The State of the Nova TC

So, this is an analysis of the state of TC creation for EVN, placed into context with total conversions of the past.

There are two major challenges facing any developer of an EVN TC. The first is scale. The second is graphics. Let's go down the line and see how this matters.

In Escape Velocity Classic, there was a fairly large universe, mostly dominated by the Confederation. There was a swath of space owned by the Rebels, and there was a small brushfire war between a few solar systems out east. There was some competition between a few shipping companies also, which led to warfare. Aside from the rebels and the confederates, however, there were no major storylines, and it was a very long time before you got the confederate and rebel storylines, IIRC. In fact, I think I only got the rebel storyline once the whole time I played EVC, although I could have just been doing it wrong. There was no pirate storyline, and there were only a few one-shots and minor things going on. The graphics were good enough, but nothing fantastic. There was ship and outfit variety, but also a distinct sense of balance between the ships.

This was surpassable. New storylines could be written that would handily overtake the ones present here. The graphics were not that impressive, although they were iconic, of course, and new ones could be made that would look better without too much investment. Therefore, it was very possible to make new scenarios for EVC that would improve it substantially, and people did so. There were a large number of EVC TCs.

In Escape Velocity Override, the bar was stepped up, in terms of universe design and storyline. The universe was divided up very carefully and cunningly, to promote exploration. You could play the whole game without ever realizing there was anything beyond the UE, the Voinians, and the pirates, until you came across a Miranu or Crescent ship and went HOLY s###, what is THAT? There was a wide variety of ships, but again, there was balance. There were a lot of outfits to be found, but some weren't better, just different (the phase blaster compared to the neutron, for example). There was a large amount of content, and some very solid storylines. The graphics were improved very little, and no real new functionality was added in terms of graphics.

This was still surpassable. It required more thought in storylines to make better and more engaging ones, of course, and universe design would have to be done better to overtake the world of EVO, but the developers didn't have to worry about the graphics in the original scenario and more than in EVC, in general, so they could concentrate on story and design. The scale was large, but not impossibly so. There was a variety of EVO TCs.

Then there was Nova.

Escape Velocity Nova has three main factions, a pirate faction, a rebel faction, a bounty hunter faction, two shipping factions, a mercenary faction, and a slave faction. It has three nations who each cover more area than the entire of the United Earth, and a good bit of the entire Confederation. The total galaxy size is vast. There is a substantial number of one shots and minor storylines. There is an appallingly huge number of ships, and a staggering number of outfits. There are multiple ways most major storylines can be played out. The graphics are PRETTY, and they use effects nobody had ever seen in an EV game, like engine glow and rotations and running lights and there were even SHIELD effects, though those weren't used.

Oh my god.

Suffice it to say, it was a very long time before we got a Nova TC. The one we got was Polycon, which met the Nova scale handily. Time passed, and passed, and passed, and we got Colosseum. Then more time passed. We got Acheron and Ashen Galaxy and if you want to count it, Spacelane (not finished, but bear with me.)

So, four tcs! That's pretty impressive, right?

Right?

Okay. Colosseum is finished. It's feature complete, and can be played from beginning to end. Acheron isn't. Neither is Spacelane. I don't think Ashen Galaxy is either, but I could be wrong (feel free to correct me here).

Acheron was released because Darkstar couldn't be finished in a reasonable amount of time, if I remember correctly. I released Spacelane because it was in almost exactly the same state for three years. I believe GSN wanted Ashen Galaxy to become a sort of VegaStrike for Nova, to be open source developed, and I don't think that he completely finished it, either.

I am putting forth the opinion that the main reason only two TCs have been totally completed in all that time is because of the scale and graphics of Nova. People are trying to surpass Nova. They can't do it by themselves. Nova was developed with a team of writers who were also novelists, and a dedicated graphics man, at the least. So, they put together teams to tackle it. The teams that have been marshaled to create TCs have given us great ideas like Sephil Saga and Revenant, and then vanished. They had the talent, and they had the skills, so why didn't they succeed?

