Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Things I did wrong in GSB

GSB is a big success and sells well, and I love it. it’s my fave game, out of all the games I’ve made, but it still has problems, because I made some fundamental screwups, technical and otherwise. here is what I think I did wrong in no particular order

  • It doesn’t support netbook resolutions
  • There are a fixed number of ship sizes
  • The battles are not deterministic, preventing replays
  • There are no achievements
  • The tutorial is weak, and the learning curve too steep
  • The auto-update system is dumb regarding where the game is installed.
  • The online integration doesn’t include many features, like friends lists and user profiles, clan tags etc
  • It makes poor use of multi-core CPUs.
  • The player cannot customise the physical appearance of their units very much
  • Mod support is not quite as easy to use as it could be
  • The unit design tools (ship editor) used during development was laughably poor
  • The UI was not as gratuitous as it could have been, given the subject matter

Have I missed anything? Obviously if I ever did a similar game, I’d be keen to fix all of those issues.

24 thoughts on Things I did wrong in GSB

  1. UI is my prime concern. GSB can be rather tedious due to keyhole problems (some dialogs are 300×200 or so, on my 1900×1200 screen, that is just laughable), unsortable but huge lists, tiny buttons on high resolutions and invisible X-button in the upper right corner.

  2. I like the idea of the deterministic battles. If it had some kind of “hands off” mode (and a way to run in a browser), it’d make a terrific style game.

  3. Well considering those strong negative points, in terms of this generations ideals and vocabulary (or lack thereof), some people would say that you’re admitting to an “Epic Fail”. In which case, I would like a refund please…


    GSB still rocks – the only thing I could possibly want would be some way of controlling the thought patterns of my own units (slightly more configurable ai for the players characters).

    BTW, the term “Epic Fail” means – The lack of basic communication skills among the people that choose to use it.

    Keep up the great work Cliff and Markus is perhaps right, the resolution issue and tutorial are perhaps something that could be “tweaked” over a relatively modest period of time, could they not?


  4. UI was also the concern for me (though it improved a bit with patches).
    Complicated to get into, in fact.

    Which leads to my second concern: the game features beautiful space battles, but it’s not really “gratuitous”. I would have loved a full “spectator” mode, allowing me to launch a random battle and just watch it, without building and deploying my fleet.

    Maybe this could have been made by allowing people to load and spectate challenge attempts. For example, taking the most balanced battles, loading them into a stash, from which you could take endlessly, to just watch.

    To watch only, you don’t need a deterministic system, you just want to watch two fleets jumping on each-other.

  5. Now there’s an interesting – and potentially lucrative – idea, Cliff. A GSB screensaver?! A couple of bucks and you get a light, non-playable screensaver for your PC? I imagine that could turn out to be very popular…

  6. Spectator mode is a great idea! Likewise the ability to record and replay fleet battles. Both elements are present in many RTS-style games. It makes it easier for players to learn and discover new strategies.

    It also gives folks the ability to follow and cheer on particular players or guilds.

    And it gives everyone more of those gratuitous explosions to look at!

  7. I really enjoyed this game as many others from Positech.

    In my opinion, the two big bad points in GSB are:
    – no campaign in version 1.0;
    – too many DLCs; each DLC is too small.

    I would spend 25-30$ immediately instead of buying a DLC for 5$ once a couple of months scattered over one year or more.

    Then, many online challenges were forbidden if I was missing one of the DLCs and this was annoying.

    Beside this, the game is real fun and original and it deserves a lot of respect.

  8. Is this a to-do list for your next game…? ;)
    But those are good point. Another bit I think could have been improved was the fighters. It would’ve been cool if they were much faster, more manouverable and fixed direction guns. That would’ve forced them to have proper dogfights! :D
    OH!!! In GSB2 it would be ultra cool if we could have some scenarios where we take direct control of a ship and have dogfights and stuff! :D
    Also, a fully featured editor would’ve been nice, but I know that would’ve taken a lot of time and effort for very little monetary gain.

  9. Seconded – sell a GSB screen saver for your usual DLC price, and I’ll buy it on release day. Just make it work offline. :) How much work would this cost you? A day?

    – campaign needs an offline mode (is it as simple as caching a ton of fleets on my hard drive?)
    – I hate shieldless tanks and fighter swarms, unless they are mine :)

    I had no issues with the DLC, as you did it right – good value, low cost, optional.

