It’s been a little while since we released the preview version of 0.35a and I thought I’d talk about where things are now, and what to expect for the next release.
The original plan was to add ship refitting and fully customizable battles – and then release the next version. After getting most of the way through the refit screen, though, I started to really get down to the details of implementing custom battles, and… well, let’s take a step back and look at what custom battles actually are.
A custom battle, as envisioned, would let the player pick the ships on each side and let you configure them, drawing from the full set of available ships and fighters (40+), weapons (50+), and hull modifications (10 and counting). This is all fine and dandy, but simply throwing a metric ton of content at the player does not a good experience make. Granted, it can be fun after one takes the time to sort through things, understands them, and really gets into it. I remember my eyes glazing over when opening the buy menu in Cortex Command for the first time, though – the shock of content overload can be harsh, and ways to avoid it are something to consider seriously.
The logical move is to create a gating mechanism that introduces ships and weapons gradually. Start the player off with access to a few ships and weapons. Let them fight a couple of battles and get used to these – and figure out what “normal” means for both ships and weapons. That way, they can see how each new, shiny hull or weapon introduced deviates from that, and why it’s special.
Wait a minute… this sounds like some kind of campaign – and we’re planning to have one of those in the game, too! The one where you manage your fleet, officers, and outposts, explore the sector, and get into all sorts of trouble. That’s the game I’m really excited about – not the isolated fleet actions in missions or custom battles. Any work to create a campaign-like framework around missions is a waste in the long run. It’s stepping on the toes of the real campaign, would get nixed when it comes along, and just won’t be a good fit for the way things are set up now – because they’re set up with the real campaign in mind. In short, the result would be a hack.
What then? No time like the present to start work on the campaign, I say. In the last couple of days, we’ve been thinking through what a good starting set of features is, and have arrived at something I’m comfortable with.
What is in the initial feature set, you ask? With the caveat that the specifics will almost certainly change:
- fleet management and upgrades – start with a frigate and work your way up to more and larger ships and weapons
- pick your battles – take on large roaming enemy fleets for fast advancement, or prey on the weak in relative safety
- advance your character’s skills with several viable paths (optional for the initial campaign release, but fairly likely)
It’ll take longer to implement than custom battles would, of course – but it’ll also introduce the beginnings of a persistent world. I’m very excited to finally start on it – after just about two years working on Starfarer, it’s about time!