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Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game 116

Posted by timothy
from the interesting-niche dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Timothy Zahn, one of the most influential Star Wars Expanded Universe authors (creator of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade), and writer of 40 novels and 90+ short stories, will be trying his hand as the Creative Director for a new video game, Timothy Zahn's Parallax. From the Kickstarter page: 'The game concept is heavily inspired by the original Master of Orion but, because Timothy Zahn is the co-creator, a major focus is going to be on making sure that each alien race is as fully-realized as possible, and that the interactions with the other aliens are realistic: talking to one alien race will be different than talking to another, and the choices you make in the game will have side effects and the computer players will remember them — and treat you differently because of them.' Other highlights: 'The game will include at least 5 of his non-Star Wars alien races (Modhri, Kalixiri, Zhirrzh, Qanska and Pom); Backers will be active participants in the game creation process; No Digital Rights Management foolishness.' The Kickstarter starts at 6pm MST today."
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Sci-Fi Author Timothy Zahn Is Creating a Video Game

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  • Pom/Porn

    And don't even ask about the hairy palms.

  • A big fan of the Conqueror's trilogy, must have read all 3 books at least half a dozen times. It's a shame I can't stand 4X games! I'd prefer to see someone with a bit more gaming clout trying to take on such a rich universe, as the majority of 4X indies made in the past few years have been sorely lacking anything appealing. Good luck to them, however! I'll probably keep my Zahn funding to buying books rather than games, unless this one manages to turn out amazing.

    Can't fathom slapping down $30 on a 4X thou

    • With Bioshock: Infinite (Latest, but there have been many others) showing how well that type of platform can tell a story, I can not see why he chose 2d turn based gaming.
      • Because it's the game I want to make (and, fortunately, at least some other people want to see me and Tim make it, too). And I'm pretty sure Bioshock tells the same story, every time you play - this is going to be more like a set of choose-your-own-adventure books... :D
        • by Boronx (228853)

          If you suck at 4x, it will be like those choose your own adventure books that have no right answer.

          • Yeah, I hate those... Or only stupid answers..... "why would I go down the stairs toward the shuffling sound - where's the choice to run away".... I really hope I don't suck. :D

            (fortunately, I plan to have a whole lot of other people keeping an eye on me to make sure I don't suck)
      • by Raenex (947668)

        With Bioshock: Infinite (Latest, but there have been many others) showing how well that type of platform can tell a story, I can not see why he chose 2d turn based gaming.

        Are you serious? Do you know how much money it cost to make Infinite? 2D turn-based games are cheap to make and can be done by 1 or 2 people.

    • More perplexing still, the funding goal is half a million dollars. Not quite the shoestring budget that Kickstarter dreams are made of. At last, a crowdfunding project that has something for everyone... to sigh at!
  • They are the best kind of alien in the gaming universe.

    • They are the best kind of alien in the gaming universe.

      Like the kind that creates video game companies that are actually scams to suck money out of state government?

  • Granted, the alien species there weren't terribly memorable in any way... the series was built more around the lower-tech methods of the human resistance, which I did find to be an interesting concept.

    • by WillAdams (45638)

      Agreed. One of my favorite books --- I'd love to see it developed as an FPS.

      Similarly, I'd like to see C.J, Cherryh's Alliance-Union novels as the background for a an exploration/trading game, and her Morgaine novels as the setting for an on-line RPG.

  • Quoting TFS, "a major focus is going to be on making sure that each alien race is as fully-realized as possible", why don't you focus on making the game not suck ass like MoO3 did first and THEN making sure the aliens are fleshed out (homogenous alien civilizations trope not withstanding).
    • by Intropy (2009018)

      What makes you think that isn't what this is? I'm a big fan of the genre, and several recent efforts have been mechanically decent. Endless Space, Galactic Civilizations II, and Distant Worlds are all solidly designed (relatively) modern games. So why is MoO2 still the gold standard? Because it has character. The game is constantly giving you little touches like news reports or animated ambassadors and researchers that draw you in and make it feel like a fleshed out galaxy. You don't get that from these oth

      • by denzacar (181829) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:14PM (#44846381) Journal

        - Modular ships and technology that can make a difference. Both in tactical combat and civilization/empire building.

