Barren Planet: From the Dev Diary
Tuesday, 9th May 2023
Barren Planet was naïvely conceived as a straightforward 1-month jam game back in 2020. I had other projects in progress, but a DOS game jam popped up and those other projects were nowhere near ready. So I thought, why not revive an old game I had written for another platform and implement it for DOS? I'd managed to do just that with Ossuary, my 2013 ZX Spectrum roguelike, which I ported to DOS within a month.
Barren Planet was to be a reimplementation and simplification of my wargame creator The World Of Strife, which I released for Psion pocket computers back in 2008. The World at Strife allowed players to fight battles in any era of warfare, and featured a built-in editor for them to create their own units, settings and campaigns. If I stripped out the editor and fixed the game's setting, I thought, it might be possible to create the game within a month.
One of the campaigns supplied with The World at Strife was called Barren Planet, and I thought that would make a good setting for the PC game. There'd be no historical research, since the setting was completely made up. The CGA graphics standard had a palette that would suit the setting pretty well, too. So I set to work. Since I'm writing this over two years later, it's now clear that the project took longer than a month!
To be fair, I think that it would be possible to write the game I had in mind in a month. If I'd have done a straight port of the Psion game, minus the campaign editor, I could have simply converted the Psion OPL source code into C. I already had the graphics library; I'd only have the effort of redrawing (or even converting) the assets. But I wouldn't have been happy with the final product.
The game's interface was wedded to the Psion, with its inbuilt GUI features and its touch-sensitive screen. The dimensions of the map were geared towards the Psion's wide screen. The artificial intelligence was extremely rudimentary, with units not attempting to work together. And hotseat play was the only option for 2-player games; this suited a handheld device that could be passed around but not a full-sized desktop PC.
So I decided to do a proper job of implementing the game. The wargame engine would be implemented in a dedicated library, instead of building it inextricably into the game. The AI would be revamped. A PBM option would be added. And I'd implement reusable libraries for things like keyboard input and sound. All of this would result in a better program, but not one within the scope of a 1-month jam.
While Barren Planet is based on that old Psion game, its inspiration goes much further back. In a future article I'll go into the games that inspired Barren Planet.