MV Rockzap: Preliminary Game Design
Table of Contents

It is the 24th century, and man has left the confines of the Earth to the extent that many humans exclusively work and live the majority of their lives in space. Massive orbital and extra-orbital space stations populate the inner solar system and a new solar economy has emerged to support them. As the infrastructure for this economy was constructed, space-based equivalents of almost all terrestrial production facilities became possible. With promises of high salaries manning these stations or the entrepreneurial hopes of the more independant, men from all professions soon left their planetary homes and ventured off into void.

Your name is Bruce C. Miller, an aspiring asteroid miner. Primarily interested in a life of solitude, you have liquidated all of your worldly posessions for a down payment on an aging and largely unautomated mining frigate. When the game starts, the moment you've waited your entire life for has arrived. Angelica Garcia (ship navigator and historian) and you have boarded the MV Rockzap, ready to undock from the Masursky Main Belt Mining Outpost and begin your new careers.

MV Rockzap is primarily a 3D space mining simulator, but it can also be considered a space simulator and, to a lesser extent, an economic simulator. While there is a full game universe, the scope of this title is intentionally focused only on asteroid mining at this time in order to maximize the space mining experience. This includes travelling to and from mining locations, cargo management, operation of mining equipment, supplying your ship with provisions, protecting your hard-won earnings, and trading in your ore for profit.

The main goal of this project is to make the most plausibly realistic space mining simulator possible. This means that when gameplay and what may normally be considered entertaining is in conflict with the laws of physics or common sense, realism will always take precedence. The only exceptions to this is where it's not practically possible to do so. For example, the game physics are simplified since the calculations would be too intensive for a normal computer if solar and all planetary gravitational fields were linear transformations for all vector spaces.

Some notable features of this game that may not otherwise be apparent unless explicitly stated:

United States Navy: The US Navy comprises the majority of the human presence in the solar system. They have a hand in all non-commercial activities, but primarily deal with securing strategically significant stations and shipping lanes. The Navy operates all types of spacecraft, from massive supercapital battleships and dreadnoughts to smaller orbital patrol craft and inter-planetary reconnaissance buoys. Complements of Marine expeditionary squads can be deployed in dropships from destroyer class or larger naval vessels for craft infiltration and ground assaults. There are currently 12 carrier battlegroups in active operation -- from which bombers and fighter craft can strike targets on any significant celestial body in the inner system.

United States Air Force: The US Air Force was the primary space military presence until the mid-21st century. When public misconceptions about space travel faded, it became clear that the Navy's existing structure better suited a space presence. Thereafter, the Air Force space role has been reduced to surveillance craft, forward targeting for the Navy's siege artillery, and sub-orbital fighter screening. Though still important in atmospheric combat, the 21st century policy change has resulted in centuries of rivalry and enmity between the branches -- even sporadic incidents of bombardment and reprisal bombings of the opposing branch's stations and bases.

NATO and other allied navies: Sailing under their respective countries' flags, these navies vary in size based upon their origin country's commitment to system security. Being allies, they usually don't fire upon US vessels or each other, though the occasional collision still occurs near space docks, mainly due to varying command of the English language. The major allied naval powers generally include: the UK's Royal Navy, France's Marine Nationale, Greater Japan's Nihon Kaigun, and West Germany's Kreigsmarine. However, almost all 1st and 2nd world countries have at least a few vessels in space.

Hostile privateers: Usually operating scout to corvette class ships, these mercenaries are paid to harass merchant vessels, seize transports, and otherwise loot or cause mayhem. Though no match for military craft, they can ruin the promising career of an aspiring asteroid miner or transport captain. Their ships are usually provided by the authoritarian governments of failed states as a guerre de course naval strategy against US space hegemony or by organized criminals simply interested in illicit profits.

IMF auditors: While the Allied navies are responsible for security and law enforcement, the IMF is responsible for commercial compliance with trade, mining, and transport regulations. It became clear early on in the developing space economy that a mobile auditing wing was needed at the IMF, as unlicensed transactions and other types of violations were occuring in deep space on a regular basis, outside of the reach of planet and station-bound personel. The IMF quickly fielded a fleet of light frigates and clippers to perform random in-space inspections and audits of financial records, issuing fines to violators and confiscating contraband.

