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In My Limit Theory....

Some of the most recent comments in the thread The End have proposed that we take a crack at describing the features of Limit Theory as we would have designed and implemented it.

I think there's a certain amount of hubris in this. I know I would not have been able to do everything I might propose. I think proper respect to Josh requires me to acknowledge he accomplished more than I could have.

On the other hand, that some of us are still willing to promote ideas to create something like Limit Theory is a testament to Josh's vision and to the community he helped form here. I choose to see "here's how I would have made Limit Theory" more as an homage to Josh's dream than a criticism of it.

It looks like nickgreyden has already gotten a start on this. I hope he can be persuaded to repost his suggestions in this thread. And of course anyone else who wants to play is welcome to do so.

I'll offer my own suggested approach in a bit -- there are a lot of pieces to organize.

Re: In My Limit Theory....

Moved from "The End" page. Maybe I should make a spreadsheet instead. Seems like it would be better...

First off we ditch everything in dark grey.

Everything else listed could be DLC (not necessarily paid DLC, but added after the fact)

Red is for things promised so need to be put in highest priority post release.
Orange is for things that, while promised, may need put on the back burner to finish other things.
Green is things that significantly add to the gameplay value so should be added as soon as possible.
Blue is for things that can be added much later as they don't significantly affect the game as a whole.

Technical drops:
OS X support - At some point, you have to move on and resolve to do it later.

Game, non-gameplay
Procedural character backstory - immersion is fine, but not at the cost of important parts of the game.
Surface Lights - Adds to coolness factor, but best put off till later.

Basic gameplay elements drops:
Asteroid bases - Already started, just need to finish
Player-constructed space stations - Sounds difficult, let's get the other stuff done first.
Non-seamless planetary landings with cities - Loading screen FTW
Carriers - Sounds difficult. Gotta move forward.
Post-destruction debris - Neat and maybe necessary, but we need to fly and shoot stuff first.
Planetary rings - The visual DLC for this game will be lit!
Ice fields - Excellent chance to put in new places to mine resources, but regular asteroid fields will work for starters.
Procedural history per universe - I love a good background/history, but pewpew is the main pull, not the history textbook. If I had something lower than blue, this would be it.
Combat and mining "drones" (like EVE) - This would need serious thought to the consequences and will take time. Backburner material.
Ingame news console at stations - Neat idea, but gotta have a world before there is news.
"ancient battlefield"-type "asteroid fields" - While I really really like this idea and want it in game, feature bloat is a real concern.
Unguided, unpowered bombs - feature bloat
Ship Design changes (after initial building) - feature bloat even though I'd really want it
Mobile (dockable) Stations - Backburner this promised feature.
Player-constructed warp rails (or equivalent) - feature bloat, even though it's cool
Pareidolic icons - feature bloat
Fixed weapons (spinal cannons and the like) - Put as blue for possible feature bloat, but could easily be green depending on implantation.
External carrier landings (deck landings) - feature bloat

Gameplay mechanics drops:
Player-owned station/ship-based production chains
Industrial production lines
Information as a tradable commodity
Player ownership of colony productions
Mining drones and extended mining mechanics
Ability for player to post missions for NPCs
Ability to fire weapons from an owned spacestation - Player owned space stations already on back burner
Illegal goods
Bounty system (post bounties or have a bounty)
Warp rails as non-ship cargo transfer lines
Ability to fly "beneath" shields to attack directly
Player modification of colony productions (new buildings on colony, etc.)
True civilian ships/factions/planetary evacuation
Management of planetary governments and politics
Crew management
Orbital bombardment
Crafting system - Oh how I'd love to have this, but it is feature bloat.

Looking at what I put down (excluding technical), it removes 27 of the 74 things Josh wanted in LT 1.0 (listed as Will be in or May be in 1.0). Of those 27, 22 were things listed as "implantation not started". The remaining 47 still on the hypothetical list I didn't cut, 24 (or roughly half) of what was left was listed as "implantation not started". While still an exhaustive list, would cut unfinished features needed to fully release by half.

