Some poorly written insight into this amateur's game design process.

Following this post, I decided to share with someone a bit about game designing Away Mission.

My process isn't something I can simply convey without a lot of forethought, but I can try to quickly summarize how I came up with Away Mission.

Take note, this isn't really in chronological order. Some things I came up with before watching the television show, I can't remember when I came up with a big portion of it, etc. I tried my best to give a general idea.

Now to start with Step 1.

  • I get pissed off there is a huge lack of certain types of games. I played FTL and I liked it, although I thought it could have been so much more. Weeks/Months later, I got another email for yet-another Kickstarter that promises to be a Star Trek type game, but it is still about Combat. I laugh. I cry. I facepalm. I enrage. I get pissed off every game is about Combat, Combat, Combat. I know my greatest weakness is my art. So I say to myself spur of the moment, "I will try to draw a pixel art space guy in the FTL style. If I can't draw any art for this, I can't even make the game." I pretty much fail.
  • Durrrrrrr!* Right before I give up, I decide "What the hell? I'll try one more time." What is this? Something resembling what I want? Awesome!
  • Football!!!* Again one more time and...Voila!

I have a really awesome looking Star Trek pixel art guy! Let's color him!

  • I create the idea. I now have the artistic means to make a pixel art space game. What's one of my favorite games? Starflight, by far. Also when I first loaded up FTL before playing it, I thought to myself, "OMG, I have my own Star Trek Crew! And Ship! OMG OMG OMG!" It would be pretty great if I made a game that was what I thought of FTL Before I realized it was nothing like I imagined. That means I basically have to make a completely different game, but I really like some elements of FTL. What if my game was similar, but you got to make your OWN ship?

I made a prototype in Unity (left and right side of images). I went as far as trying to see if I could easily draw exterior graphics to the ship's white squares (right) and how one could differentiate the professions by room color (left). It was really really fun to custom make your own ship, but ultimately & unfortunately... not right for the game.

  • I tried to capture that feeling. It's only from memory, but I tried to remember my thoughts, expectations, and excitement when I first loaded up FTL. Those first few hours of playing, before I realized how simple and shallow the game was. Can't remember much, but I think I got the jist of it!

  • I play Starflght. Still pretty great game, but some parts are kindof lame. Great enough where I think I will want to remake this. Taking lots of notes. Dissect the game's systems and design. "It has dialogue encounters with aliens. It has ship upgrades. It has crew upgrades and crew positions that are entirely pointless but sound awesome! It has mining on planets. It has a story."

Time to make a Starflight inspired travel map / gameplay.

Okay, that failed.

Let's Try Again!

Wow, I really really like this! I love the red dot representation, and IMO the universe is gorgeous! Another designer gave me a tip to make the movement go into "warp drive" but I wanted it slow in the big map. So I made it "warp drive" in the solar system map but not the universe map.I add my own feature to make the idea more unique. "Starflight is cool and all, but I don't want to remake it or clone it, do I? It's a popular game, so it's a great fallback if my own ideas don't pan out. People would buy a Starflight remake with FTL graphics no doubt. However, I can do better can't I? Hmm... maybe a customized space ship? People would love a FTL game where you could build your own ship. Idk..." and then I plan on making game systems similar to Starflight before adding in my features. If my features prototype poorly, I will default to a starflight clone. If my features are awesome, I can always change the rest.

  • Yea, I definitely don't want my game to be anything like FTL. That game was exillierating, but ultimately pretty damn disappointing. Too simple. Plus it's entirely about Combat. That is the LAST thing I want in my treky game.

- "I will be better than FTL! Muahahahhaa!"*

  • I watch a similar themed television show. Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I loved the series. I took note on why I loved it. What made that show great. "It's the characters! The characters!" The moral dilemma's, the non-violent resolution, the technology, the diplomacy. It's Captain Picard. "I want to make a game where the player feels like they're Captain Picard!" and "I want to emphasize the Science! Lots of Science!" Last but not least, "I knew it had nothing to do with Combat. Mother *#$@#ers and their obsession with Combat. Star Trek is the anti-thesis of Combat."

