Starstruck Vagabond is intended to be a sort of light work

12.01.2023 0 By admin

Well, I hope we all had lovely holiday.

I certainly did.

I had a whole week where I didn’t have to do any
work making Zero Punctuation.

So, I wrote Extra Punctuation columns and worked
on my creative projects.

What else am I supposed to do?

Drink and stare at a wall?

Spend time with my family?

No.

I get restless too easily.

If I wasn’t working, I’d go mad.

Long time viewers will remember that before I was
doing Extra Punctuation, I was doing Dev Diary,

in which I explained and explored my favourite
hobby of solo game development.

In the first year I challenged myself to make
twelve new games in twelve months, and then the

second year focused on the development of
Starstruck Vagabond, my long-term hobby project.

Well, it’s been about a year since that ended,
and I keep getting asked how Starstruck

Vagabond’s doing, so forgive me while Extra
Punctuation briefly turns into Dev Diary again so

Vagabond’s doing, so forgive me while Extra
Punctuation briefly turns into Dev Diary again so

I can do an update.

I’m at peace with the fact that it’s taking a
long time to make.

It is, after all, a hobby.

I could probably be hammering it out quicker if
it was my day job but I’ve already got a day job

and another novel in the works, so I can tinker
with it for half an hour a day and it can be

bloody well grateful.

But to get you back up to speed, Starstruck
Vagabond is intended to be a sort of light work

sim in your Stardew Valley mold, and I swear
having the same initials was a coincidence.

You play a space captain piloting a small ship in an
unknown galaxy where you move from sector to

sector by taking delivery jobs.

While you’re doing that and whatever other odd
jobs pop up, you get embroiled in an overarching

storyline, as well as several mini-adventures as
you attract a succession of rag-tag misfits

for your crew.

And as I suspected around the time, I ended Dev
Diary season 2, writing all of that story and

dialogue was going to be the very big, very long
job that wouldn’t make for terribly interesting

diary episodes.

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Well, the story’s now done.

Mostly.

The critical path big ongoing story quest is,
anyway.

Right now, I’m scripting all the optional
cutscenes you get from improving your

relationship score with individual crew members,
Persona-style, as well as all the quick bark

lines your crew members dish out during regular
gameplay.

Turns out there’s a lot of them.

But since it’s more of a writing task I can treat
it the way I write my books.

I just plonk a load of placeholder strings into
the code and tell myself I’ll write so many

actual lines a day.

But I have been inspired to make a few gameplay
tweaks along the way.

For example, I’ve redesigned some things on the
assumption that players won’t usually go back to

star systems they’ve already been to.

There used to be a couple of side jobs – fetch
quests, generally – that involved getting

something from a neighbouring star system and
coming back.

But I found in testing that I never wanted do
them.

I wanted an experience more like an ongoing
journey of discovery.

It made more sense to retool things so you can
complete every sector’s activities and then move

onto the next.

Out went the interstellar fetch quests, and I
added a couple of new interplanetary side jobs to

compensate – cleaning buildings and hunting Zoobs
on uncivilized planets.

Another recent addition is crew quests.

What I specifically wanted to avoid with the
socialization mechanics was the Stardew Valley

thing where you befriend people by giving them
presents every bloody day like an obsessive-

compulsive stalker trying to launder stolen goods.

I think it gets the player’s feelings about an
NPC off on the wrong foot if they have to go out

of their way to appease the greedy sods.

So, instead, we have crew quests.

Every now and again when you answer an NPC’s
bark, they suggest one of the many activities

you do as a matter of course.

Do a side job, take a new delivery, clean your
disgusting engines, etc.

Then if you do that, it boosts your relationship
with them because they appreciate having their

suggestions taken on board.

So, by tying relationships to tasks the player
might be doing anyway, hopefully they develop

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more organically than when you have to run around
town holding a potato over your head looking for

your projected future spouse.

Also, I’ve commissioned a bunch of visual novel
style portraits to put over the dialogue of

crewmembers and other important characters.

Just felt like I needed to get some more visual
personality in there, and I’m pretty happy

with how it looks.

The artist is regular Escapist artist El
Cheshire, whose work you might have seen on or

around Adventure is Nigh.

On top of that, if you have ears as well as eyes,
you might like to know an original soundtrack for

the game is being very graciously composed by Sam
Houghton and Joe Collinson, the guys who did the

music for BPM: Bullets Per Minute, a game I once
noted for having really good music.

It’s almost like nice things happen if you praise
a game every now and again.

The last major tweak relates to my old chum the
primary gameplay loop.

Specifically, the business of picking up boxes,
putting them on your ship, then picking them up

again and putting them somewhere else.

See, there was a suggestion a while back for a
way to evolve the crate transporting gameplay –

to start having long boxes or weirdly shaped
boxes you have to tesselate into your available

space like Tetris blocks – but that proved
unworkable.

Or perhaps I should say, not something I could be
arsed to attempt, the code for pickups is pretty

heavily entrenched in them only ever being one
grid square big.

But!

I had another idea for a couple of on the ground
box sorting mechanics that fit comfortably into

the one square per box rule.

As you progress in your box delivery career, you
start having to deliver refrigerated crates,

which have to be powered.

Some of the grid squares on your ship have
powered cables on them, connecting components to

the ship’s reactor, and refrigerated crates have
to be placed in one of these squares or become

damaged over time.

Irradiated crates, meanwhile, are crates that
have to be placed away from other crates, because

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any crate immediately adjacent to them will
become damaged.

And if any of the crates you deliver are damaged,
be it by radiation or from unpowered

refrigeration, your payout for the delivery gets
severely cut down.

Just adds a little bit of extra thought you need
to apply when packing shit into your cargo bay.

Don’t pack your milk on top of your potato chips.

The little gamifications of everyday life.

So that’s where Starstruck Vagabond is at right
now.

I’m starting to get the sense as I script the
last few relationship scenes that I’m over the

hump and entering the final stages of
development, which is my second favourite part of

a creative project after starting one.

And starting a project is the fast-living party
girl kind of excitement who’ll give you the time

of your life for a night and then abandon you in
the morning to do the washing up

and launder the bedclothes.

Getting to the end excitement is the friend who
always make sure there’s a cup of tea on your

nightstand and who you’ll probably end up
marrying as soon as you both get sufficiently desperate.

Yeah, sorry, this isn’t one of those searing
insights into game design sorts of episodes,

I just figured enough of you have been watching
since Dev Diary that you might like an update.

Especially if you represent or know someone who
represents an indie game publisher

that’d be handy right about now.

There’s always a part of me that wants to keep
delaying to fiddle with it more so it never has

to be released and subsequently judged,
but it’s probably time to grow some balls and get

the ball rolling on that.

So that…

people don’t get blue balls.

Christ, English is a ball-centric language.

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