Everyone is failing, or falling short, because to top EV3, you would need to produce EV4. You would need to be paid to do it to be able to spend the time necessary and gather the team to produce a TC that improves on EV3 in every way, without having a group of completely manic developers working on the project.

Note, I said, "create a TC that improves on EV3 in every way". That's the goal of just about every TC developer.

IT IS A STUPID GOAL.

So, what should we do, mister smarty pants, you ask. Give up on TC development entirely, huh? If you don't like TCs, go play some other game, you loser!

Don't get so excited. I'm not finished.

What we need to realize is that it's not necessary to top EV3. What's necessary is to come up with good, solid TCs. It's a subtle difference, but it is there. People expect TC developers to make stunning, photo-realistic TCs now, thanks to Nova. They expect massive, staggering storylines, they expect bigger, better, GIVE IT NOW. They place totally unrealistic expectations on the backs of enthusiastic hobbyists, who ARE NOT BEING PAID TO DEVELOP THESE PROJECTS. This is an important point to stress-we do this in our free time, because we WANT to, not because we're being paid. And yet, people judge these projects as though they were being developed by paid professionals. Is there glitz? No? Then it sucks. They don't expect to be given a good TC, they expect to be given EV4 lite. And developers think that's what they are suppose to be making!

My challenge to TC developers everywhere is this; don't make EV4. Make a fun to play TC, with only as much space as it needs. Don't load it with systems because Nova did, and you think you need a huge map. Make graphics that reflect the character of the ships you are designing, not what you are trying to top. Put a lot of thought and care into your ships and your planets and your outfits and your GAME BALANCE (IMPORTANT). In fact, start with your game and economic balance. How do you want it to play? Don't start with how many systems there will be, or how many ships or outfits. Write it well! You don't need photo-realistic graphics. You need an intelligently written world. And don't plan for a several year production pipeline. Plan something that can be done in several months instead.

Will it top Nova? No. It won't. Is that a bad thing? Is the purpose of a TC to top Nova? In my opinion, it isn't. Look as Colosseum. Josh made a TC that is nothing like Nova, and entirely focuses on gameplay. And there it is. Go download it. You can play the whole thing. I tried to top Nova too, and I failed. I've learned from that mistake, and now I'm making the TC I want to play. I'm much happier with this project, and I have no regrets with abandoning the goal of EV4.

I've laid down the gauntlet. I hope that one of you will read this and take it up. Thanks for reading.

QUOTE (Shlimazel @ Sep 10 2010, 01:50 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

So, what should we do, mister smarty pants, you ask. Give up on TC development entirely, huh? If you don't like TCs, go play some other game, you loser!

I for one have always felt that the decline of EV plug-in development is strongly tied to the increasing emphasis on completely new scenarios. In the days of the original Escape Velocity , such things did exist, but they were mostly based on pre-existing stories, such as Star Wars or Elite , and they didn't dominate the plug-in culture the way they have in more recent years; I don't think I ever came across the term 'TC' prior to 2000. Instead, there was a vibrant culture of creating expansions, some of them quite intricate, and because people were setting themselves manageable goals, the plug-ins actually got finished. It may seem unintuitive, but it was in the plug-ins which expanded the original game that you found the real creativity.

Of course, EV Override ’s more rounded-off storyline made this harder to achieve, and EV Nova itself comes out of this change of culture. But is it really impossible to create a story of your own that takes place in the Nova universe? If nothing else, the success of Arpia , which is squarely in the tradition of classics like Pale , seems to prove otherwise.

But even if people want to make scenarios of their own, I agree that they should be doing it because they have stand-alone ideas, not because they want to top EV Nova. Your plug-in should never be an obvious response to something that’s either present or lacking in the original game; it’s telling that in the days of the original Escape Velocity , it was the plug-ins which focused on the aliens, the most obvious opening for expansion in the existing plot, were often the weakest and always the most prone to failure.

