Voyageur on PC is now available through Itch.io.
I’m so glad to finally be able to share this version of the game with the world. Voyageur’s procedural story of falling through the galaxy has been enhanced by better visuals, screen-filling interface perfect for desktops or laptops, and haunting space music by Priscilla Snow. I hope you enjoy it.
After a long delay, Voyageur is finally coming to PC on Monday, June 4th.
If you haven’t played it yet: Voyageur is a literary science-fiction adventure. Descend towards the center of the galaxy on a one-way trip, seeing the many worlds humanity has touched and the myriad cultures and ideas that have sprung up on them.
You can preorder the PC release on Itch.io right now, and it’ll be available to purchase on Monday, for Windows, Mac, and Linux devices.
This version has a bunch additions and improvements, including:
This, to me, is the definitive version of Voyageur. It’s a very different experience from playing it on mobiles, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
I’m finally far enough along in developing the PC version of Voyageur that I can talk in detail about it.
So what’s in the box? Here’s what the PC version will contain on release:
The new graphics and storylines will also be present in a free content update for Voyageur on Android and iOS that will go live on the game’s PC release day.
I’m not ruling out releasing on Steam or on other digital marketplaces in the future, but there are a couple of reasons:
With this release, I have some measure of freedom to pick what platforms I work with based on how good they are for developers and players. If we’re ranking the different marketplaces/platforms holders on how much they seem guided by wanting to be good actors in the games industry, Itch is at the top – and Valve and Apple are at the bottom. I have the luxury right this instant of putting my game on a platform that I think is a good actor, and I’m going to value that above the additional sales I might get from Steam.
Not everyone gets to do that on every game, but I would hope other devs who do get to make this choice make it and hopefully push the industry a little bit closer to a better balance.
It’s been a while. There’s some exciting news.
First, the 1.2 patch (“Planet Update”) has been released to the App Store and Play Store. Full patch notes at the end of this post, but this patch is mostly about refining and improving the planet generator with more content and better text generation, to realize the promise of the game better. You should see a better distribution of details in planets, less repetition, and also some new quirks and features for planets.
Second, I’m happy to announce that Voyageur will be getting a PC (Windows and Linux) release late in 2017. This release will have all of the same gameplay and content as the mobile version, but with a new mouse-friendly interface. The release of this PC version will coincide with the 1.3 version of the game, so all of the new story and crew content in that will be available on PC on release and as a free update for mobile players at the same time.
I leave you with the full patch notes for version 1.2:
After over a year of planning, pitching, design, development, and writing, I can finally share Voyageur with the world. The reception has been great so far; if you’ve bought the game or helped spread the world, thank you so much. This post is about where the game goes from here.
So here’s the actual roadmap:
Characteristic-based narratives like Voyageur are a hungry monster, and there’s never enough content (Failbetter still gets people telling them Fallen London isn’t big enough!), but I do expect to make Voyageur at least a little bigger before I’m done with it. And if the game does well enough for that to be sustainable over the longer term, well - who knows quite how big it can get.
Finally, let me remind everyone that you can send your notes, comments, and bug reports to firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @VoyageurGame. I also look forward to hearing about your adventures and experiences with the game - tweet them at me! And if you can take the time to give Voyageur a rating on the App Store, that is very appreciated too.
Voyageur is the result of months of loving work and couldn’t have happened without the help and support of a lot of people. I’m thankful to everyone who helped get the word out about it so far. Don’t forget you can follow the Twitter account for updates about the game.
It’s been almost seven months since the first development diary, and Voyageur is being polished up for final release. Builds are being beta tested and keys are being sent out.
Voyageur’s release date is set for February 7th. It’s a simultaneous release for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. The US price point will be $3.99.
There is still work to be done in the home stretch, with more beta testing and game improvements to come. It’s been an incredible experience, and I look forward to sharing Voyageur with you all in three weeks.
Oh God, three weeks. I have work to do.
I’ll send out another email too on release date. Until then, don’t forget to spread the word.
Hello again! It’s been a while.
This week, I have something slightly different: An audio version of the development diary, with a prolonged discussion of the game’s sound design. Enjoy.
Hello once again! This week, I’ll be talking about Voyageur’s endings, and the new game plus feature. I don’t want to get into plot details about how Voyageur ends, partly because some of the details haven’t been solidified yet, and of course because of spoilers. But I did want to sketch out how the game’s endings are structured.
