Freelancer - Begging for an Expansion

Freelancer is remarkable that it managed to be such an entertaining game with such a limited list of features in several respects. There are a number of areas that are just BEGGING to be expanded or added to.

Here are a few ideas I’ve had, along with some ideas people (especially Brian Rubin) have been tossing around on the Qt3 server.

MORE MISSION TYPES - this is a no-brainer - despite their attempts to have various missions, all current missions are essentially “fly to point A and kill ship B”. They could add a variety of additional pre-generated mission types: escort a particular ship to a destination, deliver goods to a destination, plus more varied kill missions (see below). Also Brian and I discussed having “dynamic” missions - like you hail a ship in space and it hires you to escort, or you see a ship getting attacked and it sends out a mayday - if you defeat the attackers, the ship pays you a reward.

MORE VARIED COMBAT - the game has gunboats, bombers and a variety of capital ships in the campaign but these are absent from multiplayer. MP is crying out for capital ship fighting. Along with this they could add a variety of additional anti-capital ship weapons. Plus missiles need a re-working - the high end missiles are WAY too expensive for their anemic power (compared to the nasty level 10 guns in the game).

MORE SHIPS and SHIP TYPES - I love ships, the more the merrier. Also, some of the types like light fighter and freighter dont have high end variants - I’d like to see top end LFs and Freighters and of course more availability of the high end gear. For example I dont think that the level 8,9 and 10 graviton shields are in the game now - the highest shields are positron which suck relative to graviton.

MORE GROUP STUFF - for example, players should be able to make an escort deal - a fighter escorts a trader and recieves a percentage of the profits. you can do this now by agreement but the trade screen is clumsy. Speaking of which, if two players are docked at the same station they should be able to trade right there without flying into space. And the chat features could be tuned up, with an instant reply button and maybe some slash commands to easily speak in channels like group and system.

Those are a few items for expansion.

What else can we toss in?

Dan

The issue the game suffers from is fundimental in nature: terrible project design. As if whatever rpoject leader came first on this game had all sorts of cool ideas, but couldn’t back them up with coding ability, publisher interest, or both.

As it is, it’s a boring game. New weapons just make different colors and different zapping noises and kill enemies a little faster. More mission types are fine, but it fails to address the big problem of a completely un-interactive universe that you are, nontheless, asked to believe is fully immersed.

A few things I’d like to see added:
Greater customisation of ships- being able to improve engines, power plants, sensors, cargo holds.
Different speeds for ships.
An ability to put bounties on other players within a system.
A dynamic or semi-dynamic or even bloody quasi-dynamic economy. Price fluctuations caused by players offloading or picking up large amounts of cargo.
One off trade opportunities caused by news events.
Random political events- jumps blockaded to certain corporations and their supporters etc.
An abiltity to take out insurance on your cargo so that if you respawn you keep it.
Being able to join and be promoted up corporations/police/naval/criminal
services. (At the moment there isn’t really any point to multiplay beyond buying a bigger ship).

The biggest thing to add would be more mission variety. The game’s a bit too limited in that regard.

I’d like to see the introduction of another alien race, too. We need something like the Klingons or Kilrathi to fight, some race with some personality to it.

Yeah, I don’t get it either. They have the core of a really good game, and then they just don’t develop it properly. The many years spent on the game aren’t very evident, except perhaps, subtly, in the engine itself which unfortunately for the developers has only so-so graphics, and so doesn’t appear superficially to be all that great. I think the way they handle all the many ships in a system with their various independent AIs is very nice, though, and that must have taken a lot of effort, but it has a relatively subtle effect on the game, and in fact doesn’t affect gameplay all that much.

For one small (but irking) example, it’s great the way the automatic docking sequence makes you wait until there is no ship using the port, and selects the nearest port on the multiport structure you’re docking with toward which to navigate you, but then, it uses the word “Dock” to indicate what you do when you pass through a trade ring or a jump gate. If the attention to detail present in the docking navigation was applied to the UI and for transits through gates, they would have changed the word “Dock” to “Access” or something, or would have recorded a different sound bite for that particular usage of the F3 key, perhaps “Transit” or somesuch thing.

