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How Stellar: Novae

Hola, Internet.

Today, we’re really excited to lift the veil from our gleaming podium of game-ideas-we-actually-like to introduce Novae. Novae is a puzzle / strategy game for Android and iOS, and actually represents our team’s first foray into the incredibly dense waters of mobile game development.

Although it’s slowly evolved to something quite technically complex, the actual idea behind the game remains fairly simple : you build a personal solar system using the basic elements of the universe, and experiment with different combinations to try and create life on your planets. You get to do this indirectly through the manipulation of gravity, and the tagline “Create. Grow. Destroy.” perfectly describes the process of experimentation that is open to our players. Novae offers a flexible puzzle system that gives you a high degree of creative freedom. Creation, customization and collection – these are the 3 motivations. Our players are encouraged to experiment openly in order to discover the unique and quirky life forms that exist in Novae’s universe, and feel proud of what they create (hopefully proud enough to show their friends too!). You can check out the project page here:

It’s going to be a game that really tests our ability to provide a complete package, because the final experience that we all collectively think of and sigh with adulation relies on all the systems – gameplay, graphics and audio – working together like a mineral-oiled machine. Each day we get excited over the new ideas that get added into the evolving prototype while trying to create something that “looks damn pretty” (Nico – Lead Artist). We’re approaching Novae’s development with a much more defined structure than our earlier projects – starting our marketing plan from the get go, and aiming for clear goals that coincide with entries in local competitions and events like iFest and EB Expo. The mobile arena should also provide a new set of interesting experiences for us as we try to make a chirp amongst the sea of white noise. There are so many games being produced every day out there, some great, and most poor, that makes designing a solid, meaningful mobile game a challenge we relish.

As I mentioned up top, we’re shooting for a release on both Android AND iOS, and this multiplatform approach has already opened the floodgates to a new sea of challenges. We knew that wanted to go multiplatform from the start as we believe that it is the way that development should be – why limit your potential audience when you have the choice? Maturing platforms have begun to emerge that have made this challenge manageable, such as Xamarin (allows for cross-platform development in C#) and Unity (recently expanded to all mobile platforms, at a price). The large hardware costs required for testing are understandably steep for a small indie developer such as ourselves, but due to numerous birthdays and Christmases, as well as a strangely technologically diverse network of friends, we have access to almost every device we need.

The engine search began anew when the idea had broken from the chains of a 2D game. The original prototype was built in Cocos2D-XNA (which is the C# port of the C++ port of the Objective-C based Cocos2D…), but we quickly realized that the artistic style we wanted to achieve required an extra dimension (the third, in fact). As of late last year, Unity extended its free version with publishing support for all mobile platforms, making it a very compelling solution for mobile development : it’s well documented, has a great community, and Pro is actually very affordable in the scheme of things. The engine comes very well equipped for all of the features we need, but we retained our underdog spirit in search of a purely free alternative, landing us at Wave Engine…

Now, Wave Engine is an interesting, elusive beast. It’s features looked promising, and it was 100% free (no licensing, no royalties). The fact that it was so new was also pretty exciting – having a nightly build that boasted fixes to issues that you were talking about that day with the developer is a humbling experience (they’re just like us!), but we soon learned that a mature platform with solid documentation (and proof-reading! Come on, Wave) is definitely much more valuable. It’s annoying to be stumbling around in the dark trying to figure out how the code works (or is meant to work) rather than devoting our time to developing gameplay or extending functionality, and because we’re early in development, every halt is felt by the whole team because we feed off each other to keep ourselves busy. After producing another early tech demo within Wave, we realized that we were being hamstrung too often by a lack of features and a lack of support, and backtracked to begin rebuilding our solution in Unity (most of the code was logic based anyway, so not too much blood sweat and / or tears have been lost).

We’re also in the midst of getting FMOD implemented in our current solution, as they recently announced that FMOD Studio is free for indie developers! FMOD, the high end audio solution used in a slathering of AAA titles free for us? Dynamic audio using a GUI rather than a crazy series of XML’s? Yes. Please. We believe that high quality audio experiences are still lacking in games on the whole (after decades of neglect due to memory concerns), and now that the technology has evolved past that point it no longer should be. We unsuccessfully tried to implement it in Wave Engine, linking it all together within Visual Studio to produce a melting pot of programming languages and potential errors. FMOD itself is a series of C wrappers for a C++ library so that the functions can be invoked from the C# wrapper, but the libraries themselves are compiled as native Java or native Objective C libraries… blergh. But all we had to do was download the Unity package, read several blog posts and voila! My studio session was immediately accessible. Unity, I’m liking you already.

Watch this space for the next round of development updates for Novae – we hope to have a playable alpha ready for distribution soon, and if you don’t want to miss a beat you can sign up to our Novae-specific mailing list here:

The turnaround time on all of our public prototypes is going to be faster than our earlier titles, so you can expect to hear Bagle’s pained screams as he smashes the third keyboard of the day very soon.

About James
I’m deeply passionate about the promoting and developing the social, educational, and creative potential of games. Through my work at Chaos Theory, I have only just started a journey to doing exactly that.
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