        - Species traits that really matter during the entire course of the game. Same goes for leaders.

        - A simple interface that didn't require you to go back to the main screen for every single action, select a submenu, then another one, then choose an option...

        - Build queues that worked and didn't require scrolling.
        Also, everything that you could build was always on a single screen, available by a single click but it was separated so you didn't have to scroll through your buildings looking for ships and vice versa.
        And you could sort your colonies by how fast they will build stuff - i.e. by production.

        - Pretty graphics. Planetscapes were simple yet beautiful. Elerians were hot AND a very powerful race.

        - But most importantly, HUMANOID SPECIES. Even Silicoids looked somewhat bipedal.
        Which is very important if you're supposed to empathize with the species you're playing.
        Among other things MOO3 managed to fuck up was the look of the game - most species now looked like bad modern art.
        Practically all of them could be considered "repulsive".

        Really alien looking species are a nice touch from time to time on an episodic show like Star Trek but there is no appeal for a weekly show whose main characters resemble puddles of mud.
        We want to see humanoid aliens with humanoid expressions on their humanoid faces.

        Which is why I'm having a bad feeling about this whole "as fully-realized as possible" thing.
        Smells a lot like MOO3.11 for workgroups.

        • MOO3 does, indeed, suck (as does Win 3.11) - this will absolutely not turn into a nightmare of micromangement and endless boring repetition. And fully-realized means that it's immersive enough that the AI reflects the differences when dealing with each race, rather than the same exact dialogue regardless of which alien picture is on the screen.

          I agree with everything denzacar said except: "We want to see humanoid aliens"... I want to show aliens that are cool, and at least interesting even if they're n
          • by denzacar (181829)

            And fully-realized means that it's immersive enough that the AI reflects the differences when dealing with each race, rather than the same exact dialogue regardless of which alien picture is on the screen.

            Ah, so it's more like designed and developed in detail.

            I agree with everything denzacar said except: "We want to see humanoid aliens"... I want to show aliens that are cool, and at least interesting even if they're not completely believable

            All I'm saying is, look at statistics. We tend not to popularize those few non-anthropomorphic aliens shown on ANY screen or drawing.
            For every Horta there are literally thousands of centrally symmetric bipedal aliens with very distinct facial features.

            And how do we instantly recognize the bad guys? No faces. [tvtropes.org]

        • by jpatters (883)

          - But most importantly, HUMANOID SPECIES. Even Silicoids looked somewhat bipedal.
          Which is very important if you're supposed to empathize with the species you're playing.
          Among other things MOO3 managed to fuck up was the look of the game - most species now looked like bad modern art.
          Practically all of them could be considered "repulsive".

          I disagree. I bought MOO3 at launch, after following the development unfold for over a year before that. Existence of species that are not bi-pedal or humanoid was absolutel

          • It's a valid point and, unfortunately, one I've run into repeatedly - users don't really know what they want until they actually have something to play with, so it becomes the developer's job to help them figure it out. I've been on a number of projects that ended up in trouble because the development team (including the management) was afraid to say "no" to the customer.

            I'm not afraid to say "no": I've already said that multiplayer isn't going to happen unless someone can think of a way to avoid having
        • "We want to see humanoid aliens with humanoid expressions on their humanoid faces."

          Who is this "we" you refer too? I would have zero problem dealing with - or empathizing with - a centipede life form. Like, say, in A Mission of Gravity, where all but one of the main characters were alien centipedes. Very engrossing.
          • by denzacar (181829)

            It's because you're reading about them.

            You anthropomorphize transparently and automatically, in your head. Empathizing while looking at images of centipedes the whole day on the other hand...
            Well, let's just say that we have this thing for faces [wikipedia.org].
            Also, that when we think of cuddly and friendly [amazon.com] - we tend to disregard insects.

        • by DarthVain (724186)

          MOO3 is the only game (and the last) I have ever pre-ordered. To say I was excited, and then dissapointed would be an understatement.

          I think I can sum up the distinction between MOO2 and MOO3 pretty easily, MOO2 was fun, and MOO3 was not. More specifically MOO2 was a game, whereas MOO3 tried to be a simulation. There is also a subtle difference between micro management and auto management. MOO3 tried to be both, micro if you want it, and auto if you didn't. Thing was micro wasn't really A) possible, or B) w

      • "but have about as much atmosphere as Excel."

