Live from the community
State of the development in May 2016
Woohoo, time sure flies! So, what's up with Gangs of Space since last month?
The new enemies can now have a special "champion" visual effect. These enemies will be faster, stronger, more dangerous... but more rewarding too.
Grouroux also did a pass on updating our environments, including the starfields, backgrounds, suns and planets... and most importantly (even if it's not that visible on screenshots) the lightings, which are extremely important for the ambiance and readability of the game!
We also have a lot of small touches here and there, including a small re-design of the enemy lifebar to display their (eventual) champion attributes, or an update to the trails of the enemies...
My big task during the past weeks has been the re-haul of the enemies with the new difficulty progression. This implied a LOT of changes to the enemy attribute system, which grew 100x in complexity. Where it used to be "1 enemy = 1 value for each characteristic", now all the enemy characteristics can be influenced at spawn time depending on the map tier, the sector level, the champion attributes, the variations in the spawn table... and also at runtime depending on debuffs from the player, or buffs from other enemies or the environment. That brought a lot of changes to the AI and the display engine, but fewwwww.... it's almost done! So far we have all the basic variations for 8 Pirnat enemies, with one more to go (the Pirnat Gunz). When we can test that everything is fine on this front, we'll add the missing 2 variations for each of these 9 enemies. That's.... a lot more content to handle than we expected (and we still have to re-introduce the bosses after that...)
Since I was working on the AIs, I also took the opportunity to do some R&D on obstacle avoidance. Those who followed my live dev streams last year might remember that I implemented a very crude steering system in order to allow enemies to navigate a bit more naturally in asteroid fields. But now I've managed to implement a much robust system that is integrated at the AI layer, and not only at the physical navigation layer. This doesn't change much for our current open environments, but it finally opens the door for much more varied environments in the future.
Aside from the enemies, I also finished the implementation of some missing gameplay elements (critical hits, extra item and DNA drop rates) and polished some interfaces (crew XP bars, clearer tooltips for subsystems).
Oh, and I almost forgot... I finally implemented a proper UI for re-binding controls. There is still work to do to better support controllers bindings, but at least this now looks like a proper Gangs of Space UI and not a ugly default Unity one...
Of course Grouroux is complaining that it's ugly, but that's what you get from letting the developer do the color schemes!
As you can see, work is progressing at a good pace, and the game looks more and more playable every day! See you soon for more advancement news!
State of the development in April 2016
April is there... So, how have things advanced since our last status update in January?
Let's start with my domain: programming. I (Erhune) have managed to sort out all the personal affairs that slowed down my development activity in 2015. I'm now back on Gangs of Space full-time, and work is advancing well!
The cleanup work from all the features we removed from the V3 game design is complete, and almost all new features that we announced previously during our V4 presentation are now implemented:
feature-wise, we have: ship levelling, subsystems, new item generation, new universe lifecycle, contracts, a ton of new combat stuff (including resistances, critical hits, deviation, new effects...)
we are putting the last touches to all the new interfaces: the redesigned ship window, the redesigned shortcut bar, the new navigation window, the levelling window, the new item and subsystem tooltips, contract progress and reward windows...
(that's an ingame view, unlike previous screenshots which were Photoshop design documents)
- content-wise, we have one ship ready (Gemeter R) with 23 different subsystems (5 hulls, 5 generators, 5 engines, 5 armaments, 3 computers) including 9 different abilities. We also have 40 items (4 projectile weapons, 6 light shields, 16 active items, 3 passive items, 11 crews). All these items have variations over 12 levels, and many of them are actually item templates that can generate hundreds of different types of bonuses.
There is also a lot of "invisible" work going on server-side. I had to redo the whole cluster management system because of the new way the universe expands and shrinks. I also added a ton of instrumentation and logging so that we will be able to extract lots of data when we can finally open the alpha to the public, which will enable Grouroux to make informed decisions about game balance. I also used the opportunity of redoing many things to clean up and refactor a LOT of stuff that had been on my todo-list for ages.
