The Elusive EVN TC

Another serious discussion from mrxak

Name 20 TCs that have been released for Nova. Now name 20 released for EVO or EVC within the same period of time after those games were released.

Indeed, there are very few TCs released for Nova and it has been years since the initial release of the game. Many TCs were announced during the time Nova was still being developed. Clearly, there are problems somewhere if we still don't have them on our hard drives.

The Nova Files folder, in which all the juicy bits that we like to tinker with as developers is contained, weighs in as more than 170 MB. Much of which is included in the graphics portion of the Nova scenario. The original EV was under 10 MB for all data. EVO was under 12.

This means that the developer has to do an incredible amount of work. And they can't do it alone. Groups the size of soccer teams have formed to meet the challenge. These are organizational nightmares for all involved. Gone are the days when individuals made decent TCs in a few months. The knowledge requirements, the system requirements, and the high expectations for everyone involved are proving to be a difficult obstacle.

Think of it like this. Matt Burch did EV. He did the whole thing. And yes, it took him a while. Then we have ATMOS, a very large team of individuals who put together Nova over many years. Clearly the bar has been raised in the personnel-department. Graphics-wise, depth-wise, it's all been pushed to the limits. Look at the number of missions. Look at how the engine has evolved to make many of the resources we were used to in EV and EVO much longer and more complex. NCBs, crΓΆn events, shΓ€ns... it's a big mess of new features that while make a lot of things more interesting and possible, increase the work-load dramatically. And EV is still alive in our minds, hearts, and a plug-in for Nova. That's stamina from a game that many of us grew up on, and I don't think it's just nostalgia.

I know I'm stating the obvious here. Nova upped the ante in a big way. Ask any developer who started out in EV or EVO and they'll tell you a Nova plug-in is a much larger project. What concerns me, and I think should be a concern for everybody, is that a lot of people aren't getting TCs to play with. Sure, there are many projects underway, but in the meantime, what do we play with?

Nova can only be played so many times before new stories are desired, new universes to explore. A Total Conversion plug-in is a concept that in EV and EVO was a great tool to extend the life of the game, and to keep people interested. They were relatively manageable from the development stand-point. Graphics? Stick a few primitives together and you're set. People didn't expect much. It was gameplay and a compelling story that made the TCs great. There were certainly some excellent 3D models back then, don't get me wrong, but the emphasis was on unique concepts and story, not how pretty it looked, or how many resources it hogged to tell the tale.

I've been thinking about writing up a post like this for a while now. My first idea was to call for people to develop on EV or EVO again (if they think their stories can be told in that medium). Perhaps it's an idea worth suggesting still, but I've moved beyond that. After all, how many people run classic anymore? The only computer in my family that did died a few weeks ago. Instead, I suggest that the idea of smaller, faster, better plug-ins is the way many developers should go. Let us see your stories and concepts sooner, rather than later. Instead of 30 storylines wrapped up into one massive TC, how about writing one storyline, releasing it, then if you think it's worth it later to do so, write another storyline in the same universe you've created and release it as another plug-in.

For a while now, I've been pondering the fate of my own TC I've been working on. The lure of all of the neat new features in Nova was strong at first, and I developed a storyline with complex branching and multiple strings. But looking back, I cannot help but think of one thing: The Frozen Heart. Truly it was a work of great importance and deserves its fame as one of the greatest plugs of all time. Here was a developer with an excellent story, and he got it out in the form of a fairly simple EV engine by today's standards. It was linear, and the graphics were hardly what anybody would consider pipeline-level (the gold standard of our current day). Yet I would honestly rather play The Frozen Heart again than pretty much any massive branching multi-story plug-in that everybody is so intent on doing nowadays. New features are nice, but they shouldn't be the focus.

