First off, let’s get this serious business out of the way:
Go Space Habs, go! Beat the Star Rangers! This zero-g hockey game should be a good one, tonight, folks. Keep your eyes peeled on the projectrons and don’t miss a second of the action. May the best spacers win!
Ok, now it’s time to talk Astrobase Command. We’ve had yet another busy couple weeks, so let’s get right into things.
Your autopsy is ready, Commander
Work on art has been moving forward, and we now have a lovely new autopsy module in which your crew will be able to poke, prod, and probe all manner of alien lifeforms they encounter on their travels across the galaxy.
We’ve implemented a neat camera controller that will let you swoop around the station to rapidly find what you’re looking for, and is set up to nicely allow us to zoom into the corridors and let us get some up close and personal footage if we ever need to do so. It’s a little bouncy right now, but with a little tweaking should be quite elegant.
Fighting googly-eyed monsters
Combat now works nicely. It’s all running behind the scenes and spitting out text-based results for now, but we’ll tie it in with graphics down the way. We’ve run several test cases between trial characters using procedurally generated weapons and equipment. We’ve also got the creature generator up and running. It’s producing some suitably freaky critters that should keep your away parties on their toes.
One of our test runs of the system even spat out a giant flying jellyfish without our prompting, so we’re quite happy where we stand right now. This will lend our text-based away missions plenty of flavour, but it poses a huge challenge in displaying a visual representation of those creatures should they pop up on the station. We have to be very careful about the work bill such features represent, because we only have one 3D artist on the team.
Generating variations of bipedal creatures that look roughly human is a good deal of work. You need to consider modeling any major differences between the creature and a human, and then you need to create new texture sets. When you start getting into the weird and wonderful possibilities of alien life, you rapidly get into monopods, gastropods, multi-limbed monstrosities, winged creatures, blobs, etc.
Most of these are far more difficult to model and rig than a biped, and therefore represent more time to deliver a finished product. This takes careful balancing, and letting ourselves get carried away could lead to falling into the trap of scope creep and we really, really don’t want to go there.
So, we’re keeping these good ideas for 3D alien lifeforms in the back of our mind for when we have more time and money after we get the game onto Steam Early Access. We’ll be focusing on bipedal foes for station action events, and possibly simple-to-represent enemies such as blobs and viruses at first. This will let us get some challenging and exciting events in for you to deal with, but not break the time and money spacepiggy banks in the process.
Strangely enough, the philosophy we’re adopting is much the same that drives special effects for science fiction TV series. You rarely find high end CG critters on sci-fi shows because that costs a lot to do. Instead, you’ll find an actor wearing makeup and some minimal appliances to give the impression of being an alien without being radically divergent from the human form.
This isn’t to say we won’t make more extravagant creatures later on, but the smart move is to start small and build up from there.
We’re now taking a break from procedural generation and starting to look at mining. Since Astrobase Command is at its heart a survival game, acquiring resources is a central element of gameplay. Mines will provide the ores which you’ll be able to refine to provide the raw materials needed to manufacture items and modules as well as fuel the power sources that keep your station and your crew alive.
Because we’ve over-engineered the procedural generation mechanics, we’re working on developing mining mechanics that feel as logical and realistic as possible. However, even our first talk-through of the system has led us to believe there may be simpler ways of doing things that may ultimately be more fun for the player.
This becomes yet another important tradeoff as we design Astrobase. We need to find the sweet spot between realism, believability, and fun. We want the rule sets to be intuitive, and we want the procedural mechanics to be as flexible as possible to allow you to invent anything you can imagine.
However, we don’t want you scratching your head and getting frustrated because something needs to be forced upon you to get the procedural aspects to work. So, even though we’ve brainstormed several potential ways of mining, we’ll keep things simple at first and iterate based on your feedback until we can find what’s right.
Even though there’s a lot of game development going on, we also need to be mindful of the business side of the house. High up on everyone’s mind is how much money is needed to make Astrobase a reality, and when does that money need to come in?
As you can imagine, it takes money to feed ourselves and keep a semblance of a roof over our heads. It also takes money to get the right hardware and software to make the game. Since we’re a small team, there are also gaps in our skill sets that we must cover if we are to make a polished product. This means hiring the likes of composers and sound engineers, or at the very least purchasing high quality stock.
We’ve also been in contact with other devs who have been living the Early Access experience. The community’s tolerance for unpolished offerings appears to be tapering, and there is an apparent growing demand for games that appear more finished to be published, even in such a forum. This is a little paradoxical, since the whole point to Early Access is to allow the community to shape and influence the development of a game so that it more closely reflects their needs and desires. By definition, games at this stage will lack polish and content.
There are a few philosophies in approaching the delivery to Early Access. In one case, we can pick a lower price point as a means to encourage early adopters to hop on and begin growing a fan base. This can be good for generating an early spike in sales and funding, increasing exposure. The risk here is that a mass of people could shell out money and never actually play the game, or worse yet, become upset with the game early on and start providing negative comments or feedback that isn’t very useful to improving the game.
In another, we maintain a constant price all the way to delivery. This provides a sense of fairness.
Finally, we can pick a higher price point for Early Access than the final game price. This view sees the opportunity provided to early adopters as a privilege that is offered at a premium. It helps ensure that those that get involved will be dedicated to the project, and ensures a tighter base that is easier to manage. The downside is that it limits the amount of revenue we can generate early on in the project.
As much as I hate to make things more expensive for myself I think the model of paying more for earlier access is better (see Elite Dangerous)