WTF is Starfarer?

As most of you probably know, Starfarer was featured by TotalBiscuit in his WTF is…? series a couple of days ago. In fact, chances are that if you’re reading this, you came here because of that video.

A couple of things: one, this is really, really awesome. I can’t express how happy and excited I am that Starfarer is reaching a lots of new players. It means a more active community, more player feedback, and of course, more financial resources to support ongoing development. Two, it also means that our web server is struggling mightily with the herculean task of handling all this traffic. I’m looking into ways of improving its performance, so hopefully we can do something about it in the near future.

In fact, it looks like it’s doing a bit better now – but I can’t tell if it’s because traffic has dropped off a bit, or because the configuration changes I made are helping. Ah, the vagaries of trying to optimize a live server.

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This entry was posted on Monday, January 16th, 2012 at 5:43 pm and is filed under Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

54 Comments:

  1. I hope sales go well for you!

    by misterjscape
  2. I, for one, came here and bought the game because it looked awesome when totalbiscuit played it. I must admit, I can’t stop myself from opening the game once a day and playing a mission or two, and I’m really exited about the potential it has. Speaking of which, any chance we could have a date on the barely playable version with all the new features you’ve finished anytime soon? I can’t wait to test it!

    by Menden
  3. I came here because of totalbiscuit as well. I am now very interested in this game. It does sound like TB had some good points to be made about the interface.

    by youhavemyaxe
  4. Hope you get some good sales as your product is really amazing :)

    by Projekt2501
  5. @misterjscape, @Projekt2501: Thank you!

    @Menden: Take a look at the “Battle Plan” post from a couple of weeks ago.

    @youhavemyaxe: I understand where TB is coming from – since the control scheme is so different from an RTS, the game needs to do a much better job of explaining what it is – and in the dev version (to be released soon…ish), I think already does.

    However, RTS controls aren’t a good fit – it actually worked that way in an earlier version, and it wasn’t good. These two blog posts (and numerous comments) go into detail about the reasoning for moving away from an RTS control scheme to the current one.

    http://fractalsoftworks.com/2011/07/27/fleet-control/
    http://fractalsoftworks.com/2011/08/03/captain-personalities-fleet-control-update/

    I actually think that once learned, the current scheme works very well. The UI just needs to do a better job of teaching it.

    by Alex
  6. Congrats on the traffic, and hopefuly the crap load of sales, haha.

    Good luck with the server. :)

    by icepick37
  7. I think the most confusing thing about the command system is it still looks like it *might* be RTS style, just with a limited number of actions.

    I think it would make more sense if you just had a maximum number of active objectives, fairly low, like 3. With a bonus one for capturing comm relays.

    And it’d be neat to be able to assign a priority to each one. Like, primary is “Do this at all costs”, secondary is “Do this if you can’t do any primaries, or can do a primary and secondary at the same time,” and tertiary is “Do only if you can do it without going out of your way”

    by T
  8. I think the game interface is fine but maybe you could control ships by let clicking them and letting go where you want them to go or do? Thanks for listening to my previous comment! First game IVE(YES ME PERSONALLY NOT EVER) to give detailed info about the updates and properly listen to user feedback. I know this is quite long but are you going to make a email system to spam me with?

    by Farlarzia
  9. I meant control scheme. I now fully understand the control scheme now ive used it abit. Also does the game auto update or what? And a rough date for the next update maybe? And last and totally least where is it being created?

    by Farlarzia
  10. Also a link to a reliable website with mods for the game?

    by Farlarzia
  11. I think the most confusing thing about the command system is it still looks like it *might* be RTS style, just with a limited number of actions.

    Yeah, I agree completely.

    I think it would make more sense if you just had a maximum number of active objectives, fairly low, like 3. With a bonus one for capturing comm relays.

    Funnily enough, tried that exact thing eariler. It was just more complex/confusing than the current system.

    And it’d be neat to be able to assign a priority to each one. Like, primary is “Do this at all costs”, secondary is “Do this if you can’t do any primaries, or can do a primary and secondary at the same time,” and tertiary is “Do only if you can do it without going out of your way”

    Yeah, experimented with something similar too (though not extensively), with same “too complex” results. The current orders do have built-in priorities – and in the next release, you’ll be able to see what they are.