Voyageur includes six endings, five of which you can reach on your first playthrough and a sixth one that is available on subsequent playthroughs. The endgame quests are only moderately involved; really, Voyageur is meant to be played through a few times. And once you do manage to reach an ending, you get to start over while keeping some of what you accumulated over the course of the game. There is also some content, and a few rewards, that are exclusive to new game plus, including the sixth and “final” endgame.
Voyageur is of course very randomized, but the idea is that, across multiple playthroughs, there’s a perceptible early, middle, and endgame. In the beginning, you’re just trying to get your feet wet and put together the resources you need to sustainably cross the galaxy. In the midgame, you’re pursuing one or more endings, hoping for opportunities to get what it takes to unlock them. And in the endgame, you’ve gotten a pretty good understanding of how the galaxy works, and you’re putting together the things you’ll need for the final ending.
Voyageur straddles the line between a repeatable, “endless” experience and a game with a distinct beginning and end. The content constraints on procedural generation naturally push in that direction; it would be harder to generate content for a trip with a specific length, but I also don’t want the game to just peter out when players feel they’ve seen it out, without having a conclusion of some sort.
Hello, blog mailing list recipients and blog post readers! This week, a brief update on the state of Voyageur development, and some notes on things that have recently gone into the game.
First of all, some more questions from Twitter:
@VoyageurGame How does/do the economy/economies on Voyageur work?— kettlemeister (@verityvirtue) 12 de agosto de 2016
Voyageur doesn’t have a complex economic model; since you can’t go back and forth on a trading route, there isn’t a lot of complex economics going on behind the scenes, and instead the focus is on players being able to figure out what characteristics of a planet mean what for the prices of goods on that planet. Every planet has an economy dominated by one type of activity (tourism, agriculture, mining, and so on) and a general economic state (boom, bust). Those are the most important factors, but there are a few other wrinkles; for example, exotic foodstuffs are more valuable on barren planets where growing food is difficult.
@VoyageurGame Will iCloud saves be supported for playing on multiple devices?— brerlappin (@brerlappin) 14 de agosto de 2016
I do hope to support save game backups via iCloud on iOS devices.
Keep sending in questions!
Content is still going into Voyageur; this week, I added a small storylet involving exploring a city-world. The best part of this, of course, is writing a small procedural corpus to generate street food from across the galaxy. Here’s some sample output:
Soon, I will be starting on broader device testing, making the game look good on larger screens (such as tablets), and platform-specific code to make sure both Android and iOS experiences are ideal.
I am also getting closer to a release date; watch this space. Voyageur will be released simultaneously on iOS and Android.
I’ll be slowing down on dev diaries - expect the next one in two weeks.
Welcome to our ninth dev diary! Development on Voyageur continues, and soon I’ll be getting into more detail of what is going into the game when in future dev diaries. But this week, I promised a Q&A.
@VoyageurGame Do you commit to one alignment during the storylets? Can you be aligned with more than one?— josh g. (@joshgiesbrecht) 29 de julho de 2016
In Voyageur, you’re never asked to pick a side. The alignments aren’t really factions in the way we’re used to from video games – they’re disparate worldviews and ways of life, but they’re not really sides in a galaxy-spanning conflict.
I think most players will end up choosing their favorite. But part of the design philosophy here is that the game gives you choices while letting you interpret your character’s motivations however you like; so asking the player to explicitly pick an alignment and stick to it felt wrong.
@VoyageurGame Main inspirations for genre/story/factions? The factions sound interesting! Also why did u choose procgen vs handcrafted text?— Serena Howard (@SerenaH_art) 9 de agosto de 2016
If I were to name a science fiction story/setting that is influential on each alignment, it would be:
This is kind of a flip and reductive way of putting it, but it gets the picture across, I think. There are a lot of other influences that you might spot in Voyageur, though; but I’ll leave that for players to find when they get their hands on the game.
As for procedural generation, Voyageur is really a hybrid of procedural and authored content, and the procedural text is created by recombining authored text. The goal is to create a sense of surprise and possibility, to have a game where the experience you’re having and the things you’re encountering are particular to your own game, and to bank on the feeling of serendipity that I always loved in the space sim genre.
