September Dev Update

We had a productive September working on XO. Here’s what we accomplished:

Heru’s biggest accomplishment in September was a major refactor of the game code that brought us a major performance gain. Progress on that went faster than expected. Once we had the gains we needed, we decided to defer the remaining smaller bits until after alpha and refocus on features.

Heru also finished several aspects of the Harvester behavior ranging from how they capture disabled vessels to the timing, targeting and spacing of fighter launches.

My biggest win came in the starmap. After an enormous amount of trial and error I’ve finally created starmap models for the planemos that reflect the vector art style in the rest of the game. The screenshot below is a mockup from the user interface (UI) spec, but the planemos are from actual 3D models rendered in the game engine:

Starmap mockup with new planemo models

We tightened up how contextual actions work, so that now if you have a group of ships selected, you can perform any action from that group of ships. All of the the ships selected follow along. This makes it much easier to keep the fleet together, providing cover for non-warships, and things like that.

A lot of work on shields was done in September. Shields have a possible area of effect, but the shieldship must be actively protecting or in the same formation as another ship to cover it. Since they block laser fire including your own, you can toggle them on and off. Laser and missile hits temporarily disable a shield, but multiple overlapping shieldships provide layers of protection. Harvester fighters are also destroyed when they impact a shield.

There’s some debugging left to do on shields as the interactions are complex, but all of the feature work has been done. For example, multiple shield overlaps work most of the time but we need to fix some cases where the overlap fails.

We’re also still working on how to visually represent the shield range and which ships are shielded, but the preliminary shield hit animation effect is implemented and working properly. For now, shield range is represented like this:

Shielding three out of five ships

Speaking of effects, visual effects for actions are now being added to the game! The scan animation was the first of many to be implemented. These animations play when you take an action, giving you clear visual feedback. I’m having a lot of fun creating them!

A preliminary algorithm was implemented for the distribution of planemo types that seems to be working well.

A few bugs were fixed and edge cases were covered in several aspects of the game — in combat, resource shortages and collection, icon sizing and rotation, and input for Mac/Linux builds among other things. Scouting now correctly reports the ships at destination, resource quality, and planemo type. Weapons Free was improved.

Defending against a Harvester onslaught

In the bigger picture, sometimes you have to lose something to appreciate how valuable it is. Case in point: a while back we tried taking events out of the game to see how it would flow. While the game played faster, we lost too much of the spirit I want to convey. So we’re putting them back in. I spent a lot of September overhauling the specification for our event system. It means a lot of content creation, but the narrative framework is just too powerful to drop.

I also designed the user interface for the event system, part of which you can see here:

Design for main event dialog

The revised spec allows for a variety of time-dependent missions, gives you special actions based on the types of ships you have in your fleet, and has a couple of surprises too. I’m very happy with it. We’ll have a lot more to say about events in October’s update.

I continued to make several improvements to the other areas of the UI, including the last remaining bits for the minimap.

I added several new ships to balance the powers of the factions. For example, the Rovers now have their own farmship called the Croft.

As you can see, September was a busy month. And working on this game is an absolute joy. I know we have a lot more work to do, but it is really satisfying to finish important parts of the game and move on to the next challenge. I’m so excited to talk about what we’ve been up to in October too! Thank you backers for the encouragement, sharing your enthusiasm, and for your patience!

Brian Jamison

Portland, Oregon