Some of you might also have noticed a lot of features disappearing from the gangsofspace.com website: some because they didn't make sense any more (Empire Management, anyone?), some in anticipation of their return (ladders...), some to prepare for better versions to come (Gang Management...).
Grouroux has been on a multiple-month adventure to clean-up our 3-and-a-half-year-old Unity project and upgrade all the graphic stuff to be more cohesive, to use a unified lightning model and good texture quality, and most importantly to remove all useless stuff that has accumulated and was slowing down the software a lot!
Since we have redesigned the progression of difficulty in depth, we also needed many more enemy variations. And we haven't yet talked about an upcoming feature that will multiply them even more (hem... special enemies anyone?... more details to come in a later post!). So Grouroux asked me to implement a new shader that use the Unity 5 lightning model but allow more color customization without having to design hundreds of textures and materials by hand.
Since then, he has been working on enemy variations, and most of the Pirnat ships are now done! Lo and behold!
Now, there are 2 BIG graphic-intensive tasks left on our radar: map generation and special effects. These will be the focus on our efforts for the weeks to come (come take a peek at the design process!), with a few minor other things (like updated item icons).
As told in the Programming section, much of the game design for V4 is done: difficulty curve, items and subsystems balance, drop tables, contracts...
The only missing part here in order to be able to resume the alpha-test sessions is the enemy balance and a few new enemy behaviours.
The road from here...
Here is our tentative roadmap, in broad strokes:
- Finish what's described in this post
- Test it in private alpha
- Fix the biggest bugs and balance issues
- Gather feedback in public alpha
- Add the last missing features (special enemies, achievements & unlocks, ladders, bosses, tutorial, few missing UI...) while regularly testing them in public alpha
- Add more content (ships, items, enemy factions)
- Promote the game to Beta status and release it on Steam Early Access
While development is definitely picking up steam again, we don't have yet a precise idea of the time frame of all these steps. Especially, since the game has considerably changed since the last test sessions, we will need to gather fresh feedback during the test sessions to estimate how far we are from Beta.
So it's 2016 now
2015 is over, and let's be honest: it wasn't the best year for Gangs of Space.
We took the decision to remove a lot from the game, and while it was necessary to do so in order for our small 2-person team to be able to complete the game, it wasn't an easy decision to make. Deleting so many months of work was quite mentally taxing, and finding a "new" way wasn't easy. It took us many months to find something we both agreed was manageable for us, while keeping the "spirit" of the game intact (which, ironically, ended up being very close to the initial vision we had back in 2012...).
But while the thinking process was successfull, the making process didn't follow. For many personal reasons, the progress was slower than we hoped, and we had to leave you, our dear players, without a playable version for almost a year. This is something we wanted to avoid, but it still happened. We can only offer our deepest apologies for that, and assure you all that despite the lack of apparent progress, things ARE progressing on our side.
So... it's 2016 now (happy new year everyone!)... what is the current situation?
Grouroux has finished the game design and graphic design on most of the features and content for next alpha version. Subsystems, special abilities, dificulty curve, drops, enemies, you name it...
I (Erhune) am running a bit behind programming-wise. The good news is that that some of the personal reasons that prevented me from giving my full to the game in 2015 will soon be resolved. That means that development progress in 2016 will be much faster. I still cannot make any promises on the date of the next test session, but it is getting closer every week.
So thank you, people who preorder the game, who follow the development on Twitter or on our Twitch channel or just hang in there waiting for the next session. Your continuous support means a lot to us!
Dev Talk #10
The DevTalk is back!
In this episode #10, Erhune and Grouroux make a point on the progress of the development toward the next alpha version of Gangs of Space, showing some of the new UI implemented in the game, and go over the game design documents for the updated Gemeter ship, including its new weapons, items and subsystems!
Enjoy the show, and don't forget to follow us on Twitch to see the game being developed under your eyes!
