stardork: Has all the right ingredients

I’ve been playing computer games since primary school. That’s doesn’t make me any kind of expert, but it does mean I can see when a program has all the right elements to mix together for a decent game.

We need some sort of skill for the player to demonstrate. It needs to become gradually harder to exhibit. There needs to be some sort of counteractive presence or force, and it needs to also gradually grow stronger. That — plus a few other things, perhaps some blinky lights and a killer soundtrack — is generally a basic recipe for a fairly decent game.

And for most arcade-ish action games (and perhaps even in other genres) you can probably see those elements. Just having them doesn’t mean the game is going to be great though.

stardork has almost all of those ingredients and yet … is still missing that certain “kwan.”

2014-09-28-6m47421-stardork

Your ship is the X. The @ symbol is a wormhole, and single dots are stars. Your mission is to make contact with the wormhole, either by flying into it or by firing a probe into it. Moving into a star causes a power drain, and reaching zero power will drain one “life.” Successfully connecting with the wormhole launches you into the next level, where the starfield becomes denser.

It’s a fairly simple recipe, and one which makes stardork more of a maze game than anything: The challenge is to maneuver your ship into a position to fire into the wormhole without touching too many stars, without losing lives and in the least number of “moves.”

stardork falls short on a couple of points though.

First, stardork keeps count of the number of moves you make to survive, but is actually counting keypresses. Invalid keys are counted as well, which seems like a minor error that needs correcting.

Second, stardork doesn’t make a distinction between moving into a wormhole or firing into it, which means it is far easier to bring your ship into line with a wormhole than to actually navigate across the screen to it. The only exception to this rule is if you and the wormhole spawn fairly close by.

Third, stardork doesn’t really challenge the player aside from directional navigation. There are no pursuing beasts, no timer to beat, and other than accidentally touching a star, no real danger. Furthermore you have directional control to every point on the compass — which means it will be a long time before the star density becomes so bad that you can’t obliquely dodge a blockade of stars.

Fourth, there are occasions when you will spawn on top of a star, which penalizes you at no fault of your own. Similarly, the stars are randomly plotted, which means there will come times when you must move through a star to achieve your goal. While there is a small measure of strategy that comes into play in those cases, you’re ultimately being penalized again for circumstances which you can’t evade through your skill set.

(And I’ll mention it, only because I harped on so many minesweeper games for the same problem: stardork needs a little more documentation on board, preferably in --help flags or a man page. The home page has most of the documentation I was able to find.)

I can think of a lot of ways to improve stardork. Add a timer or fuel meter. Add pursuers. Make a distinction between firing a probe into a wormhole and physically entering it. Add a hyperspace key, a la robots. Limit directional controls. Add gravitational forces. Allow stars to fade in and out. Let the wormhole drift. Let the player drift. Add a nonthreatening but competitive computer-driven spaceship. The variations are endless.

I’m not a programmer though, and I’d be rude to suggest too much into a project that isn’t mine and I’m not prepared to jump into. Suffice to say that technically, as it stands, stardork is a working game and doesn’t need any coaxing to offer a little distraction. I’d like to see it blossom further, but that might be asking too much as someone unable to contribute.

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  1. Pingback: ship_game: Keeping with the recent theme | Inconsolation

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