Communtiy Update #142

#1

Community Update #142

Hey everybody; it’s been a while since the last update (we stopped doing them since the launch of the game in Early access due to lack of time) and as per community feedback we’ll be resuming the updates from now on in a new format called community updates. Unlike the old weekly updates, they’ll be posted more irregularly. The idea is to more or less try to synchronize them with in-game updates / patches, so in terms of frequency you should expect to have one or two per month. We’ll also try to post a special community update every quarter that will be a summary of the work done in the past quarter, come back on the state of the project and contains revisions to the roadmap.

This first community update will be more similar to a quarterly update, and since we’ve had a lot more new players during the Early access launch that aren’t necessarily aware of the history of the project or the company, I’d like to start this update with a more general retrospective.

Project retrospective

I-Novae Studios was established by Keith Newton (ex Epic Games developer) and myself (Flavien Brebion) in Q2 2010. Prior to that, I had been working for years in my spare time on a 3D engine able to render full-scale, seamless procedural planets and on an Elite-like space MMO called Infinity: the quest for Earth -often confused with Battlescape- but unfortunately, in an era where crowd-funding didn’t exist, it never went past the stage of being a hobby/community project. The company focused its early-2010’s efforts on improving our tech and looking for funding for the MMO, without success.

2013-2014: Inception

In 2013, after Kickstarter made crowd-funding popular for video games, we decided that it was time to resume work on a game project; to keep the budget within reach (we’d need millions of dollars for an MMO) we decided to launch a new space game in the Infinity universe: Infinity Battlescape, that would become our first funded project. In many ways, the idea was to take out the action part of the Infinity MMO and focus on it so that we could keep the scope more realistic for a small startup company like us (2 programmers and a handful of artists), and if successful, we’d gradually expand the scope. Around that time I left my regular full-time job to work exclusively for the years to come on Battlescape.

The next two years were mostly focused making the tech game-production ready (including various tools, like a material editor and assets cooker ) while we started pre-production for the game and the various Kickstarter assets.

2015: Kickstarter

In 2015 we focused the company’s effort on the Kickstarter itself - that meant recording the actual trailer video, ramping up on marketing, working out our reward tiers and the game’s design and pitch. In parallel, I started to work on a tech demo that we could use as a proof-of-concept. This work started in April 2015. The Kickstarter video itself was recorded two months later during a meetup trip to Finland (note that the company is all remote, so we all live in different areas of the world. I’m in Belgium, Keith is in the USA and the artists are in other countries).

The Kickstarter campaign was launched in October 2015 and ended as a success on the 20th of November, raising about $330K USD.


A space battle in orbit of Cinder (2017)

2016-2017: The Dark Ages

Until 2016, you could say work on the game was pre-production and had never been the focus of the company. This changed after we receiving funding from Kickstarter.

2016 and 2017 could retrospectively considered “slow” years. It quickly became clear that our original game design, which was purely PvP focused (it had no PvE elements) wasn’t going to work. We expanded the scope of the game to support both PvP and PvE playstyles, which meant introducing AI bots to the game to fill-in for players.

The entire game was rewritten from scratch, as it was originally all client-sided (note that this wasn’t an oversight - the KS demo was just a quick’n’dirty implemented proof-of-concept in a few months). It was also around that time that we spent a great amount of efforts into achieving epic space battles (both rendering wise, being able to see hundreds of ships - and network wise, to have so many moving entities consuming only a few dozen KB/s). In terms of gameplay, these two years can be considered the “dark ages” of the project, as there wasn’t much gameplay beyond flying around planets and killing other players. There was no big AI battles, no UI / menus and controls remained basic.

2018: Core gameplay loop

If 2016 and 2017 were building up the foundation of the game, one could say 2018 was a transition year mostly focused on establishing a solid core gameplay loop. By 2018, all ships - including capital ships - were playable, but didn’t have much going on. We did a lot of work on the weapons systems / automated turrets in 2018, new ship systems (scanning/detection, proximity mines, warp jam), introduced the AI battles, refined the ship’s physics and controls, the warping mechanism, the damage model, the (re)spawning system, and of course introduced factories and the haulers/resources/credits systems.

The game was slowly shaping up but was still limited, in terms of content, to roaming around (for scouting or destroying haulers) or participating to battles/destroying objectives.

