Here is the list of changes I've suggested to Sean so far. Its by no means all that he can or will modify for the new version. I expect that many - but not all - of these will be implemented. Post your comments and suggestions. What would you like most to see in the new version?
1. The biggest complaint I have with the old CM is that the current mission objective is not displayed on the screen during play. You have a blue bar across the top of the screen that has an icon and the words Critical Mass but nothing else. Could you display both the mission number and the mission objective in that bar or if not, could you display them somewhere else on the screen? Also, CM does not at present display the number of kills a player has made. This is a big part of the statistics. It would be nice if it were updated realtime so that as each kill is made the player could see the total.
Look for this one, its there!
2. When a mission is finished, there are 3 screens to go through before a new mission can start. Reduce this to one screen. Put the Medal earned on the upper left, the grid of ships that can be purchased on the upper right, and put the display of ships and kills through the bottom. If this is not workable, see if you can cut it from 3 screens down to 2. One of the bugs in the current version occurs when a player kills more than 10 ships. They run off the displayable area on the debriefing screen. My first thought on this is could you somehow display the kills at half size.
3. It would be nice if you had some new grapics such as the bubble nebula, the Sombrero galaxy, Andromeda, a neutron star, etc. Re some photos you could incorporate into Critical Mass, take a look at this url.
4. There aren't enough missions and the ones you have don't vary enough to maintain interest. Here are some suggestions for new missions: Attack Asteroid mining colony, Attack enemy space observatory, Attack communications relay center, Attack navigation control center, Attack pilot training facility, Attack enemy fuel storage, Attach enemy spatial vortex generator (used to launch ships on deep space missions), and of course, the defend versions of those missions. You would need a few new ship designs for these but the added missions should be worth it. You could finally put that "science station" to use that is a valid ship in the current game but is not used in any missions.
5. The ship designs you have leave a lot to be desired. The warrior and frigate classes are the only ones that are highly usable. I will send you a few new ones but you might get a couple of 14 year old kids to do a better job than I can. I think I've finally worked through your logic for this and that you are using ship vulnerabilities to encourage the player to shoot mostly for accuracy and to upgrade ships whenever possible. There is a better way to achieve this goal which is part of the other changes I am suggesting. The single biggest flaw with your ship designs is the way the missiles are loaded. They should never be loaded all daycorns for example on the same row. Put a mix of missiles on each row.
6. The new version moves much too fast and is jerky in motion. I suspect that is because you are running it on a different processor. Could you let the player set the speed of play action or in some other way regulate the playing speed? Note that you sent me a new version that significantly smoothed down the motion. I think letting the user select play speed would still be a smart move.
7. The new version doesn't yet have a help file. The help file needs a re-write badly to document things like how to repair your ship, how scoring works, etc. This is obviously something you will do when the game is complete and ready to go.
8. My son insists you need some new missiles, especially a few more "smart" ones that know not to hit your own ships. I've thoroughly evaluated the Plectron missile which currently has an 11 mton warhead. Please consider making this missile 20 mton. This missile is in a borderline state of not being very useful at present. If they were a bit more powerful, there would be a reason to carry them. Something you might consider would be to make an enhanced version of the Plectron and Drachan which would leave the old missiles available but give a few new choices.
9. I think a ship should be able to hold more missiles than it can at present. One more row would be nice. One item you might consider. The arsenal size of all the ships is currently 3 rows. What if smaller ships had only one row for missiles? Larger ships could have larger arsenals with 2, 3 or 4 rows for missiles. Doing this would encourage the player to trade ships when he was promoted since he would have a larger arsenal. This would have a significant impact on the ship design routines. You would have to put arsenal rows as a selectable option along with missiles, radars, etc. One further idea in this area, load missiles in rows of 16 instead of 15 with selectable groups of 4 missiles instead of 5. This may not seem significant but it would have a big impact on the ships capabilities.
10. On the bottom left of the playing screen, you have a bar with boxes showing the status of each of the ships a player has. It shows a ship, a green blur for hyperspaced, a hexagon for ejected to safety, and a killed in action cloud. Could it be made to function as a heads-up display? This is where the display would still be there but the ship movements on screen would be visible behind the display bar or possibly in front of the display. From your email, you intend to enable each ship to post messages above its particular box. Maybe you could put the boxes and their messages in the background so that ships would be able to travel over them. Just a thought.
11. A new award for Top Gun would be nice. It could be given if a person fires 10 or more missiles in one mission and 8 or more of them hit targets (80% or more hit rate). Don't count hits on ships that can't defend themselves. This award would encourage the player to shoot for accuracy. You might have to call this award "Marksman" or "Sharpshooter" since Top Gun is copyrighted.
12. Please consider fully enabling the design of missiles(if possible), ships, and missions. Start off by putting all the missions, missiles, and ships in a separate directory. Once they are in separate directories, give the user full ability to add to each of the categories. Since you must hard-code the names of missiles, put in a special routine that looks at startup to see if all the missiles are present and if not create them from code backup.