    @Farlarzia: No auto-updates (yet?), check out the “Battle Plan” post for details on next update, and for mods, check out the forum – there’s a modding subforum there.

    by Alex
  12. k thanks. you still left some questions unanswered though

    by Farlarzia
  13. Oh yeah, I suppose I did :) No fuel in battle – fuel will be mainly used for hyperspace travel. As far as boarding – you just make the choice whether to try boarding a ship (as opposed to simply scrapping it), the results are worked out behind the scenes. That all happens after combat, btw.

    by Alex
  14. I’m another recent convert from the TotalBiscuit video. I did have two comments. Firstly, i mostly like the commend system but it would be nice to be able to tell a specific ship to do something without creating an assignment first. Lets say there is an objective I want to capture and it had a heavy fighter wing sitting on it. It’s out of the way so I don’t want to send the whole fleet in with an assault. When I hit “capture” the AI assigns a frigate to go capture the point. That’s usually fine but heavy fighters will chew it up. So I have to spend another command point to swap an interceptor squadron for the frigate. It gets worse if I want to send both the interceptor and frigate. I have to assign the frigate a screen and i might have to go through the whole substitution thing again to make sure the interceptors get assigned. And sometimes when I reassign a ship that completely scrambles other unrelated orders I have out as the AI re-prioritizes tasks. I found myself wishing that you could use direct command to create single-ship assignments like “capture” that other ships could then be added to for a command point each.

    Secondly, I felt the lack of a “fire weapon group” button. It’s a little bit awkward to have to stop using the primary weapon like the graviton beam in order to switch over and fire torpedoes. Broadside weapons as well could make use of this as being able to fire only in one direction at a time when surrounded is a bit of a drag. If non-selected weapons defaulted to the center of their firing arc then you could get enough of an idea of where they are aimed to make use of them without switching away from the primary.

    by Qwertybob
  15. Qwertybob, have you tried using the autofire on anything? (except missiles or torpedoes)
    Being able to fire multiple weapons at once is kinda the whole point of that setting. :)

    by Aklyon
  16. Yes I have. I was specifically referring to missiles and other weapons with cooldowns or limited ammunition where autofire would be a poor choice. It’s only an issue that crops up with the larger capital ships with many weapons (at least in the pre-made ships in the .35a build). It could also be useful once people start outfitting their own ships once build .5 comes out. A ship based on antimatter cannon broadsides might be fairly difficult to make good use of without the ability to fire several weapon groups quickly without letting up on other weapons.

    by Qwertybob
  17. Standard disclaimer: I’m confident you’ve thought about all this and what works and doesn’t, just playing the small chance that hearing another perspective eventually helps you achieve your goals more easily.

    “I actually think that once learned, the current scheme works very well. The UI just needs to do a better job of teaching it.”

    You have a forbidding marketing job with the fleet command interface – you essentially need to sell, up front in a user’s first minutes, the Reverse Polish Notation of mouse strategy interfaces. It needs to be immediately, brutally and uncompromisingly obvious to the player that they are not routinely giving orders to another ship in the game, but setting priorities on a fleet interface.

    The paradigm I think would help most is to make command actions as loudly and persistently “nounlike” as possible. These must be things that you physically place with your finger on the board, and change and bring back out when necessary. Any interface that comes out of a ship (or wing) is subversive and suspect under this concept.

    My initial model for this: Have the command points as initially identical icons in a toolbar/indicator “bin”. Points are converted to assignments or direct orders by right-click menu then drag to an eligible target, or with a bit more fancy coding drag-drop then a target-trimmed menu. Whichever grammar feels better, or even both could be available. The most important facet is that no ship is being given orders in this step, this attracting, inward-concentrics object is being dropped on top. There would be all sorts of communications subtleties to discover, but an obvious start would be greying everything out and either de-greying or tagging eligible targets during any interaction with the command bin.

