Good news! Update 4.7 has arrived along with macOS / OS-X support!
Now that support on all platforms has been restored, we’re going to swap the old Alpha and new Beta builds around on Steam as we’re a little conscious that people are missing out on the good stuff.
So in other words: If you were testing the BETA simply switch the build back to normal!
We’re seeing mainly evolutionary progress this update with the promised additional fleet management tweaks bringing the chapter of unit groupings to a close.
We also have a few tweaks as suggested by the community but the real work has gone on under the hood to prepare for resource collection and logistics which will be switched on in 4.7.1.
As is now the norm; expect a flurry of incremental updates/hotfixes over the course of the next week as we continue the race to complete the short to medium term objectives.
Please do keep pointing out the bugs and we’ll continue to squash them!
Also, just a reminder that this article contains some hints on how to get to the missions.
BETA Update 4.7 Change log
– Added macOS/OS-X support!
– Added ‘rolling selector’ UI piece
– Added TAB to toggle forwards hard/soft group selection
– Added Shift-TAB to toggle backwards hard/soft group selection
– Added intelligent camera focus to TAB (preserves Orbit/RTS Cam mode)
– Added intelligent camera focus to hard group selection (double tap number key)
– Added current zone icon to notification panel
– Added in-game help notifier
– Added additional atmospheric sounds to main menu and Zone Map
– Added images to Imperial Codex
– Update – time speed-ups increased
– Update – ‘Encyclopedia’ renamed to ‘Imperial Codex’
– Update – game window can be resized when in windowed mode
– Fixes to issues allowing Player to trade/transfer/fit items in different Zones
– Fixes to issues allowing Player to fit items to ships before trade completed
– Fixes to crash in Inventory transfering items from ship slots
– Fixes to issues trying to edit ship in a different zone or on Zone Map
– Fixed passive scanning sound broken on holding CTRL
– Fixed Q/E keys inverted
– Fixes to minor issue allowing the selection of option rows
– Fixes to OOZ (Out Of Zone) docking crash
– Fixes (further) to crash assigning target when exiting SRJ
– Fixed issue refreshing group icon when creating Soft Group
In this update we tidy up the UI, in particular the fleet panel, where a separate row of smaller icons is now always visible and we’ve also tweaked the appearance of the grouping icons so it’s a little easier to see which number key to press. To prevent unnecessary scrolling detailed icons are currently shown only for Player selected units but will soon be shown for context targets also.
All the abilities should now work. Some abilities will require a context target to work (such as ‘Communications’ allowing you to hail other ships,) you can pick a target by first selecting your ship and then clicking on an AI ship as it’s context target. Other area of effect abilities now use the new ‘Command Range’ and you can preview that range by moving the mouse over the applicable ability icons.
The dialogue system gets folded into the mix adding ways to access various handy NPC functions. This will be handy if you want to use the new petty trade system to buy/sell stuff or build ships using spare funds, you’ll also be able to pickup quests by using dialogue. Look for an exclamation mark by a zone icon or ship which indicates dialogue.
We’ve also folded in various new animations and some fixes that you’ve reported in over the last couple of weeks. Please do continue to report them! It’s been instrumental in the progress made so far.
Look forward to 4.7 where we can expect the beginnings of resource collection, additional help articles, ship experience and a whole host of atmospheric sounds and maybe even the return of the sexy AI voice!
The main goal now is to fold in the remaining RTS mechanics before adding saving/loading, skirmishes and additional planets.
BETA Update 4.6 Change log
– Fix focus issues when double clicking on targetbox
– Fix to windows opening in odd places
– Fix SpaceObject issue causing crash on restart
– Fix focus issues on modular stations
– Added SHIFT + LMB to add/remove ships from selection
– Added focus on opening dialogue with NPC
– Added cargo space bar in inventory windows
– Added petty trading extensions to inventory window
– Added missions to dialogue system, listing and acceptance
– Added accepted missions are tracked at start
– Added trade request to dialogue system
– Added mission indicators to zone icon (yellow ! is tracked objective or pending dialogue)
– Added mission/dialogue/quest track indicators to targetbox and tactical icon
– Added typewriter animation to notification/dialogue text
– Added remaining abilities (now functioning)
– Added animations to mission/objection situation panel text
– Added tactical icons to fleet panel
– Added context sensitive text to dialogue system
– Added group number to fleet icons (removed emblem icon)
– Added subcontract ship production from Allied facilities
So the intention has always been to create a Real Time Strategy game that encompassed as much about space-based fleet management as possible in a game. This includes modelling more detail then you would normally expect and simulating the physics of the ships and projectiles to create more varied and captivating action.