This isn't to say Josh could do it or that he should attempt it. But merely what I would say as if I was a not-at-all-well-informed project manager looking at this spreadsheet.
An eye for an eye and the world goes blind, but in the land of the blind the one eyed man is KING!

Re: In My Limit Theory....

I'm glad to see there are already some suggestions for the versions of Limit Theory we'd build if it was our project to lead.

Here's my take on it. It's in two parts -- the list of features I'd emphasize (and not), followed by a very high-level production outline. (And note please that this is just a first draft for conversation; an actual plan would do a better job of organizing the proposed features by priority and schedule.)

Note: This list is based on the last updated version of the Official Planned Limit Theory Features list.


Target Features for My Limit Theory 1.0:
  • Technical:
    • Windows support
    • Linux support [only if relatively trivial to do]
    • Super hi-res display settings
    • Save/reload anywhere, anytime
    • Joystick and controller support [joystick support probably; controller support if time permits]
    • Support for modding -- most gameplay written in human-readable scripting language
    • Reasonably customizable user interface (UI)
    • Advanced game customization controls [big fan of "let the player define the fun," but it can't become a balancing nightmare]
    • Optional ironman/permadeath mode
    • Release on Steam [only if relatively trivial to do]
    • Release on GOG [only if relatively trivial to do]
  • In-Game Features and Mechanics Overview:
    • Large galaxy of many local star systems to explore and operate in
    • Player can focus on enjoying exciting dogfighting, RTS-style fleet operations, or 4X dominance
    • NPC ships will act plausibly throughout the game universe to achieve goals without any player input
    • Four (occasionally overlapping) gameplay modes:
      • Power: Fight (Military) -- exciting space shooter and RTS-style action
      • Security: Trade (Economic) -- security through financial competition (mining/production/sales)
      • Knowledge: Explore (Tech) -- discover new places, objects, processes, and technologies
      • Social: Organize (Faction/Political) -- grow organizations (companies and governments)
    • Three levels of gameplay depth:
      • Tactical (system scope): dogfighting missions, mining, local trade, discover/map new systems
      • Operational (sector scope): faction management, fleet operations, production chains
      • Strategic (galaxy scope): government faction management, strategic resource control
  • General Features and Mechanics:
    • Randomly-generated galaxy is a network of graphically and mechanically diverse star systems
    • Star systems connected through wormholes into sectors, and sectors connect to form galaxy
    • Each starship is home to one NPC (no crew)
    • A ship's behavior is what its NPC's AI tells it to do
    • With some exceptions, NPC ships can do whatever the player (ship) can do, and vice versa
    • NPC ships will act to achieve goals in systems/sector/galaxy without player interaction
    • All ship NPC AIs can dogfight; some can manage fleets; a few can plan and direct large-scale expansion
    • Ship AI advancement from tactical to operational to strategic will be through leadership of increasingly large factions
    • Key AI concept: Delegation -- assignment of atomic action or project to a lower-ranked NPC in the same faction
    • Unique-per-NPC AI (each ship NPC has its own personality traits that manifest as preferred actions)
    • Multi-ship combat AI: individual ship tactics, fleet tactics, operations (combat projects), and stratagems
    • Multi-ship non-combat AI: NPCs know how to define complex projects and delegate to faction staff and mission-takers
    • Key game performance concept: LOD -- NPC actions beyond player's factional horizon are simulated (LOD: level-of-detail)
    • Ships come in several different predetermined hull sizes (classes)
    • Player starts the game in the simplest basic ship
    • Player can grow to command larger ships, and/or many NPC ships
    • Player can dogfight, manage factions, space stations and fleet operations, and strategically direct multiple fleets
    • Interactive maps (System, Sector, Galaxy)
    • Projects -- all AI planning and faction management is structured as projects
    • Missions -- a special project type paying any ship for completing a public task offered by a faction
  • Features Details
    • Procedurally-generated history per universe (NPCs/factions/facilities grow from a seed until [universe age option])
    • Star systems are composed of:
      • Large spherical 3D volumes
      • 1 central star [multiple stars considered if simple to implement]
      • 0 - 10 rotating planets (rocky or gaseous) that orbit the central star
