How do planetary exploration games deal with having view from orbit?

Holy crap this thread exploded after settling down (and me taking my eyes off of it)! Some comments below…

I find the nebula premise a bit convenient because, heck, not all planets can be in nebulas (nebulae? eh…) I really like the Stargate-like idea. The only flaw with it is that I like the idea of competing with explorers of other origins, goals, etc. Also, different explorers landed at different points and explored from there. The Stargate idea is counter.

Instead, imagine that a government discovers the location of the center of a planet in galactic coordinates and knows the radius of the planet. It can open a portal anywhere on the planet’s surface as a result. Other entities can discover the location and radius similarly and open their own portal, which would likely be in a different place. I dunno, just spitballing here.

I think this is the most realistic, but seems to rob the player of one of the central joys of an exploration game – what is beyond the horizon?

Yeah, I don’t remember ever playing with the option on. Probably added as a nod to the implausibility of nothing being known about the landforms, but seems like it just wouldn’t be as fun.

I think the Stargate premise is probably the best one, even the nebula / radiation cloud excuse begs the question “couldn’t you just find somewhere better to explore, somewhere where more information can be gathered before risking life and limb?”

A while ago I started working on an exploration game molded in the vein of the old EA game “Seven Cities of Gold.” I’ve made some OK progress, and have a game in the roughest sense in that the player can sail a canned expedition across the sea, find land, kill or trade with natives and other explorers, discover a few simple “points of interest” (mouth of longest river, source of longest river, tallest point), and sail back to Europe for a final score. It’s just a subset of the features I’d like to add and would be alpha at best.

Anyhow, while I was traveling around this summer I had ample time away from the keyboard / art tablet to think about the game and what attracted me to that type of game. I used to think it was my love of history, but I realized that it was really exploration (in all of its facets – discovery, risk, managing resources like food, recognition of discovery, etc.) that made the (sadly very few) games like Seven Cities so fun.

Having abstracted it to that, and having already started to refactor my code to be more data-file driven (XML and the like), I started to think of other genres that a game with exploration as its main hook could use. In addition to the obvious exploration of real-world locales like the New World, Africa, etc. I thought about a more fantasy based genre, or hollow Earth / Underworld, and space.

Space exploration could actually be done on one of two levels. A galactic one that actually maps almost exactly to a game about exploring the New World. The player’s ship, a spacecraft, traverses a landscape populated by not only the void of space (equivalent to the sea) but also terrain like asteroid fields (deserts, slow movement with some kind of health-like penalty), stars (errr, we don’t have terrain THAT deadly on earth), nebulas (forests, on account of visibility perhaps), and the like, with planets, which would launch craft to intercept, trade, etc. just like Native cities spawn Native entities (warriors, traders, etc.) in the New World.

The other level, the one that I posed this question about, was an attempt to address the exploration of individual planets, but I got stumped by the “well, how can the player not have the entire landmass spoiled for them?”

Maybe the most compelling application of the formula would be on the galactic level. Certainly explains being able to actually uncover the map, could certainly see explorers of different nationalities / planets / heck even galaxies descending on the galaxy and carving out territory (in the form of star systems), etc.

Oh, that’s cool! I know next to nothing about them despite growing up with my house literally on the edge of a bayou. I really should’ve paid more attention.

What a great game. Must resist playing again and focus. Rezaf is absolutely right, I must be careful of feature creep or I’ll never finish anything. But it is very exciting to imagine other ways that an exploration game can be skinned and it helps keep me honest in terms of not hard-coding European expoloration-centric stuff. So that’s good.

By the way, I was wondering when you’d show up… “space” and “planetary” are almost like magical summoning incantations for you. =)

Yeah, the Starflight model is workable, but I think I still want something a bit more unknown (like landmasses too) for the players to discover.

Due to handwavy wormhole tech, you could have every exit point on the target planet map to an entry point on Earth. So when different nations/organizations prepare expeditions, they naturally arrive at different points.

I loved Seven Cities of Gold and Heart of Africa, so exploration games like those are right up my alley.

Your game outline sounds like the board game Source of the Nile.

waves hands furiously Yeah, that’ll work for allowing for the player to have competition from other explorers.

Wow, that is almost exactly what I was thinking with respect to discoveries, receiving credit, being able to hide discoveries, and even what to do on explorer death if I allowed the player to continue with a new explorer. I’d heard of the game a while ago but didn’t read up on it in-depth, thanks for the link to it!

BigWeather: Re Stargate tech.

Steal a little from Peter F. Hamilton’s “Commonwealth” series of novels and use towed wormhole exit points.

In essence, actual vessels cannot break the speed of light in Hamilton’s universe (at least as of the first novel, Pandora’s Star; I never read the sequel). However, mankind (and possibly others) have mastered the creation of stable wormholes that allow for near-instantaneous travel via folding space between two points–the “mouths” of the wormhole.

This means that to explore a new planet, a new wormhole must be constructed at an existing location, complete with paired mouths, and then one of them must be manually towed out to the new location (be it a planet, star, nebula, etc.) by slower-than-light ships. Now, those ships can hop along the preexisting wormhole path out to the most distant point near the new place, but after that, they gotta go on manual for awhile.

The new wormhole is deposited in orbit (for your purposes, let’s say non-geosynchronous) or onto the surface (again, for your purposes, let’s pretend this doesn’t work due to atmospheric interference or transwarp induction ratios) and people can hop through the wormhole network in relatively no time at all to the new destination. Since it’s in non-geosynchronous orbit, people leaving even a few hours apart or coming from different locations along the wormhole network could be naturally inclined to land in different places on the surface. Maybe their sensors map the immediate area on the way down, but surely not the whole planet.

Afterwards, you’ve got the Colonel quote from above: these people are pioneers, settlers. The wormholes can only be so big and transport so much at a time, and whatever is sent through still has to be lifted into orbit at the outset by traditional rockets, so obviously weight limits are vital. As such, it’s just not economical to send through GPS satellites and camera satellites and such early on–just people and pre-fab structures. It’s up to these early settlers to map the planets they land on and explore as needed.


And hell, if you want multiple races, who’s to say that humans didn’t link their wormhole network up with some alien species’? Or, hell, since initial travel to new stars involves sub-light speeds, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that if we’re way out from Earth’s location in the galaxy, a very considerable span of time has passed, allowing significant differentiation amongst Earth’s various colonies amidst the stars–this planet became industrialized, this one taken over by an occult religion, etc.


Now how’s THAT light your fire? Just apologize to Mr. Hamilton in the credits ;)

My eyes are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. ;)

But if you want more unknown, the galactic level likely will work best. You can only scan planets from great distances to get some basic readings, but to learn more, you gotta go there and snoop around, love it. When can I pre-order this bad boy, and also, where’s your bunk, because mine needs a cleaning. ;)

That’s some really good stuff. I really like the idea of using non-geosynchronous orbit to explain different landing sites, and the path down (with scanning along the way) is a lot like the path that starting players in games like 7CoG carve on their first trip west across the Atlantic. That and timing differences yielding snapshots of human culture at various stages that can converge on the planet to be explored. Very cool.

Haha, oh wait a minute, ewwwww! Seriously, though, as rezaf and Razgon were quick to point out the primary focus is on getting features implemented and skinning it in the Age of Discovery (1500s, roughly). Eventually it’d be great to have other options (Pulp or Victorian Africa, hollow Earth, fantasy, sci-fi / space exploration, etc.) but that’d be later. And I’m worried it would never be hard enough sci-fi for you, you are hard core for this stuff. =)