Yesterday, on our Twitch channel, we finished the last bits of UI redisign for Gangs of Space. So this is a perfect time to show you pretty pictures and compare them to the ugly old stuff
They look pretty simple, but they are everywhere. Tooltips are where we put useful information when there is no obvious way to fit it always on screen, whether it is about buttons, items, skills...
The new format is lighter, more readable, and allow us to better show comparison elements.
With the new levelling system, we had to show a lot more stuff on this interface (level, subsystems, abilities, crews...). We used the opportunity to replace the old shadowy ship representation by a big full-3d model of the ship that you can rotate around freely.
Here goes all the small interfaces that are visible during the main gameplay phase. And with the goal of clearing the top and bottom part of the screen to allow for better visibility of the space around you during the fight (especially on wide monitors that are now very commonplace), we re-designed almost everything except the chat, and moved them in the corners.
So you have a new XP/DNA bar on top, the main controls and contract interface on the top left, a round minimap on the top right, and all the ship status on the bottom right.
We needed a new interface to allow you to choose your subsystem after each level up. This interface is small and concise. All details about the subsystems will be on tooltips.
This is an interface you will learn to love (or hate) a lot!
The old Contract mechanism is back, but we re-designed it to be something closer to a combo bar than a full-fledged MMO quest system. As with everything with the new Gangs of Space, the goal is: simple, efficient, and action-packed!
Contracts will be automatically generated inside Fight Systems, and chaining them without going back to the Motherbase will give you incremental drop and DNA bonuses.
With less game systems in place, the Motherbase interface is quite simplified. On the left, your warehouses (both for you and your Gang). On the right, your ships (and the Ship Builder).
One of the main changes in V4 is the removal of the dynamic Universe map. We will now have 2 lists that will display the same information, but in a much simpler form. Less time spent wondering where to go and how to go there, and more shooting stuff!
And as a conclusion, a series of comparison shots of the new UI with the old one.
General fight UI
What do you think?
While Erhune implements all these new interfaces in the game , Grouroux will focus on more content-centric game design tasks. Like filling lots of spreadsheets with numbers. So go follow our Twitch channel if you don't want to miss this!
(You can see the images in their original format on the forum. And give us your opinion while you are at it!)
Gangs of Space v4
It has been almost 3 months without news from us... Last time, we announced we would be taking some "free" time to take a few steps back and reflect on Gangs of Space. So... what did we figure out after all this?
One Flew Over the Indie's Nest
We (Erhune & Grouroux) know each other and have been working togther for almost 10 years now. We know fairly well that over long periods, our moods and wills have up and downs. So far, we had been able to manage this pretty well: when one of us was prone to doubt or depression, the other one was there to snap him out of it. But since a few months ago, this arrangement stopped working. Even though we were working a lot, we were unable to make any real progress. Seing this lack of progress, we stopped believing that we could make it, which made the problem even worse.
Imaging you're trying to swim across the ocean, and that right in the middle of it, you start doubt. You want to stop everything, because you're tired, because the end seems (and is) so far yet. But at this point, it's absurd to try to go back. You have to keep pushing forward.
Outside the most evident everyday-life issues ("How to afford food for today?"), the hardest in this 4-year adventure has always been this permanent fight against ourselves. The longer the project draws, the biggest the obstacles seem. The less energy we have, the more we need it. The less we want, and the more we need to... Step by step, every little block on the road seem a good pretext to abandon, like thristy men in the desert seeing mirages of water at every dune.
In order to advance, we have to remember our goal, and keep pushing forward, even when we feel we're going backward or turning around. We are not fighting against the external forces, we are fighting against ourselves, against all these limits we believe are impossible to surpass, against doubt and against this terrible word: "why"?
Why, why, why?...
Nobody forced us to do this. We chose this challenge ourselves. It was in ourselves for very long, you know, this kind of crazy idea you toy with and that you put back before going back to your "reasonable" life. Those impossible dreams, that you don't dare to reach because it means leaving the little comfort you've built around you.
