Category: Art

AI War 2 v0.781 Released! “Destruction Diversity”, Steam Trading Cards, New Release Date.

Release notes here.

Took an extra day compared to what I was planning for this release, but there’s a ton in here!  First of all, there are a ton of balance improvements that Puffin has put together in order to diversify what gets a damage bonus against what.  There’s a lot of tuning in that area of the game in particular.

Quinn added in the ability not just to delete savegames, but also to delete campaigns, which is super welcome.  A few other tooltip improvements have been made to clarify a few things, and a few tutorial improvements, and a fix for that really irritating bug with the flickering sidebar.

Marauders are a lot more aggressive, cross planet waves are a lot more sneaky, astro trains are a lot less plentiful, brownouts are a lot more painful, and there’s now a cooldown on how quickly you can rebuild something that was just destroyed.  Thanks to Badger on huge amounts of that.

Outside of that, we’ve also done some new kickstarter-exclusive background art thanks to Cath, and then I’ve created new marketing headers for the game (finally!) as well as new Steam Trading Cards.  Here’s a sneak peek!

New header:

Compared to the old one:

And then here’s a sneak peek at the Steam Trading Cards (which won’t turn active until the game releases into Early Access on Monday):

And this is what the associated backgrounds look like:

And this is just for fun:

New Release Date?

Yep!  We’re now releasing on Monday, which is the 15th, instead of Thursday the 18th.  Why?  Rimworld announced their 1.0 will be on the 17th.  And we, uh… wanted to give them some personal space. ;)  Big congrats to them, by the way.

Thanks for reading!  More to come soon.

Problem With The Latest Build?

If you right-click the game in Steam and choose properties, then go to the Betas tab of the window that pops up, you’ll see a variety of options.  You can always choose most_recent_stable from that build to get what is essentially one-build-back.  Or two builds back if the last build had a known problem, etc.  Essentially it’s a way to keep yourself off the very bleeding edge of updates, if you so desire.

The Usual Reminders

Quick reminder of our new Steam Developer Page.  If you follow us there, you’ll be notified about any game releases we do.

Also: Would you mind leaving a Steam review for some/any of our games?  It doesn’t have to be much more detailed than a thumbs up, but if you like a game we made and want more people to find it, that’s how you make it happen.  Reviews make a material difference, and like most indies, we could really use the support.

Enjoy!

Chris

Taking a look at some AI War 2 ships during late alpha.

Chris here! This is just a video looking at a variety of the ships in AI War 2, or at least the graphics for them. These are in the version 0.124, which will come out early next week. It’s presently late alpha for the game (in the pre-Early-Access sense), and so these are coming up to a much more polished status now.

As part of our testing thus far, one thing that we’ve discovered is the need to use GPU Instancing. That was something that I hadn’t been sure if we’d need or not, and I’ve mentioned it since our first kickstarter for the game. I wanted to try to get away with dynamic batching, which is compatible with OpenGL 3.x and DirectX 9 and DirectX 10. However, the performance just wasn’t good enough, even in battles with only something like 5000 ships versus maybe 2000.

A few passing bugs aside, the performance was still better than AI War Classic with that scale of battle on the simulation side in particular, but GPU instancing became a clear need. So now the game is going to use that, which requires DirectX 11 or OpenGL 4.1, and basically hardware from 2010 or 2011, depending on your exact hardware and OS.

Realistically you needed hardware from that era at the oldest anyway in order to handle the CPU processing, so this really should be a moot point, but it was a bridge I hadn’t wanted to cross unless it really became clear it was needed. Well — now it’s clear. :)

A bug in the GUI sidebar aside, I was getting about 30fps in the aforementioned battle using dynamic batching. This is on a latest-gen i7 with a GTX 1070. Now with most of the stuff working with GPU Instancing, I get around 80 fps. There are still thousands of wasted draw calls because of some of how I’m handling my custom sprite system at the moment, and I expect to get my machine running that same scene at 120 or 140 fps by sometime next week. Knock on wood. :) But it definitely seems like that will be what happens on my rig, based on all my tests thus far.

Anyway, so we get to the question of how big battles will be able to be, and to that I still have the answer: I really don’t know. For a variety of reasons, we can do larger battles than AI War Classic if you’re running them on modern machines. On a machine past a certain age (maybe from 2012 or before?), then the battles of Classic might be larger in terms of what your machine can handle. I’m not sure. The newer your machine gets, though, and that’s looking to the future as well, AI War 2 starts pulling further and further ahead. This switching to GPU Instancing is a huge amount of future-proofing in and of itself.

Overall we just have a ton of performance optimizations and multithreading in the game already, and it’s built around a variety of design concepts that lend themselves to larger battles than the original. We still do hit the occasional hiccup, like the sidebar thing, though, which makes performance absolutely grind to a halt for a bit. That’s one reason why we do the alpha, though; so we can fix things like that, and they never last long. :)

All in all, we’re looking good! I’m excited about the recent changes, even if I am apprehensive about any potential backlash by someone angry about the system requirements change.

Thanks for watching!

Chris

AI War 2 Video Dev Diary for February 10th!

Chris here!  Lots to share today.

Obligatory: 106 of you still have yet to send in your surveys, so please do that soon if you have a chance.  Thanks!

Marquee Video

In this one, recorded just moments ago, I walk you through some things that are happening in the game right now:

Highlights:

  • Lots of galaxy map styles already in place!  All of the ones for 1.0, if I’m not mistaken.
  • You can see a bit more about how the planets at the galaxy map actually show the key ships that are there (thanks to Astilious for suggesting that!)
  • You can see the really REALLY ugly tempy gui that is nonetheless functional.
  • Keith has been playing games all the way through in multiplayer with success, and has been building out increasing numbers of features.
  • This shows the earliest version of the forcefield visuals, which are not the most exciting thing in the world yet but are highly performant.  I’ll experiment with making higher-load-but-prettier ones with time.
  • This shows some combat, albeit still without the extrapolation or ship flocking within squads.
  • It shows my new custom LOD system, although that’s tuned improperly for the missile corvette right now.
  • It shows off a lot of the incredible performance gains that we have made, although there are still some architectural hot spots that we’re homing in on.  In general we want this to look super good up close and then be really high-performance as you’re further out.
  • I talk very briefly about Controllers and Guardians.
  • Can I just emphasize one more time that the current GUI is worse than bad and we know that?  It’s for internal use only, but I’m showing it to you anyway so you have an idea of what we’re up to.  It’s easier to work with really ugly buttons and text on the screen, just blocking out the play flow, before even trying to make it pretty (and/or not eye-bleedy). :)

Other Videos!

The count of working-videos style things in our dev diary channel has grown a lot, and so the dev diary channel is now up to 25 videos as of the moment.  Mostly it’s of a semi-technical or technical nature, but if you’re in to game design there’s some cool stuff in there.

Alpha: End Of This Month!

We’re looking quite on schedule for that. :)  No promises on how horrible the GUI will still be for the first build for you alpha folks, but a lot of the visual stuff will have been filled out further by then.

Multiplayer, Linux, OSX, and Windows will be available from day one of the alpha.

If you have trouble running the game on your system on day one for performance reasons, then I’ll go ahead and say right now — please TELL me!  With you alpha folks, I’m particularly counting on that.  I have four good computers representing a range of capabilities for me to test on, but there are always surprises.

In response to those things I can both optimize in unexpected places as well as providing toggles for simply turning off some visual whiz-bang bits for machines that can’t handle those bits.  But I’m definitely counting on you alpha folks to tell me rather than just assuming it will get better without saying anything! :)

Early Access At The End Of May!

We’re still looking great for the Early Access launch at the end of May, too, and of course well before then the GUI will be massively cleaned up and improved.  In large part thanks to feedback from the alpha folks, I have no doubt.

And yep, the “sometime in October” schedule for 1.0 is still holding steady, too.

Our production of ship graphics has been substantially slower than we desired originally in terms of the final models, but we’re also putting out much higher-quality work than we originally expected.  In my original pitch for 3D with this game, I never expected to be doing fully-painted models, but we figured out a way to do so (and thus massively improve the look of the game) without completely destroying the budget and without sacrificing much in the way of performance thanks to LODs.  It’s a worthwhile improvement that I’m footing the overage bill for.