      • 0 - 10 nebulae of varying size, shape, color, and optional effects on ships and stations inside them
      • 0 - 5 asteroid fields
      • 1 - N wormhole connections to neighboring star systems
      • For each planet in habitable zone, 0 - 4 Cities on habitable planet and space-faring factions and ships as appropriate
    • In-game ship/station editor:
      • Ability to import/export asset designs
      • Created assets are assigned a procedurally generated name when created
      • Created assets owned by the player character's ship or faction may be renamed by the player
    • Graphics:
      • Dynamic lighting
      • Nebulae graphics
      • Multiple star types [different colors and active effects]
      • Multiple planet types and sizes (gas giant large/small; rocky large/small; hot/temperate/frozen)
      • Planetary rings (graphical effects only)
      • Asteroid fields
      • Ice fields
      • Radiation fields
      • Wormholes (also need graphics/audio FX for traveling through a wormhole to another system)
      • Weapons fire -- beam & particle effects
      • Ship engine glow/trail effects
      • Ship explosion effects
      • Post-destruction debris
      • Lights of Cities (Housing size 6+) are visible from space when City is on the night side of the planet
      • Visible damage on ships (beyond health bars) [only if simple and there's time at the end of the project for it]
    • Audio and Effects
      • Dynamic ambient music based on current action (basically calm exploration music and exciting combat music)
      • Ability for player to add/play preferred music tracks
      • Optional audio effects keyed to in-world actions (weapons fire, ship's engines power level, etc.)
      • Optional UI audio (clicks, alerts, etc.)
  • Gameplay Mechanics Details
    • Military/Combat:
      • Tactical (dogfighting):
        • Ships composed of multiple subsystems (reflected in external ship graphics)
        • Fleet formations and actions
        • Custom ship outfitting (weapon/armor/shield hardpoints)
      • Operational:
        • Fleet construction
        • Fleet direction/operations
      • Strategic (full-galaxy conquest planning and direction)
    • Economic/Trade:
      • Faucet/drain (not real/closed) market systems
      • Sales -- buy low, sell high, minimal traveling
      • Mining -- asteroids are generated with ore types; prospecting sensors; mining ops (maybe with drones, or magic)
      • Cargo (speculative buying-travelling-selling)
      • Freight (missions to haul somebody else's stuff)
      • Passengers
      • Fleet economic expansion
      • Production:
        • Refineries apply refining processes to convert raw ore to elements
        • Factories apply building processes to convert elements to complex objects
        • Elements and objects can be used (by the creating faction) or sold
    • Knowledge/Exploration:
      • Searching for unexplored star systems, exploration and documentation of newly-discovered systems
      • Ship scanners can reveal details of energy sources and objects
      • Information is a tradeable commodity
      • Research:
        • When large enough, factions can build laboratories (labs)
        • Labs can be built on ships (small but add up as fleet sizes increase), space stations (medium), and as installations on colonies (large)
        • Labs can research new/improved object types and production processes
        • Constructible object types (blueprints) and production processes are tradeable commodities
    • Political/Faction
      • Factions:
        • Ships can create multi-ship groups (factions)
        • Factions can be named, given goals, create projects for ships to perform to achieve factional goals
        • Factions can hire and fire ships as members
        • Faction leaders can select default organization from several types or (PC) design a factional structure with ranks and rules
        • Factions exert influence (military, economic, political) as overlapping volumetric fields across systems and sectors
        • Factions can establish and manage colonies on planets
        • Colonies house installations (refineries, factories, etc.), and also spawn ship NPCs
        • Colonies have "personalities" based on locale and owning faction's traits
        • Faction leadership AI (CEO-types)
        • Factions have reputation
        • Once a faction is sufficiently larger than any other in a system, it can become the de facto government of that system, with additional actions available
        • Among a government faction's options are strategic management verbs for expanding into and managing multiple systems and sectors
      • Projects:
        • Projects decompose into sub-projects decompose into atomic actions (gameplay verbs)
