A Light Among the Stars (space opera)

A Light Among the Stars is a space opera adventure where you get to choose how and why your spacer ended up working as a steward on a passenger ship far from their home planet of Earth. Leave Earth as a teenager or adult with your parent, as an adult with a spouse, or completely on your own… and then leave that far away planet after a tragic accident, company bankruptcy, sad ending of a relationship, or just a new adventure.

How you spend the next two years on ship is up to you. Study and gain spacer skills to make a new career, fall in love, bide your time to return to Earth, or solve a family mystery. So far, there are five distinct endings as goals.

While the option to improve spacer skills would certainly allow you to access extra scenes, the game will be playable even if you just opt for the social aspects throughout.

Romance options are not gender linked, and NPC genders are be set by the player. However, character background, interactions, and personality will effect just how easy it is to romance a particular NPC. Poly relationships are possible, but not with all NPC combinations. NPC age range is from early twenties to early fifties.

Currently it’s about 27k for the Prologue and Chapter One. Average play is 13k at present.

Currently, it’s looking like 13-14 chapters total.

NPC ROs so far:

Jules Donovan, captain, human, early fifties. There are those who describe Jules as a throwback to an earlier time, who’d have been more at ease captaining an ocean-going ship than a spacefaring one, but Jules was born on a family-owned spaceship and spent a career working toward owning a ship to make it a comfortable atmosphere for crew and passengers both.

Cris Hernandez, first mate, human, early thirties. Antisocial from the crew’s viewpoint due to spending all shore leave as far from the ship and crew as possible, leading to much gossip. From Llocholiv’s moon colony on Taebos. Attended the Academy on a partial scholarship and financial aid.

Ren Ybarra, second mate, Dianthan, mid-twenties. Considered friendly and approachable by the crew, probably because Ren is actually younger than all but Harper and Izumi. Dedicated and hardworking and likes to try to motivate crew to similar effort.

Michi Amano, chief engineer, Ruathan, late forties. Attended the Academy on an engineering scholarship after winning a multi-systemwise engineering contest as a teenager. Michi wearing a uniform is about as close to conforming as they like to get, which is why they signed on to work for Captain Jules.

Kai Castaneda, ship’s nurse, human, mid-thirties. Born to a spacer father and station dwelling mother, Kai grew up in a neighboring system, but didn’t attend the Academy until after working several years as a nurse on the planet the station orbited.

Rory Woodward, able engineer, human, mid-twenties. A bit of an impish personality and an absolute disaster in the galley. Has been on the Swift Arrow since the captain purchased it six years ago, signing on as soon as their original ship contract expired. Ambitious and studious.

Logan Kirby, journeyman engineer, human, late twenties. Grew up in Earth’s solar system on one of Saturn’s moons, but moved to the Quru system with father as a teen. Tried two years of university, then left to sign on a ship. Social skills tend to be skimpy.

Izumi Kaji, apprentice engineer, early twenties, human. Chipper and naive, most of the crew are overprotective of Izumi.

Alex Giron, able steward, human, thirties. Ambitious about earning spacer skill certifications, but came to spacer life later than the other crew members. Born on Ioria to a spacer mother and father who worked as a school teacher. Overworker to the point of seeming unfriendly.

Harper Vang, journeyman steward, Yolancian, early twenties. Harper is from a space faring family, but grew up on the orbital station around Llochovic. Followed in the family business by signing on with a ship as soon as graduated school. Lack of ambition is worrisome to best friend since no skill advancement beyond on-the-job training is happening. Bubbly and charming.

Jesse Milano, able crewhand, human, early forties. Jesse has worked on ships for two decades and still enjoys being a rating. The life of a spacer nomad has always suited, and a reliance on snark and sarcasm often keeps others at arms length.