For another thing, in the campaign game they never can deal with the problem of having the wingman be mortal. Juni is just flying a Defender the whole game, but they don’t want to kill her off randomly if she gets in the way of some serious fire, so basically NPC ships cannot be killed. This means that optimal gameplay in the level missions is to drop back and let enemies occupy themselves with the NPCs. I suspect in some missions you can win by just flying around at cruise speed waiting for the NPCs (who also seem to have not much firepower most of the time) to very slowly kill off the enemies. Of course if they had chosen realism, the NPCs would always get killed off no matter what the player does in those chaotic firefights, and since they couldn’t solve that problem, they just chose a dumb way out.

I don’t want to harp on those above two examples too much, since if they were the only things wrong with the game, it would hardly be worth mentioning them. I only cite them as examples of design problems that seem to show up after the basic game engine and concept are done, and which are addressed haphazardly or inadequately.

Whether it’s the simplistic missions, the way that faction relations don’t mean that much (especially in the campaign, where they flip flop around from level to level), the limited choices for ship customization (what no cool “device” or “artifact” slot for buff effects? how bizarre) the super-lame bar dialogue sequences, etc. etc. etc. it seems like they just ran out of time, money as well as interest once the engine was completed, and just raced to get the damn thing done at that point.

Finally, one more “realism” pet peeve that applies to pretty much all space games of recent years, but especially applies to Freelancer:

SPACE IS DARK. *

SPACE IS EMPTY.

EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME IN DEEP SPACE.

Stop making everything the middle of a freaking nebula already. I bet even in the middle of the Orion or Veil nebulas, space is still pretty damn dark. I suspect they only appear interesting in astrophotographs because there are light years of plasma or incandescent gas (which is still pretty damn close to being a vacuum) all collapsed into a few seconds of arc from a telescope’s perspective. Even if there are rare regions of space (e.g. around galactic cores, where no one wants to go anyway) which are bright, that’s not where this kind of game takes place anyway.

In Freelancer, practically every damn location in the game is some brilliant color. The gas clouds are so dense, it’s like flying through cumulus clouds. When you get out of the gas, you fly through rock fields a hundred times denser than an Atari Asteroids game. For heaven’s sake in the middle of a typical asteroid belt, you probably can’t see any other asteroids with the naked eye most of the time.

OK, OK, I recognize this visual scenery is there first of all because it looks cool, and secondly because random visual features speckled around the screen make it easier to navigate in 3D, but in Freelancer they really go overboard, you feel more like you are flying through a gas giant than through space most of the time.

Well, anyway to sum up this long post, Freelancer is actually a pretty decent game, but it ain’t no Sundog. FTL Games, where hast thou gone?

*Yeah, the stars are bright, but they have nothing to illuminate except your eyes, so the background is dark, not glowing bright colors like in these games.

You can scroll through the available channels by using the arrow keys while you have the chat window open. Not the “Y” window that shows you who is online and the chat history, but the actual message window that you type your message in.

As it is, it’s a boring game. New weapons just make different colors and different zapping noises and kill enemies a little faster.

Given a basic variety of weapon design (i.e. guns vs. missiles vs. torpedoes), what else can new weapons do except a) look different, b) sound different, and c) do different amounts of damage?

I don’t see what’s so horrible about Freelancer’s core design. These elements have been in place, in varying degrees, since Elite almost 20 years ago. What Freelancer did is to diablo-ize the control scheme, and not to create the mighty dynamic wonderland many hoped would be there. These 2 choices might amount to a recipe for mediocrity, but to say that there is something fundamentally terrible about the design is nonsensical to me. You fly a spaceship around, you buff it up via upgrades, you shoot enemies, you ogle at planets, you trade goods. This is what happens in this genre, is it not…?

I think the way they handle all the many ships in a system with their various independent AIs is very nice, though, and that must have taken a lot of effort, but it has a relatively subtle effect on the game, and in fact doesn’t affect gameplay all that much.