Conclusion

Things are going well!  We’re still somewhat in the “measure twice, cut once” phase of things, so I always feel like it looks like less progress than it really is.  If you saw the number of code changes and improvements each time, and the amount of productivity and performance improvements each go… well, I wish I could show that in a visual way, but I can’t think of a good one. :)

Nonetheless, my list of “things that are not all that visible but that are very important to do” is getting very short now, while the list of “things that are definitely visible” is starting to get some hefty bites taken out.  Lots more of that to come next week, and the week after… and then we’re into the start of alpha, so you can expect floods of release notes as per usual with us.

Thanks for watching and reading!
Chris

Original post on kickstarter.

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AI War 2 Random Working Notes Video Roundup – Circa January 19th

Chris here!  Okay, so this is a whole lot of random stuff from the last month, and these are some of our internal videos that I did a quick vetting of and figured were safe to release for those people who might be interested in them.

These are all unlisted on our youtube channel, to not clutter that up with this sort of thing, but if you’re interested in the development work side of the process (technical or art or otherwise), here’s some meat for you (in chronological order):

December 10th, 2016: Chris rambles about custom editors for Keith, but generally fine to show for whoever.

December 5th, 2016: Notes for Keith, specifically aimed at showing what was done in AI War Classic so that he could replace it with something much better for AI War 2 (via Forge Networking).

January 16th, 2017: Quick visual mockup for Blue (artist) of unpainted model of my rough (VERY rough) concept for the Ark for AI War 2. This is incredibly ugly in a lot of ways and is meant to be a bit of a “throw together some legos as a 3D concept” sort of thing.

She then takes it and makes it into something that is actually awesome, which is work that is currently in-progress as of the time of this post (though there are some screenshots from Maya).

Warning: this is very much “how the hotdog is made” in terms of the nature of the video!

January 16th, 2017: Notes for Keith on some craziness that happens with external DLLs and moving the cheese on unity, plus how to re-link assets that become unlinked.

January 17th, 2017: Here’s are some progressive screenshots from Maya of what Blue (artist) had done at that point (very very incomplete) and how her work was evolving from mine.

On the left in the first shot is the terrible mockup fbx file I created, and then in the center is what she was evolving that into in broad form:

Then later that day, two more shots of the Ark.

January 18th, 2017: More screenshots from Maya from Blue’s work, where she is basically done with the model itself.  She notes “I left all the small bits in grey-checker so you can distinguish them from the main ship.”

A few hours later that day, more stuff (in false colors).  She notes:  “UV’s done and organized.  Each color indicates a set of UV’s. So if they share a color, they share a UV set.  So there will be 8 texture sets.”

And then actually painting those uvs in Photoshop comes next, and is currently in progress. :)

Here are the flat colors, actually, with her notes: “I haven’t done any of the detail work yet. Just laying down the base over all.”

January 18th, 2017: Quick visual mockup for Blue (artist) of unpainted models that may or may not be used, with the general idea of the motion they would have, and the vertex-animated internal model for the “wormhole” inside the AI Warp Gates for AI War 2.

Very very rough, and not meant to be any sort of final product.

January 19th, 2017: Notes for Cinth on setting up LOD groups and otherwise optimizing the particle effects for AI War 2 to keep the framerates high.

Visual Evolution of the Bomber

This is out of sequence because it happened over the course of many days throughout this whole process, but here’s an interesting look at some of our workflow.

I gave Blue this reference bomber model to work with that I had created, but it was messy and needed a lot of work, and had no textures yet:

In the above two, it’s shown next to the fighter for scale.

She then had to do a lot of fixing of the model, which is a process we’ve decided to scrap because it’s much easier for me to create a rough approximation with notes (ala the Ark, as seen above), and then her to create the final model from scratch herself rather than trying to repair my wreckage.  Nonetheless, she spent 3ish hours repairing the wreckage of my bomber and made something awesome out of it:

Note how crisp all the lines are, although it’s not yet having a proper shader, and it looks washed out, etc.  This is to be expected.  Generally once I pull it into Maya and apply my shaders and tweaks, it is basically the final touches that turn it fully awesome.  The post-processing effects and bloom and her emission maps help a lot with that, too, to be sure.

But this time, there was a problem.  I set it up, and did so like this:

Grooooosss!  While the lighting and so on is cool, there’s a lot up there to hate compared to the original model.  She noted there was some quality loss, and I wasn’t sure specifically which things she meant, so I pointed out the following possible areas:

With some detailed commentary on each area that are not worth repeating here.  At any rate, I made a lot of tweaks to the shaders, and we got to this:

Muuuuch better.  Still needs work, though.

She finished her tweaks to the emission map and the albedo texture, and I figured out some big improvements on the texture import side (both quartering the VRAM used by the bomber as well as improving its crispness), and we arrived at this:

Biiiiig difference.

That’s It For Now!

Just a lot of random notes, since we’ve been quiet.  There was a ton of other stuff happening as well, but this gives you some idea. :)

Cheers!

Chris

SPACE ARCHAEOLOGIST tier live, OST now available in select tiers, and 10% funded in 30 hours!

Wow what a whirlwind of a few days!  If I haven’t responded to your message yet, I really apologize and will do so as soon as possible.  I’m caught up on the kickstarter messages and comments themselves, but I’m behind on Steam and the Arcen forums.

Funding Is Starting Strong!

Our kickstarter for AI War II has now passed 10% funding within its first 30 hours, which seems like it bodes well.  But the graph for every game is different, and so we’re not going to sit idle just because of a strong start.  We can still use all the help that we can get in spreading the word on social media, other sites that would be interested in this sort of game, and of course via gaming news.

Reddit AMA Tomorrow

Speaking of!  Tomorrow we’re going to be doing another AMA on /r/Games/.  It will start at 11am EST, but if you’re going to be late feel free to still ask questions — I’m on reddit every day anyway (not during work!).

So what else is new?  Well, we’ve updated the video for the kickstarter to be a little better (it was already pretty killer).  If you’ve already seen it, it mainly just adds a bit of extra visual and sound effect punch and clarity in a few places, and then a bit of extra music at the end (sneak peek of a vocal track from Stars Beyond Reach, actually).

New Backer Tier!

Our $100 and $300 tiers sold out incredibly quickly, and we’re trying to figure out how to handle that — providing rewards at those levels that you folks will enjoy, but that don’t break us in the implementation/fulfillment phases.  Thanks for bearing with us!

In the meantime, we’ve added a new $400 tier: SPACE ARCHAEOLOGIST.

As a Space Archaeologist you get the following benefits shared by all Neinzul Backers:
– Named prominently in the credits as a Neinzul Backer
– Neinzul Backer badge on Arcen forums.
– 5 backer-exclusive AI War II digital wallpapers
– Write your own “message in a bottle” that will be discoverable in-game (subject to approval)
– Two copies of the game in private alpha
– Name an in-game planet

In addition, and EXCLUSIVE to the Space Archaeologist, you get to:
-Work with Blue to design a mysterious alien artifact, then collaborate with Jack to write what we know about them (subject to approval)

Initially controlled by the AI, alien artifacts are variants on the resource-generating derelicts scattered across the galaxy. Capturing an artifact earns you a one time Science bonus, and ongoing attempts to study them sometimes “glitch out”, and generate allied ships! These ships aren’t pushovers, and while you can’t control them, you don’t have to pay for them either. The AI won’t be happy about losing the artifacts however, and will destroy them rather than let you keep them.

Space Archaeologists will individually work with Blue to design their own artifact, and then work with Jack to explain what we know about it. That might be where it’s from or how it was found, secrets of its construction or how it’s been used. With this tier you’ll be adding one more secret to the Arcenverse, so don’t explain too much!

Soundtrack Now Included In All $100+ Tiers!

So many of you asked for this that we worked it out and are now going to be providing high-quality mp3, FLAC, and wav file versions of the AI War II OST for anyone who pledges at least $100. This will include the entire soundtrack, including any stretch goals or other bonus tracks commissioned, so when exactly you get each piece may be staggered a bit.