I believe that if all the merits of the current tcs and expansions for nova were to be combined, the result would surpass nova by far. Arpia has an unrivaled storyline depth and gives the player the ability to change the universe single-handedly, as well as having some of the best graphics seen in the nova universe. Anathema gives the player control over their own tech advances, allowing the player to mix and match to fit their own style. Colosseum provides a unique balance, letting no stock ship be better than the rest in every category and forcing the player to make meaningful compromises in order to fly a ship that fits their playing style best. Polycon gave a great balance between different factions and the various advantages and disadvantages of their technology. Ashen galaxy gave the player a wonderful underdog complex, because without good piloting they would be liable to die at any second.

Basically, unless there is something either very different and innovative and of the same quality or the whole thing is a whole lot better, I personally can't become interested in tcs anymore. 10 years playing makes me selective.

I agree with you in principle, but I feel that we're crippled by our own ambition. When setting up the writing for Space Opera, I rapidly dumped multiple endings (with few exceptions) because it just became too much work. But because I liked some of the ideas, I intergrated them into mainline stories, and they rapidly expanded beyond their previous length. I like where they are so far, but it's grown such weird minutae that I've had to dump half the details into incidental notes somewhere else.

And I can't bring myself to cut down on it any more. It started as a pet project, and it's rapidly become almost a novel. I can't add ships that were previously acceptable because I don't like them anymore, quality-wise (also, I need to stop looking at Delphi's models :p).

It's not so much a desire to outstrip Nova anymore, though I can't deny that was originally my ambition, it's a desire to do justice to my own universe. I can't speak for other developers, but that's the reason it's been so massive, unweidly and above all slow.

Also, I believe you have forgetton both Teacup TC and Asteriods in your TC round up.

This post has been edited by Templar98921 : 11 September 2010 - 07:29 AM

Yes, he did overlook Miners, Teacup, and Paintball, which are more or less mini-games of sorts that also happen to be TCs (not counting that Paintball borrows lots of Nova graphics). But, at least in my book, they still count and all are "feature complete", though Paintball did have a big update planned that seems to have fallen through the cracks.

Scale is probably the biggest issue that plagues most TCs. I think at least half, if not more, of the "I'm starting a TC announcements" all included the line "and it's going to have a bajillion systems". And then many of those people who posted an update past that would mention they've created several hundred systems, of which most shown screenshots indicated that they were almost all empty and half time not even all named. Things would fizzle past that and we'd never hear from the developer again. They aimed far too high and set themselves up to failure before creating a single resource. I'm fairly certain they got burned out rather fast seeing that huge expanse of empty star systems and realizing they either had to delete them all and fill them all.

This can be fixed by starting on the essentials. Get to a playable point, create the important stuff and flesh out at least a good deal of it, and then start adding details. Doing some details before you're finished with the important stuff is fine, so long as you don't get caught up in them. Especially since you may not know you have everything important done until you're actually closed to finishing the whole project. Several major outfits in Colosseum, such as armor options, didn't make it until close to beta. And I had to rebalance all the A.I. ships on multiple occasions too. It's just part of the process.

Now, graphics. Probably the second biggest issue that plagues most TCs. Why? Too much importance is placed on having graphics NAO! Placeholders work fine, graphics are merely eye candy you can do without until everything else is going. A lot of those "I'm starting a TC announcements" that didn't go in the direction of instantly creating a bajillion star systems as the first order of business went to creating ultra-realistic graphics. They'd post screenies of their work and everyone would be like "Wow, that's awesome". But little to no actual content would ever be produced. Placeholders work just fine if you don't have library of ready-to-use graphics on hand. Don't like using EVN placeholders? Fine, use free stuff from Onyx's shipyard. It also helps to keep in mind that super photo-realism is hardly necessary. Doing simple, old-school 8-bit graphics can be just as awesome (especially with proper sounds) and are much easier to make.

I'd also probably suggest anyone who really wants to do uber/lots/both graphics for a TC find someone else to help them with content creation. Not saying you graphic-guys can't make as much (or as little) content as you want, but the hours you spend making that uber-pretty ship is hours content isn't being made. Plus two people work faster than one. And if you really want that final say on everything added, you can still have it even if other people help. Just be sure to make that clear when you recruit them. After all, I doubt any but the tiny TCs were done without help. I certainly didn't do all of Colosseum by myself (the bulk, sure), just read the credits!

