Digital boardgame update – Starship Raiders

It seems that the number of blog posts coming out of Nerd Towers is directly proportional to the amount of time spent getting things wrong or trying to get stuff working! The problem last month (August) was that we actually managed to get a few things right, and actually get them working. The problem, of course, is that real life then kicks in and time spent doing fun stuff like working out how to use new technologies get spent doing boring stuff like real work, product development and all that.

Over the next few weeks and months, we’re going to “give it a go” with one of our slow-burning ideas: the digital boardgame. We’ve got a stable hardware platform, have finally managed to get data into pretty much any smartphone/tablet (more blog posts will follow on the audio encoding, for those who have emailed to ask whatever happened to them) and so we’re now devising artwork for our boardgame.

Originally, the plan was to have a generic boardgaming system, which allowed all the game logic to be coded into a device (smartphone/tablet – at one point we even considered making it stand-alone, with an embedded PIC microcontroller and sd card wav player). This is still, ultimately, the aim; but we also found that describing the idea was sometimes met with a lukewarm response. We really need to make a game, which can show off the functionality and benefits of an electronic boardgame – to demonstrate that it’s more than just a passing fad to put the game logic onto a controller, and that doing so can actually change the way boardgames are played for the better!

We still love the idea of an electronic Blood Bowl/Dreadball hybrid, and we’ll come to that as soon as possible. But our first demo game for this electronic system is going to be a small-scale skirmish, shooty-game-in-space. If you’ve even played Space Hulk, or Space Crusade, you’ll have an idea of how these have been tackled in the past. If you’ve ever played the original Laser Squad on the ZX Spectrum, you’ll have an idea of how awesome it can be having hidden movement and a computer-controlled opponent.

Originally our generic boardgame system was going to use hex-shaped “squares” on the playing surface. In fact, we’ve spent a lot of this last month coding up a shooty-boardgame (in Flash of course) using a hex-based playing surface.

Then we added some rooms and long, straight corridors. And realised that, for a shooty-space-game, we really needed squares. So the entire app development was started again from scratch, and coded up to use squares this time instead of hexes (we might well go back to hexes for our sports-simulator type game in the near future).

We recently discovered a neat little map editor called “Shuffler” from DriveThruRGP.com.
While the interface is a bit clunky (and the actionscript-based app is infuriatingly buggy) we did manage to crank out a couple of boards. In fact, we ended up re-creating the maps using Flash, but importing some of the artwork from Shuffler, just to get a working map roughed out. Shuffler has a maximum print-it-yourself grid size of 10″ x 7″ whereas we want each board section to be 11×8 squares.

So far we’ve knocked up just two board sections. But already, they look quite promising to be used in a variety of layouts, to create some interesting maps to play a set-in-space-shooty-game that we’ve called Starship Raiders. Why that name? Well, because the .com and .co.uk domains for our preferred names were all taken (Laser Squadron was a favourite at one time, giving a nod towards the inspiration for the hidden movement element of the board game, but that, amongst many others, had already been taken).

Just two board sections have been made up to date
some of the floor tiles and pipes where two board sections connect still need a bit of work to get them to line up perfectly! The change in floor tile patterns, mid-corridor, is also a bit nasty.
side-by-side the board sections make an interesting looking playing area
placing doors at the edges of the board allows board sections with different floor tile patterns to be used next to each other, without creating a jarring effect seen in the earlier examples.

So we’re calling our game Starship Raiders, and will build a website, and blog the game development at http://www.starshipraiders.co.uk

If all goes well, we might even consider a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign to get a few copies manufactured and released out into the wild!

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