Newsletter September 2014

EVE Online and The Big Graphics Cleanup

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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 writer. 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: EVE Online

Even those that have never played it might have heard stories about EVE Online. Stories like the devastating heist by GHSC which required months of undercover work, the great scam (probably fiction, but still a good example of the kind of things that can happen in EVE), huge battles involving thousands of players and much, much more.

I played EVE many years ago, and at its best, it's a great game. Captivating, dramatic, and filled with many memorable moments. Its huge world, the seemingly endless possibilities, the moments of victory and loss, of camaraderie and betrayal, make for a game that can swallow you up for months or even years.

Even today, I like to think back to some of the great times I had with this game: Hunting with friends for hapless victims, fighting for our lifes when it turned out those victims had backup. Battles that were barely won, wars that were devastatingly lost.

But EVE also has a dark side: Mind-numbingly boring busywork is required to pay for all the fun times. The seemingly endless potential of its world is crippled by huge swaths of high-security space, where a majority of its players hide away from the ups and downs that the rest perceive as the whole point of the game.

Add to that developers that seem only interested in extending the game, piling ever more features and content on top, making the game more and more complex, and leaving older features, once introduced with the promise of great potential, to wither and die.

I haven't played EVE in years. Much of what I criticize might have been improved. From what I hear, at least the neglect of existing features has gotten better. Still, as much as the idea of EVE still fascinates me, I know I won't be able to stomach its downsides for long, so I won't be going back.

Back when I played it, I often thought about how EVE could be fixed, how what is great about it could be captured, while leaving all the problems behind. After all these years, I think I might have found an answer: Von Neumann Defense Force.

Don't get me wrong. Von Neumann Defense Force isn't aspiring to be a clone of EVE, nor even very similar to it. It will be a simpler game, much more focused, and less compromised. But I certainly hope that its players will experience some of the joy that I felt while playing EVE Online, without having to bear too many of the downsides.

Development Update

So, what happened since the last VNDF newsletter? Let's start with my plans form the last newsletter:

  • Clean up the graphics code and evaluate the gfx-rs library as a replacement for OpenGL.
  • Start converting the game back to 3D.

Yet again, this was exactly what I did. I can't help but notice that announcing my plans in public seems to have a positive effect on my ability to get them done.

I rewrote all the graphics code using gfx-rs, and I couldn't be happier about it. Compared to raw OpenGL, gfx-rs is easier to understand and work with. It's much harder to make mistakes with, but still flexible enough to do anything I need. Going forward, this will make working with anything graphics-related much easier than it would have been otherwise.

Figuring this stuff out took most of the month, but I still had some time left afterwards to work on changes that are actually visible to the user (and not only of help to my development efforts). I promised screenshots, so here they are:

(click to enlarge)

This is what VNDF looked like a month ago. The triangle in the middle represents the player's ship. In the background is a 2D grid that helps visualize the ship's movement.

(click to enlarge)

And here is the current state. As you can see, the image now has some depth to it. You can also zoom and rotate the view. There are a still a few problems that need to be fixed, but it's a good step forward.

So what's up for next month? Well, now that the bulk of the graphics work is done, the next priority is the gameplay.

  • First up is 3D movement: While the graphics are 3D, ships are still only capable of moving in a 2D plane. This is the next thing I'll be working on.
  • After that, I'll work on making the movement more realistic. Right now ships just move with a constant speed in whatever direction they currently face. I want to make this more realistic, implementing proper Newtonian mechanics.
  • Since I don't expect the previous two items to take very long, I also planned a bigger task for the coming month: Adding a planet to the game. I expect to have some first results by the next newsletter, but it'll be a while until the planet is fully integrated and interacts with ships in the way I intend it to.

In Other News

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

NASA has successfully reformated the flash memory of its 11-year-old Mars rover, Opportunity. I can't help but think about how much computer-related things go wrong here on Earth. Reformatting and successfully restoring a computer that is many millions of kilometers away, with no one there to push the reset button, seems like a pretty impressive feat!

India's Mars Orbiter is just a few days away from reaching the red planet. Even if this mission probably isn't ground-breaking in the big scheme of things, it's great to see a newcomer arrive at Mars. It'll be exciting to see what the next decades of space exploration will be like, with more countries taking an active role.

A nice picture: All known bodies in the solar system with a diameter larger than 200 miles.

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.

Thank you for reading, and see you next month for the October newsletter!