ProCreate Transcendence

 

Transcendence: The Stars of the Pilgrim

Jack Brinck

Transcendence is a top down space-shooter with an emphasis on exploring. Set in a fairly expansive and somewhat procedurally generated galaxy filled with pirates, colonists, anarchists, and other adventurers, Transcendence tasks the player with jumping from sector to sector in a quest to reach ‘The Galactic Core’. After selecting one of three ships you’re told that the Galactic Goddess Domina has been speaking to you in your dreams, and has told you to seek out the Galactic Core where she resides. With that out of the way, you’re thrown into the cold reach of space to start finding your way on the long journey. This involves finding a stargate hidden in each level and using it to proceed to the next system.

ProCreate TranscendenceTranscendence isn’t a game that relies on a complex narrative, but still manages to build a world that evokes classic Sci-Fi. The player is given just enough to be curious, but not so much as to weigh them down with endless convoluted text. This is a game where you fly around and shoot things. The gameplay is instantly comparable to the classic arcade game Asteroids. Like that game, you propel your ship through space and spin it around a fixed point on the screen to control where you want to go. Momentum builds as you fly about, and if you want to change direction you need to change where your ship is facing and then blast the engine.

This makes dog fights, which you’ll frequently engage in, feel frenzied. Changing direction to lose or pursue your enemies isn’t precise, so it pays to be the better equipped ship rather than try to out-maneuver anyone. A great deal of fuel can be spent in these fights, and you’ll soon learn that strategically deciding when to engage and when to avoid is a crucial decision.

Exploring is a constant theme, and it extends to the game’s design. While you do have the ability to see a full layout of the controls and there is a very minor tutorial at the beginning of the game most of the game is learned through actually playing it. While learning through action is a hallmark of many great games, here it can sometimes feel a little obtuse. For example, finding out which parts can and cannot be installed to your ship and where you have to go to get them installed is a bit of trial and error that doesn’t contribute to making the game fun. However, exploration leads to the game’s most triumphant moments. Reaching a distant planet after a hectic fight to find that stargate you’ve been searching for all along is an exhilarating feeling.

On the stylistic front the game looks good, if not a bit repetitive. If you’ve seen one space hotel orbiting a Jupiter clone, you’ve seen them all. Things like pirate stations and space colonies exhibit a little more variance but after a few levels you’ll have experienced most of what the game offers in terms of station designs. Individual ships are the most diverse in terms of their models. Small fighters shoot past medium sized cruisers, and bulky war ships will trade laser fire with sleeker transporters. The oddest stylistic choice is the way in which transparent colors overlay the entire screen from time to time. In the outer portions of a level this doesn’t happen, but as you get closer to the core of a level, either a yellow, red, or blue star will give off a light that diminishes the overall level of clarity. This ends up being more distracting than anything else.

The environments are filled with asteroid belts, planets, moons, and space stations. Later levels mix it up by adding new elements like space fog that interfere with your navigational controls. When docking with a station, a choose-your-own-adventure style interface allows you to read about the station’s conditions, buy or sell items, and seek out quests from locals.ProCreate Transcendence

Your ship contains upgradeable systems including shields, weapons, and reactors. New parts can be bought from traders or looted from destroyed ships or space stations, though the last method often comes at a loss of quality as the parts you loot may be damaged from the attack. Managing and upgrading your ship is one of the key components to surviving each sector of space. Do you spend some of your hard earned credits on a shield upgrade, or refuel? Do you invest in a missile launcher even though you won’t be able to install it until the next level? Each decision on how you upgrade feels appropriately tense and important and the game is sure to give you a small amount of latitude in the kind of ship you want to build.

Transcendence is a game that often feels like it’s hiding something from you. Luckily, there’s enough joy of discovery here to encourage players to seek out the answers they’re looking for. The multiple ships to choose from, active mod community, and procedurally generated levels all go a long way to making the game replay-able. The low, low price of free doesn’t hurt either. So if you enjoy exploration and arcade style space combat, take the pilgrimage. And may the blessings of Domina be with you.