So while my own TC is still up in the air a bit while I figure out what to do, I know that I want to capture the magic Martin Turner created with his epic plug-in. It seems to me that instead of creating each branch in a massive universe all by itself, smaller plug-ins with just one or two stories apiece gets the product to the player sooner, and it gets the job done just as well if not better. And what about small TCs that do branch? Perhaps a small universe of say, 20 systems, with a few governements, and just few stories could be just as or more compelling than a huge one. To draw an analogy from literature, not everybody is made to write a trilogy of full-length books. There are the short-story writers, the poets, and the one-act playwrights. I urge all of you with stalled TC projects to think this over. Perhaps the stories you want to tell can be told in a smaller form. Perhaps graphics can be recycled from Nova or made on a low-budget system to produce the basic ideas needed. Heck, if you suddenly become an art student with a full version of Lightwave, by all means go back and make a graphics-pack to replace the old art. But for the player's sake, tell your stories! If it takes just a few hours of game-play to do it, that's fine. Not everybody plans their weekends around playing through a 200 mission long string that they have trouble finding in the gigantic universe.

So here's my goal for the community: Provide plug-ins for the player. Provide lots of interesting unique stories that exist in their own worlds, but don't take forever to finish (for the developer or the player). Don't give up on your big projects if that's what you want to do, but do try to ask yourselves if you're just trying to use new features because they're there, or if you're using the features because your stories require them? Are you adding a new storyline because it's needed, or because that other dev team has more than you? Is there a simpler way to do what you're doing, without losing the essence of the story? Do you really need a team of 7 artists and 12 writers to get your point across?

There are many large TCs that I look forward to someday playing. But I haven't launched EVN to spend a few hours playing and exploring for quite some time now. Please, developers, don't forget that the players you hope to unleash your creations on will only still be here if they are constantly entertained, or have legitimate reason to believe your projects will be released some day. There are many projects on the distant horizon that will be great when they come out, but in the meantime, what do we get to play with?

Rather than come up with ideas for a TC, come up with ideas. Then fit those ideas into the form that is most efficient. If it needs its own universe to do it in, try to make it as small as you can, without feeling cramped. If it can work in a universe already made, by all means use it. But conserve your resources, don't force the player to have 8 GB of RAM to load it all, and keep the filler to a minimum.

What I'm asking I don't think is such a big deal, and even if none of the current project teams decide to take my challenge or not is probably not going to matter. We have plenty of new developers coming along, and people around here are looking for work. So here's some work for you, what I see as the fifth generation of developers. We had the initial experimenters who made this all possible, the ones who developed the first real new plug-ins for EV, the new EVO plug-in developers, the early EVN developers, and now we have the new developers who first discovered development with Nova. You have new ideas, you have a clean slate of an engine. I urge you, the late-comers to our community, to lead the way. The old guard have gotten bogged down in Nova's many traps. I know I have, and judging by the in-progress projects to completed projects ratio, many others have too. So you, the fifth generation, need to support this community and the weight it is beginning to carry. Revitalize it with smaller, manageable projects, and show everybody that creativity wins out over the bigger-is-better culture we have begun to adopt.

In short, a bird in the bag is worth two in the bush.

Anyway, I didn't mean to make this as preachy or long as it may have turned out. I'm rather interested in input from all developers and players that have some to share. This should be another serious discussion on the state of the community. Am I the only one losing patience with the announced projects (and my own) not getting done quickly enough? Am I the only one seeing a lack of small and mid-range projects? Are there many of these projects that are simply getting lost in the hype of larger works? What can we do about this?

And please do spread the link to this topic around any sub-communities that exist in the developer world. I am particularly interested in the reactions of large development teams, and the mrxak-dubbed fifth generation.

Let the discussion begin.

Here's a small development leak -- ARPIA2 has finished development. It's ready to ship, bar my graphics. I have 3 to 4 days before my deadline is also up, so I've asked some ATMOS compadres to crack the whip over me. πŸ™‚

ARPIA2 builds on ARPIA. It has many missions, an in-depth storyline, and a number of very awesome new ships.

Is that what you're looking for, xak?

The pipeline has spoken fairly πŸ™‚ Yay! We match exactly what mrxak is talking about (except for the fact that it isn't a TC ).

I had a discussion with rmx256 about this, not long ago. Some have been working on their gigantic plugs for years (SFA, Kemet, AM, SS, ) and still have loads to do. Many players are losing patience. And those teams then have to sacrifice a few things they hoped to do, because they are running out of time.
Others have just started, less than a year ago, and many have already become vapourware. The time scale needed to achieve what everyone hopes to achieve is just too great.