Initial Development Notes
  • It is a bit of a personal challenge to myself to write the NPCs where gender is irrelevant to personality and background.
  • One of the thing that bugs me about ROs and story endings is how many just go along with the MC’s decision on how life post-story is going. These ROs can and will walk away if the MC chooses an ending that contradicts their own needs.
  • It’s space opera for a reason. I’d never get it finished if I went down all the research rabbit holes this would deserve as full sci-fi. But any huge goofs, I’ll revamp.
  • Sub Menus on the stat screen may expand over time for details that players may miss in certain routes and need later, or just forget over time.
19.08.02 Update
  • Completed (hopefully) Chapter One.
  • Added additional text for transgender MC.
19.07.31 Update
  • Added save game option. Still working on chapter save system.
  • Cleared up some of the info dump now that the Stat Screen has sub-menus. Moved alien race info to a stat screen sub-menu and expanded on it. Fixed redundant menu options.
  • Fixed issues with intersex gender on selection screens.
  • Eliminated option to select romantic/sexual orientation.
19.07.30 Intro & Fixes
  • A number of typos, goofs, and sneaky non-variable pronouns.
  • Missing/flawed if statements on the stat page that caused character info to show before the eyes/hair/etc were set, as well as a stray comma that showed in the crew list where the MC info eventually appears.
  • Flaw in birthparent menu that didn’t let you have a human birthparent.
  • Added text to explain Michi’s gender appearance if a player didn’t go over information about Ruathans earlier in the story.
Updated To-Do List, 19.08.02
  • Clearing up passive vs active voice (attempt number 6 billion it seems).
  • Chapter save system (oh yes, yes, yes, it will be done).
  • Rewriting the appearance selection screens to be more story-driven now that the code works and I’m not inventing new curses about missing brackets…
  • Continue to streamline personality stats, especially the weird extrovert/introvert. May reduce to three stats instead of four, due to crossover impressions. I’m about half tempted to throw them out entirely, but they really are needed for the friendships/relationships, especially if I eliminate orientation.

What I’m looking for most for this update aka am I on the right track:

  • Any major gender/pronoun goofs (or related verbs).
  • Major grammar or code goofs, not commas or minor typos.
  • NPC impressions - good, bad, stick figure…
  • Anything else that stands out to you as being unclear or needing fleshed out.
  • Any major screw ups of language regarding gender, please report so I can fix them.

To play the demo, go here: https://dashingdon.com/go/4445

108 Likes

When introduced to the system, you are told there are 6 planets, 3 are habitable, but appear to have the option of learning about 5 planets, 4 of which are habitable. I’m sure I misread, but it was confusing.

Good catch, thanks! That was a messy little muck, since I had changed things to add in the outer planet and obviously didn’t finish editing the Quru page. Should make a bit more sense now.

I really appreciate that you’re incorporating diverse gender identities (love all the pronoun options you included!). But I’d like to note that “intersex” isn’t a gender identity. I could be mistaken but I think the term you’re confusing it with is agender? Or, if I’m basing it off your description of an alien race with a “single biological gender”, perhaps a better term would be omni-gendered.

3 Likes

Okay, so I love space stories, so obviously going into this story, I already loved it. Here’s some comprehensive feedback, since this game is phenomenal and deserves it.

Logistics/Errors
  • The first four stats on the stats screen are not capitalized.
  • There’s a random comma underneath the support personal category on the Crew Details stat page.
  • The “Return to stat screen” button seems redundant when it appears on the main stat screen.

from the silver fox ship’s officers

  • Switch “silver fox” and “ship’s”

Their dark slit-pupiled eyes, fanged canines, and dark skin ranging from pure black to deep blue-black contrast with pale hair shades.

  • This sentence is a fragment.
  • Be careful about using “had” phases (“had been,” “had taken,” “I’d been,” etc.) excessively. They make past tense writing sound passive instead of active, and a lot of readers will turn away from that. You can usually replace use “was” or “were” instead (“I was taken to a new planet as a child” instead of “I’d been taken to a new planet as a child”). This is really a style thing, so do as you please, but it’s something most editors try to avoid.
  • After picking whether I just made friends on the new planet or had flings, I was taken to three choices with no narration preceeding it.

You are Trever McKenzie, a healthy male of years, with eyes, hair, and physique.

  • I know we haven’t actually set our age, eyes, hair, and physique, but perhaps you could code in some placeholder text for the stats screen until then?

That is equipped with an emergency auto-medic would keep you in medical statis

  • Missing a word before “would.”

They also have a bigger version of our gym and rec room.