2019: Early Access

As we entered beta in February 2019, our ships assets were still all untextured and the game didn’t have proper UI or in-game menus. The next few months were spent on texturing all the ships and preparing our promotional content for the Early access launch - which means that for the first time in years, we spent some time (about 2 months) reworking on the visuals.

We introduced new particle effects for weapons, explosions, replaced the old stock soundtrack by an original one, we did the same for many sound effects, and finally started production on the Steam trailer. In parallel we worked on the game to introduce its UI / menu system - including the tab menus (star map, ship selection, leaderboard and missions screen), a new respawn system, the options menu (previously everything was done on the launcher, requiring a restart), keybindings + HOTAS, but even more importantly, the root menus including Steam authentication and server browsing.

We also had to do a lot of hidden backend / infrastructure work, the registration screen, Steam backer rewards and ensuring scalability of the servers, with a lot of network/performance stress testing. All of this put immense pressure on us, as time was running out before the Early access launch date approached, so we had to drop the weekly updates around that time.

The game launched in Early access in end-september 2019. Sales went pretty well especially the first few weeks and started to fall off (which was expected due to our limited marketing budget) but we still raised enough to finish the game to 1.0 release (assuming it doesn’t take another 5 years of course) and even expand the scope in a few areas. There are a few things that caught us off-guard though:

  • HOTAS / Joysticks support was broken. We hadn’t tested them in depth prior to the launch, and a high number of people ended up having trouble with key detection and rebindings for their HOTAS and ended up refunding the game. Since then, we have addressed the problem and HOTAS / keybindings should now work. We are still missing input profiles for various HOTAS, so if you have functional ones please forward them to us so that we can include them into the game for other players, thank you !

  • The learning curve: we under-estimated how tough it is for new players to learn the game. As we had been working on it for a number of years we thought the learning curve would not be a major blocker for new players - they’d just take a bit of time to get used to, despite the lack of a tutorial or in-depth explanations - and so we didn’t consider this a big problem, which caught us off-guard.

The other major issue, the elephant in the room, which also explains why servers are on low pop, is player (lack of) retention features. Now I want to be perfectly clear that it wasn’t a surprise to us as we perfectly knew the game didn’t have enough content to keep players hooked for dozens of hours long - hence why we launched in Early access.

This is something we’re going to address in the long term as it’s a huge amount of work, through multiple ways, by adding new content (ship upgrades should make a huge difference already), more environments (planets, oceans, surface details), more missions / side activities to make the game feel less repetitive and of course, the persistent progression with unlockables (skins, tags, voice lines etc… ).

2020: Towards full release

After Early access we released a roadmap which contained our plans for the next few months/a year. While most of the items on the list remain valid, the priorities have been changed. The feedback we got from the launch made it clear that we needed to address major issues with the learning curve sooner than later. In our refund reasons, the lack of players on servers is obviously #1, but the “I don’t understand what is going on or how to find battles” is actually #2. Retention and lack of content is actually below in the list, because a lot of players currently give up on the game in the first hour and don’t even have a chance of
experiencing the more advanced content like capital ships gameplay.

Note that the learning curve encapsulates more than just learning the controls. The game currently has a defficiency in terms of feedback - events and things happening in game are not clearly explained; for instance, when one of your bases is under attack by an enemy, nobody on the team gets notified that this base is under attack. This tends to make the game feel chaotic and a lot of players mentioned how they felt like they were not really affecting the outcome of the match. We’re looking at addressing all of that in the next few months.


An untextured carrier roaming above the surface of Sarake (2018)

Roadmap update

We have recently completed some huge updates to the game’s HUD and the new MFDs. Coming next, we’ll be implementing a new sensor overlay tactical screen that will replace the old radar zoom; this screen will be a blend of the old 3D radar and the starmap. The idea here is that once you hold the sensor key, the camera will switch to external mode, smoothly transition off from your ship to the whole battlefield (very quickly, like in a second) and overlay a tactical grid over the 3D view. We are also going to experiment some ideas to highlight the “hot spots” (clusters of ships) as well as various filters. This new sensor overlay screen will be the focus of the next patch, in a week or two.

Afterwards, our focus will shift on to the starmap. There are a lot of things that will be remade or improved. We want to better display the 3D view and grid, avoid the clutter, make it interactive (you’ll be able to click on the icons), and make information more condensed and more detailed in the targets list. Many “modes” will be available, to emphasize either the bases (which ones you can spawn at, which ones are under attack), the resources flow (haulers / routes, team icome), hotspots (where action/battles are currently happening) and even where your current mission is located. If you have more ideas about improvements or features that you’d like to see for the starmap, now would be the best time to send us your feedback !

