The Awakening

Welcome to my Starflight blog!

Allow me to start off by giving you a little background about me. I used to be a game programmer. Starting in 1996 and ending in 2010, I was a game programmer for much of that time frame. The first company I worked for was Bethesda Softworks. While I was there, I worked on several games, including Battlespire, Redguard, PBA Bowling 2, X-Car: Experimental Racing, and Burnout: Championship Drag Racing. The last game company I worked for was Rainbow Studios, which was a division of THQ. At Rainbow, I worked on Cars: The Video Game, Cars: Mater-National, Deadly Creatures, Dood’s Big Adventure, and several other unreleased games.

So now you know I am a bona fide game developer with many published games under my belt. My specialty is the game engine which includes graphics, artificial intelligence, physics, sound, music, networking, and so on.

It’s been 7 years since I have done any real game programming. Recently, I discovered that Unity Technologies have made their game engine available to hobbyists for free. I decided that it might be fun to get back into game programming by learning Unity. What better way to learn Unity than to remake one of my favorite childhood PC game: Starflight.

Starflight Box ArtStarflight came out in 1986. I was just entering high school. I was quickly amazed and enthralled by the planet generator that this game uses, and it was the source of much fantasizing and inspiration for me. This game is deceptively simple – after all, it shipped on only two 5 1/4″ floppy disks. I spent many man-weeks exploring the Starflight universe and wondering at the technical aspects of it. I never did beat the game.

So, now that brings us to today and this website. I intend to chronicle my journey remaking Starflight with Unity, and sharing my experiences here. Hopefully, someone will get a kick out of this.

I fully intend to give credit where credit is due for all the things that I find on the Internet that I can use either in the game or on this website. For example, I found the box art image, that is displayed here in this post, at http://otherelectricities.com/neckdeep/starflight.html – an interesting web page. This is the exact box art for the version of Starflight that I have sitting on my desk, which I have had in my possession for 30 years.

By the way, this post has been made sticky so it will always appear first on the home page. All of the posts following this one appear in reverse chronological order, so that my frequent visitors are able to easily keep up. If you would like to start reading my posts from the beginning in the correct order, go directly to my next post which is over here.

If you would like to contact me, send me email at marvin dot herbold at gmail dot com.

By |2019-01-11T18:31:22+00:00June 9th, 2017|Starflight|2 Comments

We Want… a Shrubbery!

Over the past few days, I’ve been working on getting trees and shrubbery in.  After consulting with the knights who say “Ni!” about shrubbery, I was able to wring some halfway decent looking plants and trees using Unity’s built-in tree editor.  Their tree editor is nowhere near as nice as SpeedTree, which is what I am used to working with during my video game programming days, but for the purposes of this game, I think it works OK.

I’ve created 5 different tree types and 2 different shrubbery types.  In the original game, they were called “producers” which I guess meant they produced fruit or something.

I took a video of the terrain vehicle exploring the liquid planet at 123,101 around the lower elevations.  The vegetation favors the lower elevations – they become less common the higher up you go.

Next, I think I will need to work on the mining system (terrain vehicle cargo hold).  I think that is one of the last major bits before the game will become truly playable, as far as gathering elements and selling them at Starport to get money to upgrade your ship.

By |2019-02-09T19:20:04+00:00February 9th, 2019|Starflight|6 Comments

It’s Just an Ordinary Rock, Sir!

Yesterday I spent some time coming up with the component that populates planets with rocks.  Not elements, mind you… that’s next.  These are just plain old ordinary rocks that you don’t mine.  Why?  Because if the planet was populated with just elements, it’d look really weird.  So having a blend of ordinary rocks dotting the terrain along with elements you can mine should make things look and feel more natural.

Also, the number of rocks present on a planet is proportional to the mineral density reported by the ship scanner.  And, they will generally be placed in the higher elevations.

I have made it so that you collide with the rocks instead of driving through them.  Having the TV drive through 3D objects in the game would just look broken and wrong.  The collision behavior works nicely for the most part but will need some fine tuning later to clean up the extreme angle cases.

I have discovered another weakness in Unity.  Unity takes 4 whole seconds to instantiate the 2500 rocks I am placing on the planet.  And that is on my bleeding edge 10 core Alienware PC!  That is a ridiculous amount of time.  So, real-time instantiation is a major performance issue with Unity and I’m going to have to try and think of alternative solutions.

Here is a video showing a nice cruise through the terrain finding and bumping into ordinary non-mineable rocks.

By |2019-02-04T06:00:54+00:00February 3rd, 2019|Starflight|0 Comments

Twenty Two Elements

Sounds like the name of a rock band… Twenty-Two Elements.  And yes, they are basically rocks.

This week, I’ve hunted for various rock and stone 3D models on the good old ‘net.  After finding a bunch, I customized each one in an attempt to make them look like the 22 elements in the game that you can pick up using your terrain vehicle.

These elements are:

Aluminum, Antimony, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Endurium, Gold, Iron, Lead, Magnesium, Mercury, Molybdenum, Nickel, Platinum, Plutonium, Promethium, Rodnium, Silver, Tin, Titanium, Tungsten, and Zinc.

Of all these elements, two doesn’t exist in real life – Endurium and Rodnium.  For all of the others, I looked around for reference photos and tried to base my creations somewhat in reality.  Unfortunately, about 75% of the elements listed look like a silver rock.  So I tried to make some variations in the silver color and shine.

Here is a video of a test scene with all 22 of the elements laid out.  A few are easy to spot right away – such as gold, copper, and cobalt.

By |2019-02-02T09:01:33+00:00February 2nd, 2019|Starflight|4 Comments