Netrek is what inspired me to create games of my own.
Netrek was, and still is, an amazing game.
It is a free team multiplayer action game of flying spaceships around, equipped with a couple of main weapons, yet the action is incredibly deep, as deep as a martial art, taking 5 years just to become an intermediate player. To be a top dogfighter, there are actually about 6 things you must do at once.
It is also an amazing strategic team game, or perhaps better called a sport. All the action skills in the world won’t help your side win if you don’t make yourself useful. And if the opposing team puts up any sort of fight, you won’t be able to take objectives without your teammates escorting, distracting, or sacrificing themselves for you.
Netrek has it all: skill, strategy, sacrificing for your team, heroics. It’s a true electronic sport. What more could you want in a game?
(For more info about netrek, check out the Wikipedia entry, and the netrek home page.)
Netrek began in the mid-eighties, and had a good run in the 90’s, but has been on life support for the last several years, and is now more or less dead, perhaps flinching once in a while.
This is very sad. For many of us, it is still by far the best game we have played.
Many efforts have been made to boost netrek. Things could still be done: more client modernization, better graphics, marketing, tutorials, and, of course, less curmudgeonly players so as to not scare newbies away.
Perhaps someone will be inspired to really take a substantial shot at these things to an order of magnitude higher than done before. I hope so. However, it seems for a while now that there is not much momentum to breathe the life into netrek that it needs.
A Commercial Strategy for Renewal
Volunteer efforts got us a long way for a long time, but as those now seem to have failed to keep the game alive and thriving, I’m wondering if a commercial angle could be another option.
I am trying a different strategy, a commercial one, attempting to create a series of commercial games, and then re-implement netrek on top of my game engine, and distribute a netrek game mode for free.
Netrek was and always will be free to play.
…but how does that jive with a commercial strategy?
In my mind, the spirit of netrek has always included the fact that it is a free to play game, and I feel that should always be preserved, even in the “nextrek” that I hope to create.
My commitment is that everything that has been in netrek should always be free to play, in clients and in servers.
The benefits of hitching one’s wagon to the money train
I hope to be able to release free game modes alongside my game demos, or full versions of my games. In theory, this will make it easy for a new audience who play my games to also try nextrek, without any additional downloads.
I hope to create game variants of netrek, including some more complicated variants, as well as some less complicated ones that have more instant gratification and mass appeal. Yes, I have read netrek’s FOCS (frequently offered clever suggestions), and yes, maybe some of my own clever ideas will not work. I am passionate about exploring those ideas though. Hopefully some will be good and draw some of that audience to try the real verbatim bronco style netrek (and perhaps hockey someday if there’s interest.)
If there was demand for it or it made sense, I would also intend to release a standalone “nextrek” client. And perhaps it would not be too imposing of me to have some sort of non-intrusive advertising or link on a startup screen to raise awareness of my other games.
Another netrek client
Another possibility is to leverage my assets to create a client that works with existing servers. I already got an observer client partially working with my game engine. I’m not sure if that’s worth continuing or releasing, but if you’re interested, let me know. I did release a lot of my netrek specific C# code as public domain at https://github.com/jaredthirsk/DotNetrek. Let me know if you’re interested in furthering a .NET netrek client and I may be able to provide additional code or help.
Free as in Freedom
Game companies typically feel they benefit from keeping some code proprietary, and honestly, it does scare me to release all my source code. (If someone wants to convince me I shouldn’t be scared, and can point me to multiple successful commercial game developers who release their source, go ahead.)
I would like to open-source all netrek-specific code, and make extensibility points, but I’m not sure how or when to do that at this point. It may become clearer later.
Working with the Existing Netrek Community
Honestly, I expect no support, except that I hope for well wishes and blessing in my attempts to renewing netrek. I don’t see what harm I can do at this point to netrek.
Ten years ago, there would be a potential danger of fragmenting the player base. Today, based on what I hear on the netrek email groups, fragmenting the playerbase of 3 or however many players there are doesn’t seem like a concern. “He’s already dead Jim.”
As for the community of netrek developers, I realize the vast majority of the netrek developer community comes from the world of Linux, open source, and hates Microsoft and .NET. I’m guessing most also hate the idea of making money with software, or at least partnering netrek with anything commercial. But so many people have tried so many things and burned out and ran out of time. I used to be a M$ hating FOSS loving hippie too, and still am to an extent, but now I’m a more well-rounded pragmatist who understands that how money, if present, could bring in a lot of resources that would boost netrek into the realm of being a competitive go-to game again.
My game engine supports two backends: Windows (WPF) and Mogre (.NET bindings for Ogre3D), as well as Unity3D, which is portable to many platforms.
I don’t plan to switch from .NET. However, that Java vs .NET holy war we had a couple years ago on the netrek mailing list was fun and funny and inspires me a little to prove it can be viable. (Not that it needs my help.) If whoever that was wants to reinvent netrek in Java or mobile or HTML5 or whatever, go for it — I will cheer you on.
And if you are interested in trying to figure out with me how you can contribute or be a part of what I’m doing, let me know!
- Money makes things happen. My funding is quite low right now and no revenues yet.
- Reimplementing netrek verbatim. I would think a great deal of algorithms could be reused. (As I understand, there should not be copyright issues, or anyone upset, especially if I release the verbatim netrek code portions as open source.)
- Finishing my game to a point where it is good, popular enough to draw an audience, and then also be better somehow than existing netrek clients. (If it is not better, I might as well just post links/screenshots to existing netrek clients, or bundle them if I am obnoxious.)
- [in progress] Phase 1a: Launch LionFire Games with any profitable game(s) that can fund further development.
- [in progress] Phase 1b: Implement a multiplayer game engine that supports most of the basic features of netrek (weapons, chat, map, etc.)
- [not started] Phase 2: Create an initial playable version of nextrek (free to play and host)
- Phase 3: Work towards reimplementing bronco netrek verbatim
- Phase 4: Bring in leagues and auxiliary features (stats), as well as new features (mobile clients, tutorials, simpler game modes), to boost and sustain the player community.
Want to talk more about this? Have ideas about how this could work or make it more fun? Head to the Project Nextrek forum!