    Upon drop the command action changes to its appropriate icon, dims and sits in the bar, which thus shows all the verbs going on in the fleet at any time. Hover to highlight on map and cancel – prioritize? – from either the “world” icon or the bar, etc. etc. A couple ancillary benefits of this potential system: 1. Any ship or waypoint that is “carrying” an assignment is obliquely but constantly and visibly marked as important. 2. Much more physical and conceptual room on (complete abolishment of?) ship RC menus.

    The major downside of divorcing orders from ships in this way is that it turns Direct Orders into a two-step process: lay DO geas on a ship, then select target Assignment. But in my mind, even that seems harmonious – that overriding the interface and CofC should feel costly and arduous.

    by Hypocee
  18. Video is private!!! excellent way of promoting your game…. WTF huh…

    by CameToSeeVideButCant
  19. The video is private because of the YouTube anti-SOPA protest. Nothing I can do about that.

    by Alex
  20. @CameToSeeVideButCant :
    As Alex says Youtube is on strike, like a large number of internet services and others for the anti-SOPA protest. Just check back in a few days and they should be back. No need to be causitc you know, it could simply have been a mistake needing to be informed about.

    @Alex :
    even thought about making a hall of fame and giving TB his place there ? he clearly brought a large number of people here.

    by Troll
  21. PS : At least, page loading is quicker for now :p

    by Troll
  22. @Hypocee: I think you’re right on in terms of the “forbidding marketing job”, and a great point about needing to hit the player over the head with “hey, you’re creating assignments, not giving orders to ships” right out of the gate.

    Unfortunately, that’s really difficult. As long as people see ships on the map, they’ll always want to click on them and right click to make them go somewhere. I think that interaction paradigm is ingrained. Whether it’s best to not let them click on the ships at all, or to let them click and be informed of what they can do, is a question. I have a feeling that not being able to click on a ship at all would be aggravating – not only are you unable to do what you want, the UI is also completely ignoring your clicks. But I don’t know.

    By the way, I actually tried something similar earlier – had a list of all the active assignments, you could click on them to cancel, and hovering over one highlighted it on the map. It turned out a bit clunky – you can see most of the map at all times anyway, so it was just duplicating the information and cluttering up the screen. Did not have all the possible assignments off in a bin somewhere, though – mainly because there are a lot of them, and having context menus pares down the number shown at any one time.

    What you’ve said is really thought-provoking. “Making the paradigm shift readily apparent” is a good angle to approach the problem from.

    @Troll: Hmm. A spot in a “special thanks” section in the credits sounds like a good idea. Good about the website – I made some changes which seem to have helped.

    by Alex
  23. Just to be clear, the idea was that command points, of which IIRC five is a typical number, would sit in the bin/panel, act as menus upon being “activated/spent/committed/placed” and convert to/back from assignment icons as indicator lights.

    I can guarantee that not being able to order ships through clicking on them will be aggravating. The thing is, you’re not permitting that in any case; the question is whether you want the player to think otherwise at first. Incidentally, you absolutely don’t want clicking to be completely unresponsive; your-ship targeting orders if any, info displays etc. should still be tied to ship objects.

    My feeling is that most players will fall into the same Uncanny Valley as TotalBiscuit – it looks just like an RTS interface, but the effects are all backwards, ugh! I certainly would have gotten frustrated if I weren’t reading your dev blog. The solution to an Uncanny Valley is to step back and stop it looking like the wrong target. You’re going to take flak no matter what for denying players pixel-perfect micromanagement. I think it best to try to go entirely around twenty years’ right-click habits rather than break through them, but of course any method has its risks and you’re the one at the conn. Good luck with whatever you choose.

    Even more incidentally, is a visual ping planned when a ship selects a different assignment? That might help ease the pain of the indirect command architecture by giving players signals that their orders are causing specific events that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. OTOH it could get really busy really fast.

    by Hypocee
  24. I don’t play the alpha too often because I don’t want to spoil the final game too much. The nice thing is is that every time I go back for a quick go at a mission I remind myself just how great this game is going to be.