@VoyageurGame Would love to hear more about your approach to procedural narrative and how that effects the project/scope/design!— Nathan Meunier (@nmeunier) 9 de agosto de 2016
For people who are interested in the nitty-gritty, I wrote a pretty extensive article about it on Gamasutra. To sum it up, the procedural generation in Voyageur is based on a pragmatic approach. The goal is to create experiences that are unique to your playthrough, and to surprise you with what you find. At the end of the day, all the content you encounter is hand-authored, but it’s been recombined into a form unique to your playthrough.
@VoyageurGame Have you read Emily Short's The Annals of the Parrigues? Or mor broadly, who are your influences?— Johnicholas (@Johnicholas) 1 de agosto de 2016
I have – Parrigues, if you don’t know, is a procedurally-generated novel that Emily Short wrote last year. It also doubles as a treatise on procedural prose. Voyageur incorporates a lot of techniques from that, along with some of my own work.
Other influences I haven’t brought up yet include the Foundation series, and the tabletop RPG Eclipse Phase.
@VoyageurGame What's your favorite story from play yourself or playtesting from others?— Noel Warford (@360noelscope) 9 de agosto de 2016
I don’t want to spoil anything yet. But my “favorite” moment so far was when I was just putting in cargo into the game, and I spent nearly half an hour failing to check that the pricing formula was working as intended because I kept being attacked by pirates and having to drop my cargo.
That’s all for now - feel free to keep sending questions to the Twitter account.
Voyageur is a literary space-exploration RPG set in an infinite, procedural galaxy. You can go back and read the first dev diary for more detail.
Welcome back; this week, I’m taking a week off from talking about mechanics to talk about where the game is at right now and how close it is to release.
As of today (July 29th), the game is feature-complete. There is visual and gameplay polish to be done, and some technical cleanup, but I’m at the stage of the project where I’m primarily just adding in content. Voyageur has pretty large content requirements; the most important thing about a planet is its alignment and class, so the goal is to have a storylet specific to every possible combination. Some of those are involved storylines leading up to endgame content, others are simple one-storylet interactions.
There’s also other work to be done in polishing and balancing the game; the early game economy, for instance, is going to take some time to calibrate. But I’m happy to report that I’ve reached the point with the game where it’s clear that I didn’t grossly mis-scope it, and so I’m confident that it will actually ship.
This means that a release date will be forthcoming Real Soon Now, sometime during the month of August. If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter yet, I’ll be sending off an email with release date information then.
On next week's dev diary, I'll hopefully be answering questions about Voyageur. Is there anything you're curious about? #gamedev— Voyageur (@VoyageurGame) July 29, 2016
Send me your questions, people. And until next week!
Voyageur is a literary space-exploration RPG set in an infinite, procedural galaxy. You can go back and read the first dev diary for more detail.
Welcome back! Development on Voyageur is proceeding apace, with content being added to the game daily. Besides that, graphical and UI improvements are also happening right now; you can see the new stellar backdrop graphic in the game on this week’s screenshots.
This week, I’m getting around to talking about the last major aspect of Voyageur that hasn’t been discussed in detail yet: Crew. Like most other things, crew members in Voyageur are procedurally generated. You will be able to recruit them on certain planets, and eventually you will end up with a crew of five officers: A navigator, a medic, a trader, an engineer, and a weapons officer. Each one provides different bonuses and affects different storylets in the game.
Crew members have a personality drawn from five possible archetypes, which will give them different reactions to the things you do and the situations you face in the galaxy. Angering your crew can eventually lead to mutiny, or to officers leaving your ship. Because personality and role are randomly matched, you will value different interactions differently depending on playthrough and play style; maybe you really want to keep your navigator around, but are more flexible about whether or not you need a weapons officer. Influenced by different goals (like which endgame content you’re pursuing), that will lead you to make different compromises and different choices.
Voyageur isn’t a game about personnel management, so the crew elements are lightweight and mostly there to support the storytelling. But crew are some of the most gameplay-impacting tools in the game, making them valuable; if you have a navigator, a trader, and an engineer, your options when traveling to a new planet are dramatically expanded, as you can reach more worlds and have better information about them.
Until next week!
Trading! Ever since Elite first created a vast galaxy and set players loose in it, buying low and selling high has been a staple of the space exploration genre. Voyageur has its own spin on this mechanic. Most space exploration games have you carrying bulk goods across the galaxy; in Voyageur, every piece of cargo you carry is unique, procedurally-generated like the planets themselves.