  • Since this dialogue is still part of the dialogue from the previous paragraph, it needs a quotation mark at the beginning.

We end up at Llocholiv at least every six months for the most part."

  • Same here.
Commentary
  • Wow, there’s so much stuff to read about on the reference pages! I like your attention to detail.
  • Is there a purpose behind the three set ages?
  • Is polyamorous a sexual orientation? I thought it was a preference.

Ruathans had three physical genders by human reckoning - male, female, and intersex - but in public, gender expression is considered taboo.

  • I would love more explanation about this!
  • While I love that you’ve written so much information for us to read in the first chapter, I found myself longing for gameplay very quickly. I think the references in the stat screen provide enough information about the planets that you could remove these education scenes from the actual game without any major consequences.
  • This is 100% up to you since it’s your game, but typically appearance choices are woven into the narrative instead of just handed out right at the beginning of the game sequentially.
  • After reading the introductions for some of the characters, I’m not entirely sure why the author’s note stated that setting individual genders would be a problem.
  • Overall, I like the characters! It’s still early, so I’m having some small troubles with differentiating them, but that’ll come with time.

Definitely gonna keep my eye on this! I look forward to seeing what intergalatic drama we can get up to!

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I love space operas (I’m trying to work on one currently) and I really like the way this is starting off. I did find a few errors in grammar and pronouns on a first pass, but they’re minor. I selected majority male npcs and the “parent dies” background, I’m not sure if that affects anything. I also definitely missed some things, because I was not expecting to critique stuff tonight and as such I just kind of went through it as a casual player instead of full-on editor mode.

Repetition

In lieu of a greeting via the intercom, there’s a hiss of air as the airlocks release and the doors rotate to reveal a small entryway cheerfully painted entryway that doubled as the airlock.

No line break

It shows up like this in game, with no line break or anything.

“Exactly. Anytime they wanted to start a conversation, it began with a mug of juice.” “I’ve never lost anyone like that,” Harper says, “but anytime you want to talk, I’ll listen.”

Pronoun ping pong

I’m not really sure if Kai’s intended to be the gender you wanted the npc’s to be or the opposite of it, so I just emphasized all the pronouns just in case.

Kai, the ship’s nurse, is the only officer present not sitting with the passengers, but you figure that’s probably partly to do with the other two being at the spaceport gym with her today. He is probably in his thirties as well, although he has the sort of flawless skin you’ve noticed among spacers. His skin is the color of caramel, accented by her bright red workout clothing. Her jet black hair is just long enough to try to curl and her eyes are a soft gray.

Non error stuff

Background

While I do love the amount of information you’ve put into your work, it’s a LOT of text that’s required/recommended to continue. It’d definitely pick up the pacing a little more if a lot of stuff was in the stats screen area, and you just pointed to it for background lore at the start of the game.

Characters

I feel like just by the nature of this chapter being mostly exposition and a lot of the characters dressing identically with different hair and eye colors, I only got a vague sense of a lot of people. Harper was a little more noticeable than most, because he’s presented as a bubbly and vivacious kind of person, but most of what he does is explain the ship and the way it’s laid out with very little of his actual personality in the mix. I got more of a sense of “Oh, this is the kind of person they are” from Rory, because he established who he was and kind of kept consistent with it, while there’s a long period where it kind of feels like Harper drops from the story so there can be enough exposition. I know I met a lot of characters with only a really short amount of time to interact with a lot of them, but I only got a sense of the personalities of about 5 (Harper, Rory, Alex, the Captain, and maybe Logan), and even then I’m pretty sure my mental images of them were projections of what I think they look like instead of what they’re actually described.

Stats

Absolutely part of it is because I’m a part of the “dumb heaux who doesn’t pay attention” club, but I did not even register there were stats until I saw you ask for clarification on them. I’m sure there’s more to do with them and more set in stone options for them later, but I really did not notice anything different from what may be the default in the game, and I wasn’t aware anything I was doing was altering those stats at all. They make sense on paper, I’m just not sure how well they apply to the game itself.

I really wanna see how this goes, I’m a sucker for small cast sci-fi ship shenanigans!

I am liking it so far. Really enjoyed the sitting. A very good story with very interesting outline.