In 2011, we were in Tokyo the day Earth shook, so strongly and so long that a giant wave marched on Japan and brought back with it dozens of thousands of lives. What if we died this day? Or the next day, from a stupid car accident? Or the next year, from a sudden illness? Wouldn't have regretted to not try to do something special with our lives, before it's too late?
The next weeks, we decided to quit our jobs, quit our old lives. We knew that a project like Gangs of Space wouldn't change the face of mankind, but that every day, when we looked at ourselves in the mirror, we wouldn't have any regret.
It took us all these months of break to remember our reasons, to remember why in spite of the doubts, we have to continue. The road ahead is still long, this wasn't our first "crisis" and this won't be our last, but one thing is sure: we regret nothing!
The Secret Project
So, in order to get Gangs of Space out of our heads for a while in order to break our infernal cycle of fear and doubt, we worked on a small project for a few weeks.
The name: MMOTG, for MMO Text Game.
This "small" MMO is played only in text mode, in Twitch's chat, and plays quite similarily as a table-top RPG, just with more playes involved We kept the feature set very simple.
After working on Gangs of Space for almost 4 years, it was very refreshing to work on a game which we could kept entirely in our heads and iterate upon quickly, and complete under a reasonable time frame.
We organized a small private beta with some pillars of the community of Gangs of Space. This test taught us many things about the game, which we started to improve in a slightly-different v2. But then a big blocking technical issue appeared, and we decided that it was better to turn the page on this project, and get back to Gangs of Space!
Back to GoS
So, for the past few weeks, we've been doing meeting after meeting to put the Gangs of Space project back under control. Our goal : find a plan that seems doable with our limited means, that fits what we initially wanted for the project, and that learns from all our past versions!
We have cut quite a lot of features that we introduced in v3 last Fall, and went back to something that's closer to our initial vision of "a nice cooperative MMO shmup" without all the 4X stuff that pushed itself into the project afterward.
Of course, 4 years to get back to the intial plan, some people will say that's a bit silly. But this time, we can design all those features from the parts that YOU, the players, have shown are the strengths of the game. And for the "advanced" features (like the Empire vs Empire), we will keep them under a simplified form, because they answer a need that we have identified along the way, and that still exist today.
So, we can now announce...
GoS v4 : back to the roots
Without going into the details for each and every feature. These details will be revealed in the upcoming articles and devstreams on our Twitch channel.
Ship progress and unique builds
That was a point that was pretty clear to everyone: since we're split the content of the game over 3 Tiers, there is a problem with the sense of progress in the game. The difficulty ramp works nicely for the enemies and the different map levels, but not really for the player's ship and equipment.
So, in order to keep up with our "arcade" principle (and unlike Diablo-like "grinding"), and since permadeath is a very important part of Gangs of Space that we want to keep, we have decided to make the player's ship progress in a rogue-like way similar to The Binding of Isaac or Risk of Rain.
We will add levelling over 10 levels which will hopefully smoothly bring players from Tier 1 content to Tier 3 content over 2~6 hours, depending on your skill and experience as a player.
Each time your ship will gain a level, you will be allowed to choose one subsystem among the 3 that will be randomly generated. These subsystems will improve the stats of your ship over a particular aspect: engines for some speed bonuses, computers for skills, etc. The subsystems that will be available for choice will be generated from the pool of subsystem templates that you will have unlocked on this ship class. Some very rare subsystems will even change the gameplay quite drastically (side cannons, dual shots...).
Each level 10 ship will then have a unique build that will be the sum of your strategic choices.
DNA and Credits
DNA will stop being a storable currency, but will become the experience points that will level your ship and/or your crews.
Medals will be renamed Credits and become the main currency in the game, that you can use to buy things from the (few) NPC vendors and trade with other players.