13. When multiple daycorn missiles are fired at a target, the first missile hits the target which creates an explosion. The second missile goes straight through the target. The third missile hits the target. In just a few cases, the 4th missile goes through the target. Note that the missiles are hitting dead center, not going through the edges of the target. I've watched this very carefully several times. What are you using to detect the impact of the missile? Would it detect a ship if there were an explosion on-screen at the time the missile reached the target? Is there a way for a missile to pass through the middle of a ship without hitting anything on the way through? Could the display not be aligning correctly so that the missile is actually passing beside the ship instead of through it? I've watched this happen many more times in the past few days. I believe it may be a timing problem. The missile that goes through a ship always does so just before the ships stop moving for that turn and almost always were fired when I had just accelerated the ship.
14. This one is a significant change! Could you allow a ship to carry a "warp core" that could somehow attach to a ship and transport it back to base. This would allow the player to capture ships and return them to base for credit. I've thought about this and would suggest you simply design a new missile called a "warp core". Only an admiral would be allowed to have them. When the "warp core" hits another ship, that ship is immediately transported back to base. The warp core should only be able to function if the other ship has ejected. Give credit for the captured ship to the tune of about half its current value including missiles. This would be a fantastic addition to the game!
15. The player starts off with a limited amount of money and with one or more smaller ships - no big guns when you start.
Current version flaws with this are that the player has $350 to start with and that is enough to buy a single very large ship. There are no penalties (or restrictions) for buying a single ship. This results in a player designing a single broadly adapted custom ship which is then used exclusively. Rank hath its privileges. Put in a restriction so that the size ship a player can purchase is limited by his rank such as on the first mission to ships under $180. When they reach a higher rank, increase the value of ship they can buy in increments of about 30 to 50. I haven't verified each rank you have in the game at present but each rank should have a limit. Admirals should be able to have a special flagship. Humor me here and design one with 4 rows of missiles and a cost of about $400. This way the player has a reason to want to achieve the rank of Admiral as soon as possible.
16. Several missions must be flown to gather money with which larger and better equipped ships can be purchased.
This works pretty well as is but there are no rewards for exceptional missions. Each successful mission gets $10 and each failure gets $3. I would suggest a bonus of $10 if a player kills all of the enemy ships himself. This is pretty hard to do since the last ship always goes into hyperspace. You could also give a bonus if a player gets a gold cross or a top gun award.
17. The intent is for the player to shoot for accuracy, not just blast away until their missiles are gone.
The current version has only very oblique reasons to shoot for accuracy. It is desirable to be accurate because you wipe out enemy ships that might kill you otherwise. You also need to be accurate to have enough missiles on some of the multiple target missions. This is not enough to prevent the average player from just blasting away. I can see two ways to address this. The first is with the "Top Gun" award that I suggested earlier which could only be earned with highly accurate firing. The second would be to change the amount of money a player gets at the end of the mission based on accuracy. I've checked my playing and found that on average I get 50% accuracy with half of my missiles hitting targets. What about starting out with an end of mission award of $20 for 100% accuracy and cut that based on the percentage with 80% getting $16, 60% getting $12, etc. I would implement this as INT((missiles that hit target/missiles fired)*20). Think about this carefully, it may change the play sequence significantly. What reward would you give on a mission where the player fired no missiles?
18. You can fly any size ship you can afford to buy.
I've thought about this carefully and watched my kids play just to see what they would do. They always go for the bigger and better armed ships. There seems to be no rationale in the game to avoid bigger ships. My suggestion would be to send enemy fighters out based on the value of the ship the player is flying. If a player has a single ship valued at $300, then send out $600 of enemy ships to attack him. If he has 2 smaller ships each valued at $180, then send out $360 of enemy ships against him. He has a much better chance with two ships of $180 taking on the enemy than the single ship that is almost overwhelmed every time. You would also have to factor in the total firepower of the player if he has managed to accumulate multiple additional ships. I suggest that the enemy have a range of firepower that is randomly selected to be from 50% to 150% of the player's firepower with the enemy firepower always being at least 150% of the players largest ship. You might implement this by sending out enemy ships based on whichever is larger: 2 times the value of the player's largest ship, or the total value of the players squadron. Work through this one carefully, one of the flaws of the game at present is that most missions are not difficult enough. This would significantly change the difficulty without making it impossible to win.
19. There are missions where all of the targets are ships and other missions where many of the targets are either fixed (turrets, factories) or very slow moving (shuttles, cargo, civilians, etc.)
