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State Of Play
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11-01-16

COMING SOON TO A BUILD NEAR YOU

We released Build 00.09.07.15 on 16-10-04 to both DSS and GA, thus unifying the builds. This was a major release culminating from several DSS releases (starting with Build 00.09.07.10 of 16-09-02) as we worked through a major milestone (see 16-08-15 dev bulletin) that included the AI controlled space defense systems (station/carrier mounted turrets, Orbital Defense Systems). With that out of the way, we’re now working on the planetary defenses component part of that.

The reason that it was split into two parts is due to the major differences in their handling. For example, the defense units on the planet can all be entered and used by the player – whether they are fixed or mobile units. So when a unit is in “passive” mode, it only fires when fired upon, and doesn’t have any faction affiliation. When a player enters the unit, the player’s faction is inherited for as long as the player is in the unit and either driving it or firing its weapons.

The other issue with planetary units is that some have both driver and gunner positions. Though we’ve had the ability to use ground vehicles for years now, aside from updating them to use the newer networking layer and handling, we still have to handle the issue of occupancy in terms of how the weapons are handled in multiplayer. Gunners can enter vehicles which have them, but they can’t drive them; only pilot/driver can do that. And to make things even more complex, some of these ground vehicles don’t have pilot/driver accessible weapons. Which means that, unlike aircraft, a player driving a vehicle doesn’t necessarily have the ability to use/fire its weapon systems.

So yeah, it’s complex.

As with did with the first part of this task, the first build going up on DSS in the coming weeks will give the ground units target acquisition, tracking, engagement capability – exactly like the space defense units. Then the follow-up builds will include tweaks, bug fixes, and the ability for players to enter the units, drive the mobile ones, as well as manually use all the weapon systems mounted on those that have them. The naval units will also be included as part of that.

For more info on the many ground and naval units available in the game, check out the assets dB.

During all this, as seen in the roadmap, several legacy game assets such as weapons, aircraft, vehicles and some environment assets and buildings (e.g. station interiors) will also be getting on-going major visual improvement passes similar to the ones already done for aircraft, some weapons, the character models, animations etc.

Meantime, we’re doing extensive playtesting to weed out annoying and lurking bugs. Some of which have now been entered into the known issues log and will be addressed in upcoming builds. Please keep the support reports coming!

NEXT IN THE DEV SCHEDULE

The short-term GEN7 plan includes the three phase milestones from the roadmap.

Next will be the final revision of the Automated Transport System (see game docs p10) which we disabled a few builds ago due to issues with how it was originally implemented. The new version will be more robust, and less susceptible to failures due to server networking updates and such.

Sticking with the AI side of things, we’ll then embark on the AI controlled androids in which their pathfinding as well as target acquisition, tracking, engagement capability will be enabled and tested. Since they will be active in both stations, carrier and on the planet, this will be a major milestone release as well. As these are handled exactly like the defense systems, most of the implementation is already done. The difference with the androids is in their pathfinding and target chase logic, as well as how they use their firearms when engaging threats. Their use as AI player companions will follow in a later update.

With all the above components in place, we will then work through the World Events (gameplay modes) as well as other minor tasks, tweaks, and bug fixes, as the start of the GEN8 builds.

WINDOWS 10 / XBOX ONE

The final game release is going to exclusively require Windows 10, and we will deprecate support for Windows 7, as well as support for DX9 (DX11 and DX 12 are only supported on WIN10). We expect to complete the transition sometime in 2017. Doing this allows us to simplify a lot of things, as well as unify certain tech related to the XBox One build.

While we currently have no plans to support Universal Windows Platform (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), the general consensus is that one was declared DOA even before Microsoft announced it.

Given our game engine and networking design, and through working with our Microsoft counterparts, we have been gearing up to support Xbox cross-platform play (1, 2, 3, 4) via WINDOW10<->XBOXONE, as well as Xbox Play Anywhere (1, 2, 3, 4), and Xbox Game Preview (Xbox version of Early Access, 1, 2, 3, 4) on both Windows 10 and XBox One.

F2P OR B2P

With LOD, though it has a solid design, compelling and unique features and technologies, as well as a flexible business model, there is always that something that you’re going to think you’re missing, and which is going to make all the difference to the game’s appeal and success. I don’t have any such concerns about the game. The only concerns I have are about the business model and whether or not upon release, it will find the core target audience or get lost in the noise.

Thing is, there are lots of FPS games out there. There are also several combined arms games (e.g. the venerable Planetside 2, Angels Fall First etc), all of which have some special features, and something more to offer than just your standard fare shooter. When I designed this game, I did so with the knowledge that I had no desire to compete in the shooter arena, let alone in any standard fare genre that was already saturated. And I certainly wasn’t interested in doing yet another space combat shooter when I’ve got my other titles (even the highly complex Universal Combat is getting a much-needed makeover for my hardcore fans) for that.

As to the business model, back when I designed this game, F2P was all the rage. While there are still a lot of F2P games out there, most aren’t even making enough money to keep the servers online, let alone pay the teams. Others use all sorts of tricks to keep the whales buying into the game in order to compensate for those who aren’t buying anything. Many others have failed and closed down.

The flip side is that the B2P (buy-to-play) model has its own set of challenges; with the most important being the price as a barrier to entry. For a PvP game, pricing still isn’t everything because you still need a compelling game. And there is also the risk of running into the Catch-22 of player engagement. Player checks out the game, doesn’t see many people playing, then leaves to go play something else.