  • I create systems to emphasize those feelings. What does a captain do? He runs his ship. How? By having a crew of course! Who are those crew? An engineer! A science officer! A tactical officer! Hmm... those professions seem very important. I'll allow the player to customize their ship based on the profession type. If they pick a lot of tactical officers, they'll be a war ship. If they pick a lot of science officers, they'll be a science vessel.

So the player is a captain, and that captain takes action through his crew. The specialized crew will then fulfill whatever need they're suppose to serve. So a tactical officer will need a combat feature. The science officer will need a feature to do "Science". The engineer can upgrade the ship, so I should add in ship upgrades. So the game should be focus on the Crew + Ship Upgrades.

  • I add my own taste to those ideas. I like my games realistic. What would a future starship have? What are some of my favorite TV show characters? Ohhh, I love the psychologists. I also love the bartenders. Psychologist & Bartender should be their own profession. Also I'm a Foodie. There should be a Chef Profession.

Most importantly, I add in my favorite features and themes in all my games.

Travel is incredibly important. Difficulty, as I'm a hardcore gamer. Depth, because I'm sick of shallow stuff. Innovation, because I hate how derivative the industry is. Non-violent resolution, because games are incredibly violent and always defined by killing people. Even when they add the skill "Science" it is just another way to add combat buffs to killing things.

Also I'm a huge fan of having an enormous amount of playable races. Since the pixel art is so easily created (I could create and fully animate a new species in 1 hour, 3 if it was a brand new non-humanoid species).

  • I developed all the professions. Still vague, so I need some game design details. They need game systems. what do you do in my game? roam space in your Ship and you encounter story. How should I do story? I'll have "Events". Like alien encounters in Starflight, or maybe something like Point & Click adventure games. I sure do love Point & Click Adventure Games. Maniac Mansion, Scooby Doo for Sega, TellTale's Walking Dead, Simon the Sorcerer, oh man!

So... how do you play "The Ship"? You upgrade it... and...things break down. Item Decay! The engineer wait...everyone maintains the ship in some way! So... "Ship Maintenance" and "Events". Every profession should do one thing for each.

- The tree is from right to left. If you notice, I have all professions listed in my GDD. In this section are their "Actions". The ways in which they actually play out. The beginning of creation of the game systems.

Note: This is not the actual GDD in its present state. This is some random screenshot of some part of my GDD somewhere near the beginning. It's all I could find showing the early stuff.

ex. The Navigator manages fuel & avoids weather (asteroid fields, space lightning, etc.) and during events they transport the crew and stealth the ship!

  • I begin to just jot down ideas. Whether on the official GDD, on scratch paper, or in notebooks. I do this a lot. I've probably written the "Professions- Actions:" out 20+ times. Sometimes I forget and come up with different ideas.
  • I try to achieve balance with each profession. Each profession needs to, all by itself, be fun. There shouldn't be a boring profession. The player should be able to play any of them and have fun. They should also be very different. (This is why the Chef was combined with the Entertainer. It's why the Rookie was removed entirely and set aside in "Unnecessary, but maybe later." pile of ideas.) Every component of your game should have a purpose.

  • I refined these ideas and their playable systems over and over until they work well. I need them to make each profession feel powerful, capable, worthwhile. I need them to be balanced, and for each to have not just a purpose, but a strong purpose. After all, these professions ARE the game! This is how I achieve replayability. This is how I allow players to have individuality. They prioritize each of these professions and decide what kind of ship they need to be. So now I know any gameplay I create needs to revolve around these systems.

  • So what about the Ship? How big does it need to be? How do I graphically represent it? Should I make it customizable?

I initially drafted some concept art. A customized "engineer only ship". (Back when the engineer handled teh teleporter.)

I like that, but idk. Captain Picard's ship was truly massive. How would I do that? Maybe red dots to represent living crew since they'd be so tiny?

So should each room be a "Profession Room"?

I really dislike that. I like the red dots though. I like the smaller FTL style ships a lot more.

The more I thought about it, the less I liked other people's ideas (FTL) and the more I wanted something entirely different. Something that made more sense for my game, since it was so different. I also hated how in a large ship (which is what I wanted) my crew were so tiny. Zooming in/out sounded like a bad option.