    All that said I have to re-learn the control system every time and ,like others have said, the system is initially odd. For me one of the oddest parts is that I can’t move the camera wherever I want intuitively. Right now I can’t remember if I can unhook it from the command ship without transferring command or not.

    IMO, I should be able to unhook the camera at will I also think that beginners should probably start with their command ship on Autopilot!

    by Tubs
  25. @Hypocee: Thank you for clarifying – right, that would clean it up some, but there’s still redundancy in terms of having the active assignments show up in the bin and on the map, and then having to relate the two.

    I can guarantee that not being able to order ships through clicking on them will be aggravating. The thing is, you’re not permitting that in any case; the question is whether you want the player to think otherwise at first.

    Right – what I was trying to say is, since they *will* click on the ship to do something, that seems like a good opportunity to show them what it is they can do. I’m still turning over in my mind what you’ve said, though. But, I do want to see how the current control system does when armed to the teeth with tooltips, and a few other enhancements, before making any other changes.

    Even more incidentally, is a visual ping planned when a ship selects a different assignment? That might help ease the pain of the indirect command architecture by giving players signals that their orders are causing specific events that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. OTOH it could get really busy really fast.

    Two things here – first, you’ll see the assignment arrows immediately after creating a new task, without having to unpause. You’ll also get the command point back if you cancel the task without unpausing. That both lets you know the effect of the assignment, and allows you to experiment without being punished for it.

    Second – which was maybe more relevant to your question – I think it’ll help to re-work the “comm chatter” to indicate what’s going on, but as you say, “getting busy really fast” is a problem. It’s just not somethnig I’ve been able to devote much time to yet.

    @Tubs: I agree that it’s a bit kludgy. Moving the view works when controlling the ship, and doesn’t work so well when giving orders. I don’t know that locking/unlocking it would be much better, either – when you have a toggle like that, it’s easy to forget what state you’re in (as a player), and it gets confusing. Plus you’d need to display fog-of-war in the combat view, if you could move that view with full freedom. So there’s room for improvement, but nothing obvious – at least to me.

    by Alex
  26. I got this the day I saw TB’s video on this game. Great work, I find it very playable thusfar, looking forward to the future builds and especially the end-product.

    by Yattabyte
  27. What I think about the controls is that you would need to put in a well beefed up Tutorial with those different situations you encouter in the game to make the player understand how the game should be approached.
    And since we all know that tutorials are something many overlook (me for example :) ) it should be compulsive on a new game.

    Maybe pool together all the tips you want to give + the feedback from others like Hypocee’s to make something mostly anyone would understand.

    by Troll
  28. I’m seconding the idea of having the war room feel more chess-like, placing big, abstract “objects” on the map to denote “I want this to get done” rather than seeming to encourage you to directly control your allies.

    I really love the idea of assigning objectives rather than giving orders, so basically just start from that premise and work outwards.

    Honestly I wouldn’t mind if direct orders were dropped entirely, and you just had more complex objectives; such as “this ship must survive”, and more standing orders, such as, “Fighter wings should resupply as often as possible”

    by T
  29. when it comes to order giving. i think it needs to be stated somewhere in a tutorial or earlier that your ships have there own “captains” that will follow your orders in a manor they see fit. that your not piloting the ship. your just telling your fleet what needs to be done. not solo ships. also i wonder if changing “Orders” to “Directives” might help break away from people wanting to give individual ships individual tasks.

    in case people dont specifically know what a directive is.

    1. A military communication in which policy is established or a specific action is ordered.
    2. A plan issued with a view to putting it into effect when so directed, or in the event that a stated contingency arises.
    3. Broadly speaking, any communication which initiates or governs action, conduct, or procedure.

    Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. US Department of Defense 2005.

    by Arwan
  30. Alex we’re dying over here, no real blog post for almost 3 weeks, c`mon buddy ! Give us something ! :)

    by Dimitar
  31. Let him release the 0.50, then you can bother him for a while :)
    Everyone wants this new mre complete version.

    by Troll
  32. Yeah well that won’t hurt either! Alex are you too busy to blog ? :)

    by Dimitar
  33. I bought the game a few weeks back having found it from some obscure review site that linked it to SPAZ (spacepiratesandzombies). I’m looking forward to the next release, hopefully Alex is too busy working on it.

    by Kahabut
  34. @Alex

    Just regarding the locked to command ship view issue.

