What’s Next?

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!

New Feature – Damageable Ship Modules

We’ve got a planned set of features for next release, but every so often I like to take a couple of days and work on some lower-priority features that just wouldn’t get any attention otherwise. Of course, the feature has to be cool enough to justify the time spent! It is my pleasure to now introduce one such feature – damageable ship modules. Now when you shoot a ship, you can gradually disable its weapons and engines – more on the details in a bit.

For those with a shorter attention span – or simply less time – here’s a video showing the end result in action.  I’d suggest reading on about how it works to help it all make sense, though. By the way, if you haven’t kept up with the latest changes in the development build, this thread on our forum has the full patch notes for everything that’s been done since the last release.

Read on for the reasoning behind this mechanic and the details of how it works.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ship Loadouts

One of the main features in the next release is going to be the ability to customize your fleet before you embark on a mission, so I thought I’d talk a bit about how that works.

The are two main aspects of ships you can customize – one is the weapon loadout, and the other is hull modifications, or hull mods. Each ship has a number of weapon mounts (slots), each of which has a type and a size. For example, a small ship might have 4 small energy slots and 2 medium ballistic ones. When you fit a weapon in a hull, the size and type have to match the slot – for example, an Antimatter Blaster is a small energy weapon, and can be fitted into small energy slot. You can also put a weapon into a slot that’s one size larger – so, you could put the aforementioned blaster into a medium energy slot.

Hull mods provide passive bonuses such as increased armor and top speed, as well as more exotic ship and weapon attributes.

So, what’s to stop you from just cramming a hull full of the the best weapons and mods? Ultimately, that’s what you want to do, but both weapons and hull mods require ordnance points to install on a ship. Each ship has a maximum number of points it can support, so deciding just how to spend those on weapons and mods is the challenge in creating a good ship design (also known as a variant).

You can also spend ordnance points on installing additional flux vents (to increase the flux dissipation rate) and flux capacitors (to increase the maximum flux limit). Flux is generated by using shields and firing weapons, so a good balance of firepower and flux efficiency is critical for a successful design. Each extra vent or capacitor costs 1 point each, ensuring that any leftover points can be spent on something useful.

Here are a few screenshots of the refit screen – it’s still a work in progress (in particular, the UI to assign hull mods is missing, as are several other UI components) but it should give you an idea of how it’s shaping up.

Work-in-progress shots of the refit interface

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