Author Topic: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.  (Read 2745 times)

Offline x4000

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Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« on: March 06, 2014, 11:48:31 AM »
Hey guys,

So, you know that I want to get this to testers again as soon as possible -- I'm itching to, you better believe. ;)  That said, we're still just not there yet. 

1. We've finished our current set of sprints in terms of getting the multi-faction fights and all that sort of thing, and the revised contracts in the metagame, and better integration between the battles and the metagame.  These were all really positive changes, and really very necessary for the game.  It really ties things together much better, and makes the fights feel more consistent with the larger game, as well as more varied in general, and more tactically varied in a lot of the more common fight types.

2. We've also finished the shift to the players way of controlling things in the battles, and that also is a big improvement in the main.  Being able to betray allies is really interesting, and just worrying about your flagship and its abilities, and not having RTS-style control over bunches of other ships, is also really good.

3. That said, I still don't feel fully like "Batman in Space" in the battles just yet, and there are frustrations that I have in terms of feeling like I'm not powerful enough and that the AI balls up too much in fights where there are not opposing forces.  And let's face it, there can't always be opposing forces.  The AI also tends to be too aggressive with its flagships, and too conservative with its flocks (followed by extreme aggression).  I also find that, without squadrons to order around, I often don't have enough to do since my weapons are autofiring and I can't be constantly popping off weapons.  This makes it pretty impossible to both target enemies as well as maneuvering around in most cases, and contributes to a feeling of weakness in my flagship.  Aka not that feeling of Batman.

4. One of the changes that has already been put into place is a shift to tracking "flotillas" at the solar map level, rather than just single flagships.  This means that there are multiple flagships per flotilla, with that number varying based on the combat difficulty.  By default it's 3.  This does something really critical: it will allow me to adjust the balance such that you can really kick some butt on individual flagships and squadrons -- and thus feel like Batman -- but at the same time it doesn't let you just bumrush a single flagship and end a fight immediately.  Instead, by the time you do that, the other flagships are being productive, and you have a proper fight even if you bumrushed the first guy.

5. Remaining to do as part of this is a lot of balance on my part with the individual ships of enemies versus the power of your special abilities in particular.  But also, we're adding a new direct-fire ability that will be mapped to the left mouse button.  While your ship is moving around via the previous means (on existing courses you set with the right mouse button, or via you moving around with WASD, whatever), holding down the left mouse button will let off a direct barrage of weapons fire towards the mouse cursor, ala Valley 1.  The idea here is that this makes the game far FAR more tactile now that you don't have all those squadrons to order around.  It's a big piece that is missing in the current internal version, because having that sort of direct-fire both makes tactical positioning at a small scale more meaningful to me-the-player, and it gives me-the-player something to constantly be doing while in a fight and between bursts of using special abilities or issuing maneuvering orders.

6. Also big is a new layer of AI that we are working on.  We've already revamped the AI enormously during the changes to the new model, and in general what we did is great.  But what we've done has really been focused on the ship-level and how they interact with their squads.  The AI for how the squads move around, and for how the flagships interact with one another and you, is a bit nonoptimal, I've found in testing.  As mentioned, the flagships tend to cluster too much, and the squads tend to be too conservative and not dynamic enough in a lot of ways.  So what we're also doing is building in a new AI layer that controls the behavior of the flagships and squads relative to one another, while leaving the intra-squad AI that we recently created as it is. 

6.a. This new layer of AI is designed specifically for the current sort of battles that we have, as opposed to countering the old-style player tactics (which is what the previous AI was built around -- so balls of death were way more boringly common than they should have been).  It's also designed to keep flagships out of the direct fighting as much as possible, and to shift the focus onto the squads, which is as it should be.  That's how the starships are described in the battles in Ender's Game, and that's how for instance aircraft carriers are used in modern combat.  You don't try to close distance with your spawner.  It also fits with something like Town Centers in Age of Empires, for instance.  Getting those too close together changes the dynamics of the battle in ways that are not positive.  So by shifting around some of the spawning rules and the AI logic that goes with these, we'll be able to make the battlefield "terrain" include the AI flagships, and the shifting squadrons as they take up more intelligent jobs relating to their flagships and you.  The logic that is currently outlined for implementation is simple, but should be really effective.

7. There is also some remaining miscellany that I have to take care of, specifically some textual stuff for clarity, and I think 9 out of the 25 special abilities for the flagship still need to be redone, while the others still need balance tuning along with the rest of the stuff noted above.

-------

So that's where we are, and why.  At the moment I have been finding the metagame very fun, and I've been doing some work to make it work more smoothly and clearly.  The battles are certainly a lot more interesting right now, but I don't really find them fun yet.  Which is not a crisis, that's just part of game development, but there's no point in me handing you anything until I find it fun.  If I don't, you won't. 

