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?