        I friggin' love that phrase.
  • I could really care less about the interactions with other races. I mean, how may different noises can they possibly make when I've got my boot on their throat (or throats, aliens ya know) and they're trying to get me to stop genociding their species.

    I kinda liked fleet combat in MoO, but I'd rather see a full modernized redo of that vs. something that's going to focus more on diplomacy, which is what I'd have to say this is going to be since they want to spend so much time on how the aliens communicate.

  • a major focus is going to be on making sure that each alien race is as fully-realized as possible, and that the interactions with the other aliens are realistic: talking to one alien race will be different than talking to another, and the choices you make in the game will have side effects and the computer players will remember them — and treat you differently because of them.

    In concept this sounds great. In practice, it's probably just going to be a series of sliders that influences how likely a
    • Honestly, I hope he can pull it off, because to me it sounds just like every ideas-man wanna be game designer who's never made a game before. Not trying to be harsh, but seriously, it does sound like the crap newbs spout about their first game when they haven't even completed a tetris or mario clone, let alone a branching world where everything has consequences. It's easier said than done, just ask Peter Molyneux. He's not really a liar, he wanted to do all the stuff he spouted off about, but it wasn't

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Ouch.

        ..........

        I've actually been developing software for 15 years, and have made a game before (XNA on Windows Phone, and Xamarin to port it to Android, ported from an original 3D WPF version that looked great but ran like crap on a phone/ tablet and had too small a playable area there) - there are screen shots on the Kickstarter page. And you can't tell from the screen shots, but the pixels do move.

        That is, of course, the least of what I've done - I specialize in highly-complex modular systems t
        • by black3d (1648913)

          So it doesn't seem so harsh, I believe OP was referring to Zahn, since he presents the video.
          >"I'm an ideas man with a lot of reputation, and you're giving me money due to the reputation..."
          So don't take it personally. :)

          • It doesn't seem harsh - criticism is worth a hell of a lot more than praise, because you can do something productive with criticism. Hence the multitude of smileys...

            :D

            And Tim's not the idea man, he's the guy who's got 130+ published works of fiction in the past 30 years or so, so he's going to be focused on helping to make the content engaging and interesting. Which - despite opinions to the contrary - I think he's proven himself capable of.
        • My problem with this project is the problem I have with almost all software projects that I've seen on Kickstarter: The biggest cost is programmer time.

          So what? you might ask, it is a programming project after all.

          Well, I see programmer after programmer eliminating all personal risk by writing themselves a nice middle-class paycheck at the backers' expense, but at the end of the project, the developer's the one that's going to be getting royalties on future sales. This seems like a bit of a cheat to me; ha

          • Excellent question, and excellent points...

            The short answer is: Whether this Kickstarter succeeds or fails, I am making this game. The only things that the Kickstarter will change are the timeline, the amount of content that will be included, and the amount of time spent on the content. It will also make it clear, to Tim, that this is something that his fans support him spending a considerable amount of his time on. If the Kickstarter fails, it will be mostly the same under the hood, but will not have
          • by Raenex (947668)

            Well, I see programmer after programmer eliminating all personal risk by writing themselves a nice middle-class paycheck at the backers' expense, but at the end of the project, the developer's the one that's going to be getting royalties on future sales. This seems like a bit of a cheat to me; having your cake and eating it.

            I agree 100%, which is why I'd never fund a kickstarter. I don't understand why they are so popular, or don't at least offer profit sharing. I would actually be ashamed to even make such a pitch.

            • I think Kickstarter's model is great... but not for this sort of endeavour.

              The model isn't new -- it used to be called the subscription model, and we've forgotten what "subscription" means: sub=under, scribe=write... subscribers would "underwrite" the physical costs of printing a publication that was of value to them, because the authors maybe didn't have the money to pay for the first print run. If you could offset the upfront costs against subscriptions, you could get the book/magazine to market and make

              • by Raenex (947668)

                If you could offset the upfront costs against subscriptions, you could get the book/magazine to market and make a profit over time from sales.

