Newsletter October 2014

KSP and The Wonders of the Third Dimension

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

Have fun with this month's newsletter and please email any feedback to Do you have any questions about VNDF in general or the contents of this newsletter specifically? Let me know!

Inspirations: Kerbal Space Program

In the September newsletter, I talked about EVE Online and how it inspired Von Neumann Defense Force. Today I'd like to talk about a game that inspired VNDF in a different, but still very important way: Kerbal Space Program.

The inspiration that EVE Online provided lies at the very root of VNDF's conception. Without its influence, I would be working on something else right now. The influence of Kerbal Space Program (KSP, for short) came much later in the process. I discovered it last year, around the same time I started working on Von Neumann Defense Force, long after I had conceived of the initial idea. While EVE inspired VNDF's themes and vision, KSP had a big influence on its mechanics.

I had been fascinated by gameplay based on orbital mechanics for a long time, ever since playing Osmos in 2009 or 2010. I worked on a few stupid prototypes back in 2011 but never applied the concept to a real game. I thought it would be impractical, too complicated for most players.

Before I played Kerbal Space Program, I imagined Von Neumann Defense Force with much simpler mechanics, almost arcade-like. KSP taught me that orbital mechanics can not only provide a fun and rewarding game experience, it also showed me that a game based on them can be very successful. It inspired me to be bolder and less compromising in my vision, and I believe Von Neumann Defense Force will be a better game for it.

But there is more that Kerbal Space Program can teach. Two elements in particular, that I want to include in VNDF, are the high cost of actions and the creative freedom in designing your ship's capabilities.

In Kerbal Space Program, you can't just fly somewhere on a whim. Going to Duna probably means you won't be going to Laythe, at least not without mounting a refueling mission first. Landing on a planet might mean you won't have enough fuel to go back home afterwards. On the other hand, you have huge creative freedom in designing your craft and its capabilities, enabling you to make the compromises that prepare you for the mission ahead.

I want to capture these two elements in Von Neumann Defense Force. Ships in VNDF will be on a higher technological level than those in KSP, but they will still be limited in what they can do. And while VNDF won't simulate flight physics in as much detail, you will still be able to customize your ship's capabilities to a high degree. I believe coupling these elements with competitive PvP gameplay will make for a tense and rewarding experience.

Development Update

The last few weeks have been some of the most productive ever for Von Neumann Defense Force. As a reminder, here's what the game looked like a month ago.

(click to enlarge)

Last month, I had just added 3D graphics, but there was no 3D gameplay yet. The movement of ships was restricted to a plane. Consequently, I planned to implement 3D movement next and then work on Newtonian mechanics and adding a planet. Here's how that ended up.

(click to enlarge)

Lots of changes, as you can see!

  • Not one, but two planets, albeit unrealistically close to each other.
  • The old grid was replaced by this new blue thing to help with orientation. If you have an idea what to call it, please tell me.
  • Some helpful text to indicate distance and direction.

In addition to that, there are a few new features that are not visible on the screenshot (you can take my word for it, or, you know, just subscribe to the newsletter and get access to the latest prototype).

  • We have proper physics! No space friction, no air in space. Navigate space the old-fashioned way, like Newton meant you to!
  • Ships are removed from the game when colliding with a planet.
  • Which is made more dramatic, since the planets also pull you towards them with their gravity.

All of this is quite nice, but it came with a few problems. While the helpful blue thing (as I said, please send me your suggestions on what to call it) makes it pretty easy to judge where you are in relation to other objects, it has become pretty much impossible to know which way you're facing and where you are going to be next. Fixing this by presenting this information better will be the priority for the coming weeks.

In Other News

As always, I'm going to close the newsletter with some space- and gaming-related news from around the internet.

Do you like classic adventure games? Paradigm just finished a successful Kickstarter campaign. I think the promo video looks awesome!

You know there muset have been a transfer window when two crafts arrive at Mars within a few days of each other. Both NASA's MAVEN and ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission have successfully entered Mars orbit!

Waves? Tides? Hydrocarbon sea monster? Cassini Watches Mysterious Feature Evolve in Titan Sea.

See You Next Time

Do you have any questions about this newsletter or Von Neumann Defense Force in general? Send them to me! I'd love to do a Q & A in some future newsletter.

Thanks for reading, and see you next month for VNDF's November newsletter!