Private commercial vessels: These privately operated commercial ships may be owned by non-governmental entities -- from large international corporations down to self-employed entrepreneurs such as yourself. Most sail under the flag of their national registry or "flags of convenience" for property and income tax purposes.

Merchant mariners: Vessels registered under the merchant marine service are conferred the national ship prefix for countries that have them. In the case of the United States, registered merchant marine vessels are conferred a Documented Merchant Mariner IFF, which reduces the likelihood of being fired upon without cause by the US Navy. In exchange for this and other benefits (such as receiving free maritime service training), vessels will come under the auxiliary command of the Chief of Naval Operations in the event of war, in accordance with the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.

The inner system is more densely populated (by space standards) and the majority of commercial traffic are human and finished goods transports. The asteroid belt and gas giant orbits are primarily only home to sparse industrial traffic. Only a few research vessels bother to travel into the commercially nonviable outer system. Solar space off the ecliptic and the Kuiper belt/Oort cloud are devoid of anything but the occasional unmanned probe.

Here is a sample of the main types of manned commercial vessels commonly seen throughout the solar system. Ship classes here are listed by ascending average hull size.

Capsule: Lacking anything but the bare minimum amount of space to support human life for a short period of time, capsules are rather useless for any task other than escaping a larger vessel in an emergency.

Skiff: Not much larger than a capsule, skiffs have a few added features that make them useful around stations and ports, such as hydrodynamic or chemical propellant thrusters and docking capstans.

Corsair: A light scout ship. Larger corsairs not designed to optimize speed will sometimes be found with an integrated mountpoint for a small civilian-grade mass driver or EM harpoon.

Sloop: Light, general-purpose corvette for low occupancy human transport, recreational activities, or light defense. Sloops typically come with two light or medium utility mountpoints, fore and aft. The military variant of the sloop is often called a sloop-of-war and is considerably larger.

Survey Ship: A class of light to mid-sized specialty ships with a wide variation of custom designs, survey ships are employed primarly for astrometrics, resource exploration, telecommunications, and scientific research.

Cutter: Slightly larger than a sloop, cutters have most of the same features, but typically have slightly thicker hulls, more powerful drives, and up to 4 medium mountpoints.

Cargo Schooner: Light, corvette-class hauler for fast, short-range transport. Popular for distribution of finished and perishable goods within planetary locales.

Clipper: A mid-sized, general-purpose ship that is popular for supporting military, governmental, and corporate operations. Clippers are manned by a crew of up to 30 crewmen and can carry a larger number of passengers or certain large weapon systems.

Ferry: A mid-sized passenger transport, ferries' accomodations range from luxurious to spartan. Most ferries are multi-class, having first-class service on the upper decks, with service levels degrading to budget-class standing room in the cargo hold on the lowest deck.

Carrack: A mid-sized utility vessel with 6-8 medium and 1-2 heavy mountpoints, often seen deployed in convoy security.

Freighter: A mid-sized hauler typically used for high volume trade between space warehouses and distribution hubs, for medium-range space transport between planets, and for supply runs to remote outposts.

Mining Frigate: With a similar hull size to military frigates, a mining frigate's keel length primarily encompasses its large ore hold. The bridge, engineering, and living quarters make up the aftcastle, with the deck populated with various mining turrets, excavators, and/or huletts. Sub-types include dredge miners, drill miners, gas miners, and surface miners.

Dust Trawler: These ships deploy a massive electrostatic ion scoop, collecting steller debris and gas. Though the collection process is far slower than surface mining asteroids, it requires almost no human interaction. The hydrogen isotopes like deuterium collected are also used to power the ship's fusion reactor. As a result, trawlers often spend several years during a single collection run and are piloted by inexpensive AI accelerator boards or low-wage hermits.

Shuttle Tanker: A service vehicle with 1 or more refueling gantries and a large fuel hold, typically only seen in convoys, battle groups, and deep space reconnaissance missions.

Superfreighter: A large hauler with 2 to 3 times the cargo capacity of a standard freighter. Often used to supply deep space industrial centers and between large ports and distribution hubs.

Garbage Scow: A type of barge specialized for waste management. As unsorted refuse will contaminate general purpose haulers, these scows are employed to collect the solid and liquid wastes produced by space facilities and the humans therein.