                I'm against even this, as I wouldn't put up money to a for-profit business just to get a promised product. If you want to get rich with my help, give me a slice of the action.

                Plenty of Kickstarter projects work this way -- the purest example would be bands seeking money for studio time and disc pressing -- [..] I'm happy to pay for material costs, even including travel costs for the right project. I'm not so keen on paying for time.

                I don't have a problem paying a reasonable amount for time if it's going to fund something that doesn't involve the worker making a bunch of copies and becoming potentially rich. An even older example, before there was copyright, was funding for unique pieces (such as a statue). A good example of something I'd be willing to fund in mod

                • If you could offset the upfront costs against subscriptions, you could get the book/magazine to market and make a profit over time from sales.

                  I'm against even this, as I wouldn't put up money to a for-profit business just to get a promised product. If you want to get rich with my help, give me a slice of the action.

                  Small bands use subscriptions (crowdfunding) precisely because they're highly unlikely to get rich, so none of the labels is going to offer them an advance or a loan. My point is that if the backers pay only material costs, the content producer is still in a position of risk, just reduced risk, because if a singer don't sell a single copy of the CD after the backers get theirs, he'll be no better off monetarily than he was 6 months previously, with nothing to show for his time other than a CD no-one wants.

                  • by Raenex (947668)

                    Small bands use subscriptions (crowdfunding) precisely because they're highly unlikely to get rich, so none of the labels is going to offer them an advance or a loan.

                    But the potential is always there. Big things usually start out small. Besides, it doesn't cost a lot of money to make a few copies, sell what you make for a profit, and then make more. Besides all that, the need for physical copies in the digital age makes this a moot example.

    • In practice, it IS going to be a series of sliders that influences how likely a race is to trade with or attack you.

      No, it's not a revolutionary new approach, because there aren't a whole lot of other realistic options... But I think you might have cheated and looked at the answer on the Kickstarter before you guessed that:

      Under the hood, however, it all comes down to fuzzy logic and decision trees really simple, old-school decision trees, similar to a choose-your-own-adventure book.

      Each computer player will have a set of numbers that indicate, on a sliding scale, how they feel about every other player, and these numbers will change over the course of the game: how much they (and their subjects) like the other; how much they trust the other player; and even whether they respect the other player, or look down on them with contempt. There will also be relative statistical numbers, for stuff like tech level, civilization size, etc.

      For every type of interaction, and for every race, there will be dozens of possible things that can be said at each step in the conversation – that list will be filtered down to a few items based on how the speaker “feels” about the other player at that point in time (and also based on previous selections during the conversation). And the choices that are made during the conversation will, in turn, affect how each side feels about the other (by modifying those underlying numbers).

      For the AI players, they will be given the same choices as the live player, and each available choice will be assigned a percentage chance, based on the player’s feelings and the relative standing of each civilization, and a simple (virtual) dice roll will determine their choice.

      :D

  • and the choices you make in the game will have side effects and the computer players will remember them â" and treat you differently because of them.

    Oh great, yet another rep grinding system.

  • I would rather see a very good video game based on Larry Niven's Ringworld.

  • by godel_56 (1287256) on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:22PM (#44846143)

    I've always regarded Zahn as a bit of a hack.

    He writes what I call sausage machine books; he turns the handle and out they come, one after the other. His books are inoffensive but unmemorable, the kind of thing you pick up in a bus or airline terminal when there's nothing better to do while you're waiting for your ride to show up.

    Oh well, I suppose it pays his bills, but I'm not expecting to see Zahn's name on any of the Hugo or Nebula Awards' lists anytime soon.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, he only has one Hugo already.

    • There's ALWAYS something better to do than read a suasage machine book! :)
    • by DarthVain (724186)

      Insofar as serious Science Fiction goes I would agree with you (and I don't consider Star Wars serious Science Fiction).

      However, Zahn from my perspective has written the only decent books in the Star Wars universe, which counts for something in my books (Admiral Thrawn, etc...).

      Also the Conquerors trilogy was enjoyable.

  • wow! finally something great is going on.
  • Timothy Zahn, one of the most influential Star Wars Expanded Universe authors (creator of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade)

    If he's "one of the most influential Star Wars Expanded Universe authors", how many others are there? On whom did he have influence?