This topic is making me seriously consider finishing up a side-project of mine. I've never mentioned it before because I always meant it to be secret and wanted it as a surprise release. But... that was a year ago and I haven't touched it since. Should only take a few days worth of work and probably help from someone. I'll probably give it a proper announcement first. But not today, I leave for work soon.

This post has been edited by JoshTigerheart : 11 September 2010 - 12:59 PM

Well I'm sorry for omitting those tcs, but I didn't consider them to be real tcs when I was writing because they lacked even a basic story. I also omitted Acheron, even though I find its balance and graphics highly interesting, because it also lacks a story.

Thank you for the excellent write-ups, David and Josh. Those are very interesting and useful perspectives.

The only one of those TCs I've ever heard of is the Teacup TC, and I forgot about that one when I was writing my post. Those TCs aren't really representative of the plugins I was talking about, anyway, in terms of dev time and content, so their presence or lack thereof isn't really that important.

To prove the point about scale, you can look at the three current TCs in dev right now. All of them aim for a massive map, huge campaign, etc. The one which is most popular, Delphi, proves the point about pretties making popularity (not that Delphi hasn't earned every erg of that popularity, because he has) and without the ship pics and other graphics he's posted, I doubt very much that Delphi's topic would have as many pages and views as it does.

Insofar as there's always something you can't do yourself that you need help with, I agree that having people to help you is ideal. It would be a major mistake to assume that you can't make a TC yourself, however. With proper planning and good writing skills, anyone can produce a TC. The advance planning and forethought is what really decides whether or not your project will succeed, especially in elements like game balance, economy, etc. You need to figure out everything on paper (metaphorically speaking) before you dig in to the grunt work.

QUOTE (JoshTigerheart @ Sep 11 2010, 01:58 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Get to a playable point, create the important stuff and flesh out at least a good deal of it, and then start adding details. ... Placeholders work fine, graphics are merely eye candy you can do without until everything else is going.

EV Override itself is instructive in both these respects. As I understand it, Peter Cartwright wrote the entire United Earth storyline before he created any of Miranu or Crescent territory, and many of the ships used unmodified graphics from the original Escape Velocity until a late stage.

Of course, it’s also a good example of the pitfalls that need to be avoided with these approaches. All of those missions going back and forth between Earth and Emalghion went from being hellishly difficult to almost pointlessly easy when it ceased to be necessary to go via Voinian space, and more than one ship shows the influence of the placeholder graphic that came to define it.

QUOTE (Shlimazel @ Sep 11 2010, 03:14 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

With proper planning and good writing skills, anyone can produce a TC. The advance planning and forethought is what really decides whether or not your project will succeed, especially in elements like game balance, economy, etc.

I would take this a step further: consider what skills you have, and then design a project that uses them well. This isn’t to say that it needs to be solely your work, but the other participants should be people with whom you’re already in contact, not the result of an open casting call that expects random people off the Internet to finish your project for you.

It may be that major development studios can afford to create a project from thin air and then hire in the staff and resources to achieve it, but on your scale (or even Ambrosia’s) you need to work with what’s available. With all of EV Nova ’s tying-off-loose-ends moments, it’s a lot harder than it used to be to write a new storyline about one of the existing governments, but I think we’d all benefit if more people took up the old formula of documenting the rise of a new faction, or the exploration of a new area of space, rather than feeling that they need to create an entirely new science-fiction universe if they’re to be taken at all seriously.

QUOTE (Shlimazel @ Sep 11 2010, 12:14 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

To prove the point about scale, you can look at the three current TCs in dev right now. All of them aim for a massive map, huge campaign, etc.

Excuse me? When have I ever mentioned anything related to the size of the HOTSverse or the scale of the campaign the player takes part in? As it stands I've only got 148 systems, and that's half/a third what I have planned. I don't know how many more systems I'm going to put in next, but it won't be very many, much smaller than EVN's. It'll be closer to the size of EVO, maybe a little smaller.

