The Road Ahead12-19-15
LINE OF DEFENSE
After five long years, lots of challenges, distractions, and everything in between, I am gearing up for one of the largest public updates to Line Of Defense since it went into development. Aircraft unlocks! And this update is part of the on-going visual improvements mentioned in several blog posts these past months.
Yes, I know, the comparisons to Star Citizen are going to keep coming. And it’s supposed (it’s not) to be flattering that some are comparing a 4yr + $100m (triple-A budget right there) built by up to 500 people at one point, to a 5yr year indie (less than two dozen people at any point) project that thus far cost less than $15m to build.
The fact is that, every single upcoming space combat game, can stand on its own merit because they all have a specific target audience, tech, visual style, gameplay premise etc. Battlescape Infinity, Elite Dangerous, Everspace, Into The Stars, Line Of Defense, Rebel Galaxy, Star Citizen, are the current and upcoming iterations of the new generation of space combat games. I’m not even going to bother throwing into the mix, the massive on-going visual updates to the only all-encompassing (and most complex) capital ship combat game of all time, Universal Combat (which has procgen planets btw!), the off-spring of Battlecruiser 3000AD.
But people keep making these comparisons because all of a sudden it’s apparently OK to compare all fps games because, well, they feature an fps component. That would be like comparing Fallout 4 to Call Of Duty. Stop it.
If it’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that game development is about managing expectations and being focused on specifically what you set out to create. Any deviation from that, even in the slightest, can and will ruin a project. Completely. A game genre simply can’t be everything to everyone; and you have to temper expectations every step of the way.
So yeah, space combat games are apparently back (not really, just a few), and so I am left wondering how long before someone picks up the rights to one of the classic IP like Freespace (Interplay), Freelancer (Microsoft), I-War (Atari), Privateer (Microsoft), Star Wars (Disney/EA), Wing Commander (EA), and do a new game in the series. But rest assured, while I don’t believe that this resurgence will last, I think the next few years are going to be very interesting for the genre. Some will make it, others will fizzle and fail, but hey, we’ll always have the memories.
At the end of the day, win, lose, or draw, LOD is going to be i) exactly what it was designed to be ii) a finished product that, like all my previous games, a lot of people will get to enjoy for what it is, not what they want it to be.
In the short-term, bringing (it has already been approved) it to the XBox One platform with Windows 10 <-> XBox One cross-platform play, is the ultimate goal.
My long-term plan going forward, as with all my games over the years, is to improve and expand it over the years. My ultimate goal is to expand the galaxy, build more planetary bases, add a simple (nothing as complex as in BC/UC games) trading (player-to-player) component, as well as the ability to fly carriers, cruisers, and transport ships – all from the IP the game shares with my other games – without the complex machinations found in the BC/UC games. But make no mistake, the game play focus will remain pure PvP, with very little PvE components.
LINE OF DEFENSE TACTICS
I have to mention that back when I had the idea to make a companion game as a marketing hook to LOD, I had no idea that LOD Tactics would end up being a fully fleshed-out multi-platform RTS game. The long road to the Dec 11th release on XBox One was very interesting to say the least. And it reminded me of all the reasons why, over the years, and through several console generations, I never – ever – wanted to develop a game for a console. In fact, I had to setup a separate third-party team (with Unity experience) to work with me on it because really it was just a marketing expense and experiment.
It was one of things that started off when, after looking at the Line Of Defense comics that my friend Rick Sanchez had written for a series we’re doing for DC Comics, I thought it would be a good idea to do something different and see where it goes.
So I reached out to Rick, explained the plan etc. And before you know it, he was full blown into writing the story line and all the 16 mission stories.
As we couldn’t use the LOD engine to build an RTS (that would on the level of stupid as using CryEngine to build an all-encompassing game like Star Citizen “vision 2.0”), I decided to use Unity4 because it was the easiest path forward for a simple game.
Since we only have one Unity person in-house, and it being a large project, I hired JJ over at CapitalJMedia to lead the development. We then hired six more people to work with him on the project. They became the “LOD Tactics – Unity” team and who reported directly to me and JJ.
Since LOD Tactics shares the IP with LOD, it uses all the same assets from the game. So those of us in the core LOD team, still had to support the LODT team in various aspects during the game’s design and development since they knew nothing about the game, let alone the IP.
We did the mobile (Apple, Google, Amazon, Steam) and PC (as expected, a bunch of lunatics with entitlement issues, derided it for being a “mobile” port – yeah, stupid, I know) versions first in 2014. And that was the end of CapitalJMedia involvement and the core of that LODT team once that was done. If you download the free versions on any platform (iOS, Android, PC), you will see the CapitalJMedia logo played after the 3000AD logo in the beginning. However, it doesn’t appear in the AndroidTV, XBoxOne or PS4 versions because, having finished the core game, we did them in-house without the involvement of the original LODT team.
