Refocusing from Nebula to Limbo

The path to Quip Nebula was already long and curious. I was excited about the background, the setting, the story and the characters. However, I realized that I needed to take another look at my overall approach. As in all human endeavors, when developing a game, focus is critical for success. I needed to add another step before Quip Nebula to climb the staircase.

So, Quip Escape from Limbo has been born. It is related to the story of Quip Nebula in a way that won’t be revealed until the end of Quip Nebula. Mysteries are fun. They’re good for you. So, yes, I still plan on developing Quip Nebula and many games beyond that, but they will have to take their turn. The goals are similar and one expands on the other, so it’s a very natural progression.

Detailed specifications are written, and development has begun. I’ll be posting regularly on our social media channels and regularly on this blog about the development progress.

p.s. The irony of this headline will be with me for weeks.

Quip Nebula: Temporal Setting

The game is set around 550 million years from the beginning of the universe in a time cosmologists call the star formation epoch. At this unique period in cosmological history, stars in existence are not those middle sized stars like our sun. Most stars grow up into super giants with lifespans of only millions of years.

As the star formation epoch is a period of star birth, it is also a time of violent cataclysms. Supergiant stars, thousands and even millions of time larger than our sun end their lives in immense explosions that dwarf anything thing scientists have been able to observe today.

This epoch of star activity came after a long period of darkness called the “dark ages.” This was the state of the universe before the first stars appeared. It is a period of complete darkness of about 200 to 300 million years. There were no light sources then as gases have yet to collapse and clump into one another to cause nuclear reactions.

How do stars form?

During the dark ages, the universe was extremely cold. The very low temperatures allowed hydrogen gas to freeze and clump together. As gas molecules stuck together, mass and gravity also increased and attracted more matter in the process. After millions of years of gravitational activity, small clumps of gases became massive gas giants or protostars.

As a protostar grow in size, its core gets heats up due to pressure until reaching a critical temperature that allows nuclear fusion to occur. The heat caused by nuclear activity is the “fire” that ignites these gas giants, giving birth to stars.

How do Stars die?

One type of the death of a star is among the most spectacular events in the universe.

Stars are not only burning nuclear furnaces, they are also cosmic forges that create the elements we know today. During the star formation epoch, element formation within stars happened at a rapid pace. This is because stars then were mostly super giants.

From the basic element hydrogen, which was predominant in that period, nuclear fusion made it possible to form other elements. Hydrogen atoms are smashed together in these nuclear furnaces to form helium. Once helium is formed, the fusion continues forming other elements like oxygen and magnesium.

The heat of fusion process radiates pressure out from the core countering the massive weight of the star preventing it to collapse into itself. At this moment, the star is in its “main sequence.”

After thousands of years of fusion and element creation, iron starts to form in the core signaling the star’s approaching death. Iron, unlike hydrogen or helium, takes more energy to fuse than it produces, thus it starts to accumulate inside the core. One can say that iron is the ash of a star’s nuclear furnace.

Eventually, as the iron core increases in size, the star also increases in size. It eventually reaches a critical point where the iron core cannot handle the weight of the star and collapses into itself. This event causes a shockwave that shakes the star apart in a violent, but spectacular explosion, called a supernova.

How does the universe look like then?

Because of the presence of gases and dust illuminated by starlight, space inside a nebula is not black, but surprisingly colorful and foggy. Light is scattered by gases and other particles making nebulae, one of the most colorful objects in the universe.

How does the game universe look like?

While we can’t recreate a nebula exactly, our goal is to create the ambiance of being there. Our goal is to include star formation, gaseous structures, pulsars and more in a believable “what if” experience.

Naming of the Game

Coming up with a name for Quip Nebula was a fun challenge. The word Quip is a secret acronym that may be revealed at some distant future date. It’s the word intended to string a line of games together. So, you’ll be seeing lots of quipage for some time.

So we needed a specific name for this game. The word nebula came as a result of a brainstorming session. It fits quite well for several reasons:

  • Nebulae represent beginnings, birthplaces of stars, and this game is our beginning foray into publishing a game
  • Nebulae represent the raw material the stars, as this game is also a platform that is material for more
  • 3) Nebulous refers to the mysterious nature of the setting and story of our game
    So as soon as the word came up we knew it was the right one for this game.

Quip Nebula: Setting

Working on the story for Quip Nebula has been a great challenge because of the setting I have set up for it. Again, taking the long view, I have long term reasons for the setting, universe, mechanics, and premise. Those came first to support what will come later.

In the primordial universe there were entities called Quips. They were not typical physical beings. Amid the story and the battles, Quip Nebula introduces the player to something new. Beings that need not eat, “sleep” primarily just for comfort and meditation, have no concept of death nor birth, what would they do? How might they feel? What would they care about? These are not answerable, but we hope you have fun with how we ask.

And so among all the other hard but interesting problems I’m tackling with Quip Nebula, the most unusual is the setting itself.

Why we’re not using an existing engine

There are a lot of great game engines out there. I decided not to use them for a number of reasons.

Quip Nebula is just a beginning for us. It represents the first entry in an ambitious goal not only of a line of games spanning millions of years across the universe but also a vision of a new approach to productivity and collaboration applications. While the platform decision was driven by longer term goals, it fits well with delivering a great game experience in Quip Nebula.

Typical game engines are optimized for certain situations common to many games. I’m building something that is uncommon and want to optimize it specifically for that.

Some of the game engines make it easy to deliver to many platforms and devices. Will it be more difficult for us to port to multiple platforms? Possibly, but that’s an acceptable trade off. Especially when considering mobile platforms, I would want to do a complete redesign of the UI so it would be optimized for a mobile interface.

Thus it’s likely that much of the non-portable code would be rewritten for mobile devices anyway.

Our approach to writing

Many games have linear stories. You go from one person/place to the next and if you’re not there, nothing is happening. Kind of like the Truman Show. I’ve decided to take a different approach. We’ll be writing individual behaviors and stories for the characters in the game. So, while you’re traveling to visit QuipX, QuipY (and any number of others) might be involved in some event somewhere else in the universe.

This does mean that there will be some game events that you will miss in a single play-through. By choosing to visit one place, you might be missing something happening somewhere else. Had you chosen to visit the other place, you would have missed the event in the first place.

Although we’re not taking time to the “wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff” level, we do need to deal with it carefully, especially in a game setting. So, usually, events won’t be tied to specific points in time, they’ll be tied to other events. So, maybe once you arrive at a certain location, the antagonist begins [message redacted].

Quip Nebula Genesis

A lot of software developers dream of writing their own computer game. My brother and I started working on one in high school. “Black Sabre” I think we were going to call it, or something like that. We got the map box scrolling as the guy player moved around, but that’s about as far as it went.

Fast forward a… while… and I arrived at a point where I could start on some ideas that had been incubating for a long time. There is a certain style of productivity software that I am very interested in. It doesn’t exist. I want to build it. I’m not in a position to build it immediately, but there are many ways to generate electricity from a cat (gory idiom intentionally replaced).

Joining together that larger goal and my long time dream to create innovative games, the idea of Quip Nebula began to form. After a number of brainstorming sessions and general brain racking, the concept of the game began to take shape. Last year, I started writing it up and gathering some help to make it happen.

It is a curious journey.