Zone Theory and Unit Construction

Zone
The Zone Map is coming along nicely

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.

Scanning
These clusters of Rock form part of a Space Object. All parts of a Space Object need to be scanned before the contents are revealed…

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.

Zone24
Anybody coming to or leaving for Zone 24 via this Zone will land here.

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.

Construction
Finding a nice little corner here to setup shop – unit construction is in.

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.

UnitConfiguration
Ship Configuration now happens in-game, modules can be hot swapped with a 60 second ‘weapons fooked for a bit Captain’ cooldown status

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.

Collage
But the real heroes (and a large timesink development-wise!) will be the tooltips that really leak those glorious details.

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!

Something to add Commander?

MFC Capital Battleships ‘Cambridge’ & ‘Nottingham’

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These puppies have history, and if you’ve been with the project for a while you’ll notice that the ships bare resemblance to two older Capital vessels that have been in the project since the start. Those old models don’t really fit into the new order, but we just couldn’t leave them out in the cold so we had them reimagined.

After the great voyage, the worldships set the premise for the basic design of the majority of the Human ships. Huge lumbering hulks were produced that were slow and all but useless in conventional combat. The ‘Battle for Pleiades’ saw quick and innovative change to space combat bringing smaller, more agile ships into fashion but there is still call for these big bastions to house the Command staff and support facilities.

The ‘Cambridge’ is a 4th generation mid-range light Battleship, Capital class.

Shallow space – Cambridge-class battleship by Shallow Space on Sketchfab

Comparatively, it has the stopping power of four Battle Cruisers and is able to provide a healthy firing solution at any arc. The ship has no blind spots and beyond its offensive capacity it is also very practical. It has a large cargo bay, is equipped with the latest technology; inorganic matter transporters, negative space encroachment and all of the turret hardpoints feature PLC’s latest trick; quantum anchoring improving both range and accuracy.

The ‘Nottingham’ is a 4th generation mid-Battleship, Capital class.

When MFC presented the design at the quarterly council of admirals, Highest Honourable James Thorensenan, Field Marshall of the Terran Confederate Navy was pictured with his mouth wide open and noted as uttering only two words; ‘utterly ridiculous’ and the craft is just that.

MFC-Nottingham class battleship by Shallow Space on Sketchfab

Essentially, it is an upscaled version of the Cambridge and is considered to be its sister ship.

It contains all of the same technology, much of the same internal specification; gyms, training facilities, holo-suites and marine/surplus crew habitation facilities. But when applied at the scale of the Nottingham, which is over a kilometre in length, it allows for the deliberate deployment of a notable task force.

But that’s not all.

Tested on Cruisers, Battlecruisers and even some Capital vessels, a broadside alpha strike from a fully loaded Nottingham can overload most shield generators and cause severe structural damage to the recipient if they are not obliterated entirely. In fact, in combat, it can hold its own against a vastly superior force. It is a ship so undeniably well designed that the Emperor himself is thought to charter its use when travelling between the core worlds. The mere presence of one is enough to route most adversaries.

If you do managed to fight your way through its surplus shield generators, you’ll have to contend with mirrored active armour that in places measures 30 metres thick, offering substantial damage reduction to any and all conventional weapon types rendering them effectively useless.

It is a veritable mobile fortress, susceptible to only the most advanced phasing tactical warheads.

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The Cambridge is in the current alpha, we’re sure you’ve been enjoying it already – the Nottingham will be in the Overhaul. Look forward to the next post, which is the next instalment of the tale ‘Paradijs Lost’ landing on Friday. If you’re hungry for more ship designs and turntables check this category on the blog, we have dozens!

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Mineral & Fusion Cruisers ‘Hexen’ & ‘Heretic’

New to the line-up this week are the MFC ‘Heretic’ Heavy Cruiser and it’s sister ship, the MFC ‘Hexen’ Medium Cruiser. These ships will be added as part of the ‘Open-world Overhaul’ update.

siblings

More of the same from the Mineral and Fusion Corporation as they continue to evolve their Cruiser line-up. These generation 4 ships are designed to be the multifunction foot soldiers of any unit and have a versatile internal and external configuration allowing them to be used in a variety of combat and civilian roles. For example the ‘Hexen’ is often used without weapons as a Civilian personnel transport and the ‘Heretic’ has a number of variants designed for specific combat roles such as escort or assault.

The key to this flexibility is a complex interwoven power distribution lattice printed into the ships armor carapace segments at manufacture. This allows for the versatile location of turret hardpoints anywhere across 75% of the surface of the ship, with energy to power them drawn straight from engines. In contrast, the two other leading ship manufacturers PLC and INC are still using fixed conduits to provide energy to the hardpoints. Configurations are sealed at production, but regardless it allows for the creation of a highly specialized force at a relatively low cost.