I'm not sure, mrxak, if releasing one storyline before the others of a TC will do much good. For one reason: TC storylines are based on so many new aspects that if you use recycled resources, there's going to be confusion for the player. Even a trailer won't work as well, because you'll have to adapt it to the "novaverse".
Right now, I'm busy doing the exact opposite with my Arpia novel: making it independant of everything Nova.

While I'm sure something needs to be done about the TCs, I can tell you that you'll have something to play with.

ARPIA2 comes out soon. So does Retribution (a little later). And Unity Part III (somewhere during the holidays, hopefully).
I hope you'll be able to occupy a week of your holidays with ARPIA2 (well, at the very least, three days straight πŸ˜„ ). When the others mentioned come out, they too will keep you occupied a little.

This post has been edited by Pace (haldora) : 28 June 2005 - 02:33 AM

I would have to say that I would indeed enjoy many smaller plug-ins, that add a small storyline here, or enhance Nova with a few featuers across the Universe, things of that nature.

In fact, I got to thinking about how much I would enjoy playing another small storyline line that I made my own. I'm hoping to be at a release point within two weeks. πŸ™‚

Very few new graphics (and the new ones consist of modified Nova ones), everything from me, just keeping it simple (well, as much as >I< can do that, I tend to be a perfectionist).

The biggest thing I noticed when making it, though, is that plug-ins can quickly grow in size on you, especially graphics wise. I only have 30 missions, and the size of the plug is already approaching 9 mb. (though I just thought of a possible way to decrease it somewhat...)

But, to all aspiring TC makers, don't get starry-eyed. Hell, I've come up with my own TC, and while I would really like to get it made I know it's never going to happen. Oh, I know I could do it, but it would take a long time, over the course of which many things could change. You don't >have< to be bigger and badder than everyone else out there. It saddens me to think of all of the great writing and fun stuff we as players are missing out on because it's getting lost in the middle of a TC that may never be completed, or may come out in five years after Nova has finally lost its hold on me.

Obviously, making a TC is a great thing, and working on one >is< an accomplishment. I really hope I don't seem to be downplaying that. After making my own small plug-in it gives me a whole new respect for everyone working on a TC. Certainly much more than I can say about myself, one could say that I don't have the courage to start my own, and I would have to agree with you, but to everyone reading this my plea is for you to reconsider what you're working on. If all you're going for is a "wow" effect, ask yourselves if you can accomplish it in one series of missions inside Nova, instead of six independent storylines, 483 minor strings, and completely new graphics all around.

I suppose a lot of what I'm saying is that I'm trying to make the point that Nova has a lot of good stuff in there, and there's nothing wrong with using it yourself. One new, extremely excellent ship is better than forty, none of which get released...and the same can be said for every single resource in your plug-in.

I would also have to say, don't be afraid! Don't worry about what others will think, just do it. I can guarantee you that if it's any good at all, it will be well-received.

If I hadn't been so ambitious, I'd be done by now.

That being said, I'm very close to what would have been the 'public beta' stage of SFA -- everything but the storyline missions.

For me, since I'm the only one working on it (well, okay, I farmed out explosion creation and some of the spΓΆb description writing), it's all about patience and working on it only when it's been fun to do so. Sure, I could have put out a crappy version early (oh wait, I did) and then improved upon it later, but I think overall that would have damaged the TC (oh wait, it did).

But then again, I'm one of the older people in the EVN community (I mean by my own personal age, not in terms of how long I've been in the EV/O/N community), and with that age does come a degree of patience, dedication and perserverence that may be lacking in some of the more junior members who think, "Oh, I'm going to mod up this game with kewl new features that really r0x0r!!!1!!1 1" and then, once they get into the actual mechanics of it, realize it's a lot more work than they bargained for.

Fact of the matter is, Nova is a lot more complex, as mrxak says, and that means a lot longer development time, which means you need that patience, dedication, and perserverence.

It's way too early, and I'm not awake yet, so I'm babbling. Next?

