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News from 2000

         Thursday, December 7th, 2000         

      More News! First, check out three new full screenshots. Then, scroll down for the news and nine new images (without being shown as part of a game screen).

Three new up-to-date screenshots from StarLock. Click one to see it full-size, and enjoy!

      It's hard to believe that we started working on StarLock in March 1999. In three months, it will have been in development for TWO YEARS. Granted, most of that has been dead time as other projects and distractions arise. At present, StarLock development is (again) underway.

      The Galactic Navigation screen (see the first screenshot above) is now a single screen instead of two, and it's much easier to manage. Another major change is in the built-in chat. Those who have played Lunatix Online will notice that StarLock's similar chat has splintered into two halves. It just didn't seem right to have a system-wide "chat room" built in. It would detract from the RPG elements of game play by making the entire game appear as one common area (like Lunatix). The solution (which is already partially implemented) was to separate some of the features of the chat.

      When you're in space, you're able to use the approximation of an intergalactic CB. Change channels and chat, but there are no actions and no directing messages, since it doesn't apply. Think of it like a radio. When you're on location (on a planet, in a pub or diner, in an office, and so forth) you can chat with people who are present. This allows for a more realistic "chat" experience, and is similar to how MUD's work. Actions and directing and whispers will work on location.

      It hasn't been decided how "whispering" to people elsewhere will work. It's possible that it will work exactly as it does in Lunatix, except it will be called "paging" instead. I'm not sure yet.

      We still aren't sure when it will be open for public play, but we're getting closer to announcing an approximate release date. Please don't email me asking when it will be ready. When we know, I'll announce it.

Here are nine additional images from the game, without the game window (just the graphics).

      Here are a few thoughts I had (a small essay, actually) about game development of this kind in general, and how it applies to StarLock. It's not about HOW to make a game (so don't be scared) -- it's about the WHY.

      Last night, having an hour to kill before catching Charlies Angels for the second time, my girlfriend and I stopped into the new Best Buy (Wichita's 3rd) near the theater. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I wandered back to the PC games section, which I sometimes do despite the fact that my Pentium 233Mhz MMX wouldn't be up to the challenge if I were to bring a new game home.

      Only a few years ago, I could leave the games section with a sense of hope instead of a sense of dread. I guess it was a simpler time then. The gap between what I do and what they do wasn't so great only a few years ago. Last night, as I ogled the boxes of most of the new releases (Thief 2, Asheron's Call, Final Fantasy 8, the new Myst, the latest Might and Magic, an EverQuest sequel? -- even Frogger 2 looked incredible), my thought was "why bother?" Are games like StarLock a waste of energy?

      I get enough feedback attesting to the utter lack of respect many gamers have for anything web-based. On one hand, it's hard to take seriously the opinion of people with taglines such as "Ko0L Do0Dz Hakz Dis PlANet." Every day, we get hate-mail from people complaining that Lunatix Online should be free, and that $5 a month is just way too much to spend. More often than not, I'll reply back with an explanation as to how many hundreds of dollars it costs each month just to run the game (not to mention, we couldn't exist without some kind of profit too). Use banner ads, they say. Banners just wouldn't generate the revenue. Besides, I've often felt that advertisers would be cheated since players would be soley interested in the "extra turns" obtained by clicking the ad instead of in the product or site it advertises. The point is either lost or ignored.

      On the other hand, if a $45 cutting edge RPG on the shelf at Best Buy is 45 times as good as StarLock will be (which might be likely, considering the vast difference between that and browser-based technology), perhaps the worth of a game like StarLock is $1 for unlimited play with no renewal required. Unfortunately, that would put us out of business. It doesn't matter that one or two people simply can't produce the kind of game that modern gamers expect. Well, we could, but it would take a decade (since game development is secondary to our day jobs). I'm not being sarcastic. I DO see the lack of a mainstream audience for commercial browser-based gaming, with good reason.

      I'm not one of those retro-game advocates who will argue that text-based games (MUDs and the like) are superior to their modern counterparts because today's games have no heart and no depth. I don't believe that at all. Today's games are eons beyond what the pioneers of computer gaming envisioned -- not just graphically, but in story depth and plability.

