Hey everybody, time for another update. Last week we released patch 0.3.5.0 which introduced collision mesh bodies ( instead of bounding boxes ) allowing ships to fly close to the hull of a capital ship. Unfortunately, a bug in ODE ( our physics library ) went undetected and caused floating-point precision issues with large coordinates. This was addressed in a manual hotfix ( 0.3.5.1 ) the next day.
We made a lot of improvements to the game in the past weeks too. We tweaked the gas giant’s colors to cyan / blue ( instead of the old pink which was less realistic… ), as you can see in the picture below. More importantly, we introduced new game mechanics. The first one is armor plating. Every ship now has an armor plating level ( in the future it’ll be upgradable ) which reduces incoming kinetic damage on the hull. The idea here is that capital ships should be close to invulnerable to interceptor attacks, which at present is not true ( a group of 3-4 interceptors can easily destroy a cruiser, provided they focus on it ). Small ships, like the interceptor or bomber, have low or no armor plating, so this change is mostly affecting capital ship’s ability to sustain kinetic damage from smaller ships.
Note that the energy damage model is unchanged ( interceptor blasters can still deal full damage to a capital ship’s shields ).
The other change is more experimental and may or may not stay in the future, but is at least worth testing: heat mechanics. The main idea here is to prevent kinetic weapons from firing forever, uninterrupted, which sometimes looks silly in game. Each kinetic projectile accumulates heat, which dissipates at a constant rate over time when not firing. When the maximum amount of heat the ship can sustain is reached, the weapons systems shut down and it is no longer possible to attack for a few seconds. Obviously, this is our first iteration on this system so the balance is off ( especially for interceptors ), but the key point here is the potential for this mechanic to be tied to environmental effects ( not getting too close to the sun, or to a lava surface, or to a hot atmosphere ) and/or missiles locking ( some missiles could lock more or less easily depending on the target’s heat emissions ).
An alternative is to remove the heat mechanic and replace it with a simple reload mechanic instead. This change would be pretty easy to implement, but it has less potential for interactions with the environment or with other systems. It would also likely be more reliable and less frustrating for the player, so a choice has to be made here. It is possible that we’ll end up experimenting both and decide after beta which mechanic we’ll cut and which one we’ll keep.
Considering both mechanics, we can host a poll to see which one players would favor in theory:
- Heat mechanic (can interact with environment or missiles but more frustrating for player)
- Reload mechanic (less interactivity but easier and more reliable for player)
Last patch also introduced the new capital ship control scheme. Unfortunately I lacked time to finish the initial implementation, so this first iteration is pretty bare bones. The main idea is to separate the view control ( looking around the ship ) from its movements / orientation ( so you can look on the sides while it is moving ). It is similar to what you find in games like Dreadnought, Fractured Space or World of warships; except it’s a bit more complicated, as those games typically only deal with pitch and/or yaw, but not roll, and their gameplay is roughly oriented on a 2D plane/volume, while Battlescape is 6 degrees of freedom. At the moment, a key is dedicated to aligning your ship’s orientation to the camera’s. It is bound to “forward”, which prevents the ship from accelerating directly ( you can still set the throttle / target speed though, of course ). I’ll probably end up moving it to another key ( maybe left-control, which acts as the view-around key, which is always active in the capital ship control scheme, so it’s useless ? ).
Another idea is to take the game into a different direction, more RTS-like for capital ships, utilizing point & click to control their movements. I’ve been playing with this idea for a while, but practically it does not work so well, again for the same reasons: 6 DOF means you need to be able to orient your ship in any direction ( including roll ) or strafe; but using point & click restricts most operations to a 2D plane ( which could be user-customized at any time ); but even then, solving the issue of roll and depth above/below the 2D plane, would require… a lot of clicking… for every single little movement… which defeats the purpose of Battlescape being an action game in the first place. Therefore, I currently have no plans to push this idea any further.
Next week many of us will be leaving for Christmas vacation. But don’t worry, there is still more to discuss, and especially about more experimental changes coming in the next patch ( target: second week of January ) related to the flight model and AI. This should be pretty interesting