Overhaul Update 6.1 – Interactive Tutorial

Update6.1

As promised, we are pleased to announce Update 6.1 boasting a fully interactive tutorial!

By interactive we mean that it offers up a set of instructions and the tutorial continues once you have completed them. We figured it would be a better way to learn than an instructional video.

It’s comprehensive and will take you through camera controls, group creation and fleet movement, inventory management and ship configuration and mission/objective management and basic combat drills. Expect the tutorial to grow as the game grows, with the impending station building and resource collection mechanics to be injected imminently.

We also have a few minor fixes from a couple of incremental patched released in the last few days listed below.

We are simply bursting with excitement right now and if you’re not then you should be, with the UI refresh and the tutorial framework out the way – quick stop to update the game media and then it’s time for one almighty meat injection!

As always we massively appreciate the supportive comments and if you’ve just joined us welcome, take a flick through some of the previous news and strap yourself in, because things are about to get REAL interesting round here.

Overhaul Update 6.0.1 Change Log
– Fixed destroyed enemy causing crash in sandbox
– Fixed close button doesn’t work in Dialogue window
– Fixed context menu not appearing for modular stations
– Fixed incorrect ship reference in Dialogue window subtitle
Overhaul Update 6.1.1 Change Log
– Fixes to combined Inventory window
– Fixes to Save/Load
– Fixes to missions/objectives not being cleaned up on game exit
– Fixes to tutorial being show in Quick Battle mode
– Fixes to rare crash on mission ‘All Good Things’
– Fixed issue with time controls animating incorrectly on game restart
– Fixed issue with Player ship fleet panel not spawning correctly on game load
– Fixed issue with ‘ghost ship’ from menu screen on load game

Overhaul Update 6 – UI Refresh

We are pleased to announce that Update 6 is ready! This is the most significant patch released to date with literally hundreds of additions and tweaks so we’re going to break from the normal tradition of listing them all because there are simply too many.

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Context Buttons and Dialogue windows also added in this update

If you haven’t already we recommend you take a look at the previous article which will tell you what to expect from Update 6 but in addition to all that good stuff we have even more crammed in for good measure.

Context Menu

So we created a system called ‘Context Targets’ which allowed us to use abilities which targeted NPC ships such as ‘Open Communications’ or ‘Subsystem Targeting.’ Since implementing that the feedback coming back is that it’s a little cumbersome so we’ve replaced Context Targets with a pop-up menu accessed simply by left-clicking on a NPC ship (with at least one Player ship selected.)

The context menu intelligently lists all the applicable abilities from the selected ships as well as the various standard options like ‘Move To,’ ‘Trade’ and ‘Open Communications’ making life much easier.

Dialogue Window

Previously the dialogue panel was anchored to the ability bar, now it has it’s own dedicated window. This means you can effectively have more than one conversation at a time, which will make more sense when we start to roll in additional mission types and widen the scope of play.

UX Improvements

We’ve streamlined and unified the actions taken on Left/Right click. So right clicking on a text link in the notification panel or mission objective is the same as right clicking on the thing itself for any Ship, Space Object or Zone. This makes things easier to control and much more fluid.

Here’s an example:

  • You select and group your fleet
  • You click on the ship with the exclamation mark to see what they want
  • You find they have a mission on offer – you accept
  • You tick the box on the Objective UI piece to track it and while over there you right click on the Zone link automatically sending your ships there.

Much simpler.Left clicking on items in play raises or lowers the tactical overlay to their level making them easier to navigate towards.

Notification Panel

There are far more notifications now confirming actions, telling you how many jumps away a target is and letting you know about Out of Zone activities such as your allies spotting an enemy vessel.

We also have all the fixes and additions brought across from the BETA patches:

So this is a massive step forward and it’s a lot more stable than Update 5 so we’re making it live right away. Now that the UI is better look forward to Update 6.1 in which we’ll be introducing the Tutorial and updating the in-game manual pages.

Many thanks for the continued support!

Problems Commander?

Cry Havoc!

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.

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Use of physics for movements, fine tuned particle and screen space effects, 3 years of learning, testing and adjusting. The space battles are now truly mesmerizing.

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.

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Of course, no sci-fi game is complete without the requisite doom-beam. Here is a Battlecruiser firing a Light Siege Laser.

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!

output_s7mCdi

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!

Want it, want it now? Keep an eye here

Sleeping Beast

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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?