In a traditional space-exploration game, the trading subgame is all about finding profitable trade routes; finding a planet that produces one good in quantity and cheaply, and then a good path towards another world where that good is very valuable. In Voyageur, this isn’t an option: once you’ve left a world, you can never go back again. So I had to design a trading system that was more based around serendipity and learning the particulars of the game. In conventional space trading games – like Freelancer, one of my favorites in the genre – I always liked to buy things wherever they were cheap, wander along the galaxy, and sell them off whenever I found a good price. That “serendipitous” approach is very suboptimal, and not really encouraged by the systems in these games. In Voyageur however, it’s the default.
Cargo has a type (currently in the game, those are food, liquor, minerals, tech, art, and alien artifacts) and a rarity. Rarer cargo isn’t necessarily more valuable, but it can have more and better modifiers that improve its price. That price is determined by the planet you’re on – food is cheaper on habitable worlds where it can be grown in conventional farms, for example. Every good is also subject to distance factor; as you get further away from its place of origin, its price will increase. Strange or exotic cargo will multiply this factor. So while it’s hard to not turn a profit, savvy decisions can allow players to make a lot more money on trading. Whenever you leave a planet, you are given a choice of several possible destinations, and limited information about each one. Learning to read those “rumors” to find the best planets to sell your cargo is a big part of the trading game.
Of course, the storylines you will encounter will also incentivize you to seek out specific kinds of worlds – and the tension between managing different priorities is part of the design here.
Crew members will also tie into trading – having a trader on board will give you better information about planets you can visit, helping you find the best possible deals. An engineer and a navigator will also give you more options of planets you can travel to.
What’s all this money for, though? Jumping to a new planet costs supplies, which usually have to be bought with money; so making a profit allows you to keep going down into the galaxy. Enough money will also open up new stories and even endgame content… but that’s another dev diary.
Two weeks ago, I ran a series of Twitter polls asking people to rank the alignments against each other. Chrysalis emerged as a clear winner, and as promised, today I’m sharing more details about it.
To recap: The alignments are the five human ideologies in the Voyageur universe, which you can encounter throughout the galaxy. There are five of them, in order: Chrysalis, Hammer, Star, Dome, and Ladder.
Every alignment in Voyageur is defined by two conflicts with its enemy alignments. With Star, Chrysalis is one side of the improvisation-planning conflict; with Dome, it’s one side of the transhumanism-terraforming conflict. Chrysalis wants diversity through transformation; it sees a universe where local conditions are different everywhere, and believes in local, specific solutions. Chrysalis is all about putting your slippers on instead of trying to carpet the world.
Trial and error are key to this pragmatic worldview. If something makes people better off, then it’s good; if it doesn’t, it should be discarded; the only way to find out is to try; and people should be allowed to try.
Over time, this has led to many Chrysalis societies built around radical physical and mental alteration: “Mermorphs” adapted to life in oceanic worlds, living solar sailers skimming energy from stellar coronas, carbon grazers subsisting on the methane-rich environment of of Titanian worlds, radical posthumans incorporating alien material into their biology. When everyone else asks “why”, Chrysalis asks “why not”. Many variations on humanity have been tried, and they have often proved surprisingly enduring.
Dome views this as discarding fundamental human identity. But inasmuch as Chryalis believes such a thing exists, it thinks that humans are defined by the continuous discarding, reshaping, and creation of identity. People and societies change, says Chrysalis. Sometimes that change is just more dramatic than expected. When we learned how to dye cloth, garment colors became an issue of fashion. The same eventually became true of hair. Why does self-expression have to stop short of the shape of your limbs, or the scale of your body, or the chemistry of your metabolism?
But when you’re so willing to embrace the alien, to alter yourself, that begs the question: How can you know what you want when your mind is constantly inhabiting new bodies? At the extremes, some might consider the more radical adherents of Chrysalis philosophy to have effectively supplanted themselves with something other. Not everyone would argue that a sapient space station or a spherical vacuum-dweller are the same people they used to be.
The endpoint of the philosophy of adaptation espoused by Chrysalis is that you really inhabit the world you perceive, and so changing your perception is even better than changing your world. One example is gengineering bacteria to process compounds in the air so one can live around chemical processes that are foul-smelling to others. But this can go all the way up to living entirely in an augmented reality landscape of your own devising, altering everything about the world you see to suit your preferences.