That remit hasn’t changed, but when we released Shallow Space as an alpha some players found a number of issues, issues that could not be ignored – some were easy enough to change, others required another look at the game design document. Fortunately we were able to extract the time consuming, tested and functioning parts of the project and nest it into a fresh project, wiping away many of the reported issues and opening doors to many exciting features not commonly seen in this type of game.
The cost to the project is a setback in time, time is money to any developer but we were prepared to front that cost in favor of creating something that both early adopters and the team will all have been proud to be involved in. The result is a project currently split between the older discontinued alpha available on Steam, and the ‘Overhaul Beta’ that will soon replace it, which is also publicly available on Steam by changing your game branch in the games properties.
So let’s talk about what we can expect.
Shallow Space as an RTS
Real Time Strategy remains the main focus of Shallow Space, and thanks to the feedback from the current alpha is close to being mechanically complete. This time, the RTS layer was built on top of a multiplayer engine ready to be switched on when we have the available resources.
In the current alpha, one of the common complaints was that the arenas are too big which lead to lots of scrolling and a lull in gameplay, this issue was exacerbated by the 3D nature of the combat in that ships needed large areas to parry else the entire arena becomes engulfed in a big, uncontrollable conflict.
In the Overhaul, we get around that by splitting the play area into zones. Each zone might contain a series of installations lending it to a particular function (ie: Ship construction or trade) so not only do we have better control over the types of activity and where, but we can also really explode the scope into hundreds of concurrent zones around tens of planets containing thousands of ships, without fear of overloading the players immediate focus.
But there are some that prefer the more linear setting, perhaps for casual skirmishes or learning to control their fleets effectively and we will continue to cater for that.
Shallow Space as a 4X
While simulating the activity of a couple hundred ships, it quickly became clear that a traditional RTS interface alone will quickly end up becoming irritatingly insufficient. To combat this we’ll be adding UI elements traditionally only seen in 4X games.
An example of this might be a window allowing the issuing of a sequence of repeatable instructions to your traders or miners or even your combat fleets. This automation, complete with all the relevant data and charts, will give you the option of managing your operation like a business.
There will be some overlap between the RTS/4X layers. So in the early game you might procure weapons and small quantities of material via ‘petty trade’ and issue resource collection instructions locally via the abilities bar, but as your fleet grows into innumerable groups all assembled for a specific task, something a little more geared to the ‘bigger-picture’ is both required and planned.
But more exciting than marrying those two concepts together is that we’ll be borrowing a 4X’s sense of scale.
We are working to create an accurate procedural model of a potentially unlimited number of planetary systems for you to use as your galactic sandpit, each planet and zones will harbor a set of materials that will have you plotting epic journeys for your fleets planning them around the orbital patterns of planets. With each planet containing multiple zones and accompanying parallax environments to match the scene, it’s clear that we intend to not just use space as the visible setting, but completely immerse you in its majesty.
Shallow Space as an RPG
Linear storytelling just doesn’t quite have the impact it used to, and we should take advantage of being able to tell the story from the viewpoint of the Officers on the ships. We think listening to them talk out issues as they encounter them will directly anchor you to the action.
You will still get all the juicy goodness from the current alpha, the ability to customize ship load-outs and appearances but one observation of the current alpha is that none of it matters when it ultimately boils down to who has the higher cumulative DPS. To combat this we can now host the action in multiple zones around a particular planet or even a complete system. Allied forces will play a key part in this with the player able to influence their approach to a situation via dialogue and building reputations.
As it fits we’ll be borrowing much from the MMORPG standpoint of telling the tale, but removing around 80% of the grind. For example, you won’t have to be in the same zone to raise a ship on comms and even if a mission does contain an element of grind you can automate it or even play with multiple fleets on other assignments at the same time.
But mainly in this layer we focus on creating multiple facets to the story, requiring fleet and resource co-ordination taking the intent from a linear driven campaign to a grand campaign in an expansive sandpit.
The hold-up right now is the race to replace the current alpha with functionality that is similar or exceeds what is currently available in the Beta.