All the stuff we've done so far with the combat has been huge strides in the right direction, but we've hit a point now where we finished that, and found that more is still needed.  I'm confident in the changes that I've designed for this next round up updates, but the big question of course will be how quickly we can finish all that, and whether or not that will get us all the way to where I find the battles fun, or if there will still be yet another round of stuff that needs to get tweaked before I hand it off to you.  That I can't say, although I will note that the whole "Batman in space" battles idea is a lot less abstract now, since we've finished our prior sprint.  So hopefully the jump from here to where it needs to be will be a lot shorter, and only one jump.  Knock on wood.

But in the end, really we can't know the soup is cooked until we test it and see that it's cooked.  I think that the most likely date for a new alpha version is sometime early next week at this point, but if more crops up during testing, it may be later in the week.  Goodness I hope not, but we kind of have to do what we have to do.

Cheers!
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Offline nas1m

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2014, 03:27:22 PM »
Sounds like things are shaping up well :). Although my patience is starting to feel the strain ;)...
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Offline x4000

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2014, 04:07:55 PM »
Pretty much. :)
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Offline mrhanman

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2014, 10:04:19 PM »
Take your time, guys! We aren't going anywhere. :D

Offline Teal_Blue

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2014, 10:06:51 PM »
I agree, better to have it where you think it should be than to rush things, no matter how long you have to take. Also, less negative feedback, which is always a good thing.

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Offline Histidine

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2014, 07:22:20 AM »
Forgive me if this is presumptuous, but given that big "problem" earlier I'm not sure your finances can keep taking these delays  :(

Offline x4000

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2014, 08:54:21 AM »
Forgive me if this is presumptuous, but given that big "problem" earlier I'm not sure your finances can keep taking these delays  :(

Our finances work in monthly blocks, in terms of how we get paid.  In other words, if we slip from February 28th to March 1st, that's the (in many important senses) same impact on us as slipping all the way to the end of March.  We already made the decision for marketing reasons to slip the date from March-anything to April-something, so at this point we're making use of the time we have.

The absolute worst thing we could do, that we definitely above all else cannot afford, is to release a sub-par game early after putting so many months and so much money into it.  Not only would that be bad for the game, obviously, but it would also be a disaster for our upcoming revenues for the year.  It's kind of one of those "penny wise, pound foolish" sort of things.  In the past we've sometimes been in a situation where we HAD to take that approach (so are plenty of AAA companies from time to time), but thankfully right now that is not the case.

Not to say that we aren't keeping a tight eye on the schedule and kind of sighing at yet more delays, because we definitely are.  I won't pretend that delays are a good thing, or that I'm ever like "yay delays!" ;)  But it's one of those things that, when you have to do it, and you can, you definitely should.
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Offline x4000

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2014, 02:10:45 PM »
Okay: I am officially having fun with the combat now. :)

The balance still needs work, and there are rough edges in parts of it that are still being smoothed out, but the baseline experience even so is still something that very much tickles my fancy now.  That is quite a happy relief! :D
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Offline keith.lamothe

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2014, 02:13:16 PM »
Yea, the direct-fire thing's a lot more fun particularly.  Sometimes my testing runs go a little longer than the feature in question really needed.
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Offline x4000

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2014, 03:06:07 PM »
Oh yes, I'm finding that happening also, haha.
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Offline nas1m

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #10 on: March 07, 2014, 03:06:25 PM »
Okay: I am officially having fun with the combat now. :)

The balance still needs work, and there are rough edges in parts of it that are still being smoothed out, but the baseline experience even so is still something that very much tickles my fancy now.  That is quite a happy relief! :D
Cool stuff!
Congrats :D
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Offline Breach

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #11 on: March 07, 2014, 08:15:04 PM »
Fantastic news! The key will be combining that with the other elements of the game to make sure the replayability is good, I think.

Offline Cyborg

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #12 on: March 07, 2014, 09:23:17 PM »
Okay: I am officially having fun with the combat now. :)

The balance still needs work, and there are rough edges in parts of it that are still being smoothed out, but the baseline experience even so is still something that very much tickles my fancy now.  That is quite a happy relief! :D




That is very important. I would not treat extended play testing as wasting time. You are in the business of fun, and if you are not having fun, something's wrong.
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Offline PokerChen

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2014, 02:38:00 AM »
Okay: I am officially having fun with the combat now. :)

Do you think that a dev not having fun with his own game is like a cook not liking his own dish? :D
What is this shit, I'm not serving that to my customers!

Congrats.

Offline Cinth

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Re: Yet more delays on the next alpha build, news circa 3/6.
« Reply #14 on: March 08, 2014, 05:18:44 AM »
Okay: I am officially having fun with the combat now. :)

Do you think that a dev not having fun with his own game is like a cook not liking his own dish? :D
What is this shit, I'm not serving that to my customers!

Congrats.

I'm sure it was fun before, just missing that key ingredient.  To continue with the chef analogy, my spaghetti sauce was good, but after years of tweaking, it's even better now.  Combat was good, but it's even better now. :)
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