Several months later, I decided to do console ports, and subsequently got it approved for both XBox One and PS4. Since we already had someone in-house with Unity experience, and it already being a completed game, I had him lead the improvements and ports for both the AndroidTV (for nVidia SHIELD TV, not yet released) and XBox One (released Dec 11th in North America only). And we will be doing the PS4 version for release next year; as well as other territorial releases depending on how much hassle (e.g. ratings boards, localization etc) I want to deal with.
My plan going forward is to improve on the console (I currently have no plans to revisit the PC or mobile versions) title via paid DLC in the form of new levels, missions, equipment, characters etc. Since the game can pull from a lot of pre-existing assets and lore, there is a quite a bit of room for expansion. And who knows, I may end up doing a full blown RTS game at some point down the road.
State Of Play10-27-15
THE LONGEST LAST MILE
In my State Of Play (15-09-04) update, I mentioned that we had started working on wrapping up the key aspects of the game now. Also in the State Of Play (15-07-31), I detailed some of the improvements we were doing to various aspects of the game’s visuals as we continue to improve on our custom game engine.
To that end, all things being equal, and depending on whether or not during final testing certain features need to be reworked or cut, I am expecting that we will hit final release sometime in the first half of 2016. All things being equal.
As you can see from the changelog, progress has been fairly steady, and it’s all coming together nicely I think. It’s a massive game, with a LOT of pieces that need to be tied together for a cohesive whole.
While this is not the largest (that would be Universal Combat series) game that I have designed or developed, it has presented a lot of challenges in terms of catering to the ever changing industry, player metrics and styles etc. Since I first designed this in 2009, right through to the complete trashing in 2011 of the original game engine we were building, it has been one challenge after another.
The most interesting one to me is that, despite there not being any games like this (the outstanding Planetside 2 game is the last of this class of games) in development, it has been a bit of an uphill battle trying to explain what exactly this game is and does. Building a massive all-encompassing game which features infantry, vehicles, aircraft (space and planets), interior areas, a ton of weapons, things to do etc, is just the tip of the challenge iceberg. Then you have to decide just how far you can go with the visual fidelity before you lose the majority of the intended player base due to performance issues.
Even more interesting is that those who aren’t even the intended target audience, are mostly the ones clamoring about visuals either in their hater (see: Star Citizen White Knight clowns who are review bombing the game’s Steam store page) campaign or because they simply don’t get the fact that as an experienced designer, I have to weigh gameplay vs visuals. And throughout my entire history, I’ve always favored the former.
That said, even though the visual fidelity of the game isn’t very high, the style suits the game and provides a balance between gameplay and visuals. That aside from the fact that most of those other games aren’t as big, nor have the feature set and options of this game. It’s a fine balancing act.
Anyway, as things wind down to the final stages to the 2016 release, aside from general bug fixes, tweaks, performance improvements etc, the following primary features are left to complete and/or release for public testing:
- Various art and 3D asset improvements. See below
- Aircraft. These have been working for several years now, but need to be tuned for networking and unlocked
- Vehicles. As with aircraft, these too need to be tuned for networking and unlocked
- AI and user control of all planetary defense systems
- Remaining personal inventory items as well as implant (including use of the IAC) usage
- Deployable assets (aircraft, weapons)
- Android activation, AI and pathfinding
- Activation of key scene buildings and units functionality
- Interface for creation and maintenance of fireteams and squads
- Interface for Combat Training Cert restrictions. Since CTC usage restricts access to various features, assets etc, it is going to be the last feature activated prior to final launch. At that point, this will nerf any/all stats from Early Access, leaving only those stats and items which are part of the Starter Kit or TAK tier purchase.
- Planetary base and station capture game play modes
- The Hostile Intent world event. This will be the only one at final release. Others will be implemented post-launch and run at specific times
- Activation of the in-game cash shop (powered by Xsolla) via the Supply Platforms
GAME WORLD AND ASSET IMPROVEMENTS
Now that we’re in the final run, and have seen how far we can push the engine even though we still have some room for further optimizations, we have started going through all the game assets (most of which were created as far back as 2010!) and picking out those which have room for improvement without impacting the performance of the game. Also, most of them were created with the previous engine iteration as the target.
In the 00.09.06.03 released on 15-10-23, we started replacing some of those older assets. In that build, we added the new Assault Force Marine character, as well as the FG45 assault rifle weapon. Here is a new album showing some of these. The next major build which introduces the aircraft, will show the new X21-Aurora fighter and its new 3D cockpit. You can see these in a previous image album.
