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?