Ships and Bridges: the Fleets stand ready!
For this Kickstarter Update we will provide a production update as well as coverage of the adventure mode. However, first we would like to apologize for the delay in releasing this update as we know many of you have been looking forward to it. That being said we are pleased to present such a content rich update and hope you will enjoy reading it and watching the many included videos!
In the previous update we discussed how we were putting together the bridges. In all we are making six bridges, one for each class size of ship (from frigate to battleship).
Since we are taking a modular approach as well as using faction-specific textures each ship bridge should look suitably unique.
The bridges and faction-specific modular assets have been completed and in the video below you can see all size classes as well as faction specific variations for one of the bridges.
Armors & heads
For combat armors we have finished all armors minus the IFTL ones. Instead we are focusing on something that is more important: base heads that can be used to make procedurally generated heads. The generated heads will be used when you are interacting with other characters like starship captains, base commanders, planetary governors etc.
In all we expect to have at least eight base heads for each gender. We make these base heads from 3D scans of real people and while this process is tricky to get right, we found a workflow that is efficient and produces good results. These base heads can be used as input by our designers to configure a specific head for an important character. For less important or generated characters the game could also auto-generate NPC talking heads as needed.
The way we generate a new head is by blending multiple base heads together to create the new head. We can weigh the input base heads differently or switch out which base heads serve as inputs.
Below you can see a video which illustrates this input and blending process at run-time inside the game engine. In the video each connection point is a base head so whenever the cursor is inside one triangle, the final head is a blend from the three adjacent connection points (or heads). We will let Vegard -our technical art director- explain a bit more in the video below.
This technique is quite powerful and allows us to generate a lot of visual variety with relatively few base heads. In the video we blended between three heads above but we could also have used two or four heads. With this approach we also ensure that all generated heads have reasonable proportions and it is therefore unlikely to generate a head with unrealistic features.
The animation department is now focusing on social animations which will be utilized when depicting what your crew is up to either on the bridge or outside the bridge.
We will use social animations and postures for when you are hailing other ships, starbases and planets.
We already have a list of social animations that we want to include with the game to make the ships and crew come alive. Recently we gained access to motion capture equipment which allows us to record and clean up social animations more quickly.
When producing animations one generally has two options: key-frame or motion capture. Key-framing requires creating an animation from scratch and it can be tricky to get weight and movement to look realistic. Motion capture equipment is generally used in game productions with a big budget.
Traditionally it has required a separate studio with multiple expensive cameras but due to recent developments (thanks to crowdfunding), new and more affordable motion capture techniques have become available with comparable quality to the more expensive solutions.
On the topic of animations we recently completed the soldier animation sets. We have create a locomotion setup for these animations so they can play in game on our animation rig, and we have combined this with our armors to create the video below which also includes in game characters wearing armor and utilizing the soldier animations.
Finally, from a performance point of view we will keep the social animations and soldier animations on separate animation rigs. The soldier animations require less fine-detail movement than the social animations and conversely they require higher performance. This optimization allows us to have more soldiers on the screen with less detailed rigs giving us better performance, while keeping the detail higher when we're on the bridge or other social situations, giving us higher quality.
When it comes to space ships we are almost finished and only have a few left. As you may remember we produced the medium and small ships first and during the last months we have focused on the big ships, the battle cruisers and battleships. Below are a few screenshots of the Romanov battlecruiser in all its regal splendor with different bow, midship and aft configurations.
Since ship production is coming to a close this means our focus is shifting from production to the tweak & polish phase. Below is a video from one of our test playfields where we have deployed both Arkwright and Romanov ships for general inspection.
The test playfields makes it easy for us to review how the ships actually look inside the game engine. We can verify that there are no obvious visual bugs or problems with the model or textures.
Beyond that we can adjust the skybox and environment lighting to see how subtle changes affect the visuals of the ship. Based on the visual results we can then make changes to the texture setup of the ships to bring the visual quality in-line with art direction.
Meanwhile the designers and programmers have been busy working on the adventure mode which ties the Mandate game systems together and houses many of the major components. This development has paralleled work on key components and subsystems that we have shared with you in various forms and levels of completion, for example the bridge dialogue mode as well as the mission and event systems.
However, the adventure mode is on the critical path and the key milestone is still 4 weeks away. As such, we are very reticent to release video from our working build as integration of the above-mentioned components and subsystems is still ongoing. First integration does not always work as designed/intended, and can potentially expose unintended ‘game play’ situations, bugs or similar. Once the milestone is complete we will produce and release a video of the adventure mode in action.
The screenshots below are taken from a working build of the adventure mode. We have done a few visual tweaks on the screenshots to show the visual direction we are going in and how the adventure mode will look with proper colour harmony between user interface, gameplay and background elements.
We have experimented with different sizes of star systems and also the travel time for ships both intrasystem and inter-system. It is important to strike the right balance in ship density between having a realistic (but empty and devoid of life) or a chock full star systems as that impacts both the fun factor and performance.
One of our goals with the adventure mode is to make the world feel tactile. Consequently stellar object should have a physical presence. This means you can interact with them but your ship can also take damage if you are not careful and get too close to a sun or charge headlong into an asteroid field.
We also want the adventure mode to be something more than a travel map. You should make important gameplay decisions as well as plan your journey ahead. The game world will be dangerous and in many scenarios you may be outmatched and need to find alternative travel routes or use the environment to your advantage to avoid detection and interception.
During adventure mode integration and play-testing we introduced the concept of consumables in the form of fuel and ammo as these help create a solid, challenging experience where you must make some tough choices. The (un)availability of these resources can influence the combat effectiveness and relative firepower of both your ship/fleet as well as that of your adversaries and affect your overall strategy and combat tactics. We are still iterating on the number of resources to strike the right balance.
Sooner or later you will need to rearm, repair and refuel your ship. To that effect we recently implemented starbase docking. By docking with a friendly starbase you may perform one of several operations like picking up missions, visiting the bar, perform ship upgrades, purchase equipment and recruit/dismiss crew. In the absence of a starbase then perhaps a gas giant may allow for refueling provided the ship has the right equipment onboard.
Under the hood we have also done some technical upgrades including switching to Unity 5.3 which comes with several bugfixes and speed improvements –especially concerning procedural textures.
Also, we are still working on the communication process (community manager etc) and a revised development roadmap. When we have something that is more set in stone, we will share this important information with you.
We hope the videos above give you a good idea of what has been completed and where we stand with respect to production. We expect to share more videos as we continue to tweak, polish and optimize both content and features moving forward. In particular for the next update we will release the adventure mode video with developer commentary. It should be out right after our next milestone which is four weeks from now.
Your friends at Perihelion Interactive