With the resurgence of all these space combat games, I have decided to revisit my long running space & planetary combat simulations. Back in 2009, I did a v2.0 refresh of the 2007 Universal Combat CE and which had various improvements. That was the last game of its kind that I did before moving on to Line Of Defense MMO (currently out on Steam Early Access).

Due to the fact that the Battlecruiser games and their spiritual successors, Universal Combat games, are highly complex, deep and massive, this refresh is only going to focus on updating the graphics and audio. It will also add a new campaign story line which deals with the events surrounding the showdown between Galactic Command and Insurgent forces in Lyrius leading up to the skirmish featured in the Line Of Defense game.

None of the gameplay features are going to be touched, nor anything added. If you are new to these games or have yet to check them out, you can view the entire docs for Universal Combat CE online (manual, commands, tutorial).

This new title, Universal Combat Advanced (Twitter, Facebook) is due out later this year on Steam.

As previously announced a few weeks ago, Line Of Defense MMO has now been released on Steam’s Early Access program. You can read more about it over here.

OMG!! Yes, it has been that long!

Twenty-Five years ago, in a state of what could only be described as sheer and unadulterated madness, I decided to start designing my own video game. No experience whatsoever.

But I was determined to do it nonetheless.

Naturally, as with everything associated with creative madness, I had these grandiose ideas of the game that I wanted to make. It would be a mash-up of these game series which I loved. Starflight, Elite, Star Command, Sentinel Worlds, Star Fleet, Echelon* and later on the likes of Jetfighter (for the combat simulation aspects).

So first, I started to flesh out the world, the characters and the interactions within. That world and characters have, over the years, formed the basis of each of the games that I have designed and developed to date. Right up to my upcoming opus, Line Of Defense and the recently released Line Of Defense Tactics. Even comics (1,2,3) have been based on this world and characters. Very soon, I will be making the move to either a cartoon or live action series for online distribution. Yes, it’s in the works.

During all of this and while working two jobs, night/online school – I started to learn how to program in certain languages for the sole purpose of making my game. Starting with Assembly (a language as dead as the Dead Sea Scrolls). I already knew and dabbled in other “dead” languages (COBOL, LISP, PASCAL, FORTH et al) which I already had a grasp on but which weren’t going to cut it. The Basic language proved to be largely useless; so we won’t be talking about that one.

Assembly for gaming was more archaic and difficult than I could possibly have imagined. In fact, my guess is that if today’s “game developers” were exposed to this language, it would probably be regarded as cruel and unusual punishment. Guaranteed. Script kiddies today have it easy.

Anyway, so I started to learn to program in C (I only delved into C++ years later). And to aid my self teaching, I enlisted non other than Lee Adams, whose books, tragically, have all but disappeared. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page that I could find. :(

I did this to the extent that the very first 3D visualization of my game world was written from an example in one of Lee’s books. Line for line. Once I got it working, I simply iterated on it. In fact, as I recall, it took over a year before all traces of that “sample” code was removed from what was to become the original Battlecruiser 3000AD (BC3K) game code. You can download a free copy of this first game, as well as its v2.0 Interplay release to see where and how it all started.

Back in the day, before a sect of bastards discovered and promptly proceeded to destroy the Internet, we had Compuserve, CIX, BIX and dare I say, AOL (hey!) etc through which we interacted in our favorite BBS and Usenet forums.

It was through these many avenues that some members of the gaming media “discovered” my work. Brian Walker (sadly, I have been unable to locate him over the years. Anyone know where he is today?), then a writer for Computer Games Strategy Plus, started it all when he previewed the “game” in the May 1992 issue.

The rest, as they say, is history.

So the journey continued and along the way through the BBS and Usenet, I enlisted help from the likes of Lloyd Pique, Peter Rushworth, Jim Marinis, Gerhard Skronn from the early days and whose contributions played a pivotal role in where my games headed. Today, from that first controversial Battlecruiser 3000AD game, the one that started it all, to present day, many people have come and gone and in some way helped shaped the legacy of the original game. Without these people and their extremely valuable contributions, I most likely won’t be where I am today. And for that I remain eternally and humbly grateful.

So yes, it has been twenty-five years now. As I said back in 2007, “…my guess is I’ll probably be doing this until they turn the lights out and wheel my sorry ass out“. It’s the only way to be sure that this journey will end on my terms and my terms alone.

In all these years, many battles have been fought, won, lost and some never to be spoken of again. But as each day goes by I reflect on a life that, for the most part, has been rewarding and I am grateful to be a small cog in the massive and terminally dysfunctional wheel that is the videogame industry. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For those of you who have come with me on this long journey bought and played my games, as they say, it gets better with age. :)

That is all. As you were.

* I can’t find info on this game anywhere online. If you come across it, please email or Tweet me. The lower-right corner (above Harpoon) of this image shows what the box looked like.

So following the E3 2014 announcement that we were going to be releasing Line Of Defense via Steam Early Access, a bunch of folks – as is typical of the glorious Internet – have taken upon themselves to once again rave, rant and otherwise behave badly. Because they can.

This despite the fact that, as of this writing, there are over 200 games available on Steam’s Early Access. Of which a handful are from mainstream, industry recognized developers such as myself.