Superliner: While space cruise ships were popular in the early days of commercial space travel, the business quickly waned proportionally to the public's aura of mystery surrounding space. Surviving superliners stripped of their amenities and surplus troop transports are the few commercial vessels afloat in this class and are only used by companies needing to transport large numbers of Hispanic factory workers.

Ore Barge: Optimized for ore transport, these barges are the most commonly encountered large commercial vessel outside the core system. Ore barges transport ore in a large, unpressurized, single-segment hold.

Dry Bulker: Cargo carriers designed to transport dry bulk goods. These goods include grains, certain raw materials, scrap, industrial refuse, and sometimes ore (though ore barges have largely taken over this task). Displacement is almost entirely composed of a huge, multi-segmented hold, where the goods are kept pressurized and climate-controlled.

Container Ship: The standardized shipping container has been popular for the transport of finished and pre-finished goods and most cargo holds, warehouses, and port gantries are designed with their dimensions in mind. Tracking systems and databases allow the loading and unloading to be automated, with the humans only involved in the piloting and maintenance of the massive ships that carry them by the tens of thousands.

Supertanker: Most supertankers are so massive, they require month-long thrust burns to reach cruising speeds and are incapable of docking at anything but specially-designed commercial spaceports. They typically travel only from belt refineries to orbital ports where the fuel is then loaded onto light tankers for local distribution. Though defenseless, the economic value of the ship and its cargo require them to always be under US Navy or privately-contracted armed escort.

Mountpoints are standardized by size. With a few exceptions, most modular systems will install on most ships provided that the sizes match and the ship's operating system is compatible with the mount's drivers.

The purchase of weapons systems is regulated by the BATF, and requires various hazardous materials licenses depending on the weapon type desired, in addition to a security audit, waiting period, and transfer tax. Civilian ownership of heavy weapons is prohibited altogether. More information is available by docking at the nearest BATF regional office or checking out the BATF Gopher site.

Light mounts

GE GSU-2 10mm mass driver:

American Freight EM Harpoon:

STN Atlas CGL-12 LIDAR: Most small spacecraft do not come with integrated active sensor subsystems, but can opt for this add-on module. Sailing alone without active sensors is not as dangerous as it sounds, since NOAA astrometric stations maintain catalogues of almost all bodies down to macrometeroids inside of trans-Neptunian orbit. However, this doesn't account for ships operating (intentionally or not) without activated transponders, flotsam/jetsam, or any other non-naturally occurring object.

Medium mounts

GE GSU-4 14.7mm mass driver:

Honeywell A-Valve Plasma Window: A plasma window module shapes magnetic fields in space in a single direction. Super-heated plasma gas is then constantly injected into this field. While not an impenetrable barrier, a plasma window will detonate warheads prematurely, dissipate energy weapons, slightly reduce the mass of kinetic projectiles, and at lower power settings can easily vaporize micrometeorites during extended space travel. This mount class is optimized for maximally efficient power consumption and is generally only designed for utility purposes, but can be used in combat if necessary.

Boeing IDS GBU-75: Light guided missile

Krupp Klein-Schiene K3: This 4.7mm superalloy helical rail gun requires far less power than a rail cannon and therefore can be mounted on medium hardpoints. The tradeoff is made with projectile mass instead of speed, as a smaller armor piercing hit is better than a slower projectile that may miss or fail to pierce an enemy hull. Like all rail guns, this fires cylinders composed of stable isotopes of superheavy metals like 243Cm.

Heavy mounts

Krupp Schiene-Geschütz K4: This 7.62mm superalloy monocrystal rail cannon requires huge capacitors to deliver the large electromagnetic discharge needed to launch projectiles at several hundred Km/s. Despite the size of the projectile, they have far more destructive power than armor piercing warheads, and are much harder to evade.

Raytheon Mk-149 SeaRAM: A rolling airframe missile system, effective at short to medium ranges, that can attack multiple targets or barrage against a single target. Like a CIWS system, the SeaRAM can auto-target based on IFF signature. While RAM systems are unable to target incoming ordinance due to standardized anti-missile countermeasures, they can decimate several scout and corvette class ships in a single volley.

Super-heavy/main battery mounts (Can only be mounted on military capital and supercapital ships as they require extensive below-deck support systems.)