This was a belated addition due to popular demand, and kickstarter doesn’t allow us to change the description of backer tiers after someone has pledged at that level (definitely for the best as a general policy), so we’ve had to make note of it in the campaign FAQ and in the rewards section (not the sidebar).

If you’ve read this far, here’s a special reward. ;)  This is Pablo’s reorchestrated and remastered version of the original AI War title theme.  Just like Arcen itself, he’s come a really long way since 2009, and I continue to be really stunned and impressed with the work he’s doing lately.

Other Changes To The Campaign!

People have been making all sorts of great suggestions.

  • We now have a new $40 tier that simply gives you two v1.0 copies of the game (so it’s just like getting the $20 tier twice).
  • We’ve added two new videos down in the body of the campaign that show off the far zoom mechanics for the new game as well as the last trailer for the first game.
  • Down at the bottom there are now a number of charts detailing our work status on all the major 1.0 features.  We’re further along on a number of them than folks might have realized, massive design document aside.

 

That’s all for now!  I’ll have more updates coming up soon, as will other members of the team.  Thanks again for all your support, enthusiasm — and let’s not forget trust.  With a campaign like this you’re trusting that we’ll follow through for you, and we have absolutely no intention of letting you down.

Very Best,

Chris Park

Founder and Lead Designer, Arcen Games

AI War II – Far Zoom First Look

Lots of stuff has been happening on the AI War II forums in general, and a lot of news in the dev diary section in particular.  Once the kickstarter for the game launches — later this week — we’ll be sharing more through our blog and social media.  It’s been an intensive process so far in the forums, though, with folks contributing 2,470 post on 180 topics in a matter of just a couple of weeks.

Here’s the first video of the game:

The kickstarter for AI War II is coming up in the next week! If you want to be notified of it by email, please send a note to arcengames at gmail dot com and we’ll be happy to.

Our forums have a ton of information about what’s going on and how you can contribute (non-financially) prior to the kickstarter if you wish to.

And our public design document is huge and still growing.  The latter will be finished up (for purposes of v1.0 specs) within the next 3 days.

I’ll be around on the forums plenty in the coming days, or I’ll hopefully catch you later this week when we launch the Kickstarter!

  • Chris

 

AI War II Art Diary: Player Base concept work.

Here’s a new look at whats under development art-wise for AI War II.

I’m been tasked to create a high-definition model of the player base ship.

With 3D modeling, it’s not usually so simple as to jump into the program and get to work. Lot of times you need a thought process to kick it off, and that’s usually best handled through concept sketches.  Some artists use references and mood boards instead, but I’m of the concept sketch camp.

Anyway!

It started with thumbnails, which I unfortunately mostly forgot to save. (Go me.)

Here’s one:

ck5cfu2

I had to take into account Chris’s recommendations and visions.

In short: He wanted something spiky, dangerous in feel, maybe have some rings, look like it was compartmental and had obvious living quarters.

Hmm.

Alright, well at this point, I wasn’t happy with any of my thumbs (of which there were a lot). Everything looked.. boring to me.

The lack of muse was pretty present.

Usually I’ll resort to a few other methods of sparking an idea.

One of my favorite ways is combinations. Take part A and add to part B.

In this case, I wondered what I could do if I tried to make a ship look a bit like a dragon head.

7bahm22

Ah hah! A sketch!

g39z0rj

Refinement and details.

m7laeqs

At this point, I felt like the dragon style wasn’t subtle enough. I did away with some of the more pronouncing details.

ktvycy6

Color isn’t necessarily super important in model concepting, but to me, it really sets the mood.

You can see the living quarters in the rings. Overall, pretty happy with the shape.

Chris suggested maybe building in a rock or asteroid, make it look like it was built off that. Like taking and putting rockets on a asteroid or something. Haha. Might be an excellent idea really.

And finally:

7homvdw

Just because!

-Blue

Click here for the official forum post on the topic.

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Volumetric Lights And Custom Frustrum Culling

What!?  Shouldn’t this post be about procedural generation or new robots? ;)  That stuff is coming, don’t worry.  As you can see in the release notes, a lot of work has been done on that.  But in the meantime I did want to do a release with a few other things in it.

HolySmokesDeepFog

Volumetric Lighting

First up, we’re now using the brand-spanking-new Hx Volumetric Lighting component from Hitbox Team, the folks behind Dustforce and the upcoming Spire.  I figure I owe them some shout-outs there, because their work on the volumetric lighting is so freaking fantastic.

It has a moderate impact on framerate, depending on your graphics card.  For a lot of lower-end cards you’ll need to turn it off.  But for folks running on middle-high or high-end rigs, this is something that really takes the game to the next level visually.

This is something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time, to give more of a sense of atmosphere to the game.  However, short of particle effects that can look iffy, and a few light-specific options that usually have iffy performance, there’s been no good way to do that until now.

IndustrialDemo

Anyway, so, that’s neat.  That will make for some nice differences in the next round of videos, so I’m pleased to get that in now.

Obviously this is an effect that is not to be used on every last freaking light in the game — sometimes it’s really nice to have crystal clear areas that just pop with sharpness.  Other times you want a slight bit of softness, and other times you want something that’s super foggy.  The point isn’t that we’re switching over to deep fog all over the place, but that we now have a greater depth of mood effects we can go for.

The screenshots in this post are really leaning on higher-volumetric views, though, since that’s what is new; the non-volumetric views don’t look any different.  Oh!  And if you hate it, you can always turn it completely off.  So, as with all things, tune to taste.

VerySlightVolumetricApartment

Custom Frustrum Culling

Occlusion culling is a complicated subject, particularly in games that are partly or completely procedurally-generated.  What it means is not rendering things that the camera can’t see.  The biggest problem is knowing what is behind other opaque stuff and thus invisible.

Unity has some built-in support, but only for static levels, not procedurally-generated ones.  I created my own occlusion culling system that works on procedurally-generated levels, but the levels have to be designed with the occlusion system in mind or else it doesn’t work to full effect.

However, there’s also a middle-tier of object culling that is based around the “view frustrum.”  Aka, the view out of your camera based on where it is pointed right now and what your FOV is, etc.  Put another way, it’s to avoid drawing things that are either offscreen to your side or behind you.

ThatHallAgain

Unity has a built-in way of handling this, too, and I had — until now — not bothered to create my own.  I’m not in the habit of trying to reinvent the wheel for no reason.  However, I found that unity’s solution has some really strange issues with false-negatives when the camera gets close to a wall.  Basically it would stop drawing certain objects that were straight in front of me once my camera got a bit close to the wall behind it.

Imagine having your head leaning back against a wall, and the wall on the other side of the room in front of you mysteriously disappears.  Um… no thanks on that.

Apparently with any of Unity’s occlusion culling on at all, it was trying to do a mixture of occlusion culling (what is behind something else should not draw) and frustrum culling (what is out of my view should not draw).  And when I got really close to a wall with the camera, it decided “oh hey, you must be on the other side of that wall.”

HolySmokesDeepFog2

I’ve known about this for well over a month, and I figured that the solution was to get the camera to stay a bit further from the walls.  Turns out… nope!  That doesn’t work in any way that I can figure out.  I thought that it perhaps was related to concave mesh colliders, but nope there too!  I was really surprised, because I thought for sure that was the one.

I had turned off unity’s occlusion culling a few weeks ago because of the graphical errors it was introducing, but then performance took a big hit and so I turned it back on.  Now the graphical errors were getting on my nerves increasingly, so I decided to once again disable their system, and this time come up with my own frustrum culling system.

So I did.  It works!  No false negatives.  It seems to have a very similar performance profile to what unity’s system did, but minus the errors.  Knock on wood that’s what others also experience with it!

Cheers!
Chris

Click here for the official forum thread on this post.

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Raptor Dev Diary #3: More Audio And Video

Oi, Raptor!  Been four business days since we saw you — what’s new?

The short list of new stuff shown in this video:

  1. Improved post-processing visual effects.
  2. Improved raptor skin.
  3. Completely re-rigged and freshly animated raptor.
    1. A couple of glitches there, though, most notably in the walk animation.
  4. Completely new sound system based on SECTR Audio and a bunch of custom stuff.  HDR audio!
  5. Revised sound effects for many things, new sound effects for many things including the raptor, and things like reverb zones.
  6. More stuff is destructible now, and you can see how that actually affects level traversal in some places (much nicer than getting stuck on geometry).