The subscription model seemed ideal to us to sustain a "slow" 4X MMO. But we've learned from all of you playing the game that the part that actually work very well in Gangs of Space is it's fast-paced cooperative action. We want to focus on this "immediately fun" aspect of the game, which is very unique and could potentially appeal to many many players. Thus, keeping the subscription is a bad incentive to us, since it makes us want to design a slow game.
We have thus decided to change our businedd model to a form of free-to-play that fits more with the fact-paced and accessible aspect ot the game, and the goal to gather a large player community around the game.
The new economic model will look pretty close to something you can already experience in MOBAs or a famous tank game
We are keeping the concept of Caps, which is a currency we've already given to people who pre-order the game. Nothing changes here, not even the concept of GoS Shares that we distribute in the Investor Pack. Caps will be exchangeable for other's players' Credits, in order to keep a non-punitive and interesting ingame economy.
Caps will be used to buy ship and inventory slots, to unlock the permanent access to ship classes or skins, this kind of things.
Let us say it clear and loud: Gangs of Space will NEVER be a pay-to-win game! We hate with a passion this kind of monetization that you commonly find in "Korean MMOs" and other mobile games. It goes against all our core values. But we feel going free-to-play is a very useful tool to meet a large public if it is done right, and we will try our best to join the Valve-s and the Riot-s of this world that manage to do it well.
On a last note, 2 important points:
- Players who have already pre-ordered the game keep and will get all that was promised to them. Their special ships will be either special skins, or special variations of some ship class. If anyone who pre-ordered the game feel betrayed by this change of business model, they can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do anything necessary to correct the situation!
- The game stays in "closed" alpha for now (accessible only via the waiting list, via pre-order, or via a invitation code from a friend or us). The business model will only be implemented starting from the beta, and more details will be given at this time on how to spend your Caps.
Access to ship classes
Gemeter and Astrolax will stay the 2 starting ship classes. You will be able to build them for free as much as you want.
The other ship classes will need to be unlocked (remember our old permit system? something along these lines...) and then bought in Credits each time you want a new ship.
It will also be possible to fully unlock a ship class by spending Caps one time. which will allow them unlimited free construction like the Gemeter and Astrolax classes.
In order to increase the depth of the action part, we will add a few new stats to items and enemies: 3 damage types with the corresponding resistances, and the ability for you or enemies to do critical hits.
Each ship will obtain up to 2 crews during its levelling plase. The base stats of these crews will be low, but after your ship reaches max level, they will be the ones to absorb the DNA you collect in order to gain levels and unlock interesting synergies.
A number of achievements will allow you to unlock much game content, such as: new ship classes, new skins, new ship subsystems... Every time you will level a new ship, you will probably discover new possibilites!
Reorganization of the Universe
The prodecural generation for the Universe will be removed, along with it's dynamic aspect. Instead, the access to conquest systems will be streamlined into a much simpler system, with "unlimited" conquest maps of each difficulty level available at any time.
Note that even if the shape of the Universe will be "fixed", the map themselves will continue to be prodecurally generated!
Empire vs Empire
Ah.... Good ol' Empire vs Empire. This was THE new thing from Gangs of Space v3. And it is still very important to us, since this is the feature that will define high-level play (and thus the goal of the game). The only problem with it is.... that it's crazy complex to design and implement. If we want to release the game before 2050, we need to do something about it. We have thus decided to stip the feature to it's core.
And the core is: an Empire need to control the 7 Pillars of the Universe to win the current session.
So... we are removing the dynamic universe with all its conquest maps, we are removing the planets and their evolution, we are removing the EvE armies and their attack waves. We keep the Pillars. The Gangs will gain Conquest Points by conquering sectors in the generic unlimited conquest maps, and spend these points to open a Gate to a specific Pillar. The players of this Empire then have a limited time to take control of the Pillar. If they succeed, this Empire takes control of the Pillar, and will be protected for X hours. Its difficulty level will also increase, ensuring that the other Empire will have a harder time conquering it. The Pillar will also confer a global bonus to all the players of the Empire which control it.
