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. 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.
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 style (more about this in the 15-07-31 State Of Play) of the game isn’t up there with games of high visual fidelity, it suits the game and provides a balance between gameplay and visuals. That aside from the fact that most of those games aren’t as big, nor have the feature set and options of this game.
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.
State Of Play09-04-15
THE LAST MILE (lol! just kidding!)
As I mentioned in the previous State Of Play update, we have a lot of things going on atm. This work includes testing and unlocking the rest of the weapons, the AI and behaviors for the Hostile Intent world event, aircraft, vehicles etc.
Now that the behavior and pathfinding stuff for the androids is set, the plan forward is to unlock aircraft, vehicles, then the Hostile Intent event. From that point on, we just continue to unlock the remaining weapons and inventory items, fix bugs, do tweaks, do the other world events etc.
I think the aircraft and vehicle unlocks are going to unleash a whole new set of issues we need to address. Good thing is that we did most of that stuff over a year ago. So mostly it’s going to be tweaks (e.g. flight dynamics in space and planets), world issues (e.g. vehicles getting stuck in places they shouldn’t be in the first place) and stuff like that.
ASSET ACQUISITION AND USE (no, you can’t touch that)
In case you were wondering, the way we’ve done this is quite simple. As long as you have the required CTC, you can walk up to and activate a supply platform (works the same way as the detention hold terminals). From the menu, you can select the aircraft or vehicle that you have access to.
If you are in a station (or the carrier), you would access the supply station from the docking bay. The craft will then be created in the external docking bay, and you will be teleported into it. All you have to do then is just fly away in space, to the planet below etc. There is no enter/exit transition animation or any of that time wasting stuff.
If you are on the planet, the supply station is near the launch pads you currently see in the scenes. Same thing. Once the craft is created and you are teleported into it, you can just take off (in VTOL mode).
Of course if you have a multi-crew craft, you have to wait for your friends to join you before you take off.
Acquiring vehicles works the same way, but of course only on planets. However, unlike aircraft, vehicles are created either at the ARC or elsewhere in special areas around the scenes. Since shuttles and some gunships have the ability to tractor vehicles and aircraft, there are ways to bring vehicles to any location on the map.
Since we are not selling aircraft and vehicles, we don’t have the concept of “garages” or “ownership”. Instead, you will need the required CTC to use any such assets.
However, if you purchase an “asset-lock key”, it will allow you to create any asset (vehicle, aircraft or defense system) that you want; and be able to spawn that asset at any time. An example is if there is a fighter that you like, you can create it as long as you have the required CTC and an “asset-lock key”.
Note that assets will automatically de-spawn (disappear) from the game world after a certain period of time if nobody is using it at the time.
The Starter Kit accounts will not have the capability to requisition/create assets or purchase asset-lock keys. Though they can use whatever is out there in the game world in the same way that weapons, ammo, items can be looted from supply packs. We will have some aircraft and vehicles in the scenes when they are unlocked.
ASSET IMPROVEMENTS (yeah, we’re on it)
As part of the wrap-up work, I have gone back and reviewed a lot of the game assets, some of which were done as far back as 2010, based on the previous (we created a new engine in 2011) engine specs.
So with that, and given the new engine as well as our metrics of where we are now in terms of performance, we’re going to be using the high fidelity versions of those assets and with all new textures where needed. You can see this improvement in the FG45 assault rifle. All 30 of the weapons are going to be getting this upgrade and we expect to release them in builds as they are completed. The changelog will reflect which ones are new in each build.
We’re also going to be giving all eight male (the female character models done in July 2014 are already high quality) character models the same treatment. Some aircraft (e.g. the Aurora and Corsair fighters) and vehicles – not all – will also get the same treatment as-needed.
Back when we did the 3D aircraft cockpits, they were built into the aircraft models. They didn’t look as good. And even though we have VR displays (seen in the transport shuttles) which I was expecting could be toggled on or off, I decided to revise the 3D cockpits anyway.
This time, we’ve been doing them from scratch and for all 21 aircraft (fighters, gunships, shuttles). We’re still not there yet with the lighting, materials etc, but here are some close to final shots of a male and female character inside the Aurora 3D cockpit.
RELEASE DATE (don’t be silly, it’s ready when it’s ready)
The game is still Early Access. We are still shooting for a final release before year end; but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t. There is no incentive to rush the game. Which is why you should probably read the Early Access FAQ, as well as Steam’s own guidelines and advisory.
- There is no way you can know exactly when the game will be finished, that the game will be finished, or that planned future additions will definitely happen. Do not ask your customers to bet on the future of your game.
- Customers should be buying your game based on its current state, not on promises of a future that may or may not be realised.”
- Don’t launch in Early Access if you can’t afford to develop with very few or no sales.
- Make sure you set expectations properly everywhere you talk about your game.
- Don’t launch in Early Access without a playable game.
- Don’t launch in Early Access if you are done with development.