      Nothing drives this point home more than drooling over the back of a brand new sci-fi adventure game box. It's hard to be optimistic when you see just how primitive your work is compared to what really sells. However, programming games is what I enjoy. I've been doing it for 13 years. I'm paid more now as a professional programmer than I suspect I would be as a game programmer, yet that's not where my passion is.

      So, my partners and I work on projects like this on the side, hoping that a game like StarLock (which is likely to surpass any browser-based game out there today) will fill a niche market without the risk of being rated against any of those games I envied last night. I have to accept that despite what we might accompolish (if 10 years were a reasonable development time), we simply can't compete in the same arena as those developers (yet). Lately, I've been doing most of the artwork for StarLock (which isn't usually wise for a programmer with no artistic talent). I'll likely do the music as well. To see the game through to completion, I'll do the jobs those larger companies pay more than 20 employees to do, from concept design, to map design, to artwork, to programming, to alpha testing and beyond.

      When it's finished, I have no reason to believe that the hate-mail will vanish. Actually, I'm expecting the opposite. If a good browser-based game like Lunatix Online incites the inner cheapskate in some people, I can only imagine what a great one like StarLock will do. $5 a month will enrage those gamers who firmly believe that everything on the web, despite the amount of time and effort that went into creating it, should be free for the taking.

      In the end, and what I realized last night, I can't just NOT create games. It's what I do. We do it for fun, but also because we're a business like any other, hoping to make a profit.

      ...And because some day I want to pick up the hottest new game, flip the box over and smile at the Prowler Productions logo. A goal like that can't happen if you bend under the pressure of ten thousand requests to make it free, or if you allow a little thing like a trip to Best Buy discourage you.

         Wednesday, August 2nd, 2000         

      It's a big, mostly empty galaxy. But, it's taking shape. Sector Prime (Humans/Earth, and areas of the 5 main “alien” races) is mapped out. The rest of the galaxy is blank. When you consider that a sector's area is 16x8 (128 unique locations), and there are 33 sectors in all, filling in Sector Prime is only a tiny bit of what has to be done. There will be plenty of empty space -- especially at first (during the beta phase and maybe even beyond).

Three updated screenshots from the game, as promised. Click one to see it full-size, and enjoy!

      More detailed information will come soon (background stories, more screen shots, information about the different alien races, etc). At this point, we're ready to tell a little about the scenario (at least, the initial scenario, since it becomes more involved as you play and everything unfolds).

      You begin as a wannabe tugger -- aspiring to the galaxy's most respected profession. As we mentioned, it's about transportation (not a “Trade Wars” or “Space Merchants” type game). As a “galactic truck driver,” you're responsible for the pickup and on-time delivery of just about anything imaginable. Your reputation depends on your skill, speed, and honesty. A good reputation is vital. You'll get better jobs, make better contacts, and gain clearence to places you weren't previosly permitted. A bad reputation can ruin your chances of making good deals and advancing very far.

      But, that's just the beginning. Many of the features in StarLock have never (to our knowledge) been attempted in a web-based game. We have no doubt that it's going to be the biggest, best, most involved multiplayer browser-based game ever created. When the time comes, we think you'll agree.

         Monday, July 24th, 2000         

      We're Still Working! There isn't much news to report yet -- not because progress is slow (in fact, we're actually getting quite a bit done), but because most of the latest development involves the things we're not ready to make public yet (scenario, plot), or internal engine changes. Just know that the game continues to take shape. In only a few weeks, we might even know when to expect closed beta testing to begin. It's possible that we're being too paranoid in keeping a lot of the details secret, but we'll open up and provide quite a bit of information before long.

         Saturday, July 15th, 2000         

      Welcome to Chuckle's Pub. For the first time ever since we started this project, bits of the actual story/scenario are taking shape. Previously, the game engine itself required the most attention (things like the script parser, which was based on the Lunatix Online IGM engine, the items/inventory system, the “galactic travel” code, and more). Finally, StarLock is taking shape enough that we can actually begin to implement real locations -- real situations -- things that will actually end up in the game! This is an exciting time in the development process for us.

Shown below are three of the scenes from Chuckle's Pub, one of the first (maybe even the first) places you'll visit as a StarLock player. Chuckle stands still behind the bar, his slimey green arms crossed, staring out with his one big eye as if in deep thought. It's said that Chuckle gave up his life as a tugger to settle into life as a pub owner.

Click a thumbnail picture below to see the full-size image. Remember (as always) that these are proprietary images, not for re-use or distribution.