What’s next?

  1. More splitting-out of the various assets and prepping them for procedural generation systems.
  2. The first foray into procedural levels with real content.
  3. Custom audio occlusion based on my occlusion culling system.
  4. Custom ambient sounds attached to objects (hissing pipes, etc) based on the SECTR Audio stuff, but distinct from it.
  5. Particle effects!
  6. Better vocalization sounds for the raptor, probably.
  7. Putting all these new things together in the form of actual enemies to fight that use all of these subsystems together.

Other important news?

  • Linux support is a definite thing now!
    • Previously we were considering using dearVR, which includes some compiled platform-specific code that does not run on linux yet.
    • Instead we’ve opted not to get that product, and are instead achieving the same thing using a mixture of SECTR Audio, our own custom code, and good use of Unity’s own built-in reverb zone capabilities.  No platform-specific compiled code makes me a happy fella.

New Screenshots (click for really detailed versions!):

1. Running With Claws Out

1_RunningClaws

2. Jumping Threateningly2_JumpingThreateningly

3. Smash – And Cool Glass Shader3_SmashAndCoolShaders

4. Dramatic Pose And Detail4_DramaticPoseAndDetail

5. Raptor’s Body Detail5_RaptorBodyDetail

6. Depth Of Field And Detail On Closeup Box6_DepthOfFieldAndDetail

Enjoy!

 

Click here for raptor dev diary #2.

Click here for raptor dev diary #1.

Click here for the official forum thread on this post.

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Stars Beyond Reach: What we’re working on, plus spotlight on the Zenith aliens.

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Apologies again for my slowness regarding Stars Beyond Reach updates at the moment.  I’ve been active in the forums since this project answering questions here and there if you haven’t been there.  But carving out the time for organized posts sometimes is a bit tricky.

The last week or so has seen Keith working like crazy on implementing the Market Items that you can create in the game, as well as the resource-usage buildings that provide buffs to adjacent buildings.  He’s now working on actually implementing the first pass of the diplomacy screen that I showed a mockup of last time.

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I’ve mostly been consumed by the actual diplomatic interactions between you and the other aliens, which involves a lot of writing as well as a lot of design.  As part of that, I’ve also finished the design for spies, diplomats, thieves, and intelligence reports in general.

One of the fun things with intelligence reports (and consequently spies and diplomats) is that the game is not giving you the all-encompassing sort of knowledge that you have in The Last Federation.  I have found it’s more fun to be a little blind, because then I don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis so much — I’m able to fully see my OWN empire, but as with a game of cards I have to infer what is going on in my opponents’ hands by their actions and mannerisms.  This is part of why the diplomatic screen lets you jot down notes to yourself.

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One thing that is fun is that since each race has 3 different possible racial leaders, that’s 42 leaders in all.  They all have their own goals and personalities and strengths and weaknesses even within their faction, and so the faction might act and perform very differently under leader A versus leader B.  Also, which factions get along well is determined heavily by the many (many, many) defined attributes of the leaders.  A lot of these personality-specific attributes specifically play into letting the AI leaders interact with one another (and react to you) based on procedural means rather than hard-coded rules.

Leaders_ScreenshotFromExcel

It’s pretty cool, because manipulating spreadsheets thus lets the behaviors of the AI really change quite a bit.  Anyway, but the core point here is that each leader makes the faction act pretty darn differently — and they may be bent on something nice as their goal, or something quite homicidal.  This is… useful to know, to put it mildly. ;)  But you don’t know!  These guys play it close to the chest.

Well, that’s where the spies come in.  You can infer some things based on talking to the AIs (if you can understand them) and seeing what they say back to you.  If you’re aggressive and they like it, that’s… maybe not a good sign (hi Burlusts).  Then again, maybe they were just intimidated (hi Peltians).  Part of the problem is that the identity of the leader is actually a secret at first, so even if you use a cheat sheet and look at the spreadsheet or a source online, you’re not going to just know immediately what is up.

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Time to send in the spies, if you care enough!  Of course, that does take some time and money, and when spies are caught that erodes trust somewhat between you and the race you’re spying on.  They won’t like you any less (or more), but they will trust you less.  Anyway, as your spies (and diplomats, to a lesser degree) gather data on both the leader’s attributes and the goings-on in the empire you’re looking at, eventually you get a full picture of who the leader is and what they want — and then their identity is revealed.

I think of this kind of like “informational fog of war.”  Exploring the map is one thing, but also getting to know your potential adversaries and allies is another.

Speaking of getting to know your neighbors, Cath and I were talking about the Zenith this morning.  The first buildings from their faction are only now being painted (were sculpted a while back), and so she’s trying to get a sense for their race and how to represent them.  We’ve had their terrain done for months, but the terrain is a different beast than the actual direct place where a race lives — related, but not the same.

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She was going through information about the Zenith on the forums and the wiki, but not finding out enough about them from the sources that were AI War focused.  AI War never really delved into their backstory as much.  At the time, I preferred to leave them as more mysterious.  And they were long-dead in that part of the galaxy, anyway.  The Zenith that you meet in Stars Beyond Reach are a different pocket of the race that are only cousins to the dead relics that you find in AI War.

As I’ve been designing their leaders and their race in general, a solid picture of them has been emerging, so it was a quick thing I wrote up to help provide some inspiration for the painting she was doing.  I figured I’d share that with you as well — why not have more info out there in public about them, after all. :)

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So here’s way more background on the Zenith than you probably ever wanted to know:

1. Each giant shell is a creature in and of itself, so each building is a living being.

2. The beings themselves are practically immortal, and are often billions of years old.

3. However, they are neither the Old Wise Man sort of trope, nor do they look down on other races. They’re just… at peace. They’re pretty calm and easygoing.

4. Their main quest is for knowledge, and they spend a lot of their time engaged in philosophy.

5. They do die, just not from natural causes. So that’s one of the things that they do contemplate, because it’s not an inevitability for them.

6. All the shells and so forth littered around their landscape are kind of sheddings from their body, OR from the lower life forms that serve them.

7. The Zenith themselves have some smaller animals that resemble them in many ways, but which have a shorter lifespan. But it’s not a master-slave relationship, or even a servant-master relationship. Think of your relationship to the bacteria in your gut, or the microbes on your skin. You’re not on similar mental planes at all, and you don’t really think about them, even though they are vital to your survival. You are also vital to theirs, though they don’t have any concept of “thinking” about you that we would consider meaningful. Still, you are literally the world to them, as they exist on you as we do on the earth.

8. The Zenith are very powerful thanks to simply having been around a long time. However, they don’t actively cultivate the art of war (unlike, say, the Spire or the Thoraxians or similar), so they aren’t as powerful as they could have been. The Spire a much more Type A personality that is very engaged and active, whereas the Zenith are more laid-back. They aren’t sloth-like or idle, they just take time to smell the roses — partly because time doesn’t really have the same meaning to them as it does to you or I. After all, death is not an inevitability for them.

9. Their technology is all 100% organic. Even the things that are iron plating or whatnot have been manufactured by their own bodies. They don’t use machines as we think of them. However, they have been able to use organic means to augment their bodies. It’s theoretically possible to create computers out of organic matter, and in fact they have done so. Similarly, it’s possible (and seen in nature) to do things like make welds or generate extreme heat or whatnot using just organic means. Even generate electricity (heck, WE do that bit). The Zenith have basically mastered all of these biological processes, and they exist as a form of “high technology” society that doesn’t actually have anything that we would consider technology normally.

10. When it comes to their environment, for the most part the terrain around them is just the organic byproducts of their existence. That said, in their direct vicinity things would be kept a bit more neat and orderly by the simple fact of the smaller organisms that live on and around them, helping them exist. I imagine that these smaller organisms would leave a variety of trails like deer paths in the woods, but those are paths made by repetition, not design. Deer aren’t out in the woods laying down roads, and we don’t spend time making roads for deer, either. Whatever paths they have are simply made by repeated passage of deer. Same with these smaller organisms.

