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  Mechanic #138 - Virtual Starship
Posted: 12/13/11

Command a virtual pet-like starship which can connect to larger devices to explore.

  Virtual Starship



Fig 138.1 - Digimon. Image from here.


I think I may have mentioned this, but [#029 - Tiny Crawl World] began life as a Digimon-like experience. The original idea is that you would have a little LCD device, and on it you would take care of an adventurer as he wandered through his own personal dungeon. By connecting to other devices, he could interact with other adventurers or even travel to their personal dungeons to explore. Tiny Crawl World is the evolution of that into a video game experience.

But I'm still somewhat taken by the possibilities present in those little LCD devices. I mean, Digimon and Tamagotchi were little more than proofs of concepts. The Sega Dreamcast had VMUs, allowing games to download game data to mini-LCD games, but nothing interesting was ever done with it. Sony emulated it with the Japanese-only PocketStation. But you'll notice that VMUs and PocketStations aren't commonplace in the PS3 era. Still, we occasionally get things like the PokeWalker, which allows players to download Pokemon to a little LCD device and level it up with the pedometer.

I want to take it to the next level, and this may involve doing things that are not technically possible on a Digimon/VMU/PocketStation-type device. But technology has come a long ways in the past ten years. You could still sell one of those LCD devices for $20 and still have enough power and pixel space to do something cool. My other goal is to reverse the process. Rather than downloading a character from a video game into a pocket space, I'm going to upload a character from a pocket space into a video game.

  The Space Ship



Fig 138.2 - The handheld LCD device - It's a starship.


The idea begins with your LCD device, which represents a space ship being manned by several virtual shipmates (not unlike Star Trek). At first, you just have the captain of the ship - who is uniquely created for each device (like the Little Computer People game) - and three basic rooms: Captain's Quarters, Bridge, and Transporter Room. As you gain money and other resources, you can upgrade your ship to add new rooms, or hire up to four shipmates to help crew the ship.

The way you make money is through a simple trading game. You can set course for various planets and starships, where you can purchase goods that you can then sell to other planets for a profit. Increase the cargo space on your ship and you can carry more goods. Increase the power of your ship and travel between locations faster.

The twist is that the pedometer is used for figuring out how far the ship has travelled. For instance, your ship has seven crates of self-sealing stem bolts in the hold and you happen to know that planet Omicron Persei 8 is buying them for double the cost. You set course for that planet and discover that it will take 300 steps to get there (down from 400, since you upgraded the FTL drive). After 300 steps, you arrive and can begin trading with that planet, making a nice profit and hiring a new crew mate. You buy some freshly squeezed hippies on clearance, and then head off to Space Station Zero - only 150 steps away.



Fig 138.3 - Training on the spaceship.


While you are walking around, traveling between planets, your starship LCD device becomes a small simulation game, where you can set your crew members on particular activities to increase their stats. For instance, if you have a weight room, you can assign a crew member to work out. This will (slowly) increase their strength for the duration of them being assigned there. You must at least have one character assigned to the Bridge if you want to starship to move.

In addition to training, the virtual crew members have needs that you have to fill. They will get tired (assign them to their quarters), hungry (the mess hall), or bored (holodeck). In addition to this, random issues may pop up that require assigning a crew member with a specific skill to the task. A reactor leak may take a crew member with a high engineering stat (the better the stat, the quicker the leak is fixed), while a fight breaking out requires a security crew member to break it up. These will slow down the ship's progress slightly, but many of them will work themselves out over time on their own (if you aren't paying attention).

Finally, crew members require certain facilities before you can hire them. At the most basic level, they need personal quarters tailored to their specific alien requirements. They may also have additional needs that require special rooms on the ship to be built, such as a bar and an arena for the proud warrior-like races.




Fig 138.4 - Docking your ship on a planet.


Where the virtual starship becomes more interesting s that you can procure special docking stations which you can attach your LCD device to download your characters to. These are much larger devices with bigger, nicer screens - they aren't meant to be portable. You can customize the experience through mini-games before the crew lands to explore.

For instance, you can get a planet. When you dock your starship to the planet, your crew members will beam down to the surface and explore. They'll find rare cargo, fight aliens, and even pick up unique alien crew mates and ship rooms. You can customize the world prior to their arrival through a small card-based mini game. This will set up the layout of the world as well as the features found within it. By creating new worlds and having them explored by ships, you gain points which you can use to purchase additional cards with new features to make even more varied worlds.

Another example might be a space station. You can plug in multiple starships and have several crews wandering around at the same time. Like the planet, they'll wander around and partake in the various activities and shops (picking up unique items to decorate their quarters, perhaps). They may also be able to trade cargo for good prices and pick up new, unique crew members. Again, a simple card-based mini game allows you to customize which shops and activities are available, as well as the types of cargo that can be traded and their values.

An asteroid belt may allow you to plug in to starships of opposing factions and play combat games between them. Another planet may have one of your crew members selected by a crazy god-like being to engage in a tactical battle against a giant lizard man. Each docking device is a playground or a story with the crew members and your starship being the main characters.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.