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This is fantastic! In tone, it reminds me of my favorite sci-fi novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. There’s a kind of warmth and slice-of-life feeling to it that feels very different from the more action-oriented approaches.

I really like that the main character starts at the bottom of the career ladder, too; it makes for a great entry point into a new setting and makes the whole story feel more down-to-earth than the more typical “chosen one” stories.

I like those too, but the smaller stakes (at least this far) make the story feel more personable and approachable. It feels like the emphasis is weighted more heavily toward the characters than the plot, which I really appreciate. If the focus shifts toward plot later on, the connections established with the crew and the more mundane aspects of the early sections will provide a nice anchor, as well as a great contrast.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this one progresses.

ETA: I will say that the “introvert/extrovert” stats were kind of a problem for me. I think I’d prefer something more like “team player/independent.” The choices for being an introvert in-game seem to be about avoiding people, which often leads to behaving like a bad crewmate. As a lifelong introvert, I’m happy to socialize; the main difference is that socializing drains my batteries while being alone recharges them. The way it’s portrayed in the game feels more antisocial than introverted, and they’re not synonymous.

On a related note, it was really difficult for me to tell the difference between “emotional” responses and “extroverted” responses. It felt like there was a lot of crossover in the way the choices were written.

I will say that I appreciated starting at the bottom as well, but I wasn’t crazy about starting in something completely unrelated to my degree.

That’s not exactly uncommon though.

Right, but I only had ONE choice of majors, because it was so needed, then it’s not mentioned again. There was an aspect of just…“why have this?”

Just a tip, put a save system, when we refresh the page we have to start over.

1 Like

A pronoun error, Michi here is male.

Summary

Alrighty - hopefully I won’t miss anyone. Thanks so much for the input. I have been bogged down in a “can’t see the forest for the trees” (or maybe vice versa) and realized I needed some fresh eyes to ever put the initial setup to bed. I have probably 25-30k of free written scenes for later chapters that are just languishing in the plot pipeline for the moment.

re: alien genders & intersex gender

It’s actually a bug/error from the first round I did of the gender system. It is redundant, but for some reason I didn’t delete it off the first screen, so hopefully now it only appears in the secondary menus instead of the primary gender identity one.

While I am attempting to leave it up to the player on how they want to define intersex, my headcanon for it is more along the lines that they have both gender characteristics, at least at the biological level. As I’ve moved some of the more encyclopedic issues to the sub-menus of the Stats page, I’ll be moving the alien race info over as well and will expand upon it at least where it applies to the Dianthans. I like the term for the alien race’s gender. I couldn’t come up with anything that sounded correct. Much thanks!

On the pronouns, I hope I covered a good span for folks (but if I missed any significant ones, please drop a suggestion).

I don’t have a lot of gripes about CoG/HG games (my library of games would definitely show my addiction levels!) but it often seems like the MC ages are skewed young adult. Since I was adding a crazy level of customization, I figured why not throw age into the mix too (rather than just set the MC in their thirties).

re: details about the age selection

Based on ages at leaving for Tagoth: 22 was because it is the age for university completion (in the US anyway), more or less. 15 was chosen to make the MC at least out of their teens by the time they boarded ship (and could have easily been 16 or 17, so it’s a bit random-ish. 30 was chosen because in my original story outline, the MC was 35.

Age can effect some of the RO options. It doesn’t negate them, but the success threshold is going to be a bit higher the wider the age gap. A 20-year-old MC is going to have to find a lot of common ground to romance the older shipmates, especially the two older officers.

Just as a general note to everyone - if you see a comma in a place there should be a space, please report those. I often code on my mobile, and my fat thumbs like the comma versus the space bar. I try to root them out, but they’re like little cockroaches.

This comma was a missing if statement though - it’s the place for the MC’s details to appear in the crew list. Fixed, along with most of the other typo/errors.

Actually, I should probably add this to the list of “please tell me” because while I try to catch this, it is probably my weakest point on the writing side to stay in active voice.

