Phase 3 status

Posted On 13 Feb, 2017

I rant about what’s coming in the next update.

It feels like there are an endless number of little quality of life fixes I could be making to the early game, but I can’t fix the first 2 stages of the game and never release the 3rd, which is why this patch is progressing on 2 fronts at the same time.

Initially I was working on content for phase 2 QOL, and I completed all the code on a new orange-zone scripted event as well as some dialogues for existing things that were poorly explained in the early game. Player mobility, lack of early game direction, difficulty of early upgrades were all going to be the goal of the patch. Then at some point in a moment of inspiration I changed the generation algorithm for the entire red zone and started writing quests to interact with the player in that zone. Now that the scope of the patch has grown so much, I can’t release it until all the little pieces are in or it will just seem like a step backwards.

Crew gonna be cool

So lets talk about some of the improvements coming in the next mega-patch.

First of all, the quality of life stuff is pretty good this time. I went on a big push to make Marv less of a useless prick. The goal for crew has always been a very challenging one to design because I decided I wanted crew to have agency and to be “real” in the sense that ships are not the AI characters of the game, their crew is. The issue with that is that all of the activities I want the player to take are ship-related which means I needed an AI smart enough to be helpful without requiring the player to constantly micro-manage them.

In the beginning I erred on the side of crew independence, knowing that I didn’t ultimately want a lot of crew micro-management and so opting to not include any significant way of controlling them. This saved me lots of time on designing interfaces that would have been thrown out, but it lead to crew being a burden. Crew would attack things you didn’t want attacked, they would steal your ship, and when you went places they’d monopolize airlocks you needed with their stupid idle faces, all while being no good at repairing or shooting your guns for you. Most of this was the result of the player’s crew using the exact same AI as all other crew.

So with the goal of making crew an actual asset to the player I worked on their AI a lot. They now respect the one command you do have (follow/hold) better by actually following on one setting and by not turning into a ship thief on the other. They also have a new context-sensitive command that they obey while you are flying your ship to tell them what factions they are and are not allowed to attack. In the past they held a grudge forever against any faction that had fired on your ship, to the extent that their aggro table caused memory leaks and huge save files at one point, now the player has control and their crew won’t gun down civilians at every trade station unless you tell them to. Note that part of this AI update required a visual cue to the player of what your AI was actually targeting so part of this patch contents is a full ship targeting UI system designed from scratch that ties into sensor strength and other systems like missiles.

Next, so that you would actually want AI manning your guns, I sat down and solved a popular request: point defense logic. Your AI crew will now attempt to shoot down incoming missiles if they have a console connected to point defense weapons such as flak or hail turrets.

Add in some bug fixes to AI like an issue where they repaired stupid and you can begin to see how a scripted event that adds a new form of warp drive enhancement module and a new crew member can expand into endless quality of life improvements and side projects preventing me from ever progressing the game’s story. At some point I just said to hell with this and started making phase 3 content. To be clear, I have added the second segment to the player mobility enhancements I had planned. That content is finished, but I don’t want to release it because I am now absorbed by charging full speed ahead towards phase 3 story content. I started breaking things in the code and making a mess of everything with new content.

Phase 3 story content

We’re directing the player to pack their bags and head towards the red zones on the map. I have plans for how the player is going to make friends, be blown up by enemies, and unlock a whole lot of cool new stuff. Specifically, phase 3 introduces a new size category of ships and unlocks all the coolest parts of the tier 2 tech spectrum. In this case by “unlocks” I mean “introduces” because you’ll still need to go exploring to find things.

Unlock progression in phase 3 is about introducing slightly larger ships while drastically increasing the spectrum of viable ship customization. We are introducing and working to better flesh out the system of activated modules so that your bridge has a role and your design has more effect on how your ship fights. We are also introducing new weapon systems that have been in the code but which weren’t attainable in single player such as missiles and beams. I mentioned adding crew members that don’t suck, the plan is for them to have interesting auras so you might actually pick one over another and we are also working on other unlockables like our first secret event that will allow you to unlock a sort of “hero” ship with a back-story and special abilities.

The story of phase 3 is also going to require me to write a whole bunch of dialogue and prepare some new character portraits. Dammit.

Current status

So I always do one of these paragraphs where, after telling you what’s in progress, I tell you how far we are along developing them. Ohh, lets make a list, since I didn’t have a list in this blog yet.

Done-(needs testing)

  • Dialogue for explaining warp gates
  • A fancy multi-part event that unlocks yet another solution to moving about the world faster
  • A quest that continues the structured gameplay a little farther after the tutorial and leaves new players feeling less confused about what to do
  • A fancy new system for ship targeting
  • Many AI improvements
  • Many small improvements to the core simulation
  • Fixed some irritating bugs (sorry no more bringing the gate with you when teleporting)
  • Many new modules and nano auras and some small changes to a few mastery talents
  • Prefabs, maps, ship art, station art, and loot tables for the new zone
  • Overhaul of how ship hulls are unlocked and carried between saves
  • Made asteroid collisions a little less dangerous
  • re-added shards from ship damage

In progress

  • Story scripts for the new content
  • Event scripts for the new content
  • Dialogues for the new content
  • Art assets for some new characters
  • A few prefabs
  • Minor facelift to some game map zones
  • An absurd amount of testing and debugging