Going forward, we are going to replace all of the following assets with new and improved versions. Not all assets (e.g. most of the aircraft are fine) are going to need improvements though. And due to how the game engine is designed, this in-game asset replacement is fairly effortless. This allows us to include new assets which are ready and can be included in on-going build releases.
- Terrain textures. Most of the terrain textures are going to be replaced with higher quality versions
- Terrain assets. Some of the buildings and other assets which are part of the scene (aka level), will also be getting a visual boost
- All 8 male character models. The two females were done earlier this year and thus need no further improvement
- All 30 weapon models
- A total of 6 (of 21) aircraft models: X21-Aurora, Corsair, Interceptor MK2, Interdictor, Stardrone, Zenstar
- All 21 aircraft 3D cockpits.
- Some of the 14 vehicles (not including the MICE which are fine) may need similar improvements. I have yet to make a decision on which ones
- As with the vehicles, some of the 15 ground defense systems may need similar improvements
GAMEPLAY MODE TWEAKS & REVISIONS
The game was designed to have the following gameplay modes:
- PvP. Built-in and runs at all times. Completed.
- Hostile Incarceration. Built-in and runs at all times. Completed.
- Planetary base capture. Selectively runs on top of standard PvP and HI modes. Pending.
- Station base capture. Selectively runs on top of standard PvP and HI modes. Pending.
- World Events. Selectively runs on top of standard PvP and HI modes. Pending.
The selective game play modes are going to be the most difficult to test and fine tune. The issue we are going to be faced with is going to be balancing.
One of the most difficult gameplay modes to fine tune and balance is related to co-op play such as base capture. And in a game with no PvE, the incentives have to be attractive enough to make it worthwhile. These are not modes that players can just select from a server browser based on what they want to play. Once they are implemented, you’re stuck with them. And if they are not fine tuned correctly and/or balanced, nobody is going to bother playing them.
Speaking of PvE, the game has none. Which is where the World Events come in. Using the Androids with advanced AI, the idea is to provide some sort of PvE option for all players on the server. As these are not standard modes, they will need to be activated at specific times, replacing the base capture modes when running.
The Hostile Intent world event is in the process of being re-designed to have more focused game play that is specific to a scene. The idea is that the 4 planetary bases, 4 stations, 1 carrier and 4 space regions, will all be running a specific type of mode. This allows players who prefer a certain game type (e.g. space combat in space only), can continue to play just that aspect of the game without ever getting involved in any other (e.g. infantry combat) mode or being forced to.
The Starguard carrier has the detention center. The mode starts everyone on deck 3. The spawn points are arranged such that one side (Military or Insurgent) is limited only to the area of deck 3 where they can still use the DJP and HAIS-MK2 suite at the airlock. The goal would be to complete 3 or 4 objectives (i.e. hack and hold 3 terminals). Once the terminals have been hacked, they can attack and destroy the command module at the end of the deck. Once the deck has been compromised, the battle moves on to deck 2 and eventually deck 1 in a similar fashion. If the advancing team wins the three decks in the given time, they win the round. It then resets and starts in reverse. Extra Combat Experience Points are earned based on the number of players that participated in each event.
NEW USER EXPERIENCE
Also in the 00.09.06.03 build we introduced several features designed to assist new players and introduce them to certain aspects of the game. These tweaks include mouse-over tooltips for icons on the game map, as well as icons showing the number of clients in each of the scenes. One other tweak that is going to be coming is a “flashpoint” indicator on the scene selection interface. This will show the scene with the greatest conflict in progress.
What has been interesting to note is that, even though the game scenes are massive and have a real-time map in the HUD, I still hear some new players talking about being lost. This despite the fact that in most games, players are smart enough to just wander around, figure things out etc. So I went ahead and wrote a quick help interface which we then incorporated into the GUI and activated using F6. This was after we had already implemented an in-game 3D hint system located right there in the spawn area with instructions on how to “get the hell off the ship”.
People, the mini and full scene maps have icons showing where everything is, your direction of travel etc. The in-game docs show you how to get around. It’s not rocket science. If you have a Starter Kit, you are forced to spawn in the Starguard carrier. If you want to go to the planet below, you either use a DJP or an HAIS-MK2 suit (if you are going to use this, you probably shouldn’t pick a spot too far from the central map area) at an airlock. And once aircraft are unlocked in the next major build due out next month, you can also use an aircraft to fly out to space, then use a jumpgate to enter the planet below.
So just figure it all, OK? It’s all there. All you have to do is, well, read the provided docs.