I agree, this is the most impressive thing about Freelancer. Keep in mind “dynamic” stuff by its nature is likely to be more subtle than scripted, hand-holding storytelling. You have to pay more attention to it – the whole point is it’s there whether you’re looking at it or not. And there will always be something a little “generic” about it all since you can’t generate spontaneous radio-chatter dialogue on the fly, etc. Probably some of the coolest moments I had playing FL were just hitching a ride with a bounty hunter or police convoy, engaging in various battles along the way, doing a little random asteroid mining, etc. It’s a long way to go from this to “full dynamic gameplay” (i.e. totally fluid economy, fluid faction relationships, fluid politics that lead to big space battles being covered by a dynamic news system, etc. etc.) but perhaps others will continue to push in this direction.

Here’s a question – should any FL expansion / update simply add features to the existing design, as has been discussed, or revise the design.

For example, should the universe be more dynamic, and allow for structure construction and business building, as X-BTF did? Or should it remain more Privateer-like?

I’d like to have a more dynamic universe (economically), but keep the Privateer-like focus. However, as has already been suggesting, the multiplayer game is screaming for more mission types.

I’d also like to see user-creatable missions and formal guild organizations. So a merchant guild could post a mission, asking for an escort mission. Or a competing company could post missions asking for someone to raid the competition…

As ever,

Loyd Case

I like the different colors in the different regions of space. It gives the game more of a sense of place.

I think the core gameplay is quite good. The game just needs to add some variety to combat and give the player a few more things to do.

Some different weapons would be nice too. You could look at MMOGs and add some crowd control type of weapons. For example, you could have a gun that fires a “neural stun” over a small area and causes the pilots of any ships affected to fly straight ahead for 15 seconds or something like that. Maybe another gun could be freeze a ship – call it a stasis gun or something.

Trying to add a dynamic economy might be beyond the reach of the game, but they could fake it a bit with some scripted events. One could be an outbreak of piracy in a given sector, so now food prices are way up, and there are lots of good merc missions to be had there too. Or a rare mineral could be discovered on a planet so the price of mining supplies might shoot up for a period of time. They could script a few dozens events and have the game apply them randomly.

DA could try to add power and shield management to the higher level ships too, though that’s probably beyond the scope of an expansion.

I’ve got around 20 hours invested in the game now, according to the in-game clock. So far FL has been very, very enjoyable to me, and I count it as one of my better game purchases this year.

My main gripes would tend to mirror the masses, in that the mission types could use some variation. I’d also have liked to have seen a variation in ship speed… faster acceleration for the light fighters (smaller mass), and a greater top end speed for the larger ships (due to their capability of mounting larger, more powerful engines). Dynamic prices in trading would have been nice as well.

That said, I’m really liking this game. The control scheme, loot system, graphics, sound, cutscenes and storyline are all I could have asked for. The cutscenes are some of the slickest I’ve seen in a PC game, as are the in-ship voice communications for the missions… both do the job of furthering and embellishing the story quite well.

Regards,
Matt K

In my opinion the core design of the game is quite good. I’d like to see an expansion focus on adding features and content.

Perhaps something along the lines of a war between the starsystems set maybe 500 years in the future from the first game, with the player having to choose which side he’ll join. That would give the game some added replay value, in and of itself. The timeline could be used as an excuse to adjust the ship designs, flight profiles, and weaponry, thus giving us something new to play with. An added side-story or two, with missions, for each of the seperate “alliances” you could join would be icing on the cake.

Stealthed or “fast strike” missions deep into enemy territory to destroy shipping lanes, shipyards, outposts etc.

My two cents,

Matt K

I like the different colors in the different regions of space. It gives the game more of a sense of place.

Yes. It’s not easy to do “terrain” in space.

Stop making everything the middle of a freaking nebula already. I bet even in the middle of the Orion or Veil nebulas, space is still pretty damn dark.

One thing you might bear in mind, miramon, is that this is a game and not a simulation. Personally I think it is a very good idea to add additional, if not altogether realistic, backdrops to what would otherwise be very soporific scenery. The least entertaining aspect of games like this, is the constant flying from A to B, without anything to distract your senses. If I were forced to do all this travelling in almost pitch blackness, it would definitely detract from my overall experience with the game.

