in testing

Posted On 20 Dec, 2016

A new patch just went out to our internal testing group. Details inside.

This isn’t the phase 3 patch, more like the phase 2 patch as it adds features and content to phase 1 and 2 of the game plus some visual and quality of life improvements which apply to all phases of the game.

space dungeon overhaul

I had this problem which is I have plans to add stuff in the future which requires terrain to be in the game today. This patch aimed to solve a big part of that problem.

Our level format and our ship format both are designed to support arbitrary artwork because the idea is to treat the game world as a sort of 2d voxel game with images being used as templates to spawn things. Internally the team likes to joke that we have invented a new form of 2d Voxel technology and we are calling it the pixel. We’re that clever.

The benefit of treating the world this way is that any image file can be inserted into the world as either a ship or a piece of terrain at any time without requiring modification of the core game files. The drawback is that once the world is generated, we don’t have control over its contents because we can’t tell from the individual pixels what art asset those pixels originally came from. We can use images to spawn terrain, but then it becomes just that: terrain, and we are forced to train our AI how to deal with terrain no matter what shape it might take.

Well this update has been about training the AI to deal with some new terrain features. Specifically I have programmed a lot of new features for our map making tool, and a lot of new info tags which can be inserted by that tool for the AI to respond to. The idea of this update was to replace existing static prefabs with new annotated prefabs that contain both terrain and information nodes which tell the AI how to interact with that terrain. Things such as rooms, ambush points, patrol routes, event locations, turret locations, are now things that the AI can be made aware of so that the AI can decide how to run the show instead of forcing everything to create when the sector is generated.

What that means for gameplay is that the simplistic abandoned space stations that once littered space are being replaced by something smarter and more dynamic. The new prefabs not only look better, but they are now fully dynamic. The faction AI is aware that they exist and will periodically inhabit them and fill them with encounters. These encounters can be different depending on what phase the story is in, or they can simply be randomized and procedural. The dungeons also can repopulate themselves with new loot and challenges after time has passed, and quests can be more aware of what type of terrain you are interacting with.

The new format is compatible with old saves, but the new dungeons will only generate in a new world.

Warp gates

This patch represents part 1 of our 2 part initiative to solve the pacing issue in the game, specifically involving travel times and avoiding terrain while making long trips.

We’ve created a warp gate network across all of the single player system areas, and in typical Wayward Terran Frontier fashion you will need to explore to find all of the gates, and fight to open them.

Once activated, gates can be used by flying on top of them, opening your map, and clicking on another gate to be instantly moved there. This will likely need a better UI mechanic in the future as well as a short tutorial, but you know we like to give you the content raw first, and then work on the update that holds your hand afterwards. Expect a tutorial with some narrative surrounding warp gates in the future.

The return of farming

A long long time ago many of you probably remember that there was a half finished feature in the game called space farming. It was a mini-game which involved operating a crystal farm that gave you a currency that could be tossed into your furnace for cash. In the early days it was accessed via a really crummy looking farming screen, and it never worked perfectly as there were crashes and the system generally didn’t fit into the game very well.

Well we realized back then that the game needed to focus on content in space, and not content in the station in order to encourage you to go out and enjoy what the game was actually about: exploration and space combat. We decided to shelf the idea of space farming in favor of building an economy, remaking the world engine, and upgrading prefabs and faction AI so that flying around in space was actually interesting and worth doing.

However now, with the working economy and the improved space dungeons, I have decided it would be okay to spend some time looking into improving the player’s home life. In a fit of drunken holiday rage I screamed “I don’t feel like being productive, I want to play with space crystals!” and I started reprogramming space farming from the ground up. Mostly because I wanted to.

The new system is a huge functional improvement over the old one, and so the old one has been thrown out entirely in favor of the new mechanics. So what are the new mechanics? First of all, farming is an incremental game. The idea is that you will always be slightly improving your farm. However in most incremental games you improve the output of your cookie by clicking your cookie, in Zero Falls farming you don’t improve your crop by farming, you improve your crop by exploring and collecting. Go out and raid a dungeon, get a gene, try a new combination for your genome using the new gene, come home, harvest your old crop, plant your new crop, and so on.

The genes fit into a 7×7 grid that is your “genome” and their layout determines how your crystals will grow and spread and also how much they will be worth when you harvest them. By finding more genes you have building blocks to make your crystals better, but you will have to try different arrangements to see what works best.

Also the currency you get from harvesting crystals won’t be useful until the phase 3 update comes out…sorry.

Quality of life improvements

While working on the above, some items came to my attention and got a bit of love that isn’t worth mentioning in its own section.

Ai got a little better at not smacking into asteroids and is a little faster about picking up trade routes so they don’t stay on that one airlock for so long between jobs. They still aren’t smart, this patch didn’t focus on huge AI upgrades.

Ship movement was made a bit more intuitive with a new acceleration and speed based drag system which means non-linear ship acceleration. It accomplishes my goals of speeding up travel in a straight line, making ships of different sizes have more realistic speed differences, making different tiers of engines more meaningful, and keeping combat speeds reasonable so it isn’t impossible to hit things in ship combat. The speed of most ships has changed slightly or significantly as a result, and overall I think it feels more natural.

Inventory quickslots were rewritten such that your held item is no longer an actual inventory slot. This means -1 inventory size for everyone, but it means selecting an item from your inventory no longer moves items around so you can actually use the quickslots the way quickslots are meant to be used.

Not really QOL, but we added to and enhanced the existing interior light situation with some new effects. We also wrote a tool for taking a screen shot of your entire ship interior…I don’t know if I want to tell you how to use it because it’s like a button designed to break your computer. It opens a render target to draw your entire ship in one pass and is a huge resource hog…I’m terrified to think what it would do if you used it in a large station.

Oh, and we remapped your home station yet again. I’m starting to like that station a little, I dunno, tell me what you think about it. The new version has a large area that you can use for farming, and mining lasers are now available in your utility closet.

Patch ETA

We uploaded this to testers, and we are going to be doing extensive testing ourselves because there is a significant number of mechanics changes in this. The hope was to release this before the steam Xmas sale, now it might have to release in the middle of the steam Xmas sale or right after it. Since we changed the save file format quite extensively I wanna make sure there’s nothing wrong with the new code before releasing it into the wild, so I will try to keep you posted.