I'm a little uncertain on what I need to do to improve the planets' appearance, so right now I'm working on making it efficient to render solar systems with larger numbers of planets. I'd assume any final game might have up to twenty or thirty objects in a solar system if not more, and right now the raytracer simplistically tests every ray for intersection against every object: can you say combinatorial explosion? It's possible I may go ahead with the bounding volume hierarchy strategy, but for now I'm adding some code that calculates the onscreen bounds for each object so we can avoid the intersection tests entirely simply by noticing that the onscreen X or Y coordinate doesn't fall within the bounds. We'll see if that helps any.
Oh hey, I should lay some links on you. On the topic of raytracing, here's an article claiming it's just about time for raytracing to take its place in video games, and here's one claiming that's a load of balderdash. Me, I wouldn't dream of taking sides in this argument, but I would say one nice thing about raytracing is that you can get a different visual look, and nowadays I'm a lot more impressed by games that create their own visual style rather than games that just get another .1% more photorealistic.
On another topic, MDDClone is, as it states, an on-going project to bring the Mercenary games to the PC. Mercenary is a series of obscure classics from the Amiga/Atari ST era. Each game was set in an enormous, sprawling 3D world where the player was given a long-term goal (such as preventing a comet from crashing into a planet) but then set free to solve it as he or she pleased, or even ignore the goal entirely; in that sense I suppose you could look at them as proto-Grand Theft Auto IIIs, except with less hookers. While the graphics were (by today's standards) astonishingly primitive, the Mercenary games nonetheless have scope and scale shared by hardly any games nowadays -- Mercenary II: Damocles, in particular, gives you an entire solar system to explore, with planets, continents on planets, cities on continents, buildings in cities, right down to furniture in the rooms. Back in the day I was obsessive enough about Damocles to write an enormous FAQ about the game, which also happens to be available at that site. It's very cool that this experience is still available to modern audiences.
Oh, and webcomics! I note that over at Studio Foglio, they're now running Phil Foglio's Buck Godot: Zap Gun For Hire as a thrice-weekly webcomic. They appear to have already gone through the stories in the two published collections and are now reprinting the Gallimaufry series, in full color no less. Highly recommended. (Although the server appears to be shy or something, right now, so if the link doesn't work I'd recommend you bookmark it and try it later.)
Also, Casey and Andy is back, ticking on towards the proper conclusion to the comic. Hurrah! Amusingly, A Miracle of Science (which is linked from a few C&A pages) has gotten a pretty solid secondary bump in hits because of this.
Late-breaking addendum!! Michael R. Weholt's online novel Our Man at the Heliopause, which I've linked to in the past on this LJ but now that link is broken, is now available here. Enjoy.
That should do it for now.