Simulations seem to come in waves. At one point it seemed like it wasn’t possible to get any more World War II flight simulations, but they still kept coming, and I kept buying them! Then it seemed like everybody and their producer uncle was announcing high-fidelity flight combat simulations, although, sadly, fewer of those materialized than we would have liked. More recently, the “realistic” space simulation theme seemed to start picking up some followers, a trend I’ve been very excited to see. Although Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen may have grabbed the headlines and space-cruiser-holds worth of fan’s money, Rogue System is a sleeper space sim that might be just what hardcore space sim fans are really looking for.
What is Rogue System?
Note: The screenshots and impressions given in this article are based on an early access version of the game that may not reflect the final product.
Rogue System (or “RogSys”, as the cool kids call it) is a space flight simulation currently in early-access that puts players into a highly-detailed and fully functional cockpit of a futuristic spacecraft. Like any good high-fidelity simulation, the pretty cockpit and fancy HUD are just facades for a deeply intricate system of systems.
Sometimes referred to as the “DCS” or “Falcon 4” of space sims, there’s no flipping on the motivators and whooshing off into space in this “game”. Rogue System’s ships have power systems, coolant systems, reactors, boosters, displays, communications, and other realistic systems that need to be initialized in the correct order before the ship can be operational. More than just a click-here-then-click-here puzzle, there is a purpose for each system and logic to the startup order, just as with complex systems (like military aircraft start-ups) in today’s world.
Although any spaceship sim can take some serious poetic license with their ship design – after all, there are no real interplanetary spaceships to compare against, just yet – Rogue System seems to have gone through great pains to use plausible technologies and apply realistic physics to those technologies as envisioned in a space-vehicle application.
For example, the FireArc (the ship currently available in the early access version of the game) utilizes a high-energy thruster called the “variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket”, or VASMIR. This six-letter acronym beast of a device uses electricity and a working gas to generate high-temperature plasma (10 million degrees) and shoot it out of a nozzle to produce thrust. Sound like fiction? It’s not.
Awareness of cutting edge space technology and the attention to detail to model all the dependent systems of this complicated little device is a good sign that physics and realism will have a higher priority in this sim than “cool” technologies and “fun” effects.
Beyond the spacecraft, the cold forces of orbital mechanics pull at your ship and the stations you dock with (all those countless hours of playing Kerbal Space Program has finally paid off!). Space Traffic Control gives you startup, departure, and approach clearances. Rogue System clearly aims to be an IMMERSIVE space simulation.
The game as it sits today, while early access, is a totally functional demonstration of the Rogue System concept, and only suffers from a small handful of bugs. There is a limited number of missions: all of them are tutorials that do well in demonstrating the depth of realism in this simulation.
Tooling around in a really cool spacecraft with really cool space backgrounds isn’t the only vision for Rogue System. There are weapons on the FireArc for those inevitable space battles. Three expansion modules have already been announced that will support a sandbox exploration of the Rogue Systems universe, a first-person shooter interface that will include ship-to-ship breaching (“avast, ye space dog!”), and a multiplayer capability that will include multi-crew of the same vessel.
How will this focus on ultra-realism affect gameplay? Will there be a manual? Do space radiators REALLY work in space? Instead of trying to answer those questions myself, let’s let Rogue System’s creator and visionary, Michael Juliano, tell you in his own words, along with the answers to a few other questions we put together.
Q: Where does the title “Rogue System” come from?
A: The name “Rogue System” is derived from the events surrounding the Core module’s campaign. Basically, and without spoiling it, the small colony the player will be flying for is the governing body of its local star system. Its leaders refuse to go along with the new status quo. Hence, it becomes a “Rogue System”.
Q: How would you summarize your vision for Rogue System (RogSys) in terms of gameplay? A shoot ‘em up combat space sim? An RPG with a persistent universe?
A: This is always a hard question because Rogue System is a rather unique beast. Typically, I summarize RogSys by explaining its goal for the Core module. That is to put the player in COMPLETE control of a ship – from pre-flight to post – which is based on systems that are either extrapolated versions of current technology, or sci-fi technologies that are based in plausible, theoretical science. In between missions, the player will remain in character and is free to move about the station on which they’re based. Moving from one ship to another is seamless – there are no 3rd person animations of a pilot climbing into a cockpit, or load screens, to pull the player out of the world. The player IS the pilot, always.
