Dev Blog #1: Objects in Space

What the heck is Objects in Space? Other than a pop culture reference, that is.

Well, it’s a space trading game, but you probably already know that. There’s dozens of the damn things, and many made by very large dev teams able to produce amazing mind-blowing visuals and huge multiplayer environments. So what makes us so special? Why or who should care about Objects in Space?

The incredibly short version is this: it’s a space trading game where instead of pretending space ships are WW2 Fighters, we’ve built them more like Nuclear Submarines. A game about navigation and command more than piloting. A game trying to evoke the feeling of the nerve-wracking and cerebral battles from Star Trek II : The Wrath of Khan and The Hunt For Red October instead of the high action of Star Wars.

Plot a Course, Mister Saavik.
The bridge of a light freighter

And all this wrapped in the retro-futuristic aesthetics of the ’70s and ’80s. This is a “future” of beeping displays, physical throw-switches and boot-up sequences. A future where extreme distances have taken the instant communication we’re used to in the 21st century and reduced it back to a world of bulletin boards and text communication.

Even in the future, tabloid journalism is still a thing.
System-specific news and media

Our elevator pitch goes something like this: Objects in Space is a modempunk stealth space-trading game for Mac, PC and Linux.

If you’re interested, I’ll go into a bit more detail, then…

More or less since the beginning (barring one game which was an influence on us – Super Star Trek for early mainframes) space games on computers have taken the cues from Star Wars and other “WW2 Dogfighting” representations of space battles. Not even close to realistic and not trying to be, these are built to be fast, tense and adrenaline-driven. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course – but sometimes, Star Trek or hard sci-fi nerds just want to command a space ship.

Over the years it’s always struck me that space ship combat (when it ever happens) will likely have more in common with submarine & naval warfare than with dogfighting. Long range encounters, often without being able to even see your opponent – and where detecting your enemy first is going to be almost more important than any other factor.

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But Objects isn’t a sim – there are plenty of those. We wanted something different – and we’ve been working on it for two years now.

When developers design a space game, they tend to take inspiration from whatever films, books or TV shows have formed their idea of what their brand of space combat is like. We’re the same, but instead of taking  our inspiration from fast-paced action sequences, we’ve drawn from films as varied as 2010: The Year We Make Contact to Master & Commander to Serenity to Event Horizon. Rather than make a simulation, we’ve taken the tropes and concepts we found most interesting & engaging in these kinds of films, and created game mechanics based around those. What do we mean?

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Asteroid Fields are tactical combat environments, stuffing up sensors and potentially damaging both your ship and the enemy’s. Scramming reactors will reduce your radiation signature. Entering High Polar Orbits might help muddle your signal to stop enemies from tracking you down. Jump Drives produce huge amounts of power and give away your position entirely before ripping you entirely from space and depositing you somewhere else. Nebulas are fields good for hiding in, muddling emissions and just generally trying to avoid being seen.

One of the major advantages of a text-driven game is that we’ve been able to build a system which allows a huge amount of narrative content. We’ve designed and penned a huge universe, and we’ve got a team of nine writers producing stories & content for the game – from conversations with passengers to in-game poetry, from narrative quests to tabloid journalism.

There’s a lot of stuff to cover – and tons more detail can be found all over this site. We encourage you to ask any questions on the forums. But first, to sign off this first little dev blog (more coming next week!), we thought we’d give you a few lists (yes, lists!) of key aspects of the game world, and games which provided an inspiration for the design and mechanics of Objects in Space.

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Game concepts

  • Complex politics – humans in groups rarely agree on anything, and we wanted a world with something approaching the kind of complexity and factionalism you see in the real world. But like real life, human bureaucracy means that regardless of the group’s purpose, certain dysfunctions and complexities are endemic to all of them. In short? A little less Star Wars, and a little more The Wire.
  • Humans only. No aliens. Humans create enough tension and conflict without the need for little green men.
  • As a freighter captain you’ll have a uniquely wide view of the unfolding dramas – from Magella to De Vass’ Star and beyond.
  • You are the character. Seen from the first-person perspective, your choices in the game are yours – whether you play ‘yourself’ or invent a new persona.

Gameplay & World Inspirations

  • Super Star Trek / EGA Trek
  • 688(i) Hunter/Killer / Sub Command/ Dangerous Waters
  • Street Rod
  • Lightspeed/ Hyperspeed
  • FTL
  • Privateer
  • Star Trek: 25th Anniversary
  • The Terran Trade Authority books by Stewart Cowley

And that’s it for this week. We hope you’re interested in what we’re doing! If you want to keep tabs on the project, you might want to like our Facebook page, or follow our shiny new Objects in Space Twitter account.