The Genre of a Bridge Simulator

        What Genre is Artemis? Or Empty Epsilon? Spaceship Bridge Simulators are generally clumped together under the genre of “Bridge Simulator”.
        When I look at Bridge Simulators I see that they have two layers. They have the bridge (the outer game) which is how you control the ship. They also have the Inner Game, the game your ship is in. Imagine you took out the whole bridge structure and replaced it with simple, single-player ship controls (no separate captain, helmsman, weapons officer, etc just controls like any other game). What genre is this inner game?
        In Artemis and Empty Epsilon you fly a ship that goes around killing enemy ships while collecting ordnance from friendly stations. I think Artemis and Empty Epsilon are in the same genre. I would call them slow-paced action, battle. They are a lot like Overwatch and similar games except they are not team based and are against an AI. Both Artemis and Empty Epsilon have mission scripting abilities that allow the genre to be stretched but in my experience the use of the mission scripting is quite limited.
        Generally we have clumped all bridge simulators under the simple genre of “Bridge Simulator” but “Bridge Simulator” is not really a genre but a kind of genre modifier. We should also consider the genre of the inner game. Perhaps we should refer to the genre of Artemis and Empty Epsilon as “Action, Battle; Bridge Simulator”.
        What would you say Artemis’ and Empty Epsilon’s or other Bridge Simulators’ genres are?

Comments

  • Starship Horizons is more of a sim experience, trying to focus on depth of game play as much as possible. Combat is certainly a major player but I want more of a true Trek-style immersive experience. Systems to explore, factions to interact with and deep mission style gameplay.
  • edited July 9
    I am curious about what specific ways you're going about getting "more of a true Trek-style immersive experience. Systems to explore, factions to interact with and deep mission style gameplay."

    With bridge sims, you've got this canvas to try to paint such an experience upon, but the paints and brushes you've got can feel pretty limiting. You've got a ship with some weapons, some NPC ships, some planets, some asteroids, black holes, space monsters, etc. and outer space by its nature doesn't have a lot in the way of "terrain" to explore, so it can feel a little trivial (spin the ship around look in all directions, and ok, you've kind of "explored" what there is to explore. The actions the players can take can feel pretty constrained (drive, shoot, scan, repair stuff on the ship, mine asteroids, some kind of rudimentary comms, with some pre-defined options, or some sort of simple minded zork-like NLP stuff, maybe some pre-recorded audio clips). I have found it pretty hard to come up with and build out compelling stories given the constraints. I think all us bridge sim people would *like* to have "more of a true Trek-style immersive experience", but it seems to be easier said than done.

    One thing I really wish for is some really good volumetric cloud rendering, and a way to build interesting 3D nebulas so there could be some actual terrain. But that's pretty tough. Space Engine is about the only thing I know of that has taken a serious shot at it.

    Also, these two things statements to be slightly conflicting:

    * "but in my experience the use of the mission scripting is quite limited"
    * "deep mission style gameplay"

    I suspect the resolution of this conflict lies in the fact that creating "deep mission style gameplay" is just *hard*.

    When you watch Star Trek, there's a whole lot of talking through problems. Whenver there is some conflict with e.g. Romulans, etc. there's the typical scene with the captain of the Romulan ship displayed on the Enterprise's viewscreen, and the captain of the Enterprise negotiates with the Romulan Captain by what amounts to a Google Hangouts experience. This kind of experience is pretty tough to replicate when the Romulan Captain is an NPC.

    You mention the genre of the inner game -- in Space Nerds In Space a couple years ago I began implementing a game mode that was an RTS (based loosely on what might be the very first RTS of all, Herzog Zwei, from the Sega Genesis). Partly I did this to give the Comms officer something meaningful to do. I gave the Comms officer the ability to direct a fleet of friendly NPC ships of various types with various orders with the goal of taking over starbases, and each starbase under "our" control could then be used to build yet more ships of various types (under direction of Comms officer), etc. Meanwhile the ship could be driving around helping out the friendly NPC army in it's goal of taking over all the bases, while an enemy army of NPCs pursued the same goal. You could also have multi-crew, and have each crew command their own NPC army against each other, rather than computer controlled AI doing it. I never really completed this though, as I have found it too difficult to get people to play just the kind of "exploring and shooting" game, and getting enough people sit still long enough to be trained up on a somewhat complicated RTS was just too hard. And I never really finished the RTS part of it. I implemented the mechanics of allowing comms to order starbase to create new ships, order ships around, take over bases, etc. but there are many ship-types I had in mind that I haven't implemented yet. Anyway, it's one example of a bridge sim with a different genre of "inner game" than is the norm. Here's a video from a couple years ago:
  • To clarify "in my experience the use of the mission scripting is quite limited".

