As a hobbyist modder, I think it’s more than a bit presumptuous to have a “developer diary.” I’m not a developer, I’m using existing art assets and existing game systems, and simply tweaking them in the hopes of creating a game-within-a-game that has some merit as a competitive real-time strategy experience. But still, I am interested in organizing my thoughts on this process and sharing them with the few who might be interested in reading them. Also, on the off chance that any reader felt inclined to offer, constructive feedback would help me immensely on this journey. So, let’s call this a ‘modder’s diary.’ That seems more appropriate in many ways.
In this second installment of my ‘modder’s diary’ I’d like to discuss the lore behind each faction and how I’m using that to guide their overall design.
The other day, I wrote an article describing my humble StarCraft Arcade project, which I’m calling “Remnants.” In that piece, I touched briefly on the broad strokes of the origins of the 2 factions that will be featured in the game, whose current names are the Constructors and the Dendrites. As a follow-up, I had thought that organizing my conceptual framework for each faction would be illuminating, and useful when considering unit designs and even eventually aesthetic design should i ever get around to making custom models for the more important units of each faction (or, who knows, maybe commissioning them?).
Constructors were designed as multi-purpose construction and maintenance tools for high industrial work in advanced societies. Essentially mobile 3D printers, Constructors were tasked en masse with work ranging from starship and space platform construction in vacuum, to maintenance tasks in hazardous areas. Using relatively simple artificial intelligence and networking, Constructors coordinated these construction and repair projects across dozens, hundreds or thousands of individuals.
On worlds and space platforms ravaged by war, Constructors were often completely disregarded and discarded during evacuations, written off as a minor loss on the balance books of mega-corporations and governments whose purview barely rationalized the expense of deporting human populations, let alone industrial machinery that was fairly ubiquitously used across the galaxy in the first place.
In many cases, Constructors were left to their own devices, breaking down over years and decades, going about inane tasks and meaningless repairs, finishing or attempting to coordinate pre-determined construction programs that no longer had a population to serve. Going uncorrected, managing and communications programs would break down and introduce more and more errors and random factors into the codebase of these relatively simple machines.
In very few cases, this resulted is behaviors resembling self-preservation instincts in individual Constructors. Far from sentience or self-awareness in the conventional sense, Constructors are the cockroaches, or better, the decorator crabs of the urban decay of abandoned planets and space stations. They utilize their one main advantage in this space: the ability to assimilate and re-purpose almost-functional bits of remnant scrap technology to hide and adapt in hostile environments full of breaking down technologies of which even the death throes can level cities and sterilize worlds.
Constructors are indeed the “decorator crabs” of the dangerous reef of urban decay in abandoned colonies, urban sprawls and space stations abandoned in the mad wars of the future, in which alien races can slag planets and exterminate populations of billions in moments. The few that have developed rudimentary self preservation instincts utilize a hybrid system of bolting a haphazard assortment of technologies onto and into themselves in efforts to avoid detection, escape dangerous situations, and as a last resort to destroy threats they cannot escape. They also have the capability to “print” and program semi-autonomous drones that they use as detection and weapons systems to ensure their survival.
Gameplay as a Constructor will be targeting the points brought up in the previous paragraphs. Constructors are mobile harvesting and building machines concerned with their own individual survival. Constructor units ultimately exist to give would-be technopredators something else to beat on instead of the Constructor itself, so they will have a focus on crowd control, durability, and detection. The Constructor itself will have a number of upgrades, with a focus on mobility, survivability and escape tactics.
Visually, I want to give the Constructors a solid, industrial look. The constructor itself will be an odd agglomeration of parts, centered on a core unit that I picture looking something like a robot crab, with chunky legs fronted by manipulator arms and topped with a thick shell. conceptually, a Constructor would store ‘templates’ for units and ‘print’ them as needed, so even though it’s using scrap metal to build these things, I want them to look utilitarian and well made as opposed to random, jagged and rusted out machines. This this is -processing- scrap metal and repurposing it, not building junk art sculptures.
Just as the Constructors are the aberrant detritus of construction projects, the Dendrites are remnants of high-technology societies. And if Constructors can be compared to decorator crabs hiding in the corpses of dead technological societies, Dendrites would be comparable to army ants.
While Constructors tend to break off from decaying networks and hide, building and programming their own little fiefdoms, Dendrites are essentially the diametric opposite, finding some degree of consciousness in the consensus of hundreds of networked processors. All Dendrite colonies are centered around an Axon, a single machine given the burden of processing for the consensus mind of the colony. The Axon, effectively, is the mind of a single distributed organism, of which the main limbs are the Dendrite constructs.
Dendrite constructs are specialized equipment designed primarily to interface with and usurp machine AI to add other rogue mechanicals to the consensus of their colony. Equipped with an array of manipulator limbs and other interface equipment, the most direct method of control is often for the Dendrite to attach to an existing mechanical and either reprogram it to accept instructions from its colony or to simply excise the machine’s processing system and replace it wholesale. In this manner, Dendrite constructs are ‘spent’ to produce structures and construct or upgrade new units for their colonies.
In terms of visual design, I picture the Dendrites looking somewhat reminiscent of the Machines in the Matrix movies: all tendrils, pincers, black metal restless motion and spidery limbs. Dendrites should end up being more numerous and fragile than their Constructor counterparts, more focused on subversion and dominance than the survival of individual members/units. Much like the Zerg in StarCraft spend Drones to produce structures, the Dendrite faction will spend Dendrite units to build structures and to build high tier units, making it more costly for the Dendrite player to utilize high tier units than for the Constructor.
Gameplay as a Dendrite will focus on preserving and upgrading the Axon, which is less mobile than the Constructor and has no weapons of its own. However, the nature of the distributed system means that the Dendrite consciousness is harder to kill, since any living Assember-class Dendrite can be turned into a replacement Axon.