All of this happens in a realistic setting, in which proper orbital mechanics and Newtonian physics are at work on everything, all the time. Ships systems suffer not only combat damage, but age-related failure as well. Damage is persistent, and what maintenance can’t fix in between missions the player will just have to deal with (or take another ship if one’s available).
All that said then, Rogue System is definitely NOT a space-shooter. There’s plenty of other space games out there with far bigger budgets who have that area well-covered. Not that there’s anything WRONG with that type of gameplay; but it’s not what RogSys is trying to be. I want the player’s knowledge of the ship to be more important than how quickly they can pull the trigger. When something goes wrong I want the player to feel accomplished because they were able to circumvent the problem and make it back. I want to make SURVIVING exciting, not killing.
Q: How did you come up with the systems design for the FireArc (the current spaceship available in Early Access)? It’s very complicated and interconnected, but quite realistic.
A: I spent eight years as an Autopilot/Instrument troop on the B-1B bomber before I started my career in game development. It’s this history, and a LOT of research on real space technologies (both current and theoretical) that have helped me make logic sense of these ship systems and their inter-dependencies. The reason I use only real, extrapolated, and plausible sci-fi systems is so I can model their behavior based on sound rules. Doing this then allows them to behave in a realistic manner both when operating normally, and when damaged.
These are still prototype systems, by the way. When the final ships are implemented each will get a final pass.
Q: Technology like the variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket is pretty cutting edge and obscure; what other cutting-edge tech is in RogSys?
A: I’m not sure if I’d consider the VASIMR “obscure”; but it’s definitely at the forefront of upcoming propulsion systems. Even so, the version used in RogSys is certainly an extrapolation based on the current tech. Along with this, I could easily see solar sails making an appearance as an emergency form of propulsion. There will also be what is currently known as the “FLUX Drive”, and is based on systems such as the electromagnetic (EM) and quantum-vacuum (Q) drives.
Likewise, you’ll see different ways to reduce the effects of acceleration forces come together to allow the pilot to tolerate much higher forces than any one system could offer. I’ve read up on the MIT research that could theoretically allow a paper-thick sheet of armor plating stop a bullet. There’s also the “electric armor” being developed by the EDA.
The list is potentially endless, and modding will allow new systems to be added over time.
Q: Will RogSys be limited to plausible technology, or will fantasy physics like faster-than-light travel, artificial gravity, or endless energy sources be introduced to help gameplay?
A: The only thing “fantasy” right now is the typical FPS character controller that allows you to walk around within the ship. This is the current fallback in case the eventual zero-g character controller doesn’t work out. Even if it does, I would like some form of gravity within larger ships (preferably centrifugal-based gravity).
The only thing that really needs to be made accessible is TIME. Even with constant multi-G drives to get you from one place to another, you could still be looking at travel times of many days. The same could be said of a “warp” drive to get you from one system to another – it wouldn’t be instantaneous. So, for single player, suspended animation (SAN) will be used to skip that travel time (although that skipped time is still taken into account for orbit calculations and such). Basically, you would do your burn, enter SAN, and then the ship’s computer would wake you up to do the “braking” burn, or it would do it itself and wake you at the destination.
Otherwise, no, there are no endless energy sources or fuel-less drive systems. Even the EM drive, which is considered propellant-less, STILL requires power to produce its thrust.
Q: Will RogSys multiplayer also include multiple players be able to crew the same ship?
A: Absolutely. I definitely see multiplayer as more of a cooperative affair than a head-to-head thing. My vision for multiplayer is for a group of friends to jump on a server, crew a ship, and make their way through the game’s “world”; and encounter other players doing the same.
In theory, this is possible right now. While the network code isn’t in place, the architecture for multiplayer is. In the case of multi-crew, RogSys doesn’t care if an NPC or a human is sitting at a station – once an order is given it is acted on in the same manner.
Q: There’s currently one ship in the Early Access. What sorts of ships are you planning to make for RogSys in the future?