  10. Not having played the game yet, but how come the battles aren’t deterministic? Does the user do anything (i.e. influence it)? Or is it just due to random calls? If the latter, you could of course just save the seed but I’m sur you already thought of that.

  11. Yeah, and it could use an offline campaign mode. It’s annoying that I can’t try out the campaign because I have no Internet connection at home. I would buy it at once if you would implement that. But otherwise, the game is great. Hehe, the GSB screensaver is something I also thought about.

  12. Yup, non deterministic battles and poor support for lower resolutions is what annoys me the most. I would gladly buy GSB2 if it only had deterministic battles over the current game.

  13. No multiplayer. And there are many options – hotseat 2 to 8+ players, online battle room 2 – 8+ players, turn a day campaign with known players, etc…

  14. Oh god! John Hattan has it right! This would make a magnificent browser game, checking compulsively to see your fleet stats, climbing the global leader board, tournaments, some token persistence… That would be so amazing.

    If you think you can’t do such a complex game in a browser, think again. I’ve seen 3D engines that run full-FPS in HTML! (See – WARNING, site is just one big car advert)

    Netbook res was the main thing for me – you put so much effort into making the game run well, but didn’t fully reap the rewards of that.

  15. I thought GSB was great but If you plan on making something similar in the future I’ll through in my 2 cents of what I would like to see improved upon.

    I loved the whole space setting but a game based on ground units could easily achieve more depth through a cover system; And would be a fresh take on this tower defense game play you developed.

    As far as achievements I’m the type of gamer that couldn’t care less about it but I understand a good chunk do. So what I always thought was brilliant was giving the player an incentives as well through unlocked content, items or some added effect like +1% extra damage with lasers which such a small percentage shouldn’t ruin game play but would entice gamers like me.

    I think something more could be done with the fight phase. I found my self walking away half the time while the ships duke it out. I see at least one person mentioning controlling one ship which I think is a neat idea. But maybe something as simple as being able to set bounties on ships to influence what your ships attacked. This idea could get pretty interesting if say you could set a bounty on one of your own units that had some sort of damaging blast radius.

    Again great game and I’m looking forward to your future endeavors.

  16. I like all the ideas but I would like to see the order system go one step further.

    I am thinking about the way Dragon Age tactics work or Microsoft Office rules work. (via simple drop downs)

    For example:

    If [friendly] [cruiser] [Charmed] has [shields][equal to 0%] and [damage] [above 80%] then [protect] [Charmed] unless [distance] is [greater than 100km]

    [attack][cruisers][within 20km]if [shields]are [less than] [10%]

    If [target] [shields] are [less than] [5%] then [broadcast] [bombers] [within 100km] [attack] [target]

    This would greatly enhance the order system and allow all specialized combinations. Like DAO you could limit the number of tactics, maybe tie it into to the captains experience or ship’s processing power.

    I think you have a AWESOME concept here.
    There is really no other game like it.

    {copied from my post on Steam forums}

  17. “I am thinking about the way Dragon Age tactics work or Microsoft Office rules work. (via simple drop downs)”

    Cliffski, if you do not have Dragon Age. I will buy you a copy if you promise to consider adding these features. :)

  18. All of those problems do exist, however I would pay for a dlc pack pack that included all of those fixed. Or an expansion pack even.

  19. A GSB screensaver would be awesome!

    Random ships thrown onto a random background, blasting away at each other? Sort of like one of those survival mode games, but played AI vs AI and with no score, no UI? Sounds like fun! :D

    Also, huge, massive, and gratuitously gigantic ships would be great. I want a super star destroyer sized ship, something that utterly dwarfs the size of a cruiser! Could a new class of ships be made? Battleships? Something bigger than cruisers? That would open up a lot of new and interesting aspects in the game.

  20. GSB being non-deterministic is one of the reasons it is so fascinating to watch/play. I wish there was an auto-restart that would restart a battle when it finishes, continuing indefinitely or for a set number of repeats. There could even be meta-stat accumulated over multiple replays, which could help the serious player tease out subtle improvements in design (too subtle to be obvious in a single run).

    You can get a “deterministic” replay without being deterministic. All you need is the same sequence of randomly generated numbers (starting with the same SEED), and it should play out the same way. That said, I’m perhaps a bit out of my programming depth on what it takes to make that in GSB. You might need to write your own random number generator, for starters.

  21. cliff.

    I like GSB and love its look.

    I have brought nearly all the DLC and am very happy with what i’ve spent money on.

    But, if you don’t make this random Gratuitous Screensaver…. I shall cry

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