Deck & Conn, Log 11 – Priority Action Message

I broke my ‘fast track to alpha’ rule this past week and decided to do something which technically isn’t -required- for Deck & Conn until beta but… I wanted to do it. Partly to prove to myself I could do the art for it on my own, and partly just for a change.

And so, here it is – the ship’s communication systems.

Now, that’s not just getting buried deep in the ship’s computer. One of my favourite little bits in (especially older) computer submarine sims is when you could visit the captain’s cabin – to read notes, your war log, or just for that feeling of that it kinda is like a real boat.

So I knew what I needed for Deck & Conn – a second room. The captain’s cabin. In which would set your 15-minutes-into-the-future-of-1986 secure communications terminal.

Welcome to your cabin, Captain.

The principle form of communication in Deck & Conn is the Priority Action Message. It’s called this in-game for two reasons: firstly, because I like the idea that any communication that could get to you in this kind of environment has to be an important one. And, secondly, because “incoming PAM, Captain” kinda rolls off the tongue.

To get your system working, you need to start by booting it up using the power switch on the terminal there.

The boot-up time isn’t instant, either – but don’t worry. You’ll only have to do this once when you first start your patrol. Once it’s booted, the system will ask you for a response code to decrypt messages. You enter this in using your keyboard. And if you get it wrong… well then, you’ve got a problem.

The terminal isn’t very smart. It doesn’t know you’ve given it the wrong decryption key – it just spits out the garbled mess, both at the message list and if you open one up. So where do you get the decryption key?

I spent some time musing on this. Part of me wanted to go FULL retro and have the decryption key actually be in the ‘printed’ (well, pdf in this case) manual. So it mimicked the old late ’80s and early ’90s copy protection style.

On one level, that sounds super cool to me. But on the other… that’s going to irritate the hell out of players real fast. That kind of friction is NOT the sort of retro I want for this game.

So my final choice was this – look at the top of the shelves in the room. The captain’s safe sure seems like the perfect place to keep private code-books, doesn’t it?

And with the correct lookup code found (I decided on a 4×4 grid of options – I want it to be a small moment of immersion, not an annoyance) you can then read your messages.

When you get new messages, a small flashing light on the wall of either the bridge or this room will appear, indicating a new PAM is ready for you to read.

I’m glad I took the time out from my sensor/damage code to do this. It was a good excuse to draw some more serious art for the game (done with Aseprite, like everything else in this game), a good excuse to (mostly) step away from code for a bit, and also just to get a better feeling about how I was going to give this retro-futuristic scifi world a bit more of a tangible feel.

The art itself was blocked out using tinkercad, then traced over to get detail, before finally getting a shading pass – one which can go dark for regular mode, or red for if your ship is at General Quarters.

I could have done much more detail to this room, but I was also conscious of finding a style that, given I will need maybe about 2-3 of these rooms for the rest of the game, could be knocked out in a few days – not tying me up making art assets for months.

Work in progress version of the room, with fewer details and little to no shading/shadows.

Next Up

Sensors, Emissions… and detection. (In fact I’m half way through doing it – but figured it was time for another dev log, so here I am!)