I want to share some specifics, from my conversations with Pace, Tycho and Nick Anderson- it was Tycho who brought this up with me to begin with and the more that I've thought on it the more right it is.
EV- the EV or EVN that we know and love and many of us came up on has, probably, this year and most of next and after that it's gone. This is my opinion: here I justify it. No matter what we as developers do, the EV engine concept is being passed by the rest of the gaming world. As much as I don't need it and you don't need it and all of us who grew up with EV and games that went poinik and blat and had cute multicolored characters running about swiping coins and now find the 16-bit Nova engine a godsend the rest of the world who grew up with at the least a Super Nintendo or a Playstation 1 don't find this interesting or compelling. When I show my (very very few) friends Nova or Kemet (as I don't actually have Nova (sorry Pipeline!), except for my brief time as a Arpia2 tester) they are so totally not impressed. I feel just like I did when, in the early 90s after I had just got my first computer (a Commodore 64- I was poor as hell!) I would show my friends old SSI AD&D games with that little 'first-person-esque' view made from character graphics and they would all snort at me and let me have thier old Nintendos- low and depressed. Thankfully I have very few friends to disdain my effort or I would of stopped a long time ago. People now have almost as a lowest common denominator a Playstation 2 or Nintendo 64 or insert-your-flavour-of-the-month-console-here or a cheap PC that can play games that are graphically spectacular and have that safe rebellion feeling of blowing s### up or stealing s###. They could care less about flying little ships- bank and flare as they will- around from planet to planet. We play and code for a niche game that untill recently was for a niche platform in a niche market in a very borad and expansive and horribly competitive gaming world and we've only got some time left.
Sad but it's true.
Now as for many of mrxax's arguments on what we as TC developers should be doing (I'm going to speak only about Kemet here as that is the only one that I have real experience with):
Kemet started off as a plug just like Arpia (and would of beat it out the door by a long shot) and would of stayed that way if I hadn't of looked up one day and saw that I was editing misn resid 1071, so I can say that I tried that and it didn't work. Most of us are writing TCs because the story that we want to tell takes up more than is compatible with the Nova universe. Trying to put Kemet into the Nova universe, using Nova's ships and Nova's spobs and Nova's map would be like assigning the Vionians a little chunk of Auroran space and giving the Miranu Polaris space, and then telling them not to change anything, and then putting in a call to those aliens from Independance Day and asking them to come in and blow everything up. I'm sure that Retribution or Sephill or (fill in the blank) has quite possibly the same requirements. If there wasn't a 1000-mission cap to the EV3 engine I for one would not be making a TC. It's hard work and not so fun, when you compare it to being able to sit down with ResEdit for a while and knock some stuff out especially. I envisioned a spaceborn society after 7,012 years and I didn't see a handful of spobs, a couple of factions that bickered a little bit and a map with no secrets. So I'm writing what I do see and it'll be done when it's done. I bet if you took a poll most EVN'ers out there in the next forum over haven't even heard of mine (they're waiting for AM :p) so I'm in no hurry, but we're also very close. If things go according to our schedual we'll call for testers in January.

I am really not trying to piss off anyone! Uncle Twitchy may just be getting up, but I just got off from working 3d shift and I'm exhausted. Really hope that I've not offended anyone and I am not trying to be rude or negate anyone else's hard work, or especially ATMOS's. Everyone have fun and have a good day πŸ™‚

Well, in rmx's defense I have often felt the same way. The 'idiot gamer', who cares more about OMG WTF graphics and overdone franchises, is becoming more and more prevalent. Nifty graphics take the place of gameplay and depth in plot. Games can be mindless entertainment, or they can be a medium ten times as compelling as a novel or movie with which one can weave a story.

However, I think there are still people out there who aren't completely enamoured with graphics and 3D online play. There are quite a few of these people out there. EVN isn't a commercial failure like... say, the very underrated Freespace 2 was, it was just never originally meant for more than a niche market. That niche isn't about to disappear anytime soon. I brought this computer (with its copy of EVN) with me on a few school trips and showed some friends the game: they were hooked. EVN may not have the graphical firepower of other games (and truthfully, I find the prerendered 2D sprites more appealing than the embarrasingly-ugly 3D that is so common today), but it has unique and complex gameplay, and I think that's going to tide it over for a while.