But how can a society function when its members can have radically different perceptions? Chrysalis isn’t blind to the costs of what it’s doing, it just thinks the benefits outweigh those costs… and if they don’t, it can course-correct.
Welcome back to Voyageur dev diaries. This time: Planets.
I talked about text generation in a previous dev diary; this one is a tour of things you can expect to find in the Voyageur galaxy. It’s not comprehensive – I’m keeping some things secret for now. So I’m going to be generating five worlds and talking about them at length.
Frozen desert worlds like this one are similar to Mars; they have a thin atmosphere that can’t hold heat or support life. There’s maybe some frozen surface water, and a lot of dead dust. This one is Chrysalis-aligned, a mining colony formed out of repurposed spaceship husks.
Planets like this one are good places to buy rare minerals and ores, and perhaps to meet some rough characters who might join your crew to get away from the doldrums of colonial life.
A heavy-atmosphere world similar to Venus. While it has a rocky core, it’s buried under layers of compressed and corrosive gases. The upper reaches of planets like this one are actually some of the most earthlike places in the universe, with temperatures and pressures that are downright comfortable. Cities filled with earthlike air actually float in the heavy atmosphere, and those aerostats are the only habitations possible on worlds like these.
This is a Dome-aligned one, with an industrialized economy. Using a lightweight, pressurized wingsuit, human beings can actually fly by going a little lower into the atmosphere; a popular sport in many worlds like this one, though the Dome locals will only do it with a safety net.
A city-world, urbanized until it’s no longer recognizable as anything else. Covered completely in skyscrapers and arcologies, city-worlds are usually great places to unload your cargo at a high price, but this one seems to be facing tough times economically. Ladder-aligned, it’s probably still a hub for advanced robotics; maybe a good place to get that broken android you found fixed.
City worlds are also a good place to pick up passengers, people looking to get away to a frontier planet and return to nature.
An arid planet; it supports life, but there’s little surface moisture, and most of the surface is desert or rocky badlands. Life-supporting worlds like this one sometimes have strange alien life living there, rather than an imported earthling biosphere. Biological institutes are often set up to study those alien environments, and they’re very interested in collating data from other similar research done across the galaxy.
The most common planets in the galaxy are icy bodies like this one, iceteroids big enough to be rounded out by their gravity. They’re often mined by volatiles, but rarely house anything like a permanent settlement worth visiting.
This world houses a small population of microgravity fabrication workers, though closer inspection might show that the real lifeblood of the settlement is piracy on a nearby Alcubierre lane…
This is only a glimpse; there are a lot of strange things to find in Voyageur: Arcologies that look like gigantic cathedrals, carbon worlds with seas of liquid methane, gaia worlds overgrown with hypertrophic life, and much more.
Join me next week when I talk about trading: How to make money, and what money is for.
Welcome again to Voyageur’s development log! Last week, after an extra-long diary about the game’s alignments, I asked Voyageur’s Twitter followers what they wanted to see next.
You will notice there's no "next week I'll talk about ___" signoff on the dev diary this week. Help me pick:— Voyageur (@VoyageurGame) June 17th 2016
So this week, as promised, I’ll be going over how story works in Voyageur. I’ll also be sharing the first pre-alpha screenshot of the game running.
As you hop from planet to planet, you will encounter different things to do on each world. Those potential story branches (or “storylets”) are available based on the features of the planet. Story branches lead into choices, each one with different potential costs, risks, and rewards.
You will encounter the same storylet on different planets, but it won’t always be the same. What you find when you explore a branch can vary depending on the planet you encounter it in, and sometimes at random. The same starting point can lead to different outcomes.
What makes Voyageur a role-playing game is that as you play, you will gain traits as a result of your story choices. Those traits, in turn, open up more choices. Because the worlds you visit are procedurally generated, Voyageur features nomadic storylines with chapters that will settle wherever they find appropriate ground. You might find an abandoned robot on one planet, and the technology to fix it on another planet; traits provide that continuity.
Traits are similar to the qualities you find in Fallen London and Sunless Sea; they’re resources, abilities, and sometimes ways of tracking progress in specific stories. They’re a really transparent and simple way of making the mechanical consequences of story choices very clear to the player, and I knew from the start I would be using this model to make storytelling work in Voyageur.