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That’s it for now!  I hope you’ve enjoyed the test screenshots here as well.  Sorry that some of them were just cruddy screengrabs from explorer or excel.

 

Click here to view the official forum thread on this post.

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Sneak Peek At 5 Leaders In Stars Beyond Reach (Plus A Couple Of Screenshots)

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New details for you, and some new art!

A bit more than a week ago, I announced Stars Beyond Reach, which you can read a lot more about at that link.  The very-short explanation is that this is Arcen’s first true 4X title: think Civilization meets SimCity meets AI War meets New Stuff.

A much longer while back, I did a preview of the races that are going to be in the game.  There are 14 races overall, 8 of which are playable by you, and 6 of which are always AI-only.  The AI-only ones work completely differently from all other races, using their own unique set of buildings and their own rules for how they grow and expand and so on.  Adds quite a bit of variety.

One of the things that adds even more personality and variety to each game is that there are 3 potential leaders for each race.  Each leader has different bonuses (like leaders and civilizations do in Civilization or most RTS games), and different dispositions (that are still fitting into the larger general framework of their race as a whole).  Each one of those leaders gets their own portrait, so that you can tell them apart well.  Here are previews of a few of them:

preview_Andor1Boarine1One Andor leader and one Boarine leader.

preview_acutian1burlusts1and2One Acutian leader and partial views of two Burlust leaders.

I’m really happy about how those are progressing — it’s so much more fun and unique than just doing lots of human leaders, because with alien races like this, the races themselves start out with such distinct visual personalities.

With the Burlusts, you can see that the top guy is more of the scheming sort, and he has a slighter and more youthful build.  I actually scaled the bottom guy down a bit too much, but he’s excessively burly and more your “traditional” Burlust warlord who rules by strength.  Suddenly I’m wishing I hadn’t cut off his biceps so much in the preview picture, but oh well.

Distinct personalities to the races and the leaders are a big thing to me, and something that I know was a big complaint for a lot of people with Civilization: Beyond Earth.  I think we’re definitely on track in the visual portion of what we’re doing here, at least.

Hey, while I’m sharing art, here are a few partial screenshots of other things we’ve been up to:

partialscreenshotSBRThis Boarine city is just a test one, so it’s not really organized in any sensible way.  But you can see some new buildings in it!

Each of the races also has multiple unique types of terrain that are specific to them.  In the past I’ve shown screenshots of kind of the “vanilla” world terrains that are native to the planet itself.  However, the competing races are terraforming as they go.  As you approach their cities, you first start seeing their very distinctive terrains.  We still have a lot of artwork left to complete in that department, but it’s coming along really well, I think, and is another thing that really helps to bring out the personality of each race just when you’re looking at the area of their city alone.

thoraxianravinsSBRAbove is the Thoraxian “ravines” terrain type.  Very evil and green-glowing.  Just getting near the Thoraxians is kind of a Mordor sort of feeling for me.

burlusttentaclefieldsSBRThe Burlusts, on the other hand, have a very blood-red sort of terrain that reminds me a bit of War of the Worlds.  This is the “tentacle fields” terrain type that they have.

That’s all for now!  Although I imagine that some more questions may pop up in the official forum thread, as usual, heh.  There has actually recently been a really good thread called eXplore, the first of the X’s, where a lot of questions have been answered.

UPDATE: I had been having various troubles with the z-buffer and alpha transparency, which is a very common problem in game development.  Previously my solution left a lot of ugly aliasing around the edges of buildings and some terrain.  That is now fixed as of this morning, so here are some new screenshots showing buildings without the aliasing!

city1Click the above for a full-resolution view, or check out the two below halves of it which are embedded at full resolution.

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Announcing “Stars Beyond Reach,” a new 4x coming in April/May 2015.

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It is with great pleasure that I formally announce this next game.  Finally, Arcen is doing a true 4x!  People have been suggesting that we do this for years, and I’ve wanted to, but I wasn’t really ready yet.  Even so, bits and pieces of 4x infuse a lot of our games, particularly AI War and The Last Federation.

What Is This Game?

The short: 4x, hexes, hex-shaped map, 14 races planned (8 playable), 3 leader options per race, no units (think SimCity), sci-fi but planet based, and (probably) with co-op multiplayer.

The even-shorter: Think Civilization meets SimCity meets AI War meets New Stuff.


The above isn’t a full-scale screenshot (it’s 75% scale), and it’s just a tiny snippet of the screen.  But it does give you some idea of what we’re up to.

Recent Name Change

Until recently, this game was known as Spectral Empire, which was a name that I really came to dislike.  It wouldn’t have served the game well.  A huge thanks to Draco18s for suggesting The Stars Are Beyond Reach a month ago.  We shortened that a bit, and we’ve added the tagline “This World Is Mine” (that’s a tagline, not a subtitle).  But the core title is just awesome and really does the theme of the game proud.


The above is a thumbnail of it zoomed very far out to show a large part of a midsize world with a normal map style (continents and islands and poles and whatnot, and all the season zones).  The pale green buildings are ones that have been modeled but not yet painted.  Note that also the per-race alien flora isn’t yet spreading here, either.

More Details!

Back when this was still called Spectral Empire, I did a preview of the alien races that will be in the game, and all of that is still pretty well accurate.

Also a bit back, I did a brief tease of the Planet Voice as a video.  The second video has a better version of the voice.

More recently, people have been quizzing me on various aspects of the game, and naturally I can’t resist answering (cautiously at times, since a lot of things are still subject to change, but still).


Above is a view of where the north polar zone is butting up against the northern temperate.

Snippets From The Above-Linked Q&A (Dear Lord It’s A Lot, I Know)

A comment from myself: Hexes are by nature abstract.  I feel like the more people try to hide that abstractness, the less the hexes have a point in general.  My direction to the artists for our own upcoming hex game was “let’s not hide the hexes, let’s flaunt them.”  I feel like having tiles that are merging things like coastline plus ocean are inherently messy and confusing both visually and conceptually (as a player), and so I prefer to have something that is inherently a little more abstract, but proud of it.  Hexes can be done in a really gorgeous way, and personally I get excited just seeing them…

Q from relmz32: Regarding how the planet is mapped in SE, how do you guys handle wrapping? The reason why I ask is that cylendrical wrapping, while popular and pretty easy to implement, doesn’t actaully do a good job of representing an actual spherical planet.

Answer: Basically, we originally had both x and y wrapping, and it was something that worked well, except it was pretty confusing.  If you went north, you’d pass a pole, then temperate, then tropical, then temperate, then another pole, then temperate, then tropical… wait, was that the north pole or south pole?  Etc.

Plus you’d get kind of odd things where you were looking at the “top of the globe” so to speak, but it felt like an island of ice rather than the actual polar ice cap because it’s all being projected onto a flat plane.

Those things were… annoying, but realistically the player would not spend that much time zoomed out and panning like crazy to where that would be a frequent issue of confusion.  And adding the minimap would solve the issue of “where am I.”

Well… we added the minimap, and that just compounded the problems.  Being able to zoom out crazy far was limited heavily by the need to not have the same tiles repeating on both sides of the screen, and the inherent difficulties of doing that in an orthographic projection rather than a literal top-down view.  I’m not aware of any other hex games that are in an iso view, but as Keith will attest it complicates things enormously from a basic viewport math point of view.

Anyway, so the zoom was a problem, but the minimap was absolutely the end of things.  Because of the nature of how the hexes fit together, we couldn’t make a square or a rectangle out of the minimap without repeating tiles.  We’d always have a gap at the top and/or bottom because of the way the things project.  So… yeah, that was a problem.

Adding up all of the problems, the wrapping simply wasn’t a good mechanic.  It caused confusion and troubles at every level, so late last week we decided it had to go.  Instead we are now using a hex-shaped world, where the internal angles are 120 degrees (as opposed to the sharper 90 degree corners of a rectangular map), and it lets us handle things far more gracefully.  It’s an unusual shape to have the world be, for sure, but it works out surprisingly well.  And the game immediately felt way more intuitive and so forth.