Now, as for smaller plug-ins, I've always though that was a good idea. It doesn't have to be EVN, or even 20 new systems, it could be 30 or 40 if you really wanted it to, as long as you made it manageable. Retribution was meant as a 'smaller' TC (although it's rapidly approaching the complexity of Nova in some aspects, which is a double-edged sword). I'd agree with mrxak; huge TC plug-ins are nice but if that's all developers think about we have a very long night before the dawn.

One thing that bothers me (and this is in some ways me venting now, so please bear with me :)) is that there are so few graphics artists nowadays. I have been trying to recruit for quite a while now with no indication (and this is almost half a year after the writing for the plug has been completed, at least in its first incarnation). There are plenty of writers, and plenty of people willing to beta test, but the number of artists is still limited. And, if you want to set your plug-in in any other universe besides the EV(x) ones, you're going to need artists to at least model a couple of ships. My impression a while ago was that we had far more artists, and a more functional way of drawing and keeping artists in the community- a dedicated image gallery. I think that could be an issue; before, people had a well-trafficked place where they could show their art and get 30, 40, sometimes even 50+ comments. Now, the only places that artists have to show their work are in the 'Just Pics' forum (which, while nearly co-opted for EV purposes, still gets very few comments), and the finished plug-ins themselves-- basically, they're entrusting someone else to make sure that the project doesn't become vaporware or die.

I've gone over several aspects of my opinion; I think overall I'd have to agree with mrxak. We need stepping-stones, and we need to keep the interest of the community. It's always been my hope that a released TC will re-invigorate and inspire the community, and also even bring aboard new-comers. The interim steps are probably just as important as the first 'big' TC that the community finds finished.

My dad's favorite game is UT2004. I looked inside and what I saw.... lets just say it was way bigger and more complex. Personally, Nova already is boring to me. And as with every other game I own, one day in the not to distant future, I'll take a look at all the games on my comp, remember the good 'ol days with Nova and open it and play through the storylines. This topic has brought out the serious side of me. Personally, I'd say that a new engine wouldn't be too bad, but we're not getting one anytime soon. And mrxak has a good point.


The Nova Files folder, in which all the juicy bits that we like to tinker with as developers is contained, weighs in as more than 170 MB. Much of which is included in the graphics portion of the Nova scenario. The original EV was under 10 MB for all data. EVO was under 12.
<snip>Nova can only be played so many times before new stories are desired, new universes to explore. A Total Conversion plug-in is a concept that in EV and EVO was a great tool to extend the life of the game, and to keep people interested.<snip>

And the problem is simple: we want results now , and we work our ass's off for the first week or two, but we realize that it's harder than it looks. We abandon the project. What I would like to see is another EV, the same size. In that game, it was fun enough sitting in your brand spankin' new Argosy in the Darven system, blowing Clippers and other Argosys up. In this game, though, it's bigger. Life is different than what it was ten years ago, life is more fast paced and technologicaly advanced. In the '50s, computers were the size of small houses and costed millions of dollars, and today they are faster, bigger in the sense of memory, and more compact, and the people want more. An EV3D? Might draw people for a year or two. An EVOnline? Ditto. What can we do beyond these? Pray. And hope that people don't completely abandon EV. That's my say, and I am not being silly or idiotic.

Very interesting conversation mrxak, I'll probably chime in more completely in a few days, right now I'm swamped with homework and tests and finals.

My basic thoughts are yes, good well written mini storylines would be neat to see. But maybe the reason we aren't seeing those it that Nova itself sorta wraps up everything, and there isn't too much space during the main stroylines to inject smaller storylines.

As for the big TCs, they are good to. Yes they take a lot longer, but hopefully people will be willing to wait years to explore something new.


An EV3D? Might draw people for a year or two. An EVOnline? Ditto. What can we do beyond these?

The things that make all three of the Escape Velocity games so enticing, and I'm sure that most, if not all of you, will agree, are:
1. Storyline is excellent, there are depths that are not there in other space games.
2. One can actually CHOOSE what they are going to do, who they are going to side with, etc... The players choices really effect the game.

The biggest things that make the EV games boring for some are, as zapp said, the lack of "modern" 3D graphics, and the lack of online gameplay. I believe that if one were to make a EV3D that worked online, and still had the story and choice that are available in EV, the game would be, for me, far beyond any of the games that may in some eyes seem so superior to the EV games. Seriously, the Rebellion of EVC, the Emalgha, and the Aurorans are still WAY cooler than any peoples that I have found in more "modern" games.