A: For the Core module there are three planned player-flyable ships. Each ship will be used by one of three squadrons, and each squadron will have its own part to play each mission as part of a total “package.” One squadron will fly a combat-designed ship whose role will be to run point/interference for the more massive “bombers”. The bombers will have the punch to engage much larger ships, but the added mass seriously reduces translation and rotation acceleration rates. A third “support” squadron will be tasked with search and rescue, ship recovery, weapon satellite deployments, etc. There should be a little something for everyone…
New ships can be added both by Digits Crossed Interactive AND modders alike. The Maverick module, which will introduce exploration/trading style gameplay, should offer a great many choices of ship for the player.
Q. How is the Oculus Rift support coming along? Any plans for supporting any other VR devices?
The Leadwerks engine, which RogSys is built on, supports the Oculus Rift natively. In theory it should work now. That said, I haven’t actually tested this yet. Assuming it does work I’m sure I’ll have to add gameplay-specific code to fully support it regardless. I’m hoping to have Rift support in by the second update if all goes well.
Also, Leadwerks is very Steam friendly, and although I haven’t heard specifically I wouldn’t be surprised if Steam’s VR system also was supported in the future.
Q: Will RogSys ships have detailed manuals, powerplant diagrams, performance tables, and other “study simulation” materials? Will these be needed to fly and fight?
A: Absolutely. For the “Boxed” and “Premium Boxed” early-access tiers, a full flight manual is one of the reward items. I’d like it to be a nice ring-bound affair like the old flight-sim manuals I so fondly remember☺. This SHOULD also be available separately both in print and digital formats. RogSys currently uses a rudimentary in-game tutorial system, and so far it’s been very effective in getting people up to speed. A full set of training missions is also planned. Considering these, I don’t think the manual would be a requirement; but it will be VERY helpful.
There will also be in-game checklists, system diagrams, etc. Once the final ships are in and the systems are implemented in their fully-refined form, then work can begin on these. It’d be a waste of resources to do them now while things are still in a heavy state of flux.
Q. How will RogSys balance accessible gameplay vs simulation?
A: There are (and some of these have started going in to the most recent code) auto-pilot modes that will help the player maintain control of the ship. These are part of the Navigation/Autopilot System (NAS). As such, they can be lost due to damage or failure. There are also various HUD modes to feed the pilot information based on the current setting (docking, navigation, targeting, etc). Again, these can be lost.
The biggest asset to the player though will be the Ship’s Artificial Intelligence (SAI). It will act as your copilot, helping to handle lower level tasks, assisting with start-ups and shut-downs, and generally making many of the manual switches a redundancy. Those switches NEED to be there though. As with everything else, the SAI is just another ship system—if it is made unreliable due to damage (or rendered completely inoperable) the player WILL either have to fix it if possible, or fly in full manual.
Otherwise, there are no cheats in RogSys. If it’s not a pilot aid based on a system that can be managed and destroyed, it doesn’t go in.
Q: What do you think of folks referring to RogSys as the “DCS of Space Ships”?
A: Hearing people refer to it as “DCS in Space” or “Falcon 4 in Space” is the biggest compliment I could get, I think. It lets me know I’m on the right path, because that’s exactly what I’m trying to achieve – a hardcore flight-sim-like experience in a realistically-based sci-fi setting. It’s been a challenge trying to merge those two ideas together, and a lot of people don’t “get it” at first. When they do though, and they come back with a comment like that… it’s very motivating.
Q. The current plan has the Core module, plus three expansion modules: Maverick (for open-sandbox), Breaching (for first-person shooter), and Multiplayer. What do you have envisioned for RogSys past the modules?
A: I really don’t think beyond these, honestly. I know full-well that all of these items alone will be a tall order. Even for a BIG team you’d be silly to try to incorporate them all at once. That’s why I broke RogSys up into modules – layering gameplay on to gameplay until it’s all done. If you take each one of these things separately then you can fully focus on each, which makes the whole thing much easier to swallow.
The other reason I want to break up the work is for the simple reason that I don’t know the future. If I tried to do everything at once and the worst happened, then all I’d have is an unfinished product. But with it broken up at least I can say, “It was finished up to this point. It’s not everything I wanted, but it’s a strong product regardless”.
Q. What would you say the biggest advantages are of RogSys? What’s the trickiest risk you are tackling, or will have to address?