    I haven't seen much done with mission scripts to take the games further than the basic genre of the game. One of the biggest limiting factors is the lack of the ability to save, limiting the expansiveness of the script. Also combat is inherit to both the game's code and how the consoles are designed. The only real interaction outside of combat that can be used is through Relay or Comms, while weapons and the other officers just twiddles his thumbs. As Auric said in one of his talks, not every officer should always be busy, but it is a little extreme when only one officer is doing anything real for long periods of time. Also the Relay/Comms interfaces are not good for much.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ancient_Art_of_War is a much older RTS ;-)

    Anyhow. If you look at the "inner game" it's actually a very simple game compared to other games. Actually, I would argue it's the least important aspect of EE/Artemis. Managing your ship and the crew, that's the actual game. The rest is "set dressing", yes, there are a few small groups of people that would enjoy longer and more complex sessions, that would save&continue later. But those are far from common compared to most people playing.

    But I wouldn't even script those complex scenarios. There is a much simpler solution for that. Just look at what people are doing with Dungeons&Dragons. A good game master can set quite some story in EE already. But in my case, my players rather fly out and kill things (aka, murder hobos)

    And science can do quite a few things outside of combat as well, it's weapons that is pretty much combat only (who would have guessed!)
  • What genre is this inner game?
    IMHO, Spaceship Simulator. So the naming makes sense: Spaceship Sim + Bridge= Spaceship Bridge Sim. (Abyss Crew would be a Submarine Bridge Sim accordingly)
    I won't call them just action games, because the controls would be too complex for them. A space action-game won't need simultaneous power and coolant control, scanning, hacking, and so on(if at all, it would use them as distinct mini-games between the combat parts). The reason it often feels like an action-centric game is because those elements are split into different responsibilities for different players. So it is also tricky to treat inner and outer game separately, as the inner game feels different without the outer layer.

    For quintet OTOH, the action label is much more apropriate IMHO. But it also feels less "bridge-like" to me.

    If you look at the "inner game" by computer game standards, you also will run into trouble with sims like thorium or dream flight adventures. However, they are still simulators of a spaceship, much more detailed even. To define them, we could maybe have another definition of inner and outer. Taking the bridge part as a given, but the inner part is about simulating the ship systems and their interaction, while the outer part is the world outside of the ship. On Artemis, EE, SNIS, Horizons and so on, this world is handled by a game engine. On Thorium and DFA it is GM/flight-director-driven.

    So I'm not sure if the "inner game" perspective works too well(EE even has an inner-inner game with hacking), I would rather look at how the overall experience is different between them, maybe by using subgenres or genre combinations.
  • When you watch Star Trek, there's a whole lot of talking through problems. Whenver there is some conflict with e.g. Romulans, etc. there's the typical scene with the captain of the Romulan ship displayed on the Enterprise's viewscreen, and the captain of the Enterprise negotiates with the Romulan Captain by what amounts to a Google Hangouts experience. This kind of experience is pretty tough to replicate when the Romulan Captain is an NPC.
    I guess that's why it is much easier to achieve a star trek-like experience when the bridgesim is embedded in a LARP or LARP-like events, where you can have real people as NPCs. And I guess that's also the reason why such an experience can also be achieved pretty well with software like thorium, despite the fact they don't have a game engine and therefore no instant feedback to flight actions. Because that's usually not the focus of an episode.
  • I haven't seen much done with mission scripts to take the games further than the basic genre of the game. One of the biggest limiting factors is the lack of the ability to save, limiting the expansiveness of the script.
    While you can't save, you can do a chapter selection. The "what the dickens" scenario is an example here. Of course this only works if the scenario is pretty linear and the exact state of the game world after your actions won't matter much.
    The only real interaction outside of combat that can be used is through Relay or Comms, while weapons and the other officers just twiddles his thumbs.
    Why the other officers? Flying usually needs some amount of attention, Engineering has something to do via interaction with helms, and scanning never hurts, also science also guides the pilot alongside of relay.
    Speaking of weapons, I have made/am still tweaking a scenario that is pretty peaceful, but weapons has an essential part in it, as the shields have to be calibrated frequently to collect objects unharmed.