My big concern, and why I’d wanted wrapping, was to avoid the ability to “hide in corners” or “be stuck in a corner.”  But having 120 degree internal angles instead of 90 degree ones really does solve that pretty neatly.  The corners really aren’t too much of a corner.  And with the way the game has evolved, trying to turtle isn’t really a relevant thing, anyway.

AND, incidentally, not having wrapping lets us have greater distances between points on the far ends of the map than wrapping would.  With wrapping, half a world away is as far as anything is.  Without wrapping, it can be a full world away.  So you get a greater feeling of space without the wrapping, which was a complete surprise to me.

We’re going to be doing a variety of map types, not all of which depict all the zones in the first place.  Some just tropical or just polar or whatever other slices we want.  So what you’re normally seeing is a slice of the vertical axis of the planet, theoretically.


Above is a view of where the northern temperate is hitting the tropics slightly, as well as showing some resource-rich rocky crystal ground native to the planet.

Q from DrFranknfurter: 1 building per hex is hinted by the first screenshot?

Answer: It’s not always one building per hex.  Or rather, one hex per building.  Each hex has at most one building on it, let’s put it that way.  But sometimes buildings have footprints that are 2 or more typically 3, and one has a footprint of 7.  Most buildings are 1 hex, though, to keep things manageable.

Q from DrFranknfurter: What sort of resources will there be to gather/find/fight over?

Answer: As with Civilization, there are kind of two levels of resources.  One is the more direct stuff that you manage at a high level.  Those are things like money, energy, morale, and so forth.  But then there are resources like oil and minerals.

Unlike Civilization, those oil/mineral type resources are not hard gates to things (you can’t have chariots if you don’t have horses), but rather are pathways to greater efficiency.  This is one of the key tenets of the design of this game for me: make it so that players have a limited number of steps to do something in kind of the basic way, but so that the optimal way is a matter of debate as well as being more involved.  Keeping the civ example, you would not be blocked in building chariots without a source of horses, but when you got horses that would be a “large supply of horses” not “any horses at all,” and having those horses would either make the chariots stronger, or produced faster, or some other effect.

There are also some other “resources” of a sort, mainly involving making the atmosphere more to your liking, or spreading the sort of terrain of your home world.  The terrain that you see here is all the “vanilla” terrain that is native to the planet itself.  Each race will have 3 different kinds of terrain unique to themselves, though, and there are various benefits to them to surrounding themselves with their kind of terrain.  The early game will look very different than the late game, terrain-wise.

Although, I take that back: the Neinzul and the Spire are both flying races, and so they don’t have terrain.  Their “buildings” are actually floating living beings.

Q from DrFranknfurter: 14 races is a lot… considering that how are you planning them to look different?
will they share building artwork (sane) or do they get there own (Good but expensive, 14x the work is a painfully large multiplier) Or will the buildings be coloured with your race colour (cheap but effective) or something else to differentiate them? (Like red spiky crystals/forests surrounding cities of different races)

Answer: Some of each thing.

There are 6 races that are not-ever-human-playable out of those 14.  Those are the Acutians, the Andors, the Thoraxians, the Spire, the Neinzul, and the Yali.  All of these races work entirely differently from all the human-playable races.  Each of these races has something like 5-6 unique buildings for themselves, and they use their entirely own economic mechanics, AI, and everything.  They aren’t playing the same game as you at all.

The other 8 races are all human playable, and they share possibly all of their buildings, maybe with one or two unique per race.  Not sure on that yet.  There are some buildings that will be AI-only though (aka only used by AI players for these races), and some that are player-only.  Remember that the story is that the players are new to the planet, while everyone else is established.  So there are some differences there, and yet more asymmetry.

All of the races that are not flying have their three unique terrain types, which will tend to spread out from their cities.  So that kind of informs you that you’re coming in to Burlust territory, when you start seeing their red angry sort of plants and lava pools, etc.  You’ll see all those sorts of terrains clumped up around the race, so you don’t have to remember the terrains individually.  But in terms of those terrain types, with things like the Andors it’s not even living terrain.  Instead it’s these kind of golden robotic forests and fields that are much more mechanical.  For the Burlusts, it’s very lava-like, etc.  And so on.  Each set of 3 terrains has a very distinct feel to it, very different from any other race.

Each race also has a specific two-tone border color associated with them, too.  You can see the one surrounding the territory of the buildings in that first screenshot up there.  We’ll see if more than that is needed, but at the moment I don’t feel like it will be in terms of identifying which race a city belongs to.

Speaking of races, there are a variety of languages spoken by them, and you have to learn them before you can speak with races that speak that language.  Overall there are 8 languages, and which race you start as determines which language you know from the start, versus which ones you have to learn.  Starting as one of the races from TLF gives you a bit of an advantage because they all speak Solar Common.  Except for the Thoraxians, which are an older group that never visited the solar system in TLF.  These Thoraxians still speak Proto-Thoraxian.  The other languages are Zenian, Spirian, Neinric, Yalven, Fain, and Kronish.

And again speaking of factions, there are three possible leaders for each faction.  Each of these leaders has different bonuses, but also a different personality.  Taking the Civ analogy, basically Gandhi would not always be the leader of India.  Sometimes he would, and he’d act like the nuke-happy guy that people are used to.  Other times you’d encounter India under other rulers.  Overall that gives you 42 different leaders in the game, 24 of which you can directly play as.  This helps us to have differentiated sub-factions, only one of which is present in any given game.  So the Burlusts act one way in Game A because they are under Leader 1, and a different way in game B because they are under Leader 3.  Etc.

Q from DrFranknfurter: Will you be trading things with the AI? (assuming you know their language). I can imagine not knowing the other players languages could slow down diplomacy (5 turns to unlock breathing, 5 more to unlock grunting, 5 more to unlock talking) and push you towards ignoring it entirely in favour of conquest. Especially if the other players are actively damaging your terrain through hostile terraforming. That said, it would be interesting to have the diplomacy text be more and more detailed/unambiguous as you understand their language better, much like the spire conversations do in AI War. But perhaps having a little bit of diplomacy available at all times would be enough to prevent that worry from becoming an issue. (firing a warning shot is a solid form of non-verbal communication, giving a gift shouldn’t require anything more than dumping valuable gems near their border etc.)

Answer: Conquest in a direct fashion is something that is abnormally difficult here, or that’s the plan.  There are some other mechanics that I haven’t really mentioned, such as Planet Mood, which gets to the freaky guy you heard in that teaser video.  The languages are literally transcoded text, so as you use linguists to unravel the languages you don’t know (if you care to), then you can better piece together what is being said.  At the moment my intent is to make it so that you can take a guess at diplomatic discussions by kind of mashing buttons in languages you can half read.  ;) And then see the results if you want to take that sort of gamble.  That may not work out in practice, but I have some interesting ideas there that I want to play with, anyway.

Regarding diplomacy, that’s something I’d rather not talk about just yet.  That sort of thing is always one of the most unsatisfying parts of most 4x games, and attempting a traditional route is likely to lead to the same sorts of bad feelings for me at least.  Keith has had some excellent ideas about “implicit diplomacy” where your interests align with other races based on circumstances, and it’s really compelling stuff that I feel certain will make it in.

But then there’s also another layer that I want to have in order to give a sense of life and personality to the races and their leaders.  It’s a risky sort of potential time-sink, and so I’m trying to figure out a way to handle that gracefully.  If you want to talk about multiplicative math, THERE’s the real challenge in terms of coding and particularly writing.  But in particular after reading the Civ:BE reviews, the need for really strong personalities makes itself abundantly clear to me.  And honestly, thinking back to my time with Civ V, even there the less recognizable leaders were a problem in terms of me not feeling any connection to them.  So I have my work cut out for me in that area.  It’s not directly on my plate yet, though, as a lot of that boils down to vertical content rather than horizontal mechanics.

Q from DrFranknfurter: I’m a little sad that the player doesn’t get his hands on giant spire floating cities… But as both the Spire and Neinzul weren’t the main races in AI War either (by dint of their awesome power) I’m not completely surprised.