While we aren’t going to do a full in-game tutorial just yet (that’ll be coming around the 1.0 release around the end of the year or next year), we’ll introduce a new serie of context-sensitive help screens, that will pop up for new players. They will contain more detailed explanations about the game’s rules, how the star map works, how to find a battle or a mission, what the ship classes do, etc… We’ll also improve our current tooltips system which pops up hints during the game. This should go a long way to make the game more newbie-friendly.

In terms of gameplay, while we still aren’t going to do ship upgrades or retention features just yet (we’ll probably start on them this summer), there are a number of important changes that we’re going to make in the coming months. In the short-term, we’re going to add a quick respawn button on the spawn screen that will allow players to jump back into action very quickly (especially in the case of attack battles where a carrier isn’t available), with one caveat: they’ll take place of one of the AI bots currently in the battle, preferably one that isn’t damaged and not currently engaged in combat. This should improve the game’s pacing, as it often feels like defenders have an unfair advantage when they can instantly respawn at their base, while the attackers have to spend minutes to fly back into battle. We’re also going to make it more clear where you can repair/resupply, as it’s been a source of frustration for a lot of players.

There are also a number of changes planned in terms of match and battles progression. Battles currently feel too repetitive and chaotic with seemingly unfair difficulty. We want to spend more time on the AI commander, reorganizing the AI fleets into squads of ships, following formations when possible and having mini-objectives within a battle. These objectives will also apply to players, that will get them rewards if they follow the mission’s objectives. Such objectives would range from “go and repair this damaged ship” (if you’re in a corvette for example), to escorting/protecting certain ships (ex.: a destroyer, protecting a cruiser from torpedoes) or to disabling some defense turrets or weakened points (interceptor), for example. If you have ideas on battle objectives that you’d like to see in the game, please let us know too.

Finally, we’re going to add better battle feedback, in the form of battle reports showing various statistics about how good or bad you did in a battle, how you ranked compared to other players, and once we have retention features later on, these will give you certain awards or unlock rewards.

A number of “smaller” features are also going to get added progressively, but we’re still uncertain about their timing; we’ll probably try to interleave them between major features. For instance, we’d like
to get the sub-targetting systems or squad management sooner than later. Once summer comes, we’ll go full steam ahead on content and retention features. We’re currently considering making the hauler playable, at least during a special cargo mission, but it’s not set in stone yet so we’ll probably work on that during summer.

-Flavien Brebion, I-Novae Studios

14 Likes
#2

If i remember correctly, before early access, you made it clear you were worried about new players not being able to aim because of that one guy who couldnt hit anything in two hours. There was a lot of discussion surrounding ways to improve the learning curve without hurting gameplay depth since autoaim was being discussed at the time.

I remember talking a lot about how autoaim was the wrong thing to focus on for helping new players when there were a lot of much more direct ways to help new players but instead we got a month of balancing surrounding autoaim and the EA release required a bunch of rapid balance patches to try to make combat more than just sitting and autoaiming everyone down. Most of those suggestions for helping the new player experience havent had time spent on them yet.

Basically, i don’t see why you’re blaming the vets here, you had the feedback but just prioritized differently, we told you :stuck_out_tongue:

#3

I’m sorry if you take that sentence as “blaming the vets”, because it wasn’t my intention. The first half of the sentence is very mportant too, as I explained that we were at fault for working on the game for years and not realizing that the learning curve would be such a major hindrance. Regarding community feedback, yes I do remember discussions about the gimbaled weapons. But the learning curve issue isn’t about gimbaled weapons, it’s much more than that. Naiba was explaining the other day that some players do not even realize warp exists, for example. The point of that sentence was to explain that the steep learning curve took everybody by surprise - of course, we all knew that the game didn’t have tutorials and wouldn’t be too easy on newbies, but still, despite that… it was under-estimated.

Edit: changed that paragraph to not make it sound like we’re blaming the community for a lack of feedback.

2 Likes
#4

To clarify for people reading this, it was very much an outlier rather than the norm. (Could have been unique as far as I know.) They were on their first day of playing the game and were self-destructing and re-spawning at defence battles or carriers to get around the map before I told them about warp and how it worked. They also didn’t know the missions were all set within the same map and thought they were spawning into instanced/self contained arenas.