    Personally, I'm known as one of the most influential three-toed green bunny with superpowers short-novel authors (creator of Pukey the Mighty Bunny and Horrible Emperor Zfnjor) . Not THE most influential of course, but one of the top 500 for sure. Howe

    • by Soluzar (1957050)
      He presumably had an influence on all the authors who re-used his character, Mara Jade. If you were to visit Wookieepedia, you'd see her list of appearances is not short.
  • I mean not only he is a sci-fi writer just like Ron Hubbard, but he is a Star Wars writer. He could easily either be pope of the already existing Jedi church or create the Sith church. What a wasted opportunity...
  • I have been addicted to Starbase Orion lately, which is currently the best Master of Orion inspired game on iOS. As soon as I have time to read the whole kickstarter page, I'll think about contributing, but I'd like to know how they plan on implimenting their multi-platform pass with iOS. I don't think that will work.

    • Each game will go out on the respective App Store as a trial version, and have separately-purchasable "DLC" that (essentially) creates an unlock code for a specific user. The user will be able to enter the unlock code on any platform and have access to the exact same content.

      In the past, Apple has allowed something very similar to this type of cross-platform unlock code approach, as long as the DLC was available in the iTunes store as well. They have a reputation for being fickle, though, so it's going
      • Thank you for all of your posts in this thread. I've enjoyed a lot of Timothy Zahn books, but you've done a very good job of convincing me not to put any money into this.
    • by DarthVain (724186)

      I got that app as well. As a game I thought it was OK, as an iOS game not so much.

      Either A) the game was designed poorly, or B) iOS and hardware not sufficient to handle it.

      Takes forever. AI takes too long. Everything is slow.

      It is essentially a game from 1995. It should play ultra fast on anything.

  • $250 for the privilege of beta testing the game? seriously? This guy majorly overvalues a lot of the rewards.
    • Yes, plus you get most of the other rewards, early access to the game, more say into the game mechanics - as I've said before, it's a judgment call... Where were all these criticisms when Tim and I had the preview available for the past month or so and were asking for them (yes, it was on Facebook, so if you never checked his page, you never saw it - still, a discussion along these lines might have borne out some valuable changes).

      :D
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      that wouldn't be too bad if they had more to show for the game. like, about the actual game mechanics, ui concepts... something! coming up with the new races IS THE EASIEST FUCKING PART OF CREATING A SPACE CONQUERING GAME!

      would it matter if the backstory in master of orion said that the silicoids in master of orion can ingest radiation? no, because in the game mechanics context that has no meaning at all(seriously, one of the new races is taken straight out of moo).

  • There is already a classic vintage game called Parallax.
    It has lasting fame for having given name to the video game technique Parallax scrolling [wikipedia.org].

    The game's soundtrack by Martin Galway is also a classic, with many covers/remixes made by video game music enthusiasts.

    • The Wiki page that you linked to states that the technique has been around since the 40's, and that Moon Patrol did it 4 years prior to that game... Plus "parallax" is actually the physics term for the apparent difference in relative position of 2 (or more) objects when the observer changes position, and I think it was in use by, y'know, ancient astronomers long before modern computers, let alone video games.

      But, I could be wrong... I don't think I am, but I could be.
      • by JohnG (93975)

        Misagon referenced a game with that name, and then linked to a Wikipedia article on the technique. Which are two separate things. I've never heard of the game, but if I said that there was an OS named Windows and linked to the Wikipedia page on glass panes, would you reply that windows have been around since, y'know ancient times and stuff and that it was perfectly okay to name your OS that?
        Rather than dismissing what he said so flippantly, it might behoove you to see if there was such a game and what legal

        • Sorry - didn't mean to come off quite that flippantly... The article does actually reference the game directly, but my argument was that the game was named after the technique, rather than the other way around.

          I'm less concerned with the trademark issue (because the trademark isn't actively registered in association with computer games), than I am with the fact that there have actually been a FEW other games that share the same name. And a book. And a full game company. The majority of which, I only be
  • I'm a huge Timothy Zahn fan. He's a GREAT sci-fi writer. I hope he pulls this off!

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. -- Niels Bohr

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