A: Rogue System’s biggest advantage is that it’s not trying to be just another space shooter. It could never compete with the likes of Elite: Dangerous or Star Citizen on equal terms. I’m happy to let those two slug it out. ☺ But, by going in a different direction it sets itself apart and caters to a unique audience (with a good bit of cross-over, I’m finding). It’s then not a question of better or worse. It becomes its own thing.
This is also then its biggest challenge – trying to find its decidedly smaller, niche audience.
Technically, the biggest challenge was synchronization. I’m modeling proper orbital mechanics in a 1 to 1 scale system – if you were to recreate our solar system the spatial distances would be accurate. Now, place in that the player’s ship, which can translate and rotate any way it wants without a speed cap (none as of yet), and inside THAT the player can currently walk around and remain “right-side-up”. You stand there and look out a viewport monitor– the ship could be spinning madly and all the while moving at several thousand meters per second as it orbits a planet that is itself orbiting a distant star. It was… hard to get that to work.
Q. Where is the sim at now in terms of progress, and what’s the next big goal?
A: Rogue System has just entered early access, and at this point there is not much in terms of gameplay. There is the prototype ship, and a series of tutorial missions to help you get familiar with it. This was both by design and necessity. First, I wanted to start early access BEFORE the real gameplay started going in. This will allow me to get good feedback from players and actually be able to act on it. A lot of products do the public early access thing when they’re a good way through Alpha or even into Beta. By then it’s really too late to act on feedback from the community. I want players to have an active role in development.
The second reason, and even more critical, is that I NEED to be able to put together a team to give RogSys its best chance of success. As I’m alone right now even ONE artist would decrease my workload by half (giving me more time for code) and double production output. My hope is early access will be successful enough to allow me to do that. If not though, there is a streamlined version of RogSys that I CAN deliver on my own if I have to.
Q. What role do you see the community playing in the development of this sim?
A: As I said, I want the community to have an active role in RogSys’ development. While I do a good bit of testing on everything I add, it’s the players that really put it through its paces and can spot very quickly what works, what doesn’t, etc. Already I’ve gotten a LOT of great feedback and suggestions from early access backers.
Beyond this, one of Rogue Systems biggest features is that it is fully moddable. Players can add new ship systems, ships, and other equipment. In fact, the directory structure is such that it would be possible to make an entirely new space sim based on the game code. There’s already been a lot of interest in this, and as it gets developed further modders will be able to do more and more.
Q. Tell us a little about the RogSys development team: Who’s on the team? Where are you all located?
A: The only full-time team member of Digits Crossed Interactive (based currently just outside of Houston, TX) is me, currently. As I said, this is why early-access is critical. The best chance for success is to build even a small team up to further support development. I’m no stranger to running a team. I ran my own shift while in the Air Force. I’ve been Lead Artist on multiple projects. I can handle that aspect. To get quality people though you have to offer fair compensation – that’s the way it is…
That said, I have been VERY fortunate to have great sound designer and musician – Michael Manning – who’s been working with me for over a year now. He’s been gracious enough to offer his free time, and has done an AMAZING job as you may have already heard. I’d love to be able to retain his service and get him working full-time.
Q: What’s the best way for someone with Early Access to give feedback on your game?
A: The official Rogue System forums, hosted by Image Space Incorporated (ISI is the minimum funding partner who have basically made it possible for me to get to this point) would be the best place to offer feedback.
Q: Study sim fans tend to be the harshest rivet counters there are. While RogSys has some poetic license in the use of fictional systems based on real but obscure tech, how prepared are you to have the anal-retentive types question and challenge every aspect of it?
A: First, this isn’t new to me. My first artist gig was with a company called Atomic Games, and they did the WWII RTS “Close Combat” series. Their fans were absolute “Grognards” – totally dedicated to the material. They were difficult to deal with at times, but they were so passionate because they cared about the product. I couldn’t fault them for that ☺
More than that though, hey, I don’t know everything – I don’t pretend to. I’m more than certain that I get my facts and logic wrong from time to time. The internet is not always the most reliable source of information. I’ve already had some folks point out a few items that we could verify and I added these to the refinement list. If you talk to me politely I’ll be more than happy to listen politely. Just please don’t tell me to remove the radiators because there’s “no way” they could work in space. Makes me chuckle every time ☺
Big thanks the Michael for entertaining our questions. I’m personally looking forward to reading more about the development of Rogue Systems.