  1. Then somehow, I don't remember how, I decided to have a huge ship, but chop it up into Profession-Based Rooms.

5406615--549000--cargobay.gif 2401118--476765--arsenal.gif

I also messed with some ideas about making all the rooms actually connected and a minor (unimportant, but cool) feature be that the player can "manage their ship" in one big map. Scratch that, maybe this will be polish or post-release.

14. I constantly think about what the player is suppose to be. Suppose to do. How he should feel. Now remember Carter, the player is suppose to feel like the Captain, not the crew. What does the Captain do? How should he feel?

  1. Well first, the Captain encounters other alien ships. There is always a scene on the bridge where you talk with aliens or analyze encounters.

This is where I can insert the dialogues between the player and alien encounters.


  1. But the Events will sometimes be on the planet. I need some interface where the player (the Captain) makes decisions. I need an Officer's decision room. Kindof like on Star Trek TNG.

What does the Captain do in this room? Captain Picard would listen to everyone's advice and then ultimately make a decision.

So they should all matter and they should each propose plans to help the captain.

17. Going forward, I worked on giving each of those plans a life. Creating alien civilizations, cultures, and personality. i.e. Content generation. After all, by this point (and I"m sure I'm leaving plenty of things out) I've already got all the systems and game design flushed out and polished. Everything is working well, and I've got a pretty great alpha going so far. Still might want to redo this system or that one in code/unity, but the design seems pretty stable now.

  1. A large portion of development was game design. I give this attention to game design detail for all my projects. It's incredibly important to me to know that what I am working on is awesome before I work on it. I try to do most of the software engineering beforehand as well. Figure out how I will code certain features, what assets from the asset store I could buy to make it easier, etc.

Interesting enough, this game started out as:

A board game / card game. Players picked a profession, crash landed on a planet, then had to explore and draw encounter cards. The player then formed a colony with other players (cooperative card game) and built their colony, upgraded their technology, and analyzed the alien world.

Then, it began as a prototype that was more similar to Dwarf Fortress. You start with a colony and there is no ship, no space exploration. Just colony management, profession management, and planetary exploration.



I know there's a lot I left out, but this was suppose to be a quick example to help another user. I liked all the pretty pictures and alpha uglies, and I figured at the very least someone could see insight into one madman's mind.

Primarily this:

You can get some great game design ideas or dissect systems (even story / writers who have a "system" to write stories in)

  • Board Games
  • Card Games
  • PnP Games

  • Books

  • Television

  • Walking outside and seeing a blue car.

    I also made extensive use of "art drafts" or quick Unity prototyping.

Photoshop, experimentation, and copy/pasta are pretty great for trying to understand how your ideas can pan out without having to actually code them all. (Hint: They turned out pretty awesome. Seeing them implemented into the game, animated and everything? Pretty great. Not sure how fun it all will be though. But if it's not at all fun, then I simply do something else and find a way. Game Design is dynamic like that. When it's not, there is always "Release it anyway." or "Release it for free / open source?")


I like it, its all good stuff. Good reading. Many elements interested me although I would like to shoot some green face. This is probably why aliens haven't been in contact. I'm not going to comment on the game because it could be quite special and shouldn't be tainted by premature feedback.


Fantastic! One of the best write-ups on pure game design that I have seen in many years! Reminded me of the stuff I used to read decades ago. It is amazing how refreshing this is. Most of the stuff these days seems to be centered around how they got the right look or otherwise achieved the best graphics. Yours shows a real focus all of the time on game play and interaction. The way it should be IMO!

I found it very interesting and definitely can relate with the trial-and-error approach you used. Ultimately this stuff is just idea after idea that are tested. The bad ones are thrown out and replaced with better ideas.

Thanks for sharing this! :)

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Thanks, I’m glad you liked the read.

For the tactical-minded individual, there are still war ships. It just transcends violence, as in Trek-style theme you could disable their weapons, engines, shields, etc. and then do as you please. Ultimately, I want the player to be able to still have the choice for non-violence even if they crew a war ship. Although in some events, it may not be much of an option.