Krupp Schwerer-Schiene K12A2: This 13mm triple-slide siege rail turret is perfect for anti-capital ship combat, decimating stations and heavily reinforced fortifications, and bombarding hardened installations on non-atmospheric celestial bodies.

Raytheon NDOS: A ballistic missile system that can load any number of large guided missiles, but is primarily designed as a thermonuclear delivery system. It consists of 20 vertical launch tubes, each missile deploying a maximum of 8 independantly targetable or 12 gravity-assist warheads.

GE GSU-20A2: A 25mm mass driver CIWS specially designed for side and end-hull hardpoints. CIWS are IFF computer-controlled and auto-target incoming ordinance and enemy fighter craft.

Honeywell C-Valve Plasma Window: Requiring massive amounts of power, the super-heavy C-Valve is almost completely effective against all but the most powerful non-rail weapons, however running it at full intensity taxes even the largest generators after a short period of time.

Dynamics Research Kinetic Strike Platform: Launch, guidance, and control system for a multi-satellite orbital bombardment system particularly suited for atmospheric planets with large gravity wells. The inert payloads consist of large tungsten rods of varying masses that impact precision targets at relativistic velocities.

Ship internal subsystems are divided by engineering discipline. On larger vessels, each of these subsystems may be serviced by their own department, with the head managers reporting to the ship's chief engineer. As ship size decreases, these subsystems require lower manual maintenance and subsequently are less capable.

Armor: All manned spacecraft hulls include at least some minimal armoring, at least to block cumulatively-lethal levels of solar and cosmic radiation. Armoring is usually planned for at the point of hull design, as differing levels of armor require supporting design considerations like frames and bulkheads, and therefore upgrading armor often requires a complete, lengthy refit in drydock. Armor effectiveness is primarily a function of material (mostly composite metals and ceramics) and thickness, varying according to the damage type (kinetic, explosive, thermal, electromagnetic). Special-purpose variants have also been developed, such as LIDAR stealth, which absorbs EM radiation in LIDAR wavelengths.





Life support:





Milestone 0: Completed design and any necessary proofs of concept.

Milestone 1: Working world simulation with timer loop, base data structures, and base function interface. World should be able to contain static bodies.

Milestone 2: Player interface and updates to world simluation to support dynamic environment interaction. Game should be minimally playable at this point from the command line, at least allowing movement within the game world.

Milestone 3: Full object properties and actions (including mining and hauling). Proper physics adjustments added.

Milestone 4: Computer controlled agents added (possibly with some scripting engine or config parser to abstract behavior and dialog.)

Milestone 5: GUI front end replaces command line interface.

Milestone 6: World view from ship with at least 3D primitives.

Milestone 7: 3D models, possibly textured.

I previously considered Python 2.5 with Pygame/Soya 3D, but would rather write this in a functional language, so will have to check for either SDL interfaces (like Lisp's CL-SDL). This isn't a game engine though.

Currently needed: Libs for collision detection, sound, and peripheral input (probably won't implement this).

Current status: This (and all my other projects) are currently on hold because of the various time-consuming demands of real life. My commitment to eventually finishing these projects hasn't changed, however, and I do occasionally work on them and record design ideas as they materialize.


Game written and developed, graphics created, and game text written by: Bruce C. Miller -


Inspired in part by various space/econ simulators, particularly: Elite-series, X-series, EVE Online, Battlecruiser-series, Orbiter, Mankind, and many others.

Further Reading:

1 Mining the Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets, and Planets by John S. Lewis; Perseus Publishing; (September 1997); ISBN 0-201-32819-4
2 Fundamentals of Astrodynamics by Roger R. Bate, Donald D. Mueller, Jerry E. White; Dover Publications; (June 1, 1971); ISBN 0-486-60061-0
3 Introduction to Space Dynamics by William Tyrell Thompson; Wiley 1963; (1963); ASIN B000L5N8GW
4 Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems by Jerry B. Marion and Stephen T. Thornton; Harcourt; 4th edition (January 17, 1995); ISBN 0-030-97302-3
5 The Influence of Sea Power on History, 1660 - 1783 by Alfred Thayer Mahan, D.C.L., LL.C; (1890).

Events depicted in this game are fictional.
Source code released under the GNU Public License Version 2. See for details.
Copyright (C) 2007 Bruce C. Miller