That Beta has been humming along nicely in the background, publicly available on the shy for nearly a month now inviting the most patient and passionate of fans to provide constructive feedback. With the core mechanics of the game nearly solid we’re happy to declare that chapter closed to begin work on the fun, game-building stuff.
Expect the detailed update posts to restart shortly, talking about additions and amendments with us focusing on building more of a presence. We’ll revise the roadmap and media, bringing everything to bear on the new Beta and thanks mainly to your support and understanding during the work of the last 6 months; what a Beta it’s turned out to be.
We’re running at fever pitch here as development pauses while we start fine tuning for the First Playable Beta and the fruits of all our labor truly begin to unfold. At the same time the shared work space is filling with new assets, sounds, music and lore all waiting to be injected so we think it’s fair to say that things are about to get really interesting around here.
A few words on the latest video to start with.
Firstly, all the music you hear will be in the game. SFX are back in the game with over 50 new additions and all the 3D spatial sounds have had the low band pass reverb treatment so the room suitably rumbles as ships roar pass and the sounds are pleasant both loud and clustered.
We’ve added 80 minutes of music (more to come) along with the 10 piece procedural battle music piece we spoke of. A whole host of particle effects and shaders have been tweaked and added just for the sheer glory of it, and to the absolute delight of the 3D team, the ships no longer look like they are made from polished acrylic.
Under the hood massive work has gone on to make the combat AI (especially the Corvettes,) a little more believable with more specific behaviour added relating to plotting intercept vectors for distant targets and keeping units in firing range. Of course, the trouble with all this clever AI behaviour and dazzling imagery is its a bit of a nightmare to test… I’ll try and explain.
So I’m working on a wing members reaction when their wingleader is destroyed, I put in the required code and hit play and here I am in Zone 1. I get as far as selecting a Carrier to launch a wing.
‘Oooo that’s a nice shaped asteroid cluster, let’s take a look at that.’
PEW-PEW-PEW… THUNK – cursory glance at the fleet panel ‘nope – none of mine.’ Spin the camera round and it’s a pirate Cambridge and… yep it’s on an intercept course.
Hmmmm OK I’ll bite; ‘launch all fighters, Carriers withdraw to extremity of indicated asteroid cluster, group the Battlecruiser and Light Cruisers together and plot an intercept course, authorise use of special weapons on the Battlecruiser, prepare lead Capital ship for a short range jump to tackle the…’
BZZZZZZ – THAWCK – ‘that sounds like XL weapons fire, a siege laser maybe, it can’t be here already…’ Spins camera round for a look and it’s a lone allied Homan Battlecruiser, emerging from an adjacent nebula, main guns blazing.
I pulled the fleet back and watched, this should be interesting.
What happened was the Homan completely took apart the Cambridge with a Siege Laser (not particularly overpowered, much) despite having a quarter of the hit-points and a fraction of the targets cumulative DPS.
What this means is that all the new little tricks we’ve rolled in; the more individual nature of the ships, directional shields etc. – are leading us to something that is very difficult to achieve which is asymmetric balancing. Had the enemy had even one Light Cruiser as an escort, that lone Homan wouldn’t have stood a chance.
This is going to be essential in separating Shallow Space from the normally predictable nature of combat of some RTS games and creating something that is continually engaging as you discover your own way to tip the scales in your favour.
Another thing to consider is my excitement playing it. You have to imagine that I’ve been making this thing for over 2 years now and the novelty of it wears off. But these battles have me shrieking like an ecstatic child, spinning round in my faux-leather racing chair grinning from ear to ear.
Now if they do that to me playing with ships I’ve just plonked in there to test, imagine your own reaction when your hand-picked prototype Battleship trains its proverbial ‘Borg’ guns that you bastardized in a lab somewhere, and swings it’s freshly painted ass around for an alpha strike.
Yes my friends: GLOOORY AWAITS US!
Of course while I’m sat at my desk processing all this, literally spasming with joy – I’ve bloody forgotten what I was testing!
This little beauty hit the shared workspace just yesterday; the 3 piece ‘Tartarus’ Modular Shipyard, complete with iris Corvette docking hatch. We can add all that to the 12 other installations that will be switched on after the First Playable release.