    A suggestion:

    In Men Of War you are normally in an “RTS” view (the reverse of Starfarer). When you take “Direct Control” of a unit by holding down “Control” (there’s a toggle too) a selection box changes to a more vivid colour around the controlled unit and the view snaps to the unit in a follow mode.

    In Starfarer you could perhaps dim the firing arcs of the command ship when the user want to look around the map by holding down the Control key or Alt key (or whatever). I would have thought it would work reasonably well.

    As an alternative you could even provide the option of defaulting to the “RTS” view and letting the player hold a key to switch to controlling the ship (like MOW).

    Finally you could (optionally) automatically switch the command ship to autopilot when the player isn’t directly controlling it.

    I realise that making Starfarer default to an “RTS” mode is probably not what you had in mind for the look and feel but if you made the default optional (as mentioned).. well.. up to you :)

    by Tubs
  35. @Arwan: Hmm, yeah. Need to convey that explicitly. I don’t think these are referred to as “orders” anywhere in the game, btw – they’re “Assignments”.

    @T: Well, that’s how it works now – what Hypocee was saying was more a question of presentation, not actual function.

    @Dimitar: There are a few things I’d like to write about, but I want to do some coding first. Haven’t had much of a chance to do that after TB’s video came out :)

    @Tubs: Hmm. I’m not sure changing game mechanics in order to make looking around the map a bit smoother is a good idea, if that’s what you’re driving at. As for switching ships, there’s already a “command shuttle” mechanic that I’m quite happy with.

    by Alex
  36. @Alex,

    No I didn’t really mean that you should change the game mechanic. I was just suggesting ways that you could let the player free the camera up and be aware of what “mode” he is in.

    So in an attempt to explain a little better – Player is playing normally but wants to see (in graphical detail) a battle out of sight on the main view or follow some missiles which have just been launched or whatever. Player holds down LCTRL (or similar) and /or presses a toggle key: Firing arc graphics on the command ship dim/become darker, player is in “free cam mode”. Command ship has been automatically (optional) switched to auto-pilot because player is not in control until he hits the toggle key or releases the control key. Player can now the move view freely around the map zoom in and out and so on. The player can only use the free cam mode to view other ships and battles, he can’t actually use other ships unless he transfers the pod (as normal). If the control key is released (or the toggle key is pressed) the view snaps quickly back to the command ship, autopilot is switched off (optional) and firing arc graphics are put back to normal lightness.

    I mention “(optional)” because the player might not want the AI to take over control or drop control when he enters or leaves “free cam mode”. However it may be best to just leave the player in whatever state he was in and return to the same state to avoid any further keys/control/menu options.

    In my opinion this would allow the player to view key battles in more detail and, potentially, just watch the whole battle unfold. I often want to see what happens just off the viewable screen both for strategic reasons and for fun and this would allow me to do that. I realise that the overview strategic map shows roughly what is going on elsewhere but not in any detail. whilst writing this I’ve been testing the game and the problem is that everything suggests that the player does have control of the camera… so there I am following some missiles launched by my command ship (on autopilot) at a target… I follow the missiles but they start to go off screen… so I zoom out but then they still go off screen and I have no way to track them.

    I don’t think this is a vital addition but it would be nice and since it doesn’t affect the game mechanic (AFAIK) it could be optional anyway.

    by Tubs
  37. @Tubs:

    Hmm, I do see what you’re saying now – thank you for the detailed explanation. But how would that play with fog of war? You’d be able to pan around well beyond what you’re supposed to see. Could add fog in the main view but… hm. Visually, that could be challenging to do well. It’s something to think about, for sure – I can’t say it’s a high-priority item (need to keep working on the campaign!), but it’s definitely something the game could do better.

    Btw, do you know you can select a ship in the command UI and do “Show Video Feed” to see the view from that ship? That’s what I was referring to being a little kludgy, but it *does* let you see much more of the battle directly.

    by Alex
  38. Bought the game after TB review. Like it but you really are facing an interface battle.