I think Miranon is just pulling a Harlan Ellison parody here or something. Because otherwise, his ultimate space sim sounds like it involves a pitch-black screen and absolutely no sound coming out of the speakers - the ultimate simulation of the monstrous tedium of space’s contentless vacuum. In which case, if Digital Anvil takes Miramon’s suggestions, Freelancer 2 might be the first combination space/Helen Keller simulation.

Yeah, endless blackness isn’t exactly photogenic, except in a bleak nihilistic Spinal Tap sort of way (how much more black could it be? The answer is none… more black). Space movies have known this too, from the Asteroid Field of Empire Strikes Back to the Mutara Nebula of Star Trek II.

Unless you are going for hardcore realism (which FL obviously isn’t) you want to mix it up. Have your asteroid fields, your ringed planets, your crab nebulae, and yes, your stretches of pure black empty space. I think Freelancer is designed nicely in this regard. The main point is that different regions feel different and you can navigate by eyeball to some extent. Well done I say.

edit: Miranon actually acknowledged these points too. It’s just a matter of degree and taste I suppose.

[quote=“electragician”]

In my opinion the core design of the game is quite good. I’d like to see an expansion focus on adding features and content.

Perhaps something along the lines of a war between the starsystems set maybe 500 years in the future from the first game, with the player having to choose which side he’ll join. That would give the game some added replay value, in and of itself. The timeline could be used as an excuse to adjust the ship designs, flight profiles, and weaponry, thus giving us something new to play with. An added side-story or two, with missions, for each of the seperate “alliances” you could join would be icing on the cake.

Stealthed or “fast strike” missions deep into enemy territory to destroy shipping lanes, shipyards, outposts etc.

My two cents,

Matt K[/quote]

I think your core idea is interesting, but instead of the Sirius sector systems going to war, how about old Earth showing up?

And don’t make it be so obvious. Have elements of diplomacy. Perhaps internal elements in some of the governments want war, while others don’t. Have factions that are “secret”, so you don’t always know where you stand – or even if they’re there until you discover them.

Extend it out to multiplayer, so you can have opposing – or even parallel – human-player factions.

As ever,

Loyd Case

That would work as well, and would be more interesting than confining everything just to the existing systems. It would certainly make for more overall content… raids on the Sol system itself would definitely be cool.

On a side note, and adressed to the thread in general:

I keep seeing Freelancer referred to as a “space sim”, whether for lack of a better term or for some other reason. In my opinion, Freelancer is to space sims what Crimson Skies was to flight sims, that is, it’s not … it’s an adventure game that just happens to take place in space.

Granted, I don’t think I’ve ever played an actual space sim, at least what I would consider to be one. The word “sim” brings to mind hours of digging through a manual, and studying flight characteristics and weak points of ships, coupled with learning advanced control schemes, etc… something thats definitely not true of Freelancer.

The core story in Earth & Beyond much more interesting and original than that of Freelancer, by the way, and then too, E&B has this sort of secret mystery plotline underlying the obvious story, which FL doesn’t have.

In fact gameplay in E&B is not so different from Freelancer except travelling from point A to point B takes so much longer in E&B that E&B becomes too painful to play when you get above level 30 and have to spend a lot of time travelling around. Even E&B voiceovers are better, for that matter, or at least they were until they ran out of money for them. If E&B had as much content for levels 31-150 as it does for 1-30 I’d still be playing, anyway.

Freelancer’s engine is better in that it has all those independent AI ships doing something apart from simple scripted shuttle runs, but on the other hand it doesn’t have to worry about the various MMOG issues that E&B does.

As an aside for E&B, EA seems to be using an interesting player retention technique – abuse of technology to prevent people from unsubscribing. With some sadness, since it had started off well, I tried to unsubscribe, and clicking on the link took me to a page saying to call some number. I called the number and the IVR disconnected me on a transfer to the agent. Called again, it did the same thing. Called a third time, got through to a human, and then HE hung up on me. Sadly for EA, I don’t think American Express is going to hang up on me, and they will terminate the payment arrangements in a somewhat more brutal way, I’m afraid :)

It took what…4 years to develop the game? If they get right on it they might be able to release a big expansion in time for Christmas…2005.