I also wanted to allow for a variety of ways to “combat” the enemy. Combat is an event all to its own, and thus each profession will have their own suggestions. (For example, the Navigator may suggest rushing into an asteroid field or clouding their scanners via a Riker manuever of some kind.) While other professions would be less “shoot some green face” and more deceptive “Invite them over, then drug their food.” or simply using the Entertainer’s skill as a chef to make sure they eat plenty, get drunk, and remain distracted.

I figured that would be more interesting then, “BLOW THEM UP!” Although technically if you want, that is still possible I guess :stuck_out_tongue:

I accomplished this through a combination of Event-Specific actions (unique, special actions) and Universal-Actions (actions you can nearly always take, such as “Fire Weapons”, “Run Away”, “Communicate”, etc.)

Hahaha, it really probably is :stuck_out_tongue:

Imagine if aliens determined if they should visit based on browsing “The Internet”. Reddit or Digg or 4Chan. Or worse, they read one line from “dood38” and decide the invasion must commence!

I wanted to show how the design could change significantly, so I made sure to include plenty that isn’t even part of the game anymore.

I also didn’t have any “Before” shots to include to compare the evolution of the aspect of planetary exploration / events systems.

Although it does relate to Game Design.

You’d find stuff like this

on the planet

I began messing with some ideas of a more interactive GUI, based on my experiences (and love) playing “Papers Please”.

Something like taking scientific tools from your toolbelt with the mouse, and moving it around to discover or analyze things similar to how you manipulated things in Papers Please.

I was beginning to really like where it was going, but don’t know how well it fit with the game overall.

I wanted to include this part because it helps to emphasize the inclusion of random off-genre game components into this. I’m sure if they were more major features, it would be considered genre-blending like how we’ve seen with the inclusion of RPG elements to FPS games.

For art, I would create a ton of drafts to get a general idea.

And in the end, I used NONE of those, hehe.

Here are also some other early concepts of the dialogue between the player/aliens on the Bridge.

Followed by a re-draft of the same concept art, which was how I actually put it in the prototype in Unity.

A concept for a more starflight-y ship combat / visuals.

And most importantly of all: a rough draft of all the possible game modes, including draft visuals. How they connect with one another, etc.

As bad as this looks, this was pretty big for me going forward. It also really helped define the game and express to others how each “Mode” worked with one another.



Another thing I believe is important in Game Design is attention to detail, especially related to the GUI and how the player interacts with objects or entities.

Here, I needed to put in every profession on "The Bridge". The player would click a profession to open the menu for their actions. (ex. Want to raise shields? Click on the Engineer --> Divert Power to Shields.) (ex. Can't speak their language? Hearing static noise? Click Xenology ---> Translate.)

I wanted it to both look and feel right. So I tried pretty much every possibility.

The above just for placement of the captain / 1st officer.

This for the design of the bridge.

The result was what I thought significant. Polished well.

The captain in the middle with lots of space around him makes him look a lot more important. The 1st officer being at the back and highest (if you can even tell those are stairs), giving off a "Supporting position" vibe. The language expert and navigator being at the front/bottom made sense to me. Especially since the navigator is in the very front in Star Trek.

I give this much attention to detail (and more) in all my designs. I thought that was important to emphasize.

The same was put in how to differentiate varying levels of Crew members, from Officer (far left) to rookie (far right, in the onesie).

Anytime a player sees a onesie, they know it's a newb crew.
Anytime they see a long coat, they know it's the one and only officer.
When they see a normal shirt, they know it's a normal.
And when they see something fancy without a long coat, they know it's an expert crew.

This gives a visual representation of the crew. Also since there will be far more on the right (normal/newb) and far fewer on the left (Officer/Expert) the player can visually tell what his away team's capabilities may be. Also, it'll make the player feel more awesome having fewer onesies.

The color-coding is also extremely important. It is easier for me to memorize profession by color, than anything else. All GUI, all rooms, lights, and clothing are color-coded. So anytime the player sees orange, he knows it's engineering. No matter if it's a drone, a room, a character, an item, etc.