Grade: B+

I had a chance to talk with George Moromisato, the developer of the space-shooter Transcendence. He discussed a variety of things including his beginnings as a game developer and the future of Transcendence.  Read the interview below.

Jack Brinck: Is Transcendence the first game you ever made?

George Moromisato: The first game I ever made was a game called Anacreon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anacreon:_Reconstruction_4021). I wrote it in college instead of studying and I ended up dropping out to build a company around it. That was a huge mistake! I couldn’t make enough money to move out of my parent’s house, so I had to get a real job. Fortunately, I could use my game as a resume, so I managed to get a pretty good job programming. Since then, my career has split between game-companies (e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chron_X) and non-game companies (e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groove_Networks). I’m in a game-company phase right now and I really love it.

JB: I've read that Transcendence started development in 1995. Can you talk about how it's changed since its inception?

ProCreate Transcendence: Pilgrim to the StarsGM: I’ve learned a ton since those days! Back then I didn’t focus enough on game mechanics. For example, I’m much more conscious now about presenting the player with interesting choices. That’s a lot harder than it sounds. When the player faces a choice (e.g., attack enemy X or not) you need to make the trade-off clear (otherwise the player is just choosing randomly) but it has to be a balanced choice (otherwise one answer is always right). I think about those kinds of issues more now.

But I think the biggest difference is the impact of modding. When I started I didn’t think about letting players mod the game. I created a scripting system for myself—so I could add content easily. But once players started modding the game I realized (a) how much fun they were having, and (b) how creative some of the mods were. Since then I’ve spent a lot of effort to improve the modding system, and I think it’s changed the game significantly. Take a look at this list of player-created mods: http://xelerus.de/index.php?s=mods

JB: Could you give a sense of how much of Transcendence is from a one-man development team? At what point did you start adding people to the team? How big is the team now?

GM: Transcendence started out as a one-person project. I worked on it in my spare time for many years, so I ended up creating the bulk of the code and artwork. In the last few years, though, I’ve been working on it full time, and I’ve been slowly expanding the team.

Last year I brought in Michael Tangent to compose the score. He did the original title track for Transcendence many years ago, and I really wanted him to do a full soundtrack. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been relying on Matteson Claus for marketing/PR and to help with storylines and character development.

And of course, we’re really lucky to have a set of dedicated players who have been helping to maintain the forums, Facebook page, etc. Every mod on Xelerus is player-created, and those mods have expanded the Transcendence universe far beyond anything I could do alone.

JB: What were your influences when creating this game? I'm curious about this in terms of setting and game play.

GM: The game play was directly influenced by both Nethack and Star Control II. I loved how Star Control could tell an epic story just by ship-to-ship interactions (basically equivalent to the dock screens in Transcendence). And Nethack, of course, inspired the procedurally generated systems and many of the game mechanics. Roguelikes like Nethack have been hugely influential in the industry. Diablo, Spelunky, FTL, and Transcendence (among many others) owe them a huge debt.

As to the setting, I think there are lots of influences. Growing up in the 80s I watched a show called “Star Blazers.” The show chronicled the journey of a ProCreate Transcendence: Pilgrim to the Starsstarship from Earth to a distant world across the galaxy, and each episode featured some adventure they had on the way. I always thought that was a great premise for a game. 

I also drew a lot of inspiration from some of my favorite space operas. Vernor Vinge’s “Fire Upon the Deep” was a huge influence, particularly in his concepts of hyper-intelligences. That’s partly where the ideas of Domina and Oracus come from, and I think that’s probably where I got the idea to call the game “Transcendence.”

I’ve written in the past about C. J. Cherryh’s influence (http://multiverse.kronosaur.com/news.hexm?id=328). Cherryh’s work, particularly “Downbelow Station” inspired a lot of the flavor of the Commonwealth Fleet storyline in Transcendence. Her depiction of a ragtag fleet, fighting a losing war against a powerful enemy, made a strong influence on me. I also love that her characters are never 100% good or evil. That’s something that I’ve tried to follow in Transcendence.

JB: Did you ever have design principals/goals while developing this game?