When all Pillars are controlled by a single Empire, this Empire is crowed as victor, and a new session will start. The players will keep all their ships and items, but the Gangs will loose their Conquest Points (and of course their Pillars if they had one) and be shuffled among the Empires.
Gang Bases won't be buildable any longer, but will be given as rewards to Gangs who own a Pillar when their Empire win the session. Each new victory will evolve the Base.
Maps use to be rated from "1 skull" to "7 skulls" for the most difficult ones. We will align that scale more closely to the ships' and items' scale, over 3 Tiers. T1 to T3 maps will allow you to level your ship from level 1 to 10 and drop enough loot to equip yourself. There will be T3+ maps reserved for organized Gangs and players not afraid to loose their ships. And then X1 (X for eXtra), X2, X3... without any limit, for the Pillars and other special areas.
We are keeping the current system more or less. Your ship will need to be level 4 to equip T2 items, and level 7 to equip T3 items. In T3+ or Xn maps, you will drop Tier 3 items with a higher and higher potential quality.
On the other hand, we are removing for now all consumable items, and all resources. (We have a few ideas for those, but they will have to wait until after release.)
Conquest and Contracts
When you play solo/co-op, levelling your ship or just playing around with friends, you will play in maps that work pretty similarly from our old "combat maps": when the conquest of all sectors is over, the map is locked and a big boss appears.
In addition to this, you will always have a contract given to you that will give you an simple additional objective: "kill x enemies" or "conquer x sectors". Fullfilling these contracts will give you Credits and DNA.
Objective number one: content!
This isn't really a new feature, but it's the reason for most of our choices: simplify complex things so that we can finally take some time to work on the game content itself. New playable ship classes, new enemy types, new items... We will finally take the time do create them!
When can we play this?
So, now, the question that everyone that read up to this point will ask: when will be the next test session?
Seing the amount of work ahead of us, it is quite difficult to say. So far, we think it won't be until the beginning 2016 at the earliest.
But we can already invite you to the DevTalk #14 that will take place on Sunday, August 23 at 12:00 GMT on our Twitch channel. This time, we will probably spend most of our time answering everyone's questions, so if you want more info or if you have something on your mind, please come and we will do our best to answer you!
Thank you for putting up with us and our crazy dreams! Together we can make the best MMO!
Dev Talk #9
In this week's devtalk, we take a look back at our presence at last week's Tokyo Indie Fest and talk about a few other cool games that were playable there.
In the second part, we announce that we are taking a short few weeks break in order to replenish our mental forces, and go over some details on why and what we will be doing during this time (hint: it still involve making games!).
Dev Talk #8
In this week's DevTalk, we take a look at the new Empire vs Empire map, and talk about our upcoming presence at the upcoming Tokyo Indie Fes on May 8-10.
Dev Talk #7
In this week's DevTalk, Grouroux shows us around the new visuals for planets while we talk about the (small) gameplay changes around them.
Gangs of Space on handheld!
Note: this news was posted on April 1st!
We have been working for the past 2 months in the greatest secret to make this huge annoucement :
We are abandonning the PC/Mac/Linux versions on the game to concentrate only on a handheld version of the game. And not on any console, but on THE best of its category: the GAME BOY!
You don't know this but Erhune is not only a terrific programmer but also a proficient electrical engineer. In just two weeks, he managed to create a network module (Wifi+4G) for the Game Boy. All that was left was recoding Gangs of Space on this new platform which is still - unfortunately - unsupported by Unity.
Visually, we have managed to keep the changes minimal. Oh, yeah, of course we had to get rid of the colors, but you will see, we haven't sacrificed much more!
Something very important: of course, everyone that pre-ordered Gangs of Space will receive this Game Boy version:
- At 10€, you will receive the classical gray cartridge
- At 10€, you will receive a red cartridge
- At 10€, you will receive a GOLDEN cartridge!
We hope you will be as excited as we are for this big change!