    Also you can add custom buttons and labels in scripts, so you can enhance the functionality of a station.
  • edited July 10
    > Why the other officers? [putative reasons omitted]

    I think the real reason is more like, "for the sake of having them."

    All these bridge controls and instruments can be presented effectively to a single pilot, as countless single pilot space games attest, and I can pilot SNIS single handedly, despite the division of the controls into separate stations, and single-handedly is how I do approximately 99.999% of testing, and I'd wager the same goes for the other bridge sims and their respective developers. I'd say the whole point of the bridge sim genre is to get a bunch of people together in a room to interact and play together with this fancy toy. The controls and instruments of the ship are for the most part artificially divided into stations to accomodate this goal of getting a bunch of people together to play, giving them all something to contribute. Which is fine, but I think we shouldn't claim this division is really all that natural or necessary.

    Edit: And maybe I'm wrong... and maybe the line between my game and greatness lies somewhere around tuning the thing so that a single player can't play the game well, but a team can? I dunno.
  • edited July 10
    @smcameron I guess you misunderstood me there, I never meant the division would be natural or necessary to play (different stations however would be necessary to make it a bridge sim).

    @Jonathan Levi said "while weapons and the other officers just twiddles his thumbs. "
    And my response was "Why the other officers?", meaning "Why would the other officers twiddle their thumbs?". So the following statements describes why I think they won't necessarily be idle outside of combat.

    Maybe I was a bit ambigous here as I am no native English speaker.
  • No worries. Wasn't trying to get into an argument. I'm happy there's some discussion about bridge sims in general and what makes this kind of game tick, as it's kind of hard trying to figure out what works and what doesn't on your own. It's good to get different people's ideas and perspectives, esp. from people that have actually played with these kinds of games.
  • edited July 10
    I would call EE's hacking an "outer-mini" game, where it's a mini game inside the outer game. Inside the inner game, it can be replaced by a single "action", namely "hack system X on ship Y"

    The interaction between crew, I would call the "meta game". Which is the hardest thing to test as no crew is equal.

    I can pilot EE pretty much solo, except for Engineering, that's full-time job on it's own. For EE2, I'm aiming for 3 person crew actually.
    And I've done sessions where I was the captain and told people exactly what buttons to press. Was with a group of kids playing, they had great fun. Just pressing a button and seeing a missile fire or the ship turning was amazing to them already, that they could have so much control. Required me to micro manage everything, and was much less efficient inner and outer gameplay wise then taking all the controls solo. But the meta-game was awesome for them.

    (Also, the genre "action game" is pretty much a useless definition, as it's so broad. A time based puzzle game can be classified as "action game")
  • The core for any bridge sim is the interaction between the actual crew. If they are problem solving as a team and enjoying the experience... Whether or not a specific officer has something to do at every moment is less of an issue. In D&D most of you time is just sitting and waiting to take your turn. During that time you are talking and chatting with your crew. We run Horizons at a ton of conventions and the most common thread is the players chatting and taking the whole experience in.

    Horizons is focused on trying to attain that goal of a long term campaign that can be saved and restored. D&D in space. And if your NPCs have more of an RPG style interaction the game can achieve more depth.
  • I'm a few days late to the conversation and you covered a lot of interesting ground. I'm one of the creators behind Dream Flight Adventures, so I'll chime in with a few thoughts about how we've approached some of the topics being discussed here.

    Inner Game / Outer Game
    I break apart the gameplay a bit differently.
    In DFA, each station has an internal function that affects the inside of the ship (routing power, repairing, treating wounds, etc.). This is an individual job, which gives each station its uniqueness.
    Then, each station also has an external function that allows them to interact with the virtual world outside the ship (mining asteroids, firing weapons, repairing other ships, etc.).