This, also aside from the fact that, to date, a bunch of fans have crowd funded the likes of Star Citizen to the tune of $46m as of this writing.

Not to mention that Frontier Development, the developers of Elite Dangerous, having also been successfully crowd funded, are currently charging $150 to get into that game’s Alpha.

Oh, and there’s Stardock, still taking flak for their decision to also charge $99 for early access to their upcoming GalCiv3 game.

Then there’s Planetary Annihilation, Wasteland 2 and a bunch of other high-profile titles doing the same thing.

And of course, as they are voted most likely to throw the baby out with the bath water, some gamers have been doing just that by abusing, insulting and generally behaving badly online. Because they can.

As I wrote on Twitter here and here, a lot went into the decision to release the game as an Early Access. But apparently. as if I needed to justify what I do in the best interests of my company, games and fan base, some think that I owe them anything; let alone an explanation. But here we are.

I used the term “freeloader” in one of my Tweets. And some people took issue with that as well.

free·load·ed, free·load·ing, free·loads Slang

To take advantage of the charity, generosity, or hospitality of others.

freeloader n.

My “harmless” use of the term was simply to say that I don’t want to pay for server services, backend services, bandwidth etc for people who are NOT going to provide any meaningful feedback. Nothing is going to stop people who just want to rave, rant and freeload, from gaining access to a game that I’m paying to develop, only so they can spend their time being jerks – at MY expense – instead of, you know, actually HELPING us focus test the game and make it an enjoyable experience.

And with the limited clients that we’re going to allow to access the servers, some gamer who has all the best intentions, could very well be staring at a “server full” message, while anti-social misfits and their dumb buddies hug the connections without supporting the whole premise of why they are IN THE GAME.

That’s why it’s not free, nor is it $19.99 to get in. It is $99 because I am targeting a specific group of people. And once the Early Access program ends, it will go down to the final cost of the game.

Those who are clamoring about the very premise that is Early Access, DO have a valid concern and as a gamer, I have absolutely NO problems with that. After all, the only way – as a gamer – to support something, is to vote with your dollars.

Despite all the noise, there have only been (at last count) two or three Early Access horror stories. And in those cases, the developers were either new and inexperienced or just scam artists. Yet, a bunch of people gave them money.

Same thing happens on Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and any number of crowd funding sites and is not just restricted to videogames.

Same thing happens with COMPLETED games. You can buy a fully completed game, even one with a demo, and still be pissed about the end result.

There is a reason that the Steam Early Access program exists. Here, let me quote Valve from their Early Access FAQ:

Get immediate access to games that are being developed with the community’s involvement.

These are games that evolve as you play them, as you give feedback, and as the developers update and add content.

We like to think of games and game development as services that grow and evolve with the involvement of customers and the community. There have been a number of prominent titles that have embraced this model of development recently and found a lot of value in the process. We like to support and encourage developers who want to ship early, involve customers, and build lasting relationships that help everyone make better games.

This is the way games should be made.

In fact, this sort of thing has been around since the beginning of the gaming industry and most of us are old enough to know that. It just so happens that, Valve, the behemoth of digital distribution, brought it to Steam in a way to – as always – help smaller developers gain traction by connecting with their fans. If you think about it, that’s pretty much how Kickstarter, IndieGoGo etc work.

And even in the face of some tomfoolery, Valve does take action by removing scams, refunding money etc. To the extent that they even recently updated their Early Access FAQ so that people get a CLEAR understanding of what they’re getting into.

In the case of my game, I’m not on Early Access because I need to raise funds. I have never started a game without being able to fund it. And this is my sixteenth game. The game was approved for Steam awhile back and even before Line Of Defense Tactics which I released early this year, was even finished.

The decision to put it on Early Access, despite being advised by my marketing and social media people NOT to do it due to the whole stigma associated with Early Access, is exactly as I stated. This is a massive game. I am not going to spend money on third-party testing networks, services etc when I can get the fans to do it and put that money into, you know, THE GAME. After all, THEY are the ones that MY games are targeted at.

Competing games like Planetside2, are built by HUNDREDS of people and have much larger funding than my small outfit could possible muster. They – and other large publishers and devs – can get away with public Betas and the like. But as you all know, the games STILL ship either unfinished, buggy – or have launch day issues. Imagine what my small outfit would be faced with, then multiply that by a magnitude of five. It’s scary. And since this has been my most expensive game to date, I decided not to take any chances.

And above all that, the game is nearing completion, it’s not four years out or looking to raise money to go start working on it like almost every Early Access game. So I felt that now, rather than later, was the best time to do this in order to – at the very least – get as much feedback and testing as possible, before locking things in during final Beta because there is a point where you simply can’t change certain things without breaking other stuff or worse, going back to the drawing board. My vision for the game, as well as my team’s, is all well and good. But MEANINGFUL external influence and feedback is very valuable. And that’s why most industries have “focus groups”.

If you don’t like and/or support something, don’t buy it. Period. End of story. Why fret over it? Do you really think that someone, other than your like minded buddies, rely on YOU for their buying decision, let alone what they define as “fun”? That’s the height of arrogance. And trust me on this, I know all about arrogance.

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