GM: Absolutely! For every release I try to define a few themes to work on. For version 1.3, for example, I wanted to reinforce the core experience. That’s why the soundtrack was so important: to make combat and exploration more immersive. Similarly, in 1.3 I introduced the storyline about Benedict in the first system to help the player to learn the core mechanics.

For the next release, coming at the end of 2014, the main theme is about Earth. Transcendence has been around for 10 years, but players have never been able to visit Earth and the Solar System. That’s going to change and that’s the major theme of the next release.

JB: Do you have a favorite single aspect of the game? Or something you're most proud of?

GM: I’m proud of the depth of the setting and storyline. A player was telling me that he was playing the game with his son, and when they got to the twist in the Huari storyline, they were both blown away. Being able to have such an impact, particularly on a father and son sharing an experience together, is really gratifying for me.

ProCreate Transcendence: Pilgrim to the StarsJB: What's one thing you'd like to say to someone about to play Transcendence for the first time?

GM: That’s a good question. Fundamentally I’d like people to think of Transcendence as a breathing, living thing. It’s not a finished product like a movie that you passively consume. Transcendence is more like a city that’s always changing. Player-created mods, obviously, are a huge part of what keeps Transcendence evolving. And I’m constantly broadening and deepening both the storylines and the setting.

So to a new player I’d say, “Welcome to the Transcendence universe! Make yourself at home.”

JB: Where can people go on the Internet to learn more about you and your projects?

GM: Our company site (http://kronosaur.com/) has a good overview of Transcendence and Anacreon. And of course, people can follow us on Twitter for the latest news (https://twitter.com/multivrs).

 

 Thanks again to George Moromisato for talking to us about his game, Transcendence!