This is an inherent problem since the player needs a good dogfighting ship for the all ship missions and a ship with more large missiles for the ones with fixed targets. Since the only way a player can change ships or armament at present is to eject from the ship, this puts the player in a difficult position to adapt to the different missions. There are two ways to approach this. The first is to allow the player to change ships. The second is to allow the player to change the armament of the ship he has. I would suggest you implement both. This is just a thought on how to do it but what about putting a bar with left and right arrows above the display of ships available for purchase. Clicking the arrows would sequence through the various groups of ships which the player could then purchase. Put in a place for the player to trade in the ship he is currently using. Just for a lark, call it something like "Al's used spaceships. We buy anything that still flies" It doesn't have to be fancy, just a box to drop the ship into and get cash back to be used for another ship purchase. There should be a penalty for trading in your ship. I don't know how much but maybe $10 or so would be appropriate (call it a "trade in" tax, they'll understand that!). You don't want the player trading ships every turn, but maybe when he gets promoted and can buy a bigger ship would be appropriate. Implement the change of armament by letting the player drag and drop missiles both out of and into his ship. This way he could select the missiles he needs for the mission. Your current method of re-arming a ship would have to change to accomodate this. There should be a simple way to put back in whatever missiles the player has fired and a drag and drop method of changing missiles if something different would be appropriate. Alternative to the drag and drop method, you might let the player position on top of a group of missiles and then right click to cycle through the various missile types.
20. The missiles are fired in sequence beginning with the first selected one in the players arsenal and finishing with the last selected one.
This causes a real problem in some missions where for example you need to fire a yatari first with 3 other types next but the yatari's are the last group of missiles in the ship. There is a missile "tube" on the ship which can only be fired every other turn. Could you fix it so that the missiles are actually loaded into the tube as they are selected? By this I mean to replace the missile tube with a representation of the selected missile inside the tube. Then when the missiles are fired, they would go out in the selected sequence. Now here is the difficult part. Say I want only the third missile to be fired and the reason is that I want it to to go out at a specific point during my ships move. Could you allow me to click on tubes 1 and 2 for example and return those missiles to the armory leaving only tubes 3 and 4 loaded. If done this way, could you delay the firing just like tubes 1 and 2 actually had missiles?
21. The AI has great difficulty maneuvering ships in an asteroid field. In a few instances, I have run out of missiles and had a single factory sitting in the middle of 2 or 3 asteroids. I had another ship that still had missiles but the AI was unable to position the ship such that he could shoot out the final factory. You have settings for Tight, Loose, and Open squadron. Could you add a "follow me" setting so that the player could lead his other ship(s) into a position to make a kill?
22. Cmass often gets caught in a loop where the same mission is repeated. This is when for example a mission to defend turret base is played then the next mission following is again to defend turret base. Then it will select another mission and the next will again be a duplicate. Are you just selecting the missions at random or is there a pattern based on something the player does? If it is random, there are two ways to prevent repeats. The first is to use a variable to track the previous mission and if the next mission is a duplicate, then select another. The second way is much more complicated but many times over more effective. It would be the same type routine you would use to deal a deck of cards. Select a card at random from the deck, then select the next card from the remainder of the deck. Repeat this until the entire deck has been dealt, then do it again. The same principle could be applied to cmass by selecting the first mission from the entire group of missions and each subsequent mission from the ones that have not yet been played. If you are interested in pursuing this, I have an ultra short algorithm that could be adapted and would be glad to email you a copy.
23. On the current version of CM, once I have my flagship and 9 other ships so that all possible positions are filled, I still get a prompt that I have enough money to buy more ships, am I sure I want to start. May I suggest you allow the player to turn this prompt off and put in some logic so that - even if it is turned on ? don't prompt once all ship positions are full. Another thing that probably needs to be done is to put in a prompt when the player's ships have not all been repaired. This one should work so long as the player has enough money to repair even one of the damaged ships.
24. On the current version of CM, when I turn off items such as display galaxies and planets, then exit the game and re-start, I have to turn off those items again. Could you make this part of the permanent data that is stored when CM is exited?
25. On the new version of CM, when radar is tracking an enemy ship and it goes out of range, I then follow the "?" that is displayed until I am positioned exactly on top of it. The "?" is displayed even though I am sitting on top of its indicated position. Is there something that could be done to handle this a different way? Its kind of irksome to have a ship that is off the radar with a lying tattletale saying where it is located.
26. On the new version, all asteroids are displayed on the screen from the start of the game. The original game only displays asteroids when they are within radar range. Do you intend to leave the asteroid display as is or change it back to the way it was?
27. I've thought through the issues with having the player select all new ships after each mission. I believe this would be a mistake because the player would have to spend time picking ships that could have been spent playing. The objective is to make game setup as minimal as possible while maximizing actual play time.
28. This is a minor complaint but something to think about. When all of a ships thrust engines have been destroyed but turning engines are still available, the ship cannot at present change its speed. It seems to me that the turning engines should be able to deliver some forward thrust.
29. When repairing ships, it would be nice if there were a single button to click that would repair all ships. Its time-consuming to have to click 20 times total to repair all ships.
30. All of the awards such as Gold Cross seem to max out at 5. Do you internally track if a player gets more than 5? Is there a way you could keep up with the total number of awards per type and give a number indicating how may a player has earned?