Qaanol, on Jun 28 2005, 03:04 PM, said:

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Does that have some kind of deep hidden meaning in the context of this topic or are you just being stupid?

Anyway, I think the format of the EVs is just fine in terms of gameplay. There is enough to do, and enough to try to keep people occupied long after the original storylines are used up. Plus, I don't believe anybody actually has a good way to do EV3D or EVMP and definitely not EV3DMP...


Plus, I don't believe anybody actually has a good way to do EV3D or EVMP and definitely not EV3DMP...

I half agree and I half do not. I am wary about making an Escape Velocity game in 3D, or in MP. It WOULD take a really long time, but if the end product was good, I would support it. If someone tried to create the game and ruined it by leaving out the essence of EV/O/N and only focused on graphics, etc... well, I don't think many of us would be too happy with that.

Other games have made the whole 3DMP system, it's just that the storyline and the Universe was lousy in comparison with the EV games. It could be done. But if it meant making an EV game that was just like any old 3DMP "blow-it-up, who cares about the story?" thing, I would be all against it.

Crusader Alpha, on Jun 28 2005, 03:46 PM, said:

I half agree and I half do not. I am wary about making an Escape Velocity game in 3D, or in MP. It WOULD take a really long time, but if the end product was good, I would support it. If someone tried to create the game and ruined it by leaving out the essence of EV/O/N and only focused on graphics, etc... well, I don't think many of us would be too happy with that.

Other games have made the whole 3DMP system, it's just that the storyline and the Universe was lousy in comparison with the EV games. It could be done. But if it meant making an EV game that was just like any old 3DMP "blow-it-up, who cares about the story?" thing, I would be all against it.
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Thats my point, sure other companies have made 3DMP EVish games, but all of them lack the open endedness and story that the EVs have. If somebody figures out how to get EV 3D and/or MP all in the same game it would be great, but it hasn't happened yet, and I certainly don't know how to do it.

If there was ever a EV4, and im not saying there will be, it should be exactly like this one. If it's gonna be a MMORPG it should have a 1 Player mode, just like Starcraft. I doubt that it will ever be 3D though. The EV franchise is about top-down space fighting. If you get it in 3D (Like Runescape) it wont be EV. We dont need modern 3D graphics. If its not real enough for you, go outside. The graphics out there are as real as it can get.

In essence I think we should all just get back to work πŸ™‚ If the 1337 kids can't wait for what we're doing then they need to go back to teh suxor or whatever it is that they do.

The TCs will come along in thier time. I have just discovered ConText and Restore and frankly I've upped my schedual a lot now πŸ˜‰

This post has been edited by rmx256 : 28 June 2005 - 05:02 PM

My opinion is, the quality of ships and the story should be the same, do what you can to make the TC a successful, fun, enjoyable experience. I make planet graphics (and maybe a little landing scene) so it's my job to make sure the game is graphically beautiful and it attracts the players eyes, and keep them interested visually, it's hard to work with these limits, but I do know it's not impossible, I'm wondering if anyone is making more then they should? Are you adding a ship you don't need to the game? Are you making a planet you don't need to? Set limits and guidelines, don't be a victim of over production, don't waste time working on projects you don't need. Just make the game fun and interesting, and try to keep that fun and interesting inside of Nova's limits.

Qaanol, on Jun 28 2005, 01:04 PM, said:

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You know, I don't really know what it's about and I haven't played it, but at least I knew it exists. πŸ˜›

@ mrxak: One of these days I'll get around to reading your mini-essay, I'm sure it'll be quite interesting. Blocks of text on forums aren't really on my plate at present.

For all you scenario developers out there, I heartily recommend MishMash. It's a tool designed for doing nothing but descriptions.

Check it out.

Dave @ ATMOS

Based on what rmx said, what if you just removed all the missions and crons etc from Nova, leaving behind a complete universe ready for you to make up a completely different story about. Without the story Nova is no longer Nova so if you do a Total Conversion of just the missions and stuff then it should still count as a TC. You may only make a few changes to the universe here and there as necessary but people would still enjoy playing it almost as much as any other TC, right?