Halcyon Online - a primer

Read on to get an overview of my game, Halcyon Online, as a massively-multiplayer, real-time strategy game.

a year ago

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In my previous post, I talked about Halcyon Online as part of a lifelong dream, and the various concepts and games in my life 20+ years ago that inspired this project. In this article, I'll give an overview of what Halcyon Online is, how it plays, and what you can expect from the game when it launches in a few years' time, in addition to how it may differ from other titles currently out there.

What exactly are we talking about, here?

Halcyon Online will be a 4x (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate), massively-multiplayer, real-time strategy game. That's a bit of a word salad, so let's break it down so that I can show you that not only is this a real objective, but that it's also possible.

A 4X game title is one that exists within the real-time strategy genre. It essentially covers the various gameplay mechanics that you will utilise to win a game. And that is also true of Halcyon Online.

Massively-multiplayer real-time strategy, is a very niche genre. The idea is that you have 10s of thousands of players (or more) competing on a single server and map to win the objective - dominate all other players. In Halcyon Online, this is achieved by having massive galaxies with procedurally-generated systems that players can expand to, collecting their resources, by expanding their empire, and influence - over other players.

This is not exactly new. Games such as Starsphere (a long-dead game, but one that I forever hold in my heart as a truly awesome browser-based title) and OGame have been using this formula for years. However, the industry and companies that build these titles have done little, if anything, to actually evolve and grow this niche sub-genre of games. And that's where Halcyon Online comes in.

Halcyon Online will launch with two game modes: Classic, and Campaign modes. Classic game mode is heavily inspired by the games of old - thousands of players will join a single Galaxy with their friends and family, and battle it out over a few months to see who wins (based on who has the best score at the end).

Campaign mode instead flips the entire game on its head. All players join a single, galactic campaign map, broken down by sector. Players join sectors that play at a vastly increased game speed, meaning that games last around a fortnight. Once that game is finished, players choose another sector to fight in. This continues until the map is won by a single faction, with other incentives which I'll go into detail at a later point ;) It is planned that in campaign mode, galaxies will be around for almost a year.

The core gameplay loop

In short, players will log on several times per day, to complete certain tasks. This might be to upgrade some infrastructure, send a fleet on a mission, or to start a new research plan. All of these tasks are important, and timely. The less time there is between tasks (ensuring your empire has little "downtime"), the faster a player's score will increase. As such, notifications to a player's various devices when things complete (or queueing up tasks) are important to their success, but not required.

Players can simply log on regularly to check on their empire, go about various tasks and then log off.

The ideal scenario here is that players want to log on and check on their empires. They want to see how things are going, they want to check in with their corporate alliance friends and see if they need help with anything, they want to check markets and see if that particular resource they're after is at a good price. Players will ideally log on when they wake up, during their lunch break, and then in the evenings before bed. Halcyon Online will become a new "thing that they do" throughout the day, and want to do so because they're finding it so engaging.

And that brings me to the next point - engagement.

Player engagement

There are numerous things in the game of Halcyon Online for players to do, from setting up to colonise a new planet, to setting up asteroid belt mining operations, or, ultimately - creating a Dyson Sphere with the help of their friends. So player engagement must be high if they're to achieve these objectives.

That engagement is helped out immensely by modern-day technology and artwork. From 3D renders and gorgeous space-based backgrounds, to animating planets and effects in the user interface. The goal with Halcyon Online is to be a truly stunning, engaging experience - and yet, the crux of it is that Halcyon Online, and games like it - are graphically-enriched, text-based affairs. Players are reading, they're looking at stats, they're calculating times so that they can be available when say, a fleet reaches a target destination. But all of this is brought to life with a modern day approach, and delivered through a browser platform.

The Mission

I've started many projects before that have redefined how things are done. For example, my project FaB DB had a very lofty mission; to not just create the best card-browsing and deck-building experience for the Flesh and Blood TCG, but to introduce to players a level of quality they can expect from such services the world over. And I believe I achieved that goal. How? I had game companies and players reach out to me after a few years, to build a similar service for their games. FaB DB was, and still is - a quality-defining service for players and collectors alike.

I have a similar mission for Halcyon Online. The encumbent games on the market although interesting, don't inspire in me any desire to play them. They're old, dated, and although in some cases (OGame) the artwork is really nice and done very well, it hasn't gone far enough.

With Halcyon Online I want to be able to attract players from those games. Not only that, I want to make the games industry on the whole perk up and see that such games don't have to be niche, they can have broad-market appeal.

There's been a resurgence in sci-fi of late - The Expanse is a really stunning and amazing series. Disney's Star Wars films are reigniting a passion for a franchise that was thought on its way out, and exploratory creations like Love, Death + Robots, have shown what sci-fi can be, and how it can have a lasting effect on the viewer due to the profundity of the message(s) within.

I want Halcyon Online to be the best (and therefore, largest!) massively-multiplayer real-time strategy game that there is to play. I want 10s, if not 100s of thousands of players all playing at once in a single galaxy and vying for dominance.

I want Halcyon Online to be a project on which I can rest my laurels and say, "I did it", and there won't be a shred of doubt in my mind.

In my next post, we'll talk about the stages of empire development a player will go through in Halcyon Online, and how that maps to technology trees, ship production, infrastructure projects, and empire expansion.

Stay tuned! :)

Kirk Bushell

Published a year ago