The campaign isn't that big, either. I've only got 4 planned main arcs for the one storyline the player takes part in. Yes, one story. Only 4 arcs. The whole thing could grow bigger, but that's all I have planned.

I just wanted to correct that point that HOTS is not planned to be a very large TC. It's not small, either, but more of an in-between size. The biggest part of HOTS by far is the ships and weapons. HOTS will have 200 individual classes of ships*, not counting ship variants. It includes at present 165 weapons**. I realize those are big numbers, and that they might cause problems down the line, but they're the only big things about it. Everything else is either at a comparable size to EVO or smaller.

In a way it seems I've already taken your challenge, Shli. I guess we'll see what happens. 😉

*EVN has 288 ships total, including variants.
**EVN has 81 weapons.

This post has been edited by DarthKev : 11 September 2010 - 05:15 PM

Now I know I haven't really started on my own TC yet, but most of you keep mentioning having other people help you. In some cases, like my own, that isn't really possible. I don't know anyone who has any experience doing this that I could get in touch with very regularly, and if I did, would they be completely reliable? On pretty much every other point, I couldn't agree more.

QUOTE (Spartan Jai @ Sep 12 2010, 02:17 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Now I know I haven't really started on my own TC yet, but most of you keep mentioning having other people help you.

There's certainly no need for a plug-in to be the work of more than one person. As I said above, consider what skills you have, and how to best use them: does it really take a ‘TC’ to express your ideas, or could they come across in an expansion plug-in that might not even need any original graphics?

QUOTE (Spartan Jai @ Sep 12 2010, 08:17 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Now I know I haven't really started on my own TC yet, but most of you keep mentioning having other people help you. In some cases, like my own, that isn't really possible. I don't know anyone who has any experience doing this that I could get in touch with very regularly, and if I did, would they be completely reliable? On pretty much every other point, I couldn't agree more.

You don't need to "know" anyone before you start.
Start working on your plug-in, and if you show you've got something, people in the EVN community will help you.

QUOTE (Pace @ Sep 12 2010, 01:53 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

You don't need to "know" anyone before you start.
Start working on your plug-in, and if you show you've got something, people in the EVN community will help you.

I can vouch that this work. Although it doesn't cause people wanting to help flocking to you if it isn't beta testing.

College killed my TC. I like to think I avoided most of the pitfalls outlined above. Yeah, I had a pretty large universe, with many threads going off in different directions, but I decided not to deal with the graphics side of things until the very end, using placeholders instead. What killed "A mrxak TC" was a lack of time to work on it. Realistically, if I could get some graphics made, and got around to programming my text notes into game resources, AmTC could get finished. The bulk of mrxak-doable work is done, just not coded in.

My sci-fi writing urges are now focused on a career as a sci-fi writer, which is pretty freaking awesome. The Escape Velocity franchise helped foster that interest in me, which is kind of neat. I would like to go back and give back with my TC someday, take it full circle, but who knows. I have to focus on what pays the bills first, but the nice thing about self-employment is I can set my own hours and work on side projects too. The fact that there are so few TCs, even after all this time, is a bit disappointing and discouraging, and I wonder if one got released a couple years from now if anybody would really notice. Still, it might be fun to tie off that loose end in my life someday.

I do agree with the general sentiment that people are biting off more than they can chew, and tackling the wrong things first. People should make more smaller plugs, and I made a topic similar to this one a long time ago (I think with a similar name even?) arguing the same sorts of things. The usual arguments come into play though. Nova is relatively complete, unlike the rather sandbox EV or the hook-filled EVO. I think a great location for work in the Nova universe is not so much creating new governments and tracts of space, but in creating new minor storylines. Invent a few new weapons and ships that can be used in the main Nova storylines, unlocked by various new corporate storylines. Maybe colonize a new world or two, and have some minor brushfire conflicts. Release a mission pack to add on to the mission computer listings. There's stuff to be done to make Nova better, without replacing Nova.

