Designing the perfect space exploration MMO – Object scaling

We have talked about dealing with size aswell as distances and social interaction but we haven’t gone into object scaling. A 1 man ship approaching a planet would need to deal with it going from the size of a single pixel to potentially a real-world scale where the ship may resemble a car on earth. A task possible with a lot of loading but we want movement within a system to be completely fluid so thats not an option. The simplest way to deal with this would be to display objects differently based on distance. A planet at long range would be rendered as a simple sphere giving off light (just as they look in real life), the closer a player got the more detail would be added until it physically takes shape. Size is also going to mater here so we will allow smaller ships to see finer detail than larger ones. This of course applies to the ships themselves, a small ship would see a large ship in great detail while it would be rendered to the large ships pilot as a simple shape or even a point. Going on with this premise lets look at how I want to scale the game.

True Galactic Scaling

When I envision this game in my head I see a universe where a player feels the immenseness of the universe, at no point should the player feel constricted in terms of space. A lot of space based games scale down objects to fit the ships, very few (possibly none) accurately portray scales because of the difficulties involved. I want objects of all kinds to be scaled on enormously different levels. Think about the scaling of the death star in comparison to a lone x-wing fighter, from the death stars point of view that fighter is practically a fly.  Im not saying we need death star sized ships but given a large variety of ships I believe scale should be varied hugely.  The closest in modern gaming I can think of is Sins of a solar empire, the fighters are almost invisible when viewing battles involving capital ships. Ill break this down into categories to be more specific.

  • The largest scaling differences of all will be that of stars, common sense really. If you know anything about space I shouldn’t have to explain why, if not look here. Because stars are so astronomically huge the best way to deal with this is to establish a perceived size and prevent players moving in too close for “safety purposes”. Stars of bigger size will have larger safe distances, this will help create the illusion of enormity.
  • Planets will be huge but nowhere near the variations associated with stars, for reference have a look at planets in our own solar system.
  • Ships I feel need to portray large scale but on a scale just limited enough to allow the largest players to still see the smallest. A death star sized ship would not even perceive an x-wing sized ship as a point/pixel so thats out of the question. Some degree of testing is needed here to find out how largely we can vary scales without effecting gameplay.
  • Constructs also need to portray large scale, a bit larger than the largest ships may be well suited for the largest constructs. It would be nice to scale them in such a way that small ships are able to move around to some extent, land if needed and maybe even congregate without dwarfing the structure. On the opposite side we might have a gas station type construct sized to house 2 small ships, who knows.
Capital ship and fighter from Sins

Capital ship and fighter from Sins

Fighter next to capital ship from sins.

Fighter next to capital ship from sins.

The above is the closest I know to realistic ship scaling in a videogame, although because its hard to manuver the fighters freely it is difficult to portray the enormity of the capital ship.


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