Tips and Tricks: How do I create new twists on the game engine?

The best plugins offer new twists on the game engine. But, starting on a plugin, it's easy to think that everything has been done. Here are some tips for starting the creative juices going:

  1. Use your mistakes creatively
    For example, if you fail to set up a system properly, it is possible that the player can jump into it but not out of it again. Normally this would be a mistake, but you could use this creatively.

Another example would be setting a ship to be able to launch another ship - which was the same ship. Normally this would be a mistake, but some writers (notably Vincent Bernard in Oreste) have used it for 'organic' ships which keep multiplying.

  1. Play with how things look
    You can have a ship that looks like an asteroid (used in Angels of Vengeance for 'stealth' ships) which will confuse the player a great deal until he realises.

You can have a ship that looks like a weapon, and then fires a short range weapon when it 'hits' the player, which looks like a sticky weapon or some kind of mine that doesn't get used up.

You can have a ship that looks like a planet or a stellar hazard (notably in Frozen Heart and Femme Fatale, but also in Eye of Orion).

You can have an outfit that looks like a weapon, but is in fact just dead weight.

By playing with what appears and what is, there are endless possibilities.

  1. Use other opportunities for mission text
    From EVO 1.0.2 you can introduce a mission from the outfitters by allowing a bit to be set when an outfit is purchased. You can also allow a mission to be triggered from the shipyard by setting a mission to occur 100% of the time once the player has a particular ship.

You can use the additional cargo slots to include messages for the player which appear on the main screen during play.

You can also make full use of up to six text blocks:

  1. Mission intro

  2. Accept mission text

  3. Pick up cargo text

  4. Mission information

  5. Set down cargo text

  6. Mission completion text

  7. Use the latest features
    EVO 1.0.2 introduces a lot of new features. Very few people have used them so far, and the ones that have will probably use them in a different way from you. Make use of them! They include making missions dependent on the ship you fly, accept and refuse mission bit setting, outfits that set mission bits, outfits that have two characteristics, the ability to award negative credits (fine the player) at the end of a mission, and smoke trails.

  8. Use 'extended logic' for mission bits
    Mission bits are one of the most complicated things to work with, which is why so many writers only use them to follow a simple storyline.
    In fact you can use them for multiple plot lines which branch and then come back together again (concurrent missions), you can have missions which will only complete once a vis-bit has changed which planet is appearing. There are many more possibilities. Use them to create an organic impression.

  9. Use vis-bits extensively
    Having planet landing pictures change several times during the game will impress a lot of players - you don't need to advertise it. The more organic it is, the better it will work. Vis-bits are still little understood by many plugin writers, but are among the most powerful tools in the writer's arsenal.

  10. Keep re-reading the EV/O Documents and EV/O Bible
    If you keep checking the documents, ideas will occur.
    For example, in Frozen Heart and Femme Fatale, planets appeared which had two space ports (by dint of placing one spob on top of another one) which could be selected only by using the number keys at the top of the keyboard.
    The number keys are referred to in the Documents, but very few players remembered this, which (until word got about) made the planets with two ports a great challenge. The idea came about simply by re-reading the documents and asking 'what if?'

  11. Ask!
    Go to the EV Developer's board and ask 'if I wanted to do this, how would I do it?' Many developers are only too willing to face the challenge. You may come away with half a dozen different ideas about how to do what you want.

  12. Let your story take control
    It's easy to get fixated on what is possible when writing a plug-in. Rather, let your story take control. There is almost certainly a way to do anything you want in the game (even if it relies on instructing the player to exit the game and do it!). Allowing the creative flow of your story to set the agenda will force you to face up to novel challenges - which is where the creativity will flow from to do things that everyone said were impossible.

  13. Tweak
    Finally, once you have a great new idea, tweak it until it is absolutely perfect and flawless - this is what will transform a good idea from 'I can see what you're trying to do' into a 'Amazing. That's Awesome. How could they do that?' feature.