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?
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.