Ruathan Chief Engineer Michi was the sticky point for me. While all the other NPCs either introduce themselves or are introduced as one of three genders in a reasonable manner, I couldn’t figure out a true way to indicate Michi’s physical gender. The selection is important - as it sets Michi’s non-public pronouns - so in that scene, the MC is just a bit psychic, I suppose. If people feel that was handled sensibly enough, I could remove the disclaimer.

Michi is the one NPC whose pronoun variables will not be used except in private and only then if in a romantic relationship. I hadn’t clarified that well enough in the intro scene if you pre-set genders rather than individually setting them. Hopefully, that’s clarified if someone didn’t pass through information about Ruathans earlier in the story.

I have the same problems with the chapter but was afraid I was sinking into a super-critical stage, so this is great input that the characters I do have more information do stand out from the info-dump level of introductions. I hate introduction chapters (and I suspect it shows), so there may end up being an overhaul on this one, maybe a breakdown into smaller “bites”, or even two chapters to make it less overwhelming and more individualized. Since they’re sitting in dock at the moment, it isn’t like the entire ship tour has to be dropped on the MC on day one by Harper for fuzzy-logic safety reasons.

The start at the bottom part was important to me for many reasons, which is also why the entry-level job was restricted (originally the storyline allowed for four possibilities, but it led to a lot of additional coding (and at least one avenue that would have been very uninteresting for the on-duty scenes… no one really wants to RP cleaning duties, right?)

re: details on how the degrees came into the story

The lazy reason the degrees aren’t used is that they were added later. The original storyline had the MC stranded on Tagoth due to a dead parent after a lifetime of being an aimless youth/adult who skipped out on higher education. After much protest from my in-house beta (aka tween daughter) who didn’t want the only starting option to be killing off a loved one, the other options were added, but I didn’t want the basic concept to be undermined: a brand new start. But I also didn’t want the only option to start with to be an aimless or ambitionless MC, so the degrees were a bit of backstory for character building.

Out of curiousity, which path did you choose? The options of attending university “just because” were an attempt to end up with degrees that aren’t all that useful on a ship, but the option of attending university with the intent to work off-planet was one I felt might be a grumbly one because those three degrees are pretty science heavy and an argument could be made for a boost to engineering.

Those MCs with a degree do have minor boosts later in advancing/studying as a rating, and at least one ending will get a boost off having the degree.

Fixed (hopefully)
  • A number of typos, goofs, and sneaky non-variable pronouns.
  • Missing/flawed if statements on the stat page that caused character info to show before the eyes/hair/etc were set, as well as a stray comma that showed in the crew list where the MC info eventually appears.
On the To-Do List for Chapter One
  • Clearing up passive vs active voice (attempt number 6 billion it seems).

  • Save system (oh yes, yes, yes, it will be done).

  • Moving alien race information to a sub-menu of the Stat Screen. I was worried about overkill on the alien race descriptions (such as the Ruathan cultural taboo on gender expression), and it was overkill as part of the regular story text, but with moving it to the stat screen, I’ll expand upon it. There’s actually some info on the Quru Planets page that is a bit of a hidden “easter egg” at the moment that would fit in well as part of the alien info. (This may end up an ongoing project as I write, like the Quru planet page probably will be, so I’ll add some notes to the original post about the sub-menus.)

  • Clearing up some of the info dump now that the Stat Screen has sub-menus.

  • Rewriting the appearance selection screens to be more story-driven now that the code works and I’m not inventing new curses about missing brackets…

  • Fixing if statement text prior to selecting orientation.

  • Potentially removing any designation of romantic/sexual orientation and allowing players to decide that with choices further down the line. In a game with the ability to set all the genders of the NPCs, MC orientation seems redundant really. Thoughts and inputs?

  • Fix personality stats, especially the weird extrovert/introvert. May reduce to three stats instead of four, due to crossover impressions. I’m about half tempted to throw them out entirely, but they really are needed for the friendships/relationships, especially if I eliminate orientation.

4 Likes

I love the idea! I haven’t gotten very far yet, but I’ve found a code hiccup and wanted to let you know before I get distracted.

When choosing that my birthing parent was human but my appearance indicated mixed genetics, I get options for choosing what alien race my birthing parent was.

Fixed, hopefully. Had the wrong variable set from one menu to the next, so it was throwing you to the wrong birthparent menu.