        • Projects combine sub-projects and verbs with loops, conditionals, and success/failure tests
      • Missions:
        • Factions offer rewards for voluntary activities completed by any ship
        • Space stations automatically get interface for creating and selecting missions
        • Missions available in multiple types: combat, trading, exploration, diplomacy
  • Ship capabilities:
    • Key systems:
      • Hull
      • Power generation
      • Engines -- thrusters (normal in-system flight) and boosters (high-speed in-system flight)
      • Sensors
      • Shields
      • Weapons
      • Armor
      • Cargo hold
      • Laboratory
      • Hangar [if carrier ops are implemented]
      • Special (tractor beams, minelayers, frozen colonist storage, etc.)
    • Ship power can be allocated to particular systems for increased/decreased effectiveness
    • Ship subsystems can be targeted, damaged, and destroyed
    • Power & engines of player's ship can never be damaged below 10% effectiveness -- let unexploded player limp home
    • Subsystem damage also does some amount of hull damage
    • Enough hull damage, ship go BOOM
    • Sensor/scanner mechanics (including defining every energy-emitting object in the game to have characteristic emissions)
    • Drones:
      • Combat drones and combat drone mechanics
      • Mining drones and mining drone mechanics
    • Data communications among allied ships -- can send position/facing/speed and ship status to flagship for tactical logic
    • Basic high-level communications scripts for NPC pilots -- text and logic can be enhanced with mods
  • Fleets:
    • A "fleet" -- two or more ships operating together -- is owned by a faction
    • The faction's CEO, or delegate, can create fleets, add/remove ships to fleets, and disband fleets
    • One ship in every fleet (not necessarily the player's) is designated as the flagship of that fleet
    • The NPC AI of the flagship receives tactical data from all ships, and provides tactical goals to all ships in the fleet
    • If the flagship is lost (destroyed, out of comm), the next best ship (class + NPC's tactical skill) becomes the flagship
    • Obtaining more than one ship automatically creates a new faction owned/led by whoever obtained the additional ship
    • Some possible fleet commands:
      • Fleet travel to in-system destination (from system map)
      • Fleet travel to new star system
      • Form up in one of several pre-defined 3D formations
      • Attack specific target using ship-tactical pattern X (aggressive, defensive, far-range, etc.)
      • Attack any hostile target using fleet-tactical pattern Y (cap ship aggressive, all ships aggressive, etc.)
      • Disperse -- max distance from each other ship in fleet within spherical volume whose radius is X distance from flagship
      • All retreat to nearest friendly system
      • Execute Project -- exercise local AI to accomplish a non-combat operational goal ("go mine asteroids")
    • Operational goals: patrol/defense, trading, mining, missions
  • Space stations:
    • Provide services to docked ships: protection, repair, refuel, trade, missions
    • Players and NPCs can build new space stations (procedural for NPCs; player gets an editor)
    • Stations project factional power, and are considered strategic resources
  • Cities and Colonies:
    • Some planets are already inhabited, with populations clustered in a City
    • Cities are owned by a government faction
    • Cities can have multiple installations: Housing, Admin, Production, Refinery, Laboratories, Defense
    • Cities have a Housing size of 4 or more (out of 10)
    • Planets can have multiple Cities
    • Cities spawn new ship NPCs, at a rate proportionate to Housing size
    • The traits of new NPCs spawned by a City are biased somewhat by its installation preferences
    • Cities have trade interfaces that can be accessed by ships in orbit around the City's home planet
    • The products a City offers are biased somewhat by its installation preferences
    • Leaders of government factions can create new Colonies on uninhabited planets or planets where they control one City
    • Colonies begin with one Housing installation of size 0, plus one other installation of the creator's choice
    • Colonies can grow or shrink depending on verious factors (time, planet habitability, economy, etc.)
    • A Colony that grows to a Housing size of 4 becomes a City, and can add one each of the other installations
    • A City that grows to a Housing size of 7 can have up to two of each installation type
    • A City that grows to a Housing size of 10 can have up to three of each installation type
    • A City that shrinks to a Housing size of 3 or less reverts to a Colony and must give up all but one non-Housing installation
    • A City or Colony reduced to size -1 is considered destroyed and is removed from the planet

