Wednesday October 23, 2013 was a red-letter date in the history of Sector 13. It was the day we’d all been waiting for – the day we would finally know, by way of first-hand, tangible experience whether the game we had envisioned and toiled on for so many long years would be anything like we’d imagined it to be. It was the day we would have our first all-team multiplayer deathmatch.
From the very beginning, Sector 13 was always meant to be a multiplayer game first, with single-player campaigns built in to supplement the netplay foundation. The reason for this was two-fold: for one, making a fully fleshed-out single-player campaign with full voice acting and scripted story elements takes a lot of time and money to make, something we weren’t equipped to handle on our own as a fledgling studio with no money. Secondly, if we WERE to do a single-player campaign, we always wanted it to be able to be played cooperatively, and even competitively with other human players within the scripted context of the story mode. So multiplayer has always been the core conceit of Sector 13’s design.
Because our goals have always focused on showing off the most visible and obvious aspects of the game in order to attract fans and potential investors and publishers, we had never made the networking components a priority. With our small team of volunteers with limited amounts of spare time, we just never had the resources to devote anyone to the multiplayer side of the game code. Until now.
Enter Casey Estes, an application system analyst in Gilbert, Arizona by day, and a student of software engineering by night. Casey had been working on his own space combat game in Unity when he met Tim Graupmann while seeking help to get his game working on the OUYA console. Tim mentioned the Sector 13 project to him, and soon he was integrating his netplay code into The Greatest Game the World Has Almost Never Seen Yet™. Two months and 45 gallons of Lipton Sun tea later, Casey announces during one of our regular Wednesday night team meetings that we can now fly around in space spraying all manner of laser and missile fire at each other in the first test of a Sector 13 deathmatch.
As it goes with any first stress-test of a major game system, it was loaded with bugs. Some of the team members who happen to live on the other side of the planet were having connection issues. The afterburner sound effects were playing at full volume for everyone whenever anyone activated their boosters. The flight model, which had had a recent overhaul, still wasn’t quite dialed in to perfection. The targeting system and head-up display hadn’t been implemented yet.
But one thing was unanimously clear. This game is incredibly FUN.
Our fears that our core design mechanics would even work at all were immediately replaced by the natural instinct to verbalize scathing commentary on one another’s personal hygiene and probable family lineage as we flew through the burning wreckage of the starfighter we just blew to smithereens. For over an hour, we all flew around the Vegir 3 asteroid field, chasing each other through the industrial corridors of the ore processor, through the jagged tunnels of an enormous shattered asteroid, and around the crags and spires of the numerous asteroid-mounted space stations and solar arrays. Watching someone fly headlong into the deadly flak screen around a capital ship while trying to avoid that missile I had just launched at them was never not funny.
We had the time of our lives, and we can’t wait to share it with you soon.
Ryan is the technical lead on the Sector 13 project. He has been programming professionally for 14 years and most recently served as Technical Director at ISOTX, creators of the Iron Grip series of games.