With that in mind, since the very start, the design for the game fit either business model; in that it could either be F2P (with a free Starter Kit) or B2P. So given current industry trends, a F2P business model is probably not in the best interests of the game, depending on when we get to release it. While the PC version will still benefit from the base $19.99 Starter Kit and the optional Tactical Advancement Kit ($29.99 – $59.99), the console versions will probably have a different TBD pricing structure. However, it is important to note that if and when we end up with International (we currently only plan a US launch for the game, and with no localization) launch partners, they may choose a different business model based on their individual territories.

MMO OR SESSION BASED

As the console versions were never going to be F2P, the forward thinking design also meant that we would have 64 client player hosted servers which would allow any player to host a game session, as well as play in that same session via an in-game server browser. Pretty much the standard model for most multiplayer games (e.g. our All Aspect Warfare / Angle Of Attack games use this model).

So with that, for the final game release, and in order to be able to support cross-platform play without issues, we’re going to be unifying this model across both the PC and console versions by allowing PC clients to host and join 64 client sessions via a server browser. This basically means that the “MMO” aspect of the PC game only pertains to dedicated (like the ones we currently host) servers which have the capability to support more clients than the standard model.

While there are no plans to distribute (as we did with the AAW/AOA games) the dedicated server binaries at this time, we will still continue to host dedicated WSG servers post-release. Though the ability for anyone to host and have more control over their own sessions is probably more appealing to most of our core audience. However, if there is a strong post-release demand, releasing the dedicated server binaries is a strong possibility.

NOTE that this doesn’t change the “persistent” nature of the game, other than if the player hosting a game session rage-quits, all clients get kicked off due to the host client killing the session. The game is a real-time, non-instanced type; and that’s not subject to change. Due to the underlying combined arms PvP nature, even when the (optional) world event ends, the session still continues running depending on the parameters setup on the specific session.

THE BEST LAID PLANS

Another year is now ending and we’ve faced and are still facing challenges in various areas. Though this game isn’t even my biggest or most complex to date, most of the challenges have come from the usual nightmares derived from building (1, 2, 3, 4) a custom engine and game from scratch. Time passes, technology improves, the gaming landscape changes etc. A game designed in 2010 (following the release of our previous two games in 2009) and which goes into full blown custom engine development in 2011, outside of being a heavily marketed triple-A title (even those tend to face major challenges e.g. the excellent Titanfall 2, Mafia III, No Man’s Sky etc) will find it hard to compete if it cannot stay abreast of changes, or find its core target audience.

One of the challenges we’ve had these past months is due to the end-of-life support for the Havok Vision Engine (was Trinigy Vision Engine prior to the Havok purchase in 2011) which we used as our baseline engine. Not only is Havok no longer licensing (it doesn’t even appear on the website anymore) it, but the development of next-gen console (PS4, XBox One) versions of that engine was in a state of flux – right up until it was “no longer planned”. Thinking that Microsoft’s acquisition (in Q4 2015) of Havok from Intel would rekindle those efforts, sadly, that hasn’t happened – yet. So, for all intent and purposes, HVE is deprecated and dead. And we simply couldn’t wait.

Which means that going forward, we have had to make the decision to port the underlying base engine (Vision Engine) to another comparable middleware engine. We looked at a few, almost settling for Unity 5 but decided to go with Unreal Engine 4 instead; mostly due to it’s C++ core and component system which closely matche ours; thus making it an easier task.

Unlike our multi-platform title (which we developed as a marketing promo for the larger LOD game), Line Of Defense Tactics which was developed (I setup another third-party team for that) from scratch with Unity 4, and which then also ended up on XBox One (we developed that in-house, and not with the third-party team) almost a year following release on other platforms, we don’t have the luxury of starting from scratch with this much larger and more complex game which is purely C++ based.

The problem with using different engines for the same game release, aside from update parity, is that it gets to be resource intensive, requires completely separate teams etc. So the end result is that we would have a PC game developed with a Havok based custom engine, and a console version developed with the more powerful and robust UE4. Even with using separate teams as I did with LOD Tactics, like that game, there will still be resource overlap due to asset conversions, game design and features etc. And I’d have to hire more people due to the increased workload.

So, going into 2017, I have to decide whether to i) release the PC version as planned with the current Havok based engine, then release the UE4 powered console version later in the year or ii) just port to UE4, then do a multi-platform release as we did before with LOD Tactics.

While going to the far superior UE4 not only gives us a far more versatile and powerful base engine than HVE, with vastly superior and dramatically improved visuals, we also get out-of-the-box support for PBR, HDR and 4K. It is also the less risky approach in terms of marketing as well as competing technologies. The downside is that it is also a more expensive approach because putting the PC release on hold while transitioning to UE4 means no game to sell for a game that’s nearing completion. Not to mention the added costs of the port (which also entails a LOT of art and model asset improvements to take advantage of UE4).

Until I make a final decision by year end, everything is progressing as normal. But once that decision is made, I will of course be posting an update.

HOW TO ACCESS THE GAME

We disabled the Steam store page back in April and moved it into Closed Beta Test (CBT) for more focused testing, less drama, distraction etc. Since that time, you could no longer purchase it on Steam. However, Digital River still has some Starter Kit and TAK commercial keys (Steam) left. You can get them from here. When we need additional testers, we will again be giving out free keys (which do expire!!) via our CBT program. As we have enough testers already, we don’t expect to re-enable the Steam store until we complete some of the final goal milestones.

State Of Play
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12-19-15

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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