Shallow Space – MFC Cruiser B by Mathias Koehler on Sketchfab

Some of the more advanced tech such as Negative Space Encroachment has been left out of the design of these budget craft, but beyond cost, it seems that MFC believes that efficiency can still be derived from clever tweaks to geometry and do prove that effort in both ships. That same winning geometry and lack of NSE tech letting the design down also however, with minimal support module capacity on either ship.

Shallow Space – MFC Cruiser A by Mathias Koehler on Sketchfab

The TCN view the craft as a natural evolution of previous MFC Cruiser offerings, but note that next to PLC’s expensive high tech ‘Pegasus’ Cruisers, or the INC’s slightly cheaper and yet more versatile modular Cruiser the ‘Armstrong,’ competition is tough. MFC ships continue to be the designs of choice within both the Navy and the subversive factions.

The artists always leak images ahead of the announcements, we try to stop them, but they just don’t listen, can’t blame them really it’s an exciting business! – anyway follow the twitter to stay ahead of the game @shallowspace1!

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Open-world Overhaul: Zones and UI #2

So I guess you’re all wondering how the overhaul is going and we’re happy to say progress is still strong. As we mentioned there’s some big changes ahead and we have a few glimpses for you.

The first thing we’d like to point out are the changes to the UI, much of it has been redesigned to fit the new scale and we examined the old elements and made them more enticing to interact with. The abilities panel is a prime example, the icons are now enlarged and at the center of the screen – a little reminder to use them.

The procedural generated modular stations look great sitting in some of the Zones

The fleet panel gets a makeover too with a lower density ship list; those larger fleet icons will also house the status icons (such as movement slowed, surprised, etc.) which previously adorned the side of the ships target box, so we’re taking the clutter away from the play area granting better access to the glorious visuals. It’s important to remember that the UI elements depicted will change as we progress.

A new UI piece hogs the right side of the screen if fully expanded taking the form of the ‘Situation Panel’, which is how we’ll present the gritty details of the game-world to you. It has a collapsible accordion layout so you can drill down to the information you need. It’ll be comprehensive, meaning it’ll likely act as an interface to your ships inventories and trade, as well as providing information on scans of other ships, immoveables and celestial bodies.

The immediate worry here is the clutter, but adding behavior to the situation panel highlighting and isolating the pertinent info should help and we always have the option to split it out into separate windows if need be. But given that the game is now sitting on a 4X backbone, masses of information comes with the territory and at this stage we feel accessibility of that information is more important than presentation.

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But the best piece of work done over the last week or so has been integrating the zone system. A ‘zone’ in short is a tactical play area, pretty much the same as a map in the current Shallow Space alpha. But why zones? Well there are inherent technical issues making a true open world space game, we found that the usable play area really falls far short of the epic proportions of space, in fact, it’s probably only around 10,000 cubic ‘units’ before things start getting glitchy!

Games like KSP work around the issue by moving the whole galaxy around the player (rather than the player moving,) but that trick alone isn’t suitable for an RTS with multiple units. Other games like Sins of a Solar Empire (SoaSE) and Eve Online use tricks of the camera to present such big play areas and with a combination of the two methods we’ll be able to generate massive arenas for you to cultivate and control your forces.

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SoaSE is a great comparison to the zone system actually, because in that game each planet was in itself a zone with ships jumping between them. Changing between zones in SoaSE and zooming out to the ‘solar’ map was as smooth as silk. Some lessons to be learnt there mechanically but back to Shallow Space, rather than having a zone per planet, each planet will have any number of zones and we’ve even managed to get that SoaSE sort of interactivity with zero loading times and screen fades which really does wonders for immersion. It feels a little bit like 3D chess flipping between the zones and we’re soooo looking forward to populating them with traffic. Enabling concurrent activity between the zones is an exciting challenge also and completely necessary bringing the whole thing to life and naturally being added as part of the overhaul.

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We’ll put together a video real soon, but in truth we’re just busy steaming ahead with it so we can push it out to you! In the meantime, the author has put together a not-so-short story that we’ll be posting in the coming week, set in the very system that we’ll be modeling in the alpha and we’ve got more juicy ships coming too, awesome stuff.

Additional overhaul articles: 1 – 34

Something to add Commander?