Might be in My Limit Theory 1.0 if time permits:
  • As local factional government strength increases, more new NPC ships join in-system law enforcement
  • Pirate factions coalesce in ungoverned space/systems where outlaw ships run
  • Advanced research allows the building of jump gates between star systems -- work like wormholes with different graphics/audio
  • Alien/ancient artifacts/relics/ruins/wrecks
  • Civilian ships traveling between cities on different planets
  • Orbital bombardment
  • Ingame news console at stations (or some means of alerting the player to interesting events)
  • Fixed weapons (such as spinal/broadside cannons)
  • Carrier operations
  • Illegal goods / smuggling
  • Warp rails that that adapt to the changing locations of star-orbiting planets
  • Player-constructed warp rails
  • Warp node disruption for warp rails
  • Planets have moons of varying sizes, maybe allow colonies up to size 7?
  • Stealth mechanics for ships
  • Player editor for fleet formations
  • Player editor for fleet tactics -- variant of Projects editor, with loops and conditionals, but optimized for in-system combat
  • Jump gate construction and usage

Not in My Limit Theory 1.0:
  • OS X support
  • Dynamic shadows
  • Procedural character backstory (depends on character creation mechanic)
  • Ancient battlefield "asteroid fields"
  • The ability to alter a ship's basic design after initial building
  • Unguided, unpowered bombs
  • External carrier landings (landing on an upper deck)
  • The ability to fly "beneath" shields to attack directly
  • Bounty system
  • Tracking of discoveries (Discovery journal/log)
  • Terraforming
  • Warp rails as non-ship cargo transfer lines
  • Sandbox mode
  • Mobile stations
  • Pareidolic icons as ship communication avatars
  • Crew management
  • Asteroid bases
  • Infinite universe [fun idea; probably adds too much complexity]
  • Non-seamless planetary landings [NO planet-side stuff -- colony management/interaction from space via UI only]
  • Multiplayer
  • Procedural languages/scripts
  • Megastructure backgrounds in systems (a system inside a dyson sphere for instance)
  • The ability to travel between stars with normal flight
  • Ramming mechanic
  • Minefields
  • Space whales
  • Multiple currencies
  • Towing cargo/other ships with tractor beams
  • Realistically-sized systems
  • Organic/alien vessels and stations
  • The ability to create self-replicating ships
  • Planetary destruction (planetglassers and planetbusters)
  • Advanced hit systems (damaged systems half-function and can fix themselves, etc.)
  • Boarding/salvage operations ala Homeworld
  • Voice acting
  • Seamless planetary transitions
  • Steam achievements
  • First person infantry-style gameplay


  • Project lead = creative director = project manager = project accountant = final say on all arguments
  • Hire multiple programmers, a couple of artists, a musician/sound artist, and an UI/UX designer
  • Organize the project into phases:
  • Phase 0 -- Pre-production: concept design, finances, team hiring, build/test/deploy pipeline, tool-buying, project schedule
  • Phase 1 -- Elemental systems: system space generation, spaceship, movement
  • Phase 2 -- Core systems: system generation with pretty objects, detailed ships, basic NPC AI, simple dogfighting
  • Phase 3 -- Main gameplay systems: full galaxy, projects, delegation, LOD, economics, factions, fleet ops, basic strategery
  • Phase 4 -- Alpha complete; enhance existing implemented features/mechanics and implement remaining ones
  • Phase 5 -- Feature-complete; squash bugs and polish, polish, polish
  • Phase 6 -- Beta testing and documentation (including modding docs), plan post-release support
  • Phase 7 -- Final fixes, wrap up any remaining legal/financial stuff, and release

Re: In My Limit Theory....

Interesting, my goals are a lot humbler, a procedural ship generator with the ability to add new parts and textures. Just focus on getting one small subset working and then adding another and so on. A trail of functional bread crumbs to whatever goal I'm wandering towards.

Re: In My Limit Theory....

Vic, I was thinking of you as I exploded the list of Limit Theory's features and put it all back together again. You've always been consistent about what you're looking for, and it's a perfectly reasonable vision for a game.