2 Likes

Great story so far :slight_smile:

but somewhere where you talk to the captain, you get sent back to where you board the ship.
real confusing
i see if i can recreate it.

That’s totally valid. My only suggestion is that you could totally let the player input a number within a certain range of numbers (15-35, for example), and then use conditional statements to give different stories if they fall within a certain range of numbers (15-21, 22-28, 29-35, for example).

Don’t worry, it’s actually a very common problem even among experienced writers, so no shame in it. I edit manuscripts part-time and I see it constantly. One manuscript I edited used it for nearly every chapter!

Wait, is Michi’s gender customizable? I only saw they/them pronouns when people referred to Michi, and I chose to set most NPCs as male.

This is a phenomenal idea! I was a bit overwhelmed at the beginning because it was just a huge info-dump. I think you can get away with doing this since there’s so much to explore. (I anticipate this game hitting six-digit word count easily!)

I chose manufacturing science, which I thought would be relevant to ship maintenance, so I am one of those arguers, apparently. I guess if I hadn’t specifically been given the option to choose a specialization, I wouldn’t have thought about it.

That is kinda awesome and definitely fits in my scheme of custom-build-the-MC.

Yes and no. The NPC setting gets tricky with the three alien NPCs (Ren, Michi, and Harper).

Using your game as an example:
You chose to make most NPCs male, they’ll all be male except for Ren (and Ren will dress as male and use male pronouns, but did not surgically transition to be solely male). Michi is male, but unless your MC either has a very strong friendship (to the point Michi considers your MC like family) or a romantic or sexual relationship, to the general public and crew, Michi is non-binary.

Currently, Harper is set to either male or female (if you choose non-binary NPCs, it randomizes Harper to male or female). The end goal is that Harper have a genderfluid option, but I haven’t yet coded that in.

I figure no one is going to complain about getting 14 chapters instead of 13, right?

The game will move to time jumps after the introductions are settled, because the time span is supposed to be the entire two years of the work contract on the ship. So most chapters will cover about a 2 month timespan once the ship finally gets underway (in what is looking like Chapter 3).

And like most games with a lot of NPCs, I figure as time goes by, players will pick their favorites, so future chapters will have to have all the options for all the NPCs, but at least players won’t have to actually wade through them all.

Just as a fun little tidbit, there is a twelfth NPC who is not a ship crew member, who will appear in what is now looking like chapter 3. But that one will make the term Long Distance Relationship really interesting.

I’ll try to clarify about the three science degrees at the selection screen (and maybe see if I can work in a “nope, give me the other options instead” button as well), as well as the screen that describes taking the job as steward.

The theory behind why having manufacturing science doesn’t immediately qualify you as an engineer is that sadly, the equipment used in a manufacturing environment isn’t the same as the engines, life support systems, and electrical systems of a space ship. It’s kind of like IRL, where training to work on small engines, car engines, and diesel engines are three fairly distinct career training fields. You would have a much smaller learning curve than a completely untrained person, but you’d still have to cross-train. Or to quote my favorite toxicologist from a herpetology group I’m in: ideally, you wouldn’t want a plastic surgeon treating your rattlesnake bite.

wow this got really long!

Since this isn’t really a spoiler when there’s a submenu explaining specialties, I’ll note that if your MC decides to take ratings and qualification exams, they can pass the electrical exam without any studying or on-the-job training. But the other two engineering qualifications (propulsion and environmental) do both require a requisite amount of studying. And since the engine division is arguably dangerous as hell to have a newbie in, the MC would still be an apprentice for six months while they learned the ropes for the other two qualifications.

I did at one point consider making Izumi “job flippable” (having them be either an apprentice steward or apprentice engineer, opposite of whichever job the MC chose), but it would require a lot more customization that I currently feel comfortable with.

And since the ship jobs/rankings are loosely based on military type ranks, even if someone had a degree in environmental engineering, a newbie spacer can’t become an officer simply because they haven’t attended the Academy to learn the non-engineering issues of being on a ship. The theoretical engineer wouldn’t have to attend all four years at the Academy, but that’s expensive, and not a starting option.

Does that make more sense?

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