So as you’ve probably worked out, one of the distinguishing features of Shallow Space is concurrent activity spread across several play areas that we call zones.
Each zone contains ships, fixed structures and ‘Space Objects,’ and linked to them might be resources, random encounters and quests. A Space Object is a procedurally grown cluster composed of rock, ice, debris or gas. If a ship is sitting within the confines of a Space Object it might be granted a number of Status Effects that can have a positive or negative effect on its systems.
Inside the zones, ships only have a limited ‘Deep Scan Radius’ in which a non-allied unit is fully revealed and Space Objects will need to be scanned to reveal hiding ships and resources.
Shallow Space will be bustling with traffic. AI ships completing various tasks will all contribute to the general ambiance and add unexpected incidents to manage while you build up your fleet. That traffic will move around from zone-to-zone and if it is allied to the Player will share sensor readings including links between zones and its contents. If a zone doesn’t contain a player or allied unit it will be considered ‘dark’ meaning very little information is visible most notably on the Zone Map in which icon and links are hidden.
Moving between the zones is a tricky mechanic because if we let the majority of these ships jump freely it’s probably not going to be all that fun. It certainly won’t be as fun as having the option of ambushes and boxing in, so a ships main method of traversing zones is to travel to predetermined ‘Jump Safe Areas,’ these are choke areas which serve as links between the zones. ‘Short Range Jump’ is an ability allowing you to move instantly within the zone but its cooldown will affect the use of the Jump Safe Areas. Cruiser and Capital ships can also be fitted with an auxiliary ‘Point-to-Point’ support module which will allow them to jump across several zones at once but its use consumes Hydrogen.
In the Beta, the sandbox will be initially contained to one planet so we can hammer out any issues on a smaller scale but eventually each planet will harbour a number of zones and the planets type will generally dictate the types of materials and activity that are generated in those zones.
One or more of a planets Zones will contain a waygate – enabling mainstream travel between planets and other planetary systems.
Lets talk about unit construction and fleets…
As the player progresses the game they will receive instructions on how to build ships and structures, these instructions will unlock blueprints. The player will also be able to build research structures to unlock blueprints in addition to finding them in the wild.
Fixed structures will provide a number of other additional facilities to the player such as power, refining, construction, storage, weapons or sensors platforms, and some structures can house the small but potent Corvette units. Fixed structures can be placed in any occupied zone.
Unit construction will be slower than a traditional RTS, the focus will be on selecting quality units to build up flotillas that fit your particular playstyle with fewer units than in the present alpha. Even still the Player can dynamically assign ships to groups that can fly in formation. These groups can operate independently anywhere in the Shallow Space sandbox likely questing, patrolling or gathering resources.
After the completed beta we’ll be adding Officers and unit veterancy so you can turn them into hero units which will add abilities and bonuses to grouped ships. Much fun.
Let’s talk tooltips and UI for a second…
Behind the scenes there is a lot of information driving the cogs of the game, some of that useful to the Player, much of it would confuse. Of course the trick is getting the right information on screen at the right time and so we’ve been investing considerable effort into that over the last month.
We’ve moved to a window based system that will let you handle everything from inventory management to ship configuration and unit construction. Not only will this feel more immersive by reducing the amount of time the Player spends ‘out of the game,’ but it allows for a certain flexibility when doing tasks such as comparing loadouts.
We appreciate that the big issue with this is ultimately, the more ships you have, the more windows onscreen and we’ll combat this using composite windows such as ‘Combined Inventory’ and have constructed a window manager that remembers the last size and position of the window and even which zone it was open in. We envisage the Zone system might also act as a sort of desktop further enabling concurrency, an example might be to bounce seamlessly from unit construction to observing a battle in a neighbouring zone – with the windows hiding, reappearing as required.
In other areas we’ve been scheming and plotting with regards to sound effects and music. Starting again in that area using some of our funds to enlist the help of a professional editor who has already completely themed the UI with SFX. Separately, we have the building blocks to a procedural battle music system with a thrilling score written by the same guy who wrote the music from the last video. From the visual side we have some new ships we’ll shortly be unveiling including a new ESE secret-faction prototype Battlecruiser. Over on the story side we’ve started fleshing out the first non-linear campaign and are adding to it with side quests and additional backstory.
So as we hope you can see, progress remains strong here with only a few lead items left on the todo list and good old clean up before we’re ready for Beta testing. So look forward to the unveiling of some new ships, a breakdown of what to expect in the Beta and a new video coming soon!