On that point, keep your eye on the Official forums, in particular this thread and you’ll be treated to instructions to get to the First Playable of the Beta on Steam. First Playable will be a silent launch for the die-hards – once it hits, we’ll roll out patches practically on a daily basis for a fortnight or so to get us were we need to be.
So we are on the home stretch, literally down now to tidying up menus and adding a help system. If you’re new to the project, grab a copy because it won’t be this cheap forever and if you’re one of the thousands waiting in anticipation, get excited – it’s allowed because it’s nearly time!
With the business admin tackled, the last week or so we’ve been back into the code, forging the few last remaining items on the todo list before we unleash the Beta. In this article we’ll talk about what to expect from the Beta and just what is taking the most time while on the way touching on some exciting new mechanics we’ve introduced.
So when we first released the Shallow Space Alpha onto Steam we made the classic mistake of releasing without enough content. Before launch we digested guidelines and looked at examples of other EA games, but it still wasn’t really clear to us back then that people who buy into EA games still expect a more-or-less feature complete piece. We can’t make that mistake again.
So we thrashed the keyboards hard to play catch-up and it turned into a cool little thing, but adding content in the current Shallow Space Alpha posed us a problem because it took almost as much time to design and integrate the maps and missions as it did to actually write the game. Then if you consider that as we add more new stuff, sometimes the old stuff would have to be redesigned or recreated completely as we get closer to finishing you can see we arrive at quite the problem. If we had to simplify that development effort into a ratio, let’s say ‘design, implementation, content’ it would sit at around 30:30:40 respectively.
But then we decided to make Shallow Space open-world.
So now the development experience is very different. Rather than hand designed maps one-by-one, we instead give the game instruction to create an unlimited number of unique maps itself and rather than perfecting the behaviour of ships that will follow the same path each time, we instead give the ships a limited level of awareness and allow them to collectively make decisions based on their tasks and surroundings.
With this new twist, the major effort is lodged in the creating and training of that behaviour, and the now procedural nature of the content means it can be folded in comparatively effortlessly once the core is established. Going back to our simplified effort ratio of ‘design, implementation, content’ I’d describe it as 40:40:20.
So why is the content now 20% of the effort, will you get less of a game?
Nope. It simply means that through some clever planning in the first place, we can amplify what we inject and turn it into even more content. An example is the Objectives system; when we’re designing the missions we now specify a simple set of parameters such as; roughly how big should the enemy force be compared to the players, the composition, the task, should they be hidden, spread across multiple zones, etc. The game takes this limited information and explodes it into a series of detailed chained Objectives and triggers with the possibility of random encounters and rewards.
So what we’re trying to say is, now is the time for us to build that foundation (and build it right) and it’s taking a little longer but once it is built, the rest of the actual game should come together reasonably quickly, quickly enough to be very entertaining from where you’re sitting.
But before we reach the point where we can pump content into the new and shiny Early Access Alpha, we really have to test the proposed confines of that content – the game itself, to make sure it is both bug free and is actually fun.
But that’s easy right? That’s the bit you guys do.
Well in the current alpha, the control system could be described as convoluted, definitely so when you compare it to the new alpha in which you can control all 3 axis of camera motion simply with the mouse and a modifier key Homeworld-styles.
Many people (myself included) simply got used to the old system and persevered. While this isn’t particularly great for the project, it does underline the importance of a more stringent set of tests to better promote feedback which we’ll release with the Beta on the Main Forums. The tests will be designed to drill into each of the games core mechanics as we systematically switch them on, allowing us to correct issues and implement suggestions in a more structured fashion.
We appreciate that not everyone has the time to spare for that, so we’re hoping to gather together a hardcore of Players willing to get their heads into the patch notes to raise awareness and spend an extra few minutes completing survey’s on the forums.
So where are we right now?
Well the todo list basically sits at: Tutorial framework, explosions – wrecks – loot, menus and loading screens so not a massive amount left now, so look forward to an increase in visible updates, story and media as we move closer towards the Beta launch.
In particular keep an eye out for more exciting new imagery over on the Steam community page, a new ‘short’ story series tracking the exploits of a Mineral & Fusion Corp freighter, breakdowns and 3D turntables of the new ships and stations appearing in the Overhaul and exploratory articles looking at life in the new Shallow Space.
Cheers for all the well-wishing and your continued patience while we build up to the awakening of this sleeping beast!