Open-world Overhaul: Exploring the open world #1

If you’ve been following the twitter you’ll know we’ve been hinting at big changes to come in the Shallow Space alpha. We’ve been getting a lot of feedback from various sources, mostly positive but the negative criticism underlines a gut feeling that we’ve had for a while now, in that there are a couple of issues with the design of the game as it stands and we have enough feedback from Early Access now to warrant pulling apart some of the core mechanics and asking if they are good enough for the game.

So pull up a chair, in this article we’ll explain why that is required and what to expect.

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We’re remaking Shallow Space so that the ships individual characteristics have more influence over the gameplay.

The problem

The first is the rigid Flotillas/Wings system, originally invented to make larger group of ships easier to manage and position, bizarrely it has the opposite effect making control cumbersome and the battles rigid and not particularly engaging once you get over the graphics. The crux of the problem is an issue with scale; we’ve modeled these ships, given them the ability to be granularly configured but then put them in a situation where those individual characteristics can’t be realised (what’s the point of painstakingly choosing weapons when it ultimately turns into a DPS-fest .)

Here’s a look at a very Early Prototype of a play area with multiple Zones

Another problem is this whole linear maps system, it’s the year 2016 – we look at all the games being released and see open ended games everywhere. I myself don’t like to just play games anymore, I live in them and scrolling through my own library if isn’t open world – I probably don’t own it. Open world was in the original design (along with more Nexus style gameplay) but we shelved it temporarily so we could get our heads round some of the more basic game concepts (in terms of how they are actually coded.) Thankfully with your help, that stuff is now pretty solid and we’ve been advancing a multiplayer open world prototype in the background which is now ready to be built on.

So what happened with the design then? Well we had an original vision and then people join the team and the vocal audience step forward with their own designs and keep pushing for incompatible ideas (control of greater numbers of ships being the one.) You have to allow some of these ideas in or people see you as inflexible and the team get disenfranchised, plus we have to try these things to see if they work. Alas this mismatched marriage of gameplay concepts isn’t a happy one and we’re well on our way to creating something mediocre which we’re not happy about.

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The solution

So I can imagine some of you sitting there with a sinking feeling but fear not, this isn’t as big a job as it might seem. Plus we kinda went a little mental over the last two weeks porting everything across and introducing new clean mechanics so we’re not coming to you quivering with worry, we’re actually halfway there already and have added some of the stuff you asked for as it now fits:

  • Physics based movement
  • Redesigned movement and waypoint system (single click to move)
  • Ability to take direct control of ships (FPS controller)
  • Open world style gameplay, player free to jump ships around planetary systems (instance based, like Freelancer)
  • Directional shielding (with elliptical shielding affect)
  • Flexible unit grouping system

Immediately playing the prototype it’s a vast difference, the smaller ships become much more fun especially the Markab destroyer which was previously little more than cannon fodder. The directional shielding system makes positioning units much more important making you feel more invested in what’s happening on screen. With the ability to target subsystems rolled in we imagine the game will feel much more like Nexus: The Jupiter Incident with the battles being slower paced and dripping with detail.

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Directional shields add a VERY different edge to combat.

But the combat is something we’d focused on for a long time now, porting it across was cake. The real eye opener will be the open world system we have planned which we have been prototyping for some time. Completely the opposite to how it is now, the player will start the game with a handful of ships and need to build up his forces to complete the main storyline RTS missions spread across the host planetary system. But to get to that point they’ll need to complete FPS missions, trade, mine, escort and build up their modular player base. Important to note that we’re not going to cap the maximum size of the fleet, but these new concepts will place greater focus on creating a nimble and agile force rather than having hundreds of ships – of course though ultimately, the way you play is up to you.

We’ll be better leveraging the nature of the factions we’ve designed also, so if you want to be a trader with a fleet of trading vessels you can be, or a miner focusing on stripping rocks, refining materials and defending the effort – also possible.

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Pointing and clicking is one thing, jumping into the cockpit and experiencing the crafts characteristics first hand – well that’s something different entirely.

The overhaul is going to take time, but as mentioned most of the Shallow Space code has already been ported across and as it’s the culmination of 3 prototype projects that have been worked on in the background now for quite some time it can be moved across pretty quickly (you honestly wouldn’t believe just how quickly, still in shock myself!)

We’ll put together a new video showing off the new engine soon enough, with some more details about what to expect in the revised open world Early Access alpha we have planned. But if I was forced to compare the experience to something, I’d say picture a cross between Nexus: The Jupiter Incident and Freelancer. The games design is evolving into something much less confined and more explorative and flexible with a focus on unique and varying playing styles. Stay tuned for more information.

Additional overhaul articles: 234

Something to add Commander?