Three of the images from Chuckle's Pub, one of the unique locations you'll visit in StarLock.

      StarLock Might Require a CD: We've been debating whether or not to release the bulk of the StarLock images on CD. In Lunatix Online, you have the option to download the graphics which speeds up display time. In StarLock, where the images are larger and there are so many of them, a CD makes sense. The idea is to provide compressed images (lower quality) by default. This will speed things up for those playing strictly over the web, at the cost of image quality. It's possible that complete over-the-web play may only be available for the first part of the game (not sure yet). Subscribers would be required to pay an additional 1-time $5 fee (with their first subscription) to recieve the StarLock CD. Not only would the images be much sharper and load quicker, but much more of the game would be opened up. We'll keep you posted on our decision concerning a possible StarLock CD.

      StarLock May Feature Adult Content: Even more interesting than the possibility of a StarLock CD, we're considering adding a fair amount of adult content to the game (nudity, situations/themes, etc). However, every new player would be locked out of any such content by default. In this way, younger people (or those who object to adult materials) could play and simply never see or experience any of it. Adults who wish to obtain the extra access would be required to send us a copy (or email us a scan) of their ID as proof of age with a $10 1-time fee for obtaining adult status. We'll keep you posted on this as well.

         Sunday, July 2nd, 2000         

      Happy Independence Day! (If you're outside the USA, ignore that). Nine more images have been posted today! StarLock is still progressing nicely. We still don't have a “release” date set yet. In short, not much news to report.

Click a thumbnail pic to see the full-size image. Remember, these are proprietary images, not for re-use or distribution.

A few of the hundreds of places you'll visit in StarLock. CLICK image to see full-size picture.

         Monday, May 29th, 2000         

      More StarLock Scenes: Not much new programming/engine news yet, so enjoy these nine new StarLock scenes. Click a thumbnail pic to see the full-size image. Remember, these are proprietary images, not for re-use or distribution. The full game screen (see prototype screenshots
here and here) contains the image area at the top with chat and option sections at the bottom.

I have to admit, the programmer (me) is responsible for the images of the past few months. This is because the actual graphic artists have been sidetracked with other responsibilities. My art isn't bad, necessarily, but everything is essentially stock textures wrapped around simple polygons. I'll be glad when the rest of the team is back on board. See the little guy in front of a stone chair in the pic at the lower-right? That's the “Hut of the Spectral Robot.” :) Oh well...

         Sunday, May 21st, 2000         

      Inventory system is now working: The inventory and transfer system is working! On 12-11-1999, we mentioned that buying and selling things wouldn't be used in StarLock as a direct means of building wealth. This has changed some (buying and selling of items is included now), although the idea that it's not a “travel around the galaxy trading with different planets” is still intact. This may not make sense yet, but it will be explained soon. Although buying and selling is now included, it's not the sole focus of the game. As we mentioned before, StarLock centers around transportation.

      Six races: When signing up as a StarLock player, you'll be able to pick from six races (Human, Weilor, Shoran, Kromar, Angorian, Fraenic). Stay tuned for additional information about these races. Below is a screenshot of the sign-up page as it currently stands. Either a link at the bottom, or a link for each race will allow new players to get info about each one before signing up.

Click the picture above to view the full-sized version of the new-player screen.

         Monday, May 15th, 2000         

      More Frequent Updates: No major news to report -- but we do plan to post news more frequently as development continues. The game engine is shaping up nicely. Galactic “travel” has been working for quite a while now. The “inventory” system is being added now (which will be explained later). We can't give too much away yet, which makes answering the question “what's it about?” very difficult. In the meantime, enjoy another StarLock pic.

         Sunday, May 14th, 2000         

      Development Resumes: Development on StarLock has resumed (again), thank goodness. We get steady questions asking about its progress, and the projected release date. We're not sure, but it should be this year. Probably this fall. You haven't seen anything like StarLock. We're often asked if it's like “TradeWars” or other “space” games. The answer is no. You've never seen anything like this. Forget those games where you're forced to imagine the settings. With StarLock, you're there. Are you bored of games where galactic conquest is your only motivation, and the destruction of worlds is your method? Forget about those cookie-cutter games. StarLock is poised to set the new standard for web-based gaming.

Newer News (2001) | Older News (1999)