    I understand the whole “You are not piloting each ship” but I am still hugely aggravated that I cannot say “THIS ship CAPTURE that objective, THAT wing stay in this area”.

    A real-life admiral would be chewing through his braid if he had to command like we do.

    It feels like I am not an admiral of a fleet giving orders but someone on a general radio frequency saying “Hey guys? I need this objective capture, would someone be nice enough to do that? anyone? I don’t really mind who, but we really need to get it done…oh crap, no not you! Go back GO BACK”

    by Rj
  39. @Alex:

    No I had no idea lol. Thanks for that although it’s not quite what I’m looking for as you know. The fog of war… well… fog? :)

    by Tubs
  40. @Rj: I understand what you’re saying, but part of it is actually getting more proficient with the new system. It’s like if you were playing an RTS for the first time – you might have trouble getting your units to do the things you want, too. Another part is that some aspects of it need to be improved, and will be in the next release. There are lots of good discussions of the control scheme on the forum, if you’re interested in more details.

    by Alex
  41. I think I prefer the current view method than a free view like Homeworld and the others. It fits really well with the strategic aspect of the game for me, it reinforces the idea that you are ONE commander aboard your flagship and so you do not see directly like an omniscient being all the battlefield, only the perimeter around your ship + borrowed views from the other ships in your fleet.

    by Troll
  42. Forgot to add, it also helps in not confusing players furthermore in thinking that they could order their other ships around like any RTS because the views would be similars while the controls sure aren’t.

    by Troll
  43. A big part of getting used to the game, for me, was being comfortable with trusting the AI to do the right thing, and to not overly micromanage your fleet. The AI in this game is superb, if you aren’t too concerned about what it’s doing every minute and you let it do its job.

    by Shipwright
  44. It’s the end of January. I don’t frequent the forums, so is there a reason why the next version isn’t out yet?

    by Rain
  45. Yep, actually. The main one is that it’s not ready yet :)

    On a more serious note, the WTF video was unexpected, and various things it spawned (such as the hosting upgrade) took a solid week to handle. Not that I’m complaining!

    The good news is that I’m back to devoting most of my time to working on the campaign, and it’s shaping up very well.

    by Alex
  46. Understood. I’m very pleased with the prompt and thorough reply. Thank you for helping restore my faith in independent developers!

    by Rain
  47. So what’s the new eta for .5? Frankly, I’m looking forward to it so much that a solid “before march” would be fantastic! I must admit I’m having to force myself not to check the blog more than 3-5 times a day, which is silly.

    by Menden
  48. Aiming for mid-February right now. It’s really hard to say for sure, of course – but it’s coming together nicely. Lots of playtesting and tweaking going on, and steadily whittling down the features that need to be in. It’s already becoming fun to play.

    by Alex
  49. Fantastic!

    by Menden
  50. One thing I find quite superb is that the 0.35 is totally bug free as far as I know, which is quite unexpected for an alpha.

    by Troll
  51. Agreed, Troll — I don’t think I’ve ever had 0.35 crash, which is something I didn’t expect.

    Mid-February sounds good to me. I was going to play Crusader Kings 2, but I guess that will have to wait if Starfarer is out around the same time.

    I can’t even imagine how addictive this game will be with a bit of a sandbox to explore and exploit.

    by SeaBee
  52. Same here, not a single bug, THAT is impressive to say the least !

    by Belhoriann
  53. Not sure if there is a function or not, but I personally think it would be favorable to have the option to lock the camera on the ship you are controlling while it moves.

    Quite frequently I found myself moving the cursor around to aim at other enemies and bounced the mouse to far out of my ships view then had to go and look for it again.

    Also, I think this game may work well with a 360 pad, because of the radial like shooting would probably work good with the analog sticks.

    by Yattabyte
  54. Offtopic:
    Hey, I just discovered your game via the ItoG Mod on your forums. I would like to ask you, if you could add Starfarer on Indiedb and Desura, that would make the purchase of the game much easier for people, aswell as it would help me to track your progress.

    by 56er