Answer: The main reason for certain specific races being AI-only is the way that they work so differently.  As much as I’d like for the player to be able to play a completely different game from the base one in terms of having floating cities of unique buildings, that’s just incredibly beyond scope, heh.  But having AI factions do that is really fun.  And being able to ally with them and get them to help you is something I plan (the opposite too, of course — naturally).

In terms of expansions… who knows!  I haven’t remotely gotten my head to that sort of space yet, but there’s plenty of room for more beyond the base game.  In the sense that the world is a wide one, and the mechanics are broad — not in the sense that there’s something planned to be missing!

Q from DrFranknfurter: Will there be any orbital stuff? I’m assuming there’s a reason they’re all stuck on the planet together… perhaps a reason that interferes with satellites/spaceflight.

Answer: There is not likely to be any orbital stuff, but I’m not sure if I’m really ready to say why just yet.  I’m not sure yet at what point in the story that reason is going to be revealed.  Possibly right upfront, or possibly as a reveal further into the game, not sure.  One of the victory conditions will be escaping into space, at any rate.

Q from DrFranknfurter: Are the flying spire and neinzul the orbital equivalent – how high do they float? I’m assuming it’s just an artistic representation of their buildings… is there any mechanical differences from them floating? (can they move, build over oceans, float over your cities?)

Answer: These are basically antigrav “buildings” that are still in the atmosphere, but high.  They can’t be positioned over the territory of other races, or above mountains, but they can go over water.  The Yali are actually completely water-based, incidentally.  And the Thoraxians dig tunnels all over the place, under water and land.  Aside from looking for resources with sonar, you also have to watch out for tendrils of Thoraxian tunnels.

As to whether or not the Neinzul and Spire “floating buildings” can move or not, I’m not yet sure.  I’ve considered it, but I’m not yet fully convinced either way.  There are pros and cons, given the other game mechanics.  At any rate, there are lots of flying craft that can go over mountains and whatever else, including the floating buildings.

Q from DrFranknfurter: What is planet mood? Will the planet get annoyed with your growth/wars/terraforming? Interactions with the planet was a core feature of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (SMAC, the beloved 4x of yesteryear) In it certain buildings and policies harmed the planet – which could then attack you with mindworms- and certain victory conditions involved communicating with the planet. Will the player be dealing with the planet in a similar way? How much of a similarity is there?

Answer: I’m honestly not prepared to fully comment on this one yet, as my designs on this have yet to be integrated into the prototype and thus I don’t have a good sense of what might have to change.  I don’t want to say something on this that might turn out to be woefully incorrect, particularly given the high standard that SMAC sets.  All that said… yes, you will be interacting with the planet in several ways, and the planet responds back in kind.

The broad concept right now, without getting too specific: To some extent, it is like SMAC.  In other ways, this is actually like AI Progress from AI War — even reverse AI Progress, depending on how you play.  The mood can be a force that is helpful or harmful for you and other races as well, and unlike AI Progress isn’t something that just works against you.

Take the above with a big grain of salt, because things like interface clarity, fun and understandability, etc, may cause revisions.  I’m familiar with how SMAC did it, and I think that was great, but I’m interested in a more robust system.  The trick there is making it more robust without making it complicated for the sake of complexity, if that makes sense.  That’s why I’m reluctant to talk too much about specifics prior to actually having a prototype I’m happy with on that part.

Q from ElOhTeeBee: (Relating to Terraforming) YES.  About how much of this post do you at least want to try to make work?

Answer: No satellites, but there are some ground-based buildings you can use to adjust the temperature on the planet, as well as the atmospheric mix.

Temperature fluctuations cause deserts to expand and contract, same with ice/snow, and for sea levels to rise and fall.  You can flood out coastal buildings with rising seas if you drive up the temperature enough.

You can’t raise mountains, and there’s no concept of height in the game (unlike SMAC, and like Civ:BE).  I know that bothers some people, but representing that in a way that was attractive and clear was something we tried and failed to do.  And in the end, we’re able to get at the same sort of resultant gameplay without that.

You can clear forests and certain other kinds of terrain, but you can’t raise back up natural forests.  However, depending on your race you have one of three kinds of terrain that is unique to your race that you can seed.  So you can draw all the phallic obscenities you want. ;)

I’ve thought about having land expansion onto water, but I’m not sure yet.  I have a couple of models in which it could work, but I worry that it would trivialize certain aspects of the game.  At any rate, if you find yourself stuck on an island, you can expand your empire via docks, airstrips, and helipads with ease.

In terms of making yourself resistant to atmospheric poisons, that’s an interesting concept, and not one I’ve thought about.  Although, I guess I kind of implicitly have.  The atmosphere is by nature going to be hostile to at least some of the races, because the races have a mixture of partially-compatible or completely-incompatible requirements.  Those that are ill suited to the atmosphere don’t just die, but it will slow them down a lot because of their need for rebreathers and other things.  So you can push the atmosphere in ways that will help you (and implicitly some other races that have some similar needs), while pushing out other races.  I suppose that part of that would be to potentially have some expensive tech to increase your tolerance of specific atmospheric elements, although I don’t want that to get in the way of the primary push and pull too much.

Bear in mind that I haven’t had time to actually prototype any of the environmental stuff yet, except for the temperature changes and how that affects coasts/deserts/snow/ice.  And basic clearing of land, of course.  But the more sophisticated atmospheric manipulation, and the planting of your own native flora/terrain isn’t something I’ve gotten to yet.  I have plans, many of them quite detailed, but it’s a matter of making sure that they actually survive the prototype intact based on them turning out to, in fact, actually be fun.  SOME form of those things will survive, I’m certain, because that’s really a cornerstone of how you can compete with the races non-militarily in this game.

Having other ways to interact with the races other than just military blows and cheap diplomacy is something I’m definitely driving towards.  So many strategy games focus on the military above all else, and kind of let the other elements wither.  Heck, with AI War I made the conscious choice to do almost nothing BUT military — there’s nothing wrong with that approach.  Here I wanted to make the military no more attractive of an option than any of the other playstyles, but at the same time not making it so that the factions are isolated — they should be in constant competition even when not militarily engaged.  Even if you never actually fight anyone in an entire game, it should be a bitter “battle” the whole time on at least a couple of fronts.


Above is a bit of desert and desert mountains bordering one side of it.

Further Discussion

Here’s a link to the discussion on the official forums for this post.

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Introducing The Races (And Logo) For Stars Beyond Reach

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UPDATE 10/31/2014: Since the name of the game has changed to Stars Beyond Reach, and the logo has changed, I’ve come back and updated this post to reflect that.  Everything else was already accurate, so there was no point having any confusion.  The old name was Spectral Empire.

Stars Beyond Reach is our upcoming 4X title, which is slated for release in April 2015.  This is something that we’re working on in tandem with the current expansions for AI War and The Last Federation, as well as the general ongoing work on those two games, and the linux ports of all our other titles.  Whew, busy times!

Anyway, there are a few things that I wanted to share today about it, just as an early teaser.

The Last Federation And AI War Are In The Same Universe

This hasn’t really been stated outright before, but I view these two games as being in two different galaxies in the same universe.  The Last Federation takes place in just a single solar system somewhere out in the cosmos, while AI War: Fleet Command takes place in a portion of our own galaxy, connected by wormhole networks.  Nowhere in either game is the other referenced, and that makes perfect sense because they are nowhere near one another.

But what a lot of people — even sci-fi enthusiasts — really don’t think about very hard is just how HUGE the universe is.  You could claim that every sci-fi work ever written by anyone was all in the same universe, and it would still be a pretty empty universe if that was all that was going on.  (Lots of parallel Earths in that case, too).

Anyway, the relative timelines of AI War and TLF are not made clear, and I don’t intend to clarify that here.  However, suffice it to say that Stars Beyond Reach takes place far into the future from the timelines of both games… and it brings them together, at least a little.

The Planet Of Ivoria

Ivoria is a large planet somewhere far away from both the normal stomping grounds of AI War and TLF, and as noted the events of this game take place also far into the future from either of those other games.  However… mysteriously there is a rather unlikely gathering of races on this planet.  Races from both games, plus all new races, all make an appearance on this one large planet.  What exactly is the story behind that?  Well, that’s something you’ll be able to piece together from the story as you play, and I’m not about to spoil that here.