Glad to hear this one. There’s a big lack of any sort of positive feedback for player actions right now and getting mid-game reports on how much they’re helping the team on a per-mission basis would go a long way towards keeping people invested in the experience.

How are you planing to present this to people considering they’ll still be in flight at the time?

1 Like
#5

TLDR games dead.

#6

Thanks Flavien for taking the time to write this down. I especially am glad for the catching up for people who haven’t followed for a long time or just sporadically. It’s very valuable to have this here in one peace and from you directly.
I suggest to everyone to share this to people who are confusing the vision of the game or the history of development or I-Novae.
Back during KS we tried to make a Wikipedia entry for this but there wasn’t really enough sources and Infinity: Quest for Earth apparently was more legitimate thing to exist on there.

As for how it is planed to go forward, I can see why and how you decided that way and the work on the HUD that many resources have been invested in in the last two months is clearly visible (he … pah) … didn’t have time (or didn’t feel like) to give my feedback on that yet but in general the features implemented are great.
It is commendable that you give us a horizon there for when focus will move on from the UI Work and I hope there won’t be unforeseen issues like there were with the laser missile defense system (I understand that nobody expected that to take long).
Better UI for tactical decisions is really useful, especially when one wants to approach the game on that level and it certainly will be favorable to do so.

Yet, the game is in Early Access, yes, but still very publicly available. It’s asking a lot from people who might stumble upon the game to wait a year until the game is further along. Not everyone is a megafan and many of them have chosen to not wait anymore. I hope that people who stumble upon the game will come back later to check it out. Yes, It’s understandable that this work has to be done at some point and also that you can’t stretch yourself to do everything at once.

It kinda sounds like treats that I am writing but that is not my itention, I just want point at the discussion we had previously.

There’s multiple options how to deal with that. Ask everyone to please wait or come back later is one and can work of course. Bridging the time with events has been done somewhat and I am grateful there’s interest in changing up the formula a bit and maybe notifying people who are not on the Discord or the Forums.
There’s also Steam notifications/game events now … but I am not sure if it would be clever to use those so much.
Thanks either way.

How will this work together with the starmap where you also can get a very similar view when zooming into a battle? When is the player supposed to use the one and when the other?

Thanks for making this clear! I will add and underline some previous feedback in my feedback of the latest changes.

2 Likes
#7

Thanks Flavien, really enjoyed reading that.

Nice idea. Couple of questions though:

  • Will the player get at least a few seconds of spawn invulnerability? Perhaps firing weapons deactivates that? And of course they would need a little padlock symbol or something that other players can see, showing there’s no point in shooting them. (You don’t want to be firing on an enemy, then they stop losing health and you’ve no idea why.)

  • Will the consequences for pressing this button be clearly spelled out for players? You risk spawning in a damaged ship but save travel time.

  • Will the player pick an NPC to spawn as, or will it be random? I think I’d prefer random, otherwise it defeats the point of a quickspawn or would result in players snatching the best ships.

1 Like
#8

There’s some overlap with the starmap indeed. The difference is how quick you access it. With the overlay, you hold the key, and you see the battefield with the ships around you. With the star map well… you need to press tab, manually zoom in on the correct location, which takes 10 seconds, then press tab again. And if you had selected another target in the list previously, you need to refocus the camera on yourself first.

@Sab1e We haven’t discussed a few seconds of invulnerability, so in the first implementation… probably not. If it becomes an issue that’s certainly something we could add. The quick respawn button will only appear when you last died in a battle and there will probably be a disclaimer or something + tooltips to explain that you’d take over an AI.

Neither. The game will select an AI for you based on some criteria, so it’ll use a formula that takes into account the distance between each candidate and enemies, the status of the candidate (100% health+shields will be preferred), etc…

We aren’t sure yet if we should allow players to hop into capital ship’s AIs. Unlike smaller ships, it’ll be difficult to find one that isn’t actively engaged in combat and partially damaged ( unless it’s the very start of the battle or a reinforcement wave ). I don’t know if players would be okay spending credits for getting into a damaged ship.

3 Likes
#9

I wouldn’t mind as long as the state of the ship is factored in the spawn costs.

4 Likes
#10

I think the downside of not being able to have your custom load-out will be enough of a penalty by itself too.
Looking forward to the feature. Sounds fun to skip the travel time with some downsides and also to get something random.

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#11

We don’t know the extent of ship upgrades and their costs yet either, NPC ships might be far below the normal player ship spec.

1 Like