Hi there! It’s been a while since we’ve talked. I wanted to give a little (huge) interim update on what we’ve been working on.
We now have a real options menu! And we don’t have that ugly popup before the game launches anymore. And the controls have reasonable names! And you can use a controller! Plus … more. You can’t appreciate how nice this is until you’ve worked on the game for a year without any of it.
We’ve taken 2 MB in 500 files of raw configuration, and squished it down to ~100 kB in one file. This should reduce load times a little bit for everyone, and most especially for folks who have spinning hard drives. You don’t have to get with the program and own an SSD anymore, even though it will make your life better in every way. We got yer back. It also means we’ll be able to put out small updates a little easier because they’ll just change that one little file.
Just for ease of development, it can also hotload changes to the configuration while the game is running. This makes working on enemies a ton more productive! Danc has said he can work in 3-5x more iterations. And as you know, iterations are the real currency of the world.
We’ve started adding an elemental effects system. You’ve long seen that enemies can set you on fire or freeze your plane; well now you can set them on fire! If you find the right items.
The first element you’ll encounter is lightning; as you get T4 or higher guns they’ll start to do lightning damage in addition to physical damage. Certain enemies can also have elemental armor, and your own plane can acquire resistances, via items that you pick up. Or maybe … weaknesses! The knife cuts many ways (two). This is a powerful tool for us to create interesting tactical decisions for high-level players.
We don’t have final art for all this yet, we have me-spending-five-minutes-in-GIMP art, but you can kinda figure out what’s happening here.
We’d hit the limits of the previous system player guns and it was time to expand. One purpose is making it more interesting when you get a higher-tier version of a weapon. Check out this shotgun, it has a higher-damage bullet in the center. It’s super obvious when you’re using it that it’s better than your old junk, and it also requires you to aim a bit more carefully to land that central bad boy on your targets.
The code just landed for this stuff, so we’re still in the early stages of figuring out all the possibilities. It’s basically wild experiments and WTF all over the place! This has definitely made the game temporarily totally unbalanced, and it’s exactly this sort of thing that we wanted to do while the alpha was quiet. Some of these designs are are really hilarious, like this battle axe!
Then there’s this unnameable eldritch horror. Danc was so preoccupied with whether or not he could that he didn’t stop to think if he should.
There’s clearly a lot we want to tighten up before shipping, but we’re having fun coming up with new ideas. And isn’t our enjoyment the most important thing?
In the alpha we on occasion saw enemies behaving weirdly; we’ve known for a while that there was a major system that needed overhauling, and now is the perfect time to do it!
Some background, first. One of the ways we optimize the server is by not simulating enemies that are far from players. We had a pretty simple algorithm to handle that before, and its design flaw was that it would sleep part but not all of an enemy group. So you’d have the head of the snake running around while its tail was asleep somewhere else. Or a Lead Researcher rocking up with only three assistants. At first we thought that this might be a kind of minor problem, but during the alpha it became clear that this caused major problems! Some enemies had shields that would only go down if some of the members were killed, or they would signal the next phase but only some of the units would get the message. Sometimes there would be an ghostly invisible opponent shooting at you.
If there’s one thing I say every day, it’s “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts”, so I asked Andrew to take it on. Confusion reigned at first, but we got things sorted out soon enough.
He’s refactored the design; now it simulates or sleeps an entire “family” of enemies at the same time. It also has other nifty features like adding a delay to the sleep so the enemy has a few seconds to hunt you down, and cleaning up minor enemies when they go out of range. And, it seems to be bug-free.
Like many of the other changes we’ve made, it opens a bunch of doors for future interesting tactical challenges. I’m actually really hoping that we can call this game “tactical” whenever we can. Steambirds Alliance: Intense tactical dogfights, combining tactical bullets with bird tactics in a tactile world.
The inestimable Meowza has been working on a new way of making enemy art. He made a big suite of parts that can be recolored and redecorated to make unique units just by sticking the various parts together. It’ll open up the design process so other members of our team can make units that fit in with the existing style.
Look at how flush this toolkit is already, this is just a huge amount of stuff to work with already! It’s, uh, highly tactical.
You might have caught his streams in the past where he created units the old way, with each layer being drawn individually and then imported and stacked. Just snapping together and recoloring preexisting parts is going to be a huge win.
Look To The Future
We have a few more things we want to tackle before we open up the alpha again. We’re planning to make some changes to the Rebel City, adding personal storage. We have a ton of performance work we’re chipping away at, and we’re working on adding more challenge to the task of defeating the island, using the tactical new tools that we just built for ourselves.
Thanks again to all the alpha players and folks who have given us such excellent feedback! We’re really looking forward to giving you folks a bunch of fun new stuff to play with!