I had a chance to talk with George Moromisato, the developer of the space-shooter 
Transcendence. He discussed a variety of things including his beginnings as a game 
developer and the future of Transcendence. Read the interview below.
Jack Brinck: Is Transcendence the first game you ever made?
George Moromisato: The first game I ever made was a game called Anacreon (http:/
/en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anacreon:_Reconstruction_4021). I wrote it in college instead 
of studying and I ended up dropping out to build a company around it. That was a huge 
mistake! I couldn’t make enough money to move out of my parent’s house, so I had to get 
a real job. Fortunately, I could use my game as a resume, so I managed to get a pretty good 
job programming. Since then, my career has split between game-companies (e.g., http://
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chron_X) and non-game companies (e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Groove_Networks). I’m in a game-company phase right now and I really love it.
JB: I've read that Transcendence started development in 1995. Can you talk about how it's 
changed since its inception?
GM: I’ve learned a ton since those days! Back then I didn’t focus enough on game 
mechanics. For example, I’m much more conscious now about presenting the player with 
interesting choices. That’s a lot harder than it sounds. When the player faces a choice (e.g., 
attack enemy X or not) you need to make the trade-off clear (otherwise the player is just 
choosing randomly) but it has to be a balanced choice (otherwise one answer is always 
right). I think about those kinds of issues more now.
But I think the biggest difference is the impact of modding. When I started I didn’t think 
about letting players mod the game. I created a scripting system for myself—so I could add 
content easily. But once players started modding the game I realized (a) how much fun they 
were having, and (b) how creative some of the mods were. Since then I’ve spent a lot of 
effort to improve the modding system, and I think it’s changed the game significantly. Take 
a look at this list of player-created mods: http://xelerus.de/index.php?s=mods
JB: Could you give a sense of how much of Transcendence is from a one-man development 
team? At what point did you start adding people to the team? How big is the team now?
GM: Transcendence started out as a one-person project. I worked on it in my spare time for 
many years, so I ended up creating the bulk of the code and artwork. In the last few years, 
though, I’ve been working on it full time, and I’ve been slowly expanding the team.
Last year I brought in Michael Tangent to compose the score. He did the original title track 
for Transcendence many years ago, and I really wanted him to do a full soundtrack. Since 
the beginning of the year I’ve been relying on Matteson Claus for marketing/PR and to help 
with storylines and character development.
And of course, we’re really lucky to have a set of dedicated players who have been helping 
to maintain the forums, Facebook page, etc. Every mod on Xelerus is player-created, and 
those mods have expanded the Transcendence universe far beyond anything I could do 
alone.
JB: What were your influences when creating this game? I'm curious about this in terms of 
setting and game play.
GM: The game play was directly influenced by both Nethack and Star Control II. I loved how 
Star Control could tell an epic story just by ship-to-ship interactions (basically equivalent 
to the dock screens in Transcendence). And Nethack, of course, inspired the procedurally 
generated systems and many of the game mechanics. Roguelikes like Nethack have been 
hugely influential in the industry. Diablo, Spelunky, FTL, and Transcendence (among many 
others) owe them a huge debt.
As to the setting, I think there are lots of influences. Growing up in the 80s I watched a 
show called “Star Blazers.” The show chronicled the journey of a starship from Earth to a 
distant world across the galaxy, and each episode featured some adventure they had on the 
way. I always thought that was a great premise for a game. 
I also drew a lot of inspiration from some of my favorite space operas. Vernor Vinge’s “Fire 
Upon the Deep” was a huge influence, particularly in his concepts of hyper-intelligences. 
That’s partly where the ideas of Domina and Oracus come from, and I think that’s probably 
where I got the idea to call the game “Transcendence.”
I’ve written in the past about C. J. Cherryh’s influence (http://multiverse.kronosaur.com/
news.hexm?id=328). Cherryh’s work, particularly “Downbelow Station” inspired a lot of 
the flavor of the Commonwealth Fleet storyline in Transcendence. Her depiction of a ragtag 
fleet, fighting a losing war against a powerful enemy, made a strong influence on me. I also 
love that her characters are never 100% good or evil. That’s something that I’ve tried to 
follow in Transcendence.
JB: Did you ever have design principals/goals while developing this game?
GM: Absolutely! For every release I try to define a few themes to work on. For version 
1.3, for example, I wanted to reinforce the core experience. That’s why the soundtrack 
was so important: to make combat and exploration more immersive. Similarly, in 1.3 I 
introduced the storyline about Benedict in the first system to help the player to learn the 
core mechanics.
For the next release, coming at the end of 2014, the main theme is about Earth. 
Transcendence has been around for 10 years, but players have never been able to visit 
Earth and the Solar System. That’s going to change and that’s the major theme of the next 
release.
JB: Do you have a favorite single aspect of the game? Or something you're most proud of?
GM: I’m proud of the depth of the setting and storyline. A player was telling me that he was 
playing the game with his son, and when they got to the twist in the Huari storyline, they 
were both blown away. Being able to have such an impact, particularly on a father and son 
sharing an experience together, is really gratifying for me.
JB: What's one thing you'd like to say to someone about to play Transcendence for the first 
time?
GM: That’s a good question. Fundamentally I’d like people to think of Transcendence as a 
breathing, living thing. It’s not a finished product like a movie that you passively consume. 
Transcendence is more like a city that’s always changing. Player-created mods, obviously, 
are a huge part of what keeps Transcendence evolving. And I’m constantly broadening and 
deepening both the storylines and the setting.
So to a new player I’d say, “Welcome to the Transcendence universe! Make yourself at 
home.”
JB: Where can people go on the Internet to learn more about you and your projects?
GM: Our company site (http://kronosaur.com/) has a good overview of Transcendence 
and Anacreon. And of course, people can follow us on Twitter for the latest news (https://
twitter.com/multivrs).
Thanks again to George Moromisato for talking to us about his game, Transcendence!

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Jack_Brinck.JPG

Jack Brinck is an aspiring screenwriter and video game enthusiast. In 2012 he graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois with a bachelor's degree in Film and Video and a minor in Creative Writing. Since then he has served two terms in Americorps and continues to develop various creative projects. Between filming and writing, Jack loves to play video games. He enjoys games from all genres, and he has a special fondness for games with strong narrative elements. He currently lives in Austin, Texas.

Jack's personal blog, http://thebrinckblog.blogspot.com

 

Game Info

Title: Transcendence

Developer: Kronosaur Productions

Composer: Michael Tangent

Platforms: Windows, Linux

Purchase Link: http://trans.kronosaur.com/guidePage.hexm?id=transcendenceQuickStart

Website: http://transcendence.kronosaur.com/

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