged my karaoke championship!

 

I like this “cinematic” trend in video games

I’ve been a fan of Blizzard Entertainment since their WarCraft II days. I must admit that I’m unusual in that respect – because the thing I liked most was Blizzard’s storylines. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay was great – I loved sneaking those ghosts into Terran Confederacy bases, blasting my way through enemy defenses with a Protoss carrier group, or overrunning the towns of Azeroth with necromancers and skeletons. But I really appreciated the time Blizzard put into the single-player campaigns and the storylines behind them. ¬†Even with a standard real-time strategy-game God’s-eye view of the battlefield, I would imagine what the Terran frontier towns on Mar Sara were like, imagine Kerrigan making her last stand against the Zerg onslaught, or picture Tassadar on the bridge of his command carrier, surrounded by his most trusted warriors as he led them to their heroic end.

Blizzard isn’t alone in this, of course. For all its repetitive gameplay, Assassin’s Creed tried to be as much like playing inside a movie as it could (it’s only a matter of time until someone takes a similar engine to make the Bourne Identity video game, and that will be awesome). The Star Wars universe became an interactive movie with The Force Unleashed, especially on the Wii, which let players wave their hands through the air to control the Force (at least, in a rudimentary way). But besides the gameplay elements, The Force Unleashed is a great example for having production values right up there with movies – that game had some of the best concept art I’ve ever seen, the story was clearly thought out and compelling, and the acting was very well done. Speaking of acting, video games were once the realm of C-list voiceovers, but now we now have the likes of Martin Sheen voicing characters in Mass Effect 2 – which had a tremendous cinematic trailer, enough to make me wish for an XBox.

I really like this trend. It makes video games into – gasp – a reputable medium for storytelling. I don’t think this format will ever replace books or movies, but it can certainly come up right beside them as a way to tell an interesting tale, describe compelling characters, teach us something about human interactions, and make the audience think.

Oh – what prompted this sudden post, you ask? Easy:

Not only is this an insanely high-production-value cinematic trailer, but it is clearly investing the StarCraft II story with a great deal of emotional content. Yeah, sure, it’s emotional content I’ve seen in movies/books/TV before – what is important to my point here is that the last time we saw this stuff, in the original StarCraft, it was from a standard RTS top-down perspective with voiceovers on little moving head-and-shoulders portraits of Kerrigan and Raynor. Now we see it as if it’s got a film director behind it. And now all the gamers get immersed in not only the plot but the characters’ experiences and sensations. Exciting stuff for storytellers!