And zircher, you also are not at all wrong. The feature list I suggested is the Maximum List -- what I'd do if I wanted to make a game as close as possible to my impression of Josh's vision. Despite missing some things, there's a lot of stuff there, and every one of those feature bullet points only hints at the complexity of actually implementing it... to say nothing of integrating it with all the rest of the features and polishing the whole thing into a coherent and enjoyable game.

But I think if you look closely at that list, you'll find that most of the details are fairly close to being both necessary and sufficient to satisfy the core design concept -- four playstyles spanning three levels of play -- that I imagine is at the heart of Josh's design vision. Certainly these four playstyles and three levels of play are things y'all have heard me banging on about here forever... but it's because I imagined I saw those things in Josh's planned game that I backed it!

Remember this from Josh's Kickstarter?

  • You are a Merchant.
  • You are an Admiral.
  • You are an Explorer.
  • You are a Pirate.
  • You are a Wingman.
  • You are a Miner.

This is why features/mechanics such as Factions and Projects and Delegation and Colonies/Cities are given considerable detail in my proposed feature list. (In b4 "you'd never finish a game that tries to be all things to all players," which is both true and not what's being proposed here.)

It would be relatively simple to make a space shooter. But unless that's your whole design and you polish it to within an inch of its life, space dogfighting is more interesting when it's set within a dynamic world so that the pew-pew happens for a reason. I think that's the soul of what Josh was trying to achieve, and of the Freelancer 2.0 that Vic and others backed. You could lose a couple of those dynamic-world features and still have something good -- but I don't think it would feel enough like Limit Theory.

That said, I do have some practical appreciation for how hard it is to complete even a simple game. That's why my list ended by breaking up the production process into phases -- eating the elephant one bite at a time. Plus, if you only finish Phase 2 and run out of money, you've still got something fun.

Cody wrote:
Mon Nov 18, 2019 10:08 am
All I need is a pretty universe, an ugly exploration ship, and a star to steer her by!

Music to my ears.

Re: In My Limit Theory....

Plofre wrote:
Tue Jan 21, 2020 1:07 am
Flatfingers wrote:
Mon Nov 18, 2019 2:08 am
Here's my take on it.
This is such an amazing breakdown of what needs to be done to make this game's vision come true!

I think Deiain should be trying to hire you as project manager (once they have gotten hold of Josh, that is).

That's very kind of you to say, Plofre.

Had some things gone differently in my life, I like to think I'd have been a competent lead designer for games that emphasize dynamics. As it is, I get to offer free advice, worth exactly what anyone paid for it. :D

Re: In My Limit Theory....

Flatfingers wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 2:03 am
Plofre wrote:
Tue Jan 21, 2020 1:07 am
Flatfingers wrote:
Mon Nov 18, 2019 2:08 am
Here's my take on it.
This is such an amazing breakdown of what needs to be done to make this game's vision come true!

I think Deiain should be trying to hire you as project manager (once they have gotten hold of Josh, that is).

That's very kind of you to say, Plofre.

Had some things gone differently in my life, I like to think I'd have been a competent lead designer for games that emphasize dynamics. As it is, I get to offer free advice, worth exactly what anyone paid for it. :D
I agree with Plofre, Flat. :)

And my agreement has nothing to do with kindness. :angel:

Re: In My Limit Theory....

Victor Tombs wrote:
Thu Jan 23, 2020 11:32 am
Flatfingers wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 2:03 am
Plofre wrote:
Tue Jan 21, 2020 1:07 am

This is such an amazing breakdown of what needs to be done to make this game's vision come true!

I think Deiain should be trying to hire you as project manager (once they have gotten hold of Josh, that is).

That's very kind of you to say, Plofre.

Had some things gone differently in my life, I like to think I'd have been a competent lead designer for games that emphasize dynamics. As it is, I get to offer free advice, worth exactly what anyone paid for it. :D
I agree with Plofre, Flat. :)

And my agreement has nothing to do with kindness. :angel:

And thank you, Victor.

Really, like everyone else still here, I'd be happy just seeing something made of all the infrastructure work Josh did. It would be satisfying to be able to contribute something of value to that effort, but that's not the most important thing.

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