And as you play the game, you will encounter longer storylines that will be resolved by visiting several worlds, spending different resources, and making choices. Those stories will delve deeper into the backstory of the Voyageur universe…
Next week, I’ll talk about the planets themselves, how they’re generated and the different types you can expect to encounter.
So here’s a problem with procedural text. If you’re just assembling text fully at random, you get contradictions. Voyageur solves this problem by assembling text according to a model. But it’s not enough to avoid outright contradiction. The worlds in our galaxy have to be diverse, but they also have to be consistent with themselves, aligned with a particular feel or theme.
The alignments are five perspectives on the future of humanity; they’re survival strategies, value systems, aesthetic preferences, and ideologies. They’re designed to not map cleanly to real-world ideologies, to act as a broad symbolic system. Every region of space in Voyageur has a specific alignment, which informs what kinds of places and stories you will find there. Most of all, they give each place you visit a coherent set of values and aesthetic. But they’re not all-encompassing; two regions with the same alignment could be very different. Here are the five alignments that will be in Voyageur:
Chrysalis sees a universe that is infinitely hostile and infinitely diverse, and still believes humans should colonize every inch of it. It believes that the only way to do this is by expanding the definition of what it means to be human. In extremes, that means shedding the human body completely through radical cybernetics or brain uploading. Chrysalis prefers distributed systems and improvisation. It realizes that things will inevitably change, that information is always imperfect, and that it will change along with it.
Chrysalis worlds are full of biotechnology, gengineered interventions in the local environment, improvised structures, and organic-looking buildings. Structures and technology are often grown, not assembled; sometimes by genetically tailored organisms, sometimes by nanotechnology. Chrysalis tries to make the most of every environment, no matter how hostile and unpleasant it may seem to outsiders.
Chrysalis thinks Dome is miserablist and suicidally narrow in its thinking. It’s also deeply suspicious of Star’s utopian tendencies.
Hammer believes that every system eventually becomes corrupt and dangerous, and so it believes in periodically smashing those systems. Hammer is an impulse to revolt against the established order, or run away to the frontier where there isn’t one. It cares deeply about justice (however that’s defined) and doesn’t think the past is any indication of how things should be in the future.
Hammer worlds are often borderlands full of misfits and outcasts. Frontier colonies are haphazard and wild; cities are sprawling and dark. Whatever physical or social structures there are, they’ve been assembled by repurposing the discarded remains of what came before. A particular aesthetic of rust, dust, and grime emerges in these worlds.
Hammer thinks Dome is blatantly oppressive. Ladder, meanwhile, is just cowardly.
Star is all about following something bright and distant. Star believes that an utopian society is achievable, given enough knowledge and planning. It believes that injustice and misery are fundamentally just a consequence of not understanding the world well enough. Star believes that if you join together enough knowledge in one place, that place can produce directives and plans that will solve everyone’s problems at once.
Star-aligned worlds are often covered in beautiful utopian architecture and design, often a revival of some Old Earth style or trend. People live in arcologies designed like expanded versions of classical architecture, or houses that wouldn’t seem too out of place in 20th-century Earth. Decorative art is representational, optimistic, and everywhere.
Star thinks Chrysalis is messy and irresponsible to the point of danger; and simultaneously it believes Ladder completely lacks vision.
Dome sees the same infinite, hostile universe that Chrysalis sees and comes to the opposite conclusion: Humanity has to encircle itself with environments that support human life, specifically and narrowly defined. And those environments have to be stable, they have to be steady-state. Dome believes that planning and control can create a society that would stay the same for thousands of years.
Dome worlds breed a suspicion of outsiders who might upset their delicate social and ecological balance. Domed cities are stereotypical, of course, but Dome also like underground habitations and arcologies. When it builds conventional structures, they are often functionalist blocks of concrete and steel; Dome is all about efficiency, and adornment is the first victim of efficiency.
Dome thinks Chrysalis is replacing humanity with something other, under the guise of saving it. And Hammer’s vision of constant change and growth is just unsustainable.
Ladder is inherently suspicious of ideology. It believes in incremental change and small-scale decisionmaking. It believes that the big questions of the universe are unsolvable, but they can be reduced down to many small questions, and many actors working independently to chip away at them can collectively come up with a solution. And it thinks that any one of those small actors minding their own practical problems is more important and productive than a million philosophers debating the big issues.
