Barren Planet: The Features
Tuesday, 18th July 2023
Once I'd decided that Barren Planet was to be a full-scale project, I came up with a list of features that I wanted in the game.
From The World at Strife I adopted the game mechanics in full. Battles are fought on a square grid map with up to eight terrain types. Anything up to 30 units are deployed, of up to 8 unit types. The battles are put together into a campaign, where the result of one battle determines which battle is fought next. This allows variation in the terrain from one battle to the next, and for units to be introduced gradually, adding a story element that can be told using briefings before each battle. Battles could be won by annihilation of the enemy, or by occupying strategic victory points. There was the facility to build and repair units on the battlefield.
Some particulars of the game mechanics would be modified. Instead of the fixed 20x10 map that suited the Psion's wide screen, the battlefield in the new game would have more flexible dimensions: up to 256 squares in total, with dimensions ranging from 9x28 at one extreme, through 16x16, to 28x9 at the other. And where The World at Strife had a single defence statistic for each terrain type, Barren Planet would have different defence values for each unit too. This would prevent, for example, aircraft gaining protection from the ground they fly over, or allow small units like infantry to hide behind rocks or low walls that would leave larger units exposed.
I wanted play-by-mail for Barren Planet. The Psion pocket computers on which The World at Strife ran could be handed from one player to another, meaning hot-seat play was sufficient. But a full sized computer requires the player to vacate the seat (and for privacy, the room), so play-by-mail becomes a more practical way for two players to play the game. This is especially true in the modern era, when turn files can be swapped by instant messages using services like Discord.
The computer player's units didn't really work together in The World at Strife, and I wanted to change this. In The World at Strife each unit would decide for itself what its prority was: either the nearest enemy unit or victory point, or the nearest repair unit when damaged. In Barren Planet I wanted the targets to be identified first, then units selected by merit to deal with those targets in order of importance.
Finally I wanted maximum flexibility in the DLC. Although the setting is fixed, I wanted to allow different terrain and unit types in future campaigns. This increased the AI complexity greatly, as it would need to deal with units unknown at development time. For instance, one static unit in the First Landing campaign gathers resources and builds and repairs other units. In future DLC, there can be mobile resource gatheres, mobile building and repair units, and the AI needs to know how to identify and handle these.
A future article will discuss how all these features were brought together into the final product.