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.
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.
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.
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!