Newsletter August 2014

Vision and Productivity

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Hello, and welcome to this month's Von Neumann Defense Force newsletter! I'm Hanno, VNDF's lead developer, chief visionary and overall jack of all trades. This month, I'm going to talk about the following topics:

  • VNDF's Vision: The goals that Von Neumann Defense Force is trying to achieve.
  • Development Update: What happened since the last newsletter and what do I plan to work on next?
  • In Other News: Happenings from around the web that VNDF aficionados might take interest in.

Have fun with this month's newsletter and please email any feedback to I'd love to hear from you!

VNDF's Vision

In last month's newsletter I talked about the project's past. This month, we look at its roots from a different perspective: What is the vision behind Von Neumann Defense Force? What does the project set out to achieve?

As you'll see, I'm going to keep this focused on the goals themselves, rather than the means to achieve them. I've decided to do this for the following reasons:

  • Features are only a means to an end, while goals define the project. Of course the goals will be refined over time, but any planned feature I can describe now will probably have changed a dozen times by the time I actually implement it, if it gets implemented at all!
  • While I do have a very concrete picture of what I want the game to look like, I don't believe it will actually end up looking like this! Most of my ideas might be shit. Problem is, I don't know yet which ones.
  • Even ignoring the previous points, I don't think now is the time to talk about VNDF's future in such detail. This is a big project and it will take a long time before it can be realized. I want to get you excited about my vision and share the journey with you, rather than just make promises that I won't be able to deliver on for months or even years!

But enough with the introduction! Let's take a look at the goals, quoted straight from my vision document:

Mechanics that make player skill the prime condition for success.

There might be RPG-like elements in the game that allow players to improve their stats. Or there might not. Honestly, I don't know yet. What will definitely be possible is to upgrade your ship with better equipment, to improve your chances of survival.

But no matter what kind of hardware you bring into a situation, a savvy veteran player will always get a better result than a less skilled player with slightly better equipment. Even if the difference in equipment is too much to overcome with sheer cunning, the unskilled player might still lose their superior ship in a situation that the veteran player knowingly avoided.

Players that drive everything that is meaningful about the game.

I don't know if it's possible to create Von Neumann Defense Force as a purely player-driven game, a simple sandbox solely guided by the players inhabiting it. I don't even know if that's worth trying.

But while there might well be NPCs in the game, they will be there to enrich the experience, not to direct it. Von Neumann Defense Force won't feature empires you can pledge yourself to, unless those empires have been built by other players. If someone is asking you to do something for the promise of a reward, that someone is going to be another player.

As few arbitrary limitations as possible. Players should only be limited by the physics of the game world.

I think we can all agree that having your ship blown up by an experienced player is not the best experience when you've just started the game for the first time. So new players need to be protected, but what is the best way to do it?

Von Neumann Defense Force will aim to solve problem such as this in a way that keeps the game world internally consistent. Maybe by spawning new players far away from anyone else. Maybe by giving players incentives to protect each other. Or maybe by just making it really easy to hide.

What VNDF won't do is just disable a button because using its function is forbidden to you in that situation.

No menial tasks. Rule of thumb: If an activity could be performed by a bot, it should be automatic.

A lot of games, especially online games, require you to grind, if you want to achieve something. Von Neumann Defense Force will aim cut out all the grinding and replace it with higher-level gameplay.

Why should you sit around and spend hours mining some asteroid when you could place your automated miner, plan its logistics and coordinate its protection with other like-minded players?

A sense of adventure, accompanied by danger. Forward movement, forced upon the player by the constraints of the environment.

Many games just become boring as you advance through them. What started out as an exciting adventure turns into work, as you collect more and more stuff you didn't really need in the first place.

Von Neumann Defense Force won't let things get that far, because it won't let you stand still for very long. It will always drive you forward, forcing you to make quick decisions that might well turn out to be wrong. At some point, the danger will catch up to you and you might lose everything.

Maybe you will quit the game then and never come back. But that's okay. Because while you were there, you had fun. And you take with you the memories of all the stories your decisions formed, with all their ups and downs.

Development Update

But enough about visions, dreams and other things that don't really exist. What actually happened since the last newsletter?

Let's start with the work I talked about last month: Replacing the cheesy sales copy on the website and cleaning up my development environment to make me more effective. I'm happy to report success on both fronts.

I originally started to write a short story for the website that tells an adventure as it could happen in the game. My goal was to help visitors understand what the game is about, while entertaining them at the same time. However, writing a short story turned out to be much more work than I'd hoped. In the end it turned into a huge distraction, so I called it quits and wrote a few paragraphs of descriptions, which I'm reasonably happy with.

There's not a lot to say about the cleanup. It was a bit of work, but my turnaround time went from "way too long" to "quite reasonable", which has alread been a huge help.

After those two things were done, I started with the next task on my list, which is the graphics code. Von Neumann Defense Force will be a 3D game, but a while ago I decided to switch to a 2D perspective during early development to make things easier while I work on other parts of the code. This won't work any longer, since I plan to work on new features next. If I switched back to 3D later, I'd have to redo a lot of them, so switching now is definitely better.

In the past, the graphics code has been a bit of a pain. I'm using a technology called OpenGL. OpenGL is certainly capable of doing everything I need it to do, but it's not very pleasant to use, especially for a non-expert like me.

Fortunately, things have changed since I last worked on this stuff, namely a new project (gfx-rs) has appeared that basically wraps OpenGL in an easier to use package. This looks very promising and might save me quite a bit of time and pain, so I'm evaluating it right now.

Whether I end up using gfx-rs or not, I'll work on the graphics side of things next. If all goes well, I'll be able to show off a few screenshots and/or videos next month!

In Other News

As has become tradition by now (yes, I only need two newsletters to establish a tradition), I'll close the newsletter with gaming and space-related news from around the internet.

I already mentioned that the guys from Squad were about to release a new version of Kerbal Space Program last month, and now 0.24 is actually out. It's quite good. I recommend you play it!

Another topic I already mentioned is New Horizons. It'll be almost a year until it arrives, but it has already sent back awesome pictures of Pluto and its moon Charon. Or maybe we should call those two a binary planet? Look how Pluto wobbles due to Charon's influence!

After more than 10 years of travel, ESA's probe Rosetta has finally arrived at its destination, the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko! Never before has a spacecraft rendezvoused with a comet. In another first, Rosetta will attempt to launch a lander in November.

See You Next Time

Thanks for reading, and see you next month for Von Neumann Defense Force's September newsletter!