QUOTE (DarthKev @ Sep 11 2010, 05:55 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Excuse me? When have I ever mentioned anything related to the size of the HOTSverse or the scale of the campaign the player takes part in? As it stands I've only got 148 systems, and that's half/a third what I have planned. I don't know how many more systems I'm going to put in next, but it won't be very many, much smaller than EVN's. It'll be closer to the size of EVO, maybe a little smaller.

The campaign isn't that big, either. I've only got 4 planned main arcs for the one storyline the player takes part in. Yes, one story. Only 4 arcs. The whole thing could grow bigger, but that's all I have planned.

I just wanted to correct that point that HOTS is not planned to be a very large TC. It's not small, either, but more of an in-between size. The biggest part of HOTS by far is the ships and weapons. HOTS will have 200 individual classes of ships*, not counting ship variants. It includes at present 165 weapons**. I realize those are big numbers, and that they might cause problems down the line, but they're the only big things about it. Everything else is either at a comparable size to EVO or smaller.

In a way it seems I've already taken your challenge, Shli. I guess we'll see what happens.

*EVN has 288 ships total, including variants.
**EVN has 81 weapons.

So... to prove my one-word mention of your TC wrong about your TC having a large scale, you describe your huge map, your two hundred ships, and your almost two hundred weapons? It seems to me that you are missing my point completely, and being entirely too touchy, considering that I wasn't dissing your plugin and barely even mentioned you. You should calm down and pay more attention.

QUOTE

With all of EV Nova’s tying-off-loose-ends moments, it’s a lot harder than it used to be to write a new storyline about one of the existing governments, but I think we’d all benefit if more people took up the old formula of documenting the rise of a new faction, or the exploration of a new area of space, rather than feeling that they need to create an entirely new science-fiction universe if they’re to be taken at all seriously.

QUOTE

I think a great location for work in the Nova universe is not so much creating new governments and tracts of space, but in creating new minor storylines. Invent a few new weapons and ships that can be used in the main Nova storylines, unlocked by various new corporate storylines. Maybe colonize a new world or two, and have some minor brushfire conflicts. Release a mission pack to add on to the mission computer listings. There's stuff to be done to make Nova better, without replacing Nova.

QUOTE (Shlimazel @ Sep 12 2010, 03:06 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

So... to prove my one-word mention of your TC wrong about your TC having a large scale, you describe your huge map, your two hundred ships, and your almost two hundred weapons? It seems to me that you are missing my point completely, and being entirely too touchy, considering that I wasn't dissing your plugin and barely even mentioned you. You should calm down and pay more attention.

I understand your point completely, I was merely offering another point of view, using my TC as a reference point. From my point of view, weapons and ships are easy to make, so are outfits. I could easily double the amounts of both if I wanted and still finish. I haven't because there needs to be a balance between every aspect of a TC, a balance I'm already getting dangerously close to tipping. The map isn't huge. Like I said, it might end up being even smaller than EVO, a map I find to be a more moderate size than massive. I suppose that could just be a different perception of EVO's map on my part, but the point stands. Furthermore, HOTS' universe could very well feel even smaller than it is because of the systems being divided into two main groups, one of which is divided into four smaller groups, two of which most players shouldn't enter very often unless they like dying. 😉

My attitude in my previous post was not meant as touchy, snippy, or hostile in any way. I know you were not attacking me or anyone else, and I was not trying to defend against any such attack. Even now I'm simply restating my point since I failed to adequately explain it in my previous post. My attitude when posting is always a friendly one. When I am being defensive, I always say so, either through literally stating it, or the use of emoticons.

Good graphics are overrated. 😄

Agreed.

I could have told you this years ago. It's the reason why Ashen Galaxy is small and sucky compared the more ambitious projects of my peers: I worked a goal that I could manage in a reasonable amount of time. I didn't try to surpass Nova in any way. My goal was to create something that changed up the ordinary combat dynamics, that was all.

Looking at Nova again, I'd like to make an expansion for the EV:C TC. That's an extremely manageable goal.

QUOTE (Gray Shirt Ninja @ Sep 12 2010, 11:36 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Looking at Nova again, I'd like to make an expansion for the EV:C TC. That's an extremely manageable goal.

Ooh, that could be neat.

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