    In DFA's early days we had some stations that focused solely on internal functions, and others focused solely on external functions. That worked fairly well, but as our crews got larger we found that sometimes players found themselves without much to do, depending on what was happening in the mission (for example, the weapons officer didn't have much to do when there was nothing to shoot at).

    We've since revised our approach, so now all our stations have something internal to do and something external to do.

    That said, it's not exactly the same thing as your "Inner Game" and "Outer Game."

    If I'm understanding the term correctly, the "Outer Game" is the gameplay that occurs between real people at each station. The fact that you're interacting with real people in a (often themed) physical space in real-time is what makes the bridge sim experience so exciting.

    In order to make the "Inner Game" (the virtual world) equally exciting, NPCs can be real people too (e.g. live interaction with the game master). That kind of interaction can really set a bridge sim mission apart from a traditional video game.

    Game Masters and Game Engines
    Having a real-life game master behind the scenes adds a great layer of realism to a mission. However, game masters are there to tell the story, not to keep the ship afloat. So, using a game engine allows the sim to have realistic cause-and-effect outcomes for all crew actions, without requiring the game master to do anything (although it's important that the game master can override the automatic game engine response as needed for the mission).

    Mission Magic
    WHAT each player goes is defined by their station role, but the WHY is defined by the mission itself, and that's where the true magic of bridge sims come in, IMHO. To use an example, repairing the shields can be enjoyable in itself—especially for a short time—but repairing the shields so the ship can survive a deadly trip through a toxic nebula in order to deliver a spy to a top secret rendezvous point before a civil war breaks out... that's what gets the adrenaline pumping!

    The mission—the story being told—can make the difference between a good bridge sim experience and a mediocre one.

    Making good missions is hard. It takes a lot of time and talent. Again the D&D game master analogy is a good one. Game masters put a lot of time and effort into their campaigns. Bridge sims need good tools to let game masters create, share, and edit missions.

    Competing for Crew Attention
    No one wants to be a "red shirt." Everyone wants to be a hero. In DFA we went to great lengths to make sure every role is compelling and important.

    That's good, but in some cases we went a bit too far. Some stations were so compelling that the crew would lose track of the overall mission. They'd focus so much on the WHAT that they would miss the WHY. In our more recent work we've revisited our station design to make the what reinforce the why without distracting from it. Fingers crossed that it works well.

    Genres
    Live action role-playing has been mentioned as a potential genre for bridge sims. In a lot of ways I consider bridge sims to be similar to Murder Mystery Dinners. They are great off-the-beaten-path methods of getting folks to let down their hair and do a bit of roleplaying, without having to spend 3 hours rolling their D&D character.


    This post has gotten a lot longer than I had expected, so I'll stop here. I'd really suck at Twitter. :smiley:
  • although it's important that the game master can override the automatic game engine response as needed for the mission
    To a certain limit yes, however, a game operates within a set of rules, if suddenly the rules are broken or changed, the players will feel cheated.

    I generally avoid breaking the game as a gamemaster in EE. Adjustments are subtle, like making the shields of the players charge a bit faster then they should, spawning a few more enemies outside of rader range then there should be. Adjusting hull of an enemy before they penetrate the shields.
    In general, I follow the rule that the players shouldn't notice that there is a gamemaster at all. Except for 1 thing, "hints", if you go into an obvious wrong direction, or miss an important event (like a station being under attack) you get an extra message or comm transmission to assist the players.
    As the GM is a god, and as soon as you notice god is there, you know you are powerless, which isn't a good feeling at all.

    Example, I recently did a 10 minute escape room. And while we where solving it I noticed that we had 2:30 left on the clock while we where stuck. A while later, I noticed there was 2:45 left on the clock, so we clearly got a time extension.
    I explained the person who was running this afterwards, that I noticed and that it broke sense of urgency for me. He showed me the control panel, and he had a +1 minute button. I suggested, instead of adding time, "dilate time", make it run slower. People in stressful environments have no sense of time at all, and won't really notice that time is running 40% slower then it should.
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