Unraveling The Story

Before you ask, the game is not going to have a traditional scripted campaign like Age of Empires or similar does — that’s not where the story is.  The way that a game plays out in SBR will be the same as in AI War or TLF, where it’s all procedurally generated.  You won’t always get all the bits of the story in a given playthrough, but you will pick up clues as to what is going on depending on how you play.  I really don’t want to say more about it than that at this time, for fear of spoilers, but suffice it to say that one thing that encourages multiple playstyles is how the game reacts to you and what you learn about the world when you do.

The Included Races From The Last Federation

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For anyone who has played TLF, the above races are familiar, and you can skip ahead to the next section.  You already know these guys, and they work as they do in TLF.  You will notice that the Hydrals and the Obscura are not included in Stars Beyond Reach, and there are a couple of reasons for that.

With the Hydrals, TLF is really all about them, and I felt it was appropriate to keep them to that story.  For another, based on story events in TLF, it doesn’t really make sense that they would be plentiful in the far future, if you catch my drift.

With the Obscura, those are a really cool race and one that I just feel like makes the most sense as kind of a Borg-like presence in TLF’s upcoming expansion, and that gets undermined if they are just a basic race in Stars Beyond Reach as well.

Another thing that you’ll notice is that with the groupings and labels that I have above, I have massively oversimplified what the races are actually like.  But the very quick rundown:

Andors are robotic goody-two-shoes.  They aren’t above a fight, but they aren’t belligerent at all, and they tend to build utopias for themselves and then want to help everyone else.  They are the solar system’s “busybodies,” as well.”  In TLF, these are often grouped with the Peltians and Skylaxians as the “good guy” races.

Acutians are robotic capitalists, and are known for being cold and calculating as well as huge polluters.  They aren’t evil, per se, they are just completely amoral.  In TLF, these are often grouped with the Burlusts and the Thoraxians as the “bad guy” races.

Burlusts are kind of like Klingons on crack.  With chicken legs, lots of warlords, and National Murder Day is definitely a favorite holiday.

Thoraxians are a hivemind insectoid race, with lots of workers that are part of the networked consciousness of their queen.  The queens are a bit worse than amoral, really; they don’t really value life at all, and they are both moody and selfish.  Their race is the absolute terror in terms of ground combat.  They are kind of a cross between the Buggers in Ender’s Game and the aliens in Alien.

Peltians are communist barn owl farmers.  They are pathetic in a fight, not technologically astute, but really easygoing.  So at least they have that going for them, I guess.  They are kind of the Ewoks of the solar system.  Although, I will say, in space ships they are just as deadly as anyone else.  And since they are so pathetic in ground combat, they instead take to suicide bombing with their (for some reason manned) personnel pods, and they delight in bombing the heck out of planets from orbit.  Not that they’ll be able to do any of that in Stars Beyond Reach, since SBR takes place entirely on the surface of Ivoria.

Skylaxians are extremely honorable, and also by far the most technologically advanced of the TLF races.  They aren’t above warfare, but they do have a keen sense of the value of life.

Boarines are kind of a cross between werewolves and the snow beast from The Empire Strikes Back.  They live in very cold climates, get into big fights with one another if they live in too close of proximity to one another, and in general are isolationist.  It will be interesting to see how they have adapted to more cramped life on Ivoria, yes?  These and the Evucks are basically the kind of “neutral” races in TLF, really.

Evucks are technologically advanced, and in some ways they are wise, but they are also incredibly paranoid.  They also have an “if we’re going down, we’re taking everyone else with us” attitude.  Not great friends.

The Included Races From AI War: Fleet Command

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The first thing that AI War players will notice is that neither the humans nor the AI are included here.  Why is that?  Well, those two factions are just so central to AI War, and so heavily explored there, that they don’t make sense to bring to SBR.  Plus, humans as a race are just so… vanilla to me, when it comes to sci-fi.  I wanted to stick to the more interesting races.

The first three expansions for AI War each explored one of the races above (The Zenith Remnant, Children of Neinzul, and Light of the Spire).  Even so, despite the bits of backstory you get from those, and the sense of them you get from their technology, the races themselves are never really someone you get to know on a more personal level.  That changes in SBR.

Zenith are an ancient dead race in AI War, and thus only one that you ever find the remnants of their derelict technology.  But what technology you do find in AI War is extremely powerful, and can be repaired by either the humans or the AI into terrifying war machines.  Of course, just because the Zenith are completely absent in our galaxy doesn’t mean that the entire race is dead, which is just the assumption that the humans made.  Turns out there was at least one contingent that survived…

Neinzul are extremely short-lived (like fruit fly lifespans — an earth day or so per individual), and very swarm-like.  They aren’t a hivemind or anything like that, but they do share collective knowledge telepathically with one another.  It’s the only way that a race that short-lived could ever actually accomplish anything as a society, right?  This is basically all you learn about these guys in AI War, but there is more to find out in SBR…

Spire are another very powerful race, but not extinct like the Zenith supposedly were.  The weaponry of the Spire varies from the small to the most-massive-ever, and everything they have is glowing white and very mysterious.  You never really meet them, per se — not in the flesh, anyway — in AI War.  Except… turns out that you were meeting them all along, and until now (right now) it was never known.  The “spacecraft” themselves are actually the Spire organisms, which are kind of cyborg-ish in nature.  How do these sort of beings adapt to living on a planet’s surface?  Well, in their distant past they once lived on planets, so it’s not new to them…

New Races Unique To Stars Beyond Reach

SERaces

You didn’t think that we would have a new game without any new races, did you?  As fun as it is to pull in the races from AI War and TLF, there also needs to be some new blood.  Granted, the majority of the races (11 out of 14) do indeed come from our older games, but a big reason for that was that we already had a deep roster of interesting races that our fans are familiar with.

Coming up with some new variant of race that is Burlust-like, rather than just using the Burlusts, both keeps the races shallower as well as more confusing when you are moving from game to game.  I felt that it was a lot more sensible to do a mixture of new and old, deepening the old stuff in cool ways as well as making it so that when you encounter the Burlusts for the first time in this game, you know what to expect immediately if you already played TLF.  It’s basically the reason that Star Wars and Star Trek keep using the same core races while slowly extending them, rather than having completely new mixes of races in every story.

Anyhow, the new folks:

Fenyn are nature-lovers that basically put the Peltians to shame on that score.  It’s true that the Peltians are agrarian and thus very sensitive to the environment, but they are cultivators whereas the Fenyn are more about preservation.  Not that they don’t build giant cities and technology like anyone else, but preserving vast tracts of wilderness is equally important to them.  Despite their “tree hugger” nature, and their waif-like appearance, they are both beautiful and extremely deadly.

Krolin are crustacean-like bipedal creatures with lobster-style claws and very intricate hard shell organic armor.  They are excellent fighters, and absolutely ruthless in a fight, but they are mostly dispassionate.  They are extremely fascist, however, so there is that.  Authority and order matters a lot to them, but the actual individuals in their society have varying degrees of opinion about all that, and there are outlaws among them.

Yali are very spiritual and meditative, and believe that they alone are “enlightened.”  They don’t bear any ill will toward anyone else, but they are quite intent on spreading enlightenment.  Via words if they can, but when words fail they are willing to sacrifice peace and lives in the sake of the protection of wisdom.  Wisdom, in their view, is similar to but separate from knowledge, and thus they are by no means a super-technologically-advanced race.  And yes, those are snakes on the ends of their six arms.  Along with the head of a snake, adorned with ram’s horns.

The Specter

There is one other presence on Ivoria, but I won’t say much about him/it at the moment.  It has a masculine voice, and all of the races are aware of it, and they each have their own name for it.  It is never seen, but makes its will known in a variety of ways.  It is not a faction like the others.  The nature of this presence is one of the core mysteries of the story of the game.  It’s also where the voice acting comes in for this one.

Thanks for reading!

Wallpaper for AI War: Destroyer of Worlds.

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We never really had proper large-scale concept art for AI War until the last month or so. This is definitely my favorite piece out of all the new stuff, and again this is by Cathrine Langwagen.