Looks wonderful!! Very unique and special. :)


colourblind mode can simply have a letter above each head ie E for entertainment. It's a minority audience so you don't have to go too far to please them, merely make it accessible to them. I'm hard of hearing. I don't need closed captions for sound effects, but I still want to follow conversation :)

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I have yet to read through all of this in detail but before I dig in, I immediately thought about Craig Perko's blog. I've been following it for a few years and he has talked a number of times about designing a Star Trek game that is less about combat and more about people. You may find it helpful, I have in thinking about my own work.

Some of good ones:


Beautiful write-up, and looks like a great game too. I think your visual coding of class and experience is very well done.

Out of curiosity, did you look at Trexels?


Thanks a lot for sharing so much with us! It was very interesting and educational. I'm looking forward to play that game one day!

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@CarterG81 - Thanks for taking time to write all that! I really like how you identified a specific feeling and have designed all of this to convey that feeling. That strength of vision really ties it all together.


Hahahha, although that came out after I started my project, I do remember watching this video about it:

It reinforced my thoughts that my game was a great idea and would sell very well. I had only wished I released around the same time so I could get on his spotlight :stuck_out_tongue: It would be pretty great if a high profile game was released and you became known for being the “not horrible version”, blowing them away as competition. Unfortunately the game was a bit too early to even make a blip on anyone’s radar at the time :wink:

What actually got me inspired/annoyed to start a treky style game is Tiny Trek and another treky game around at the same time on kickstarter. It didn’t take much to see how poorly those would turn out, at least IMO anyway. I don’t know which one, as I can’t find the webpage section that made the promise, but one can be quoted talking about how they were tired of seeing treky games that were just about combat, then it game proceed to talk about ship combat, ground combat, etc. I’d quote it if I could find it, but I can’t even seem to find Tiny Trek’s website (or Bit Odyssey’s website), let alone the name of that other game.

Thanks Tony Li!

Btw, since I made this game with Unity I used Dialogue System for the alien encounters. So thanks for that, saved me a lot of time developing and allowed me to prototype really fast too. I never got around to developing the personality of each individual crews, but Love/Hate seemed pretty interesting too at first glance. Anyway, when I talk about the Strengths/Weaknesses of Unity, I am always mentioning Dialogue System as an example of one of Unity’s biggest strengths (Unity’s biggest strength IMO is its asset store, and DialogueSystem always comes first to mind as an example of how the asset store can save you a lot of time, learning, and work.)


Are you sure it really would play out that way? I could see how you could have the critically acclaimed better version of the game that hardcore gamers like, but on the opposing side there might be a 6 or 7 figure marketing budget, official brand license and the casual market that does possibly not read any of the reviews for your game…
Maybe I’m too cynical, but I don’t think you’d have a chance at having better sales than the official game, no matter how good yours is. I think becoming known as the “better version of FTL” might hit the audience that would potentially buy your game a bit better.

I think Away Mission's concept is unique enough that it stands on its own ("command a crew like ST:TNG"). The visual style will invite comparisons to FTL, of course, but that needn't dominate the marketing discussion. After all, Minecraft isn't known as the "better version of Infiniminer" even though they look the same at first glance.

If you were trying to sell Away Mission to a publisher, "a better version of FTL" would be a good angle because publishers want something similar to proven sellers. Gamers, on the other hand, are looking for unique experiences.


Going to be honest, if you ever finish it, I would totally buy it.

Really interesting write up too, you're a hell of a lot more organized than I am.


This write up is ACCEPTABLEEE!!!!!!


I'm going to throw out another idea here.

A big part of burn-out, I think, is working in a vacuum. You're toiling away for months with little encouragement, because nobody knows about it.

If instead you release it as an early alpha or beta, or do the full-on incremental development model (like we've done for High Frontier), the situation is different. You'll get a core of players. Start a mailing list or web forum about the game, and get those core players to post (we're still struggling with this in our community, but it's slowly starting to happen). Then, update your game frequently — talk about your design challenges and solutions, as you've done in this post, and get feedback from the players.

Now you're no longer working in a vacuum; you have people watching and cheering you on (and occasionally, maybe even providing useful ideas — especially useful in a game like this one, which needs a lot of creative event scenarios). This will probably get you re-invigorated and past the burn-out, and help you push on to the finish line.