Ladder society prizes engineers and technicians at the expense of nearly everyone else, and their aesthetic reflects that: Lots of sleek, gleaming machinery, objects that are very clear about how advanced they are, angular buildings made out of black steel. In cities, street layouts are often simple grids, so that they can expand with the minimal amount of urban planning possible. Augmented reality is required to navigate those cities, and the AR views are often covered with advertising. Ladder isn’t overtly concerned about whomever gets ground up in its machinery.
Ladder doesn’t believe revolution ever works, so of course it thinks Hammer is only ever going to break stuff it doesn’t understand. At the same time, it thinks the utopian technocrats aligned with Star are creepy, overbearing, and delusional.
Welcome to week 2 of development diaries; this week, I’ll be explaining the biggest aspect of procedural generation in Voyageur, the generated prose.
The first thing that went into the design of Voyageur was the procedurally-generated universe. Procedural generation has been a tradition in space exploration games since the original Elite, but Voyageur is a very different take on it. We’re generating prose, first of all; creating impressions of the worlds you visit by recombining text. But that prose reflects a model of the world that determines which stories and items you find on a planet. Let me give you this week’s procedural world early:
Your ship alights ungainly among tall mangroves that obscure the planet’s marshy surface. You disembark into a small but vivid settlement of yurts and tents, some of which are large and built-up enough to seem more like two-story houses. Gengineered and augmented iguanas roam the pavement, performing some unknown public function. You pass by an Orange Kupol fronted with tall windows that let in the sunlight; soft chanting comes from inside it.
I just pulled this description out by running some of the current game code; let me dissect it:
This isn’t necessarily complete; I know from my planet-generator test output that this planet has a mining economy, for instance, and the description doesn’t bring that up – please note that the content in the current game build is still quite limited, and prose generator is still being gradually improved.
Voyageur is about distinct cultures; the worlds you visit are defined by the people you find there and the societies they have built. When the game generates a planet, the text that it uses to describe that world is reflected in the game elements you encounter there. Frontier worlds have different economies, for instance, and many stories are tied to alignments.
Join me next week when I explain what the alignments are.
Yesterday, after a long wait on my part, Failbetter Games announced the first crop of Fundbetter projects, including Voyageur. I’m enormously excited to share more details in the coming weeks, as the game comes together; this is the first of a series of weekly development logs. You can keep track of them by following us on Twitter, Facebook, or signing up for the Voyageur email list.
A voyageur (small v) is a an 18th-19th century fur trader in French Canada and the upper midwest. Voyageurs would travel mostly by canoe, travois, and portage, carrying bundles of fur overland from the beaver trapping hinterland of North America out to ports where it would be loaded onto ships for sale to Europe. A few men got rich doing this; many more didn’t.
Voyageur (big V) is a literary, spacefaring RPG set in a procedurally-generated galaxy. In it, you’re always moving forward, carried “downriver” by a form of propulsion that only goes one way. The descent device is an alien black box that snaps the laws of physics like a twig, propelling a small vessel at superluminal speeds, too fast, for too little energy.
But all your trips are one way; a terrible price, or an added bonus, depending on how you look at it. You’re always circling the gargantuan drain that is the galactic core. Maybe gravity is what is pulling the device on its way. Maybe something else.
In Voyageur, you travel from planet to planet, visiting different regions of space. There, you can trade, explore the game’s various stories, and recruit people for your ragtag crew. The game tells its stories by constructing and assembling prose as you go along, giving you richly described worlds and evocative stories in the vein of Failbetter’s own Sunless Sea and Fallen London.
Voyageur is more about culture and society than other space games. You will find monarchies obsessed with biosecurity, bodymod-mad anarchists, hypercapitalist carbon miners on Titanian moons, radical ARscape art, and everything in between. If you’re lucky, you will find alien superstructures and other anomalous phenomena.
Next week, I’ll share more details of the game’s procedural generation engine. Until then, I’ll leave you with a procedural world description generated by the current (pre-alpha) build:
From up above, this planet’s capital looks like a moss-covered ruin; when you approach cautiously through the thick air traffic, you realise its buildings are covered in intentional, sun-dappled greenery. The silver and black star of the Recep Traverse is a frequent sight on the façades of buildings here, often jutting out of them texturally or visible only from a specific angle. The crowds wandering the roads are colorful and strange; you spot a man sporting mismatched, cat-slit eyes.