I’m very excited about the new feature I’ve just added to Sol Trader - when you visit a location you can now listen in to all the conversations that are going on whilst you’re there.

Heartwarming: You pop by your sister Marya's house, and overhear her telling her daughter Leena how she met Landan, Leena's dad.

This is how it works: characters will chat away about their lives and their friends to anyone in the room. The chance of chatting varies depending on what they’re doing, and if they have low wisdom they’ll chat more. They’ll stick to existing conversation subjects if they can, and the things they bring up are entirely random. This means that big revelations are definitely possible. It’s possible for lots of info to come out by accident, including work incompetence, embarrassing friends, and office romances.

The best thing is that these conversations are sharing real information that is recorded as you go along. You never know when an indiscretion will come in handy later for an information gathering mission.

After a while, Landan chimes in. Perhaps he shouldn't have brought that up in front of the kids.

The effect on gameplay

It’s now great fun to simply sit in a bar and listen to the characters chat away to each other. You pick up a lot of useful information about what characters have been up to and where others might be found. It’s also rather scary handing over sensitive information to another character now, especially a reckless one: you never know where it’ll end up.

Up to this point, communication in Sol Trader was almost entirely reactive. It was impossible to find anything out without going and asking someone. This meant that characters used to feel more like mindless vendors of information than like living and breathing individuals.

Now they actually talk to each other, characters feel very much more alive. Additionally, because characters remember the information that’s talked about, they can form new opinions of other characters, and change their behaviour accordingly.

This new build with gossip in will be out to Insider backers in the next few days. This brings to an end the cycle of work on the interactive world and gameplay progression through organisations and missions. Next, I’m moving back out into space with work on asteroids, ship customisation and advancement, and polishing off combat.

Game design is luck that you can influence

Game design can be such an enigma. Some features that you work away on for ages never seem to be that fun, whereas a small thing that only took a few hours, and that I debated including at all, has proven to add a huge amount to the feel of the game.

I posted this a while back:

fun in games

After quite a lot of soul searching, this is still true. I now know that I don’t know how to make a great game, but I do know how to go about being lucky enough to discover one.