Predestination Early Access / Alpha is almost here

alphatitleHey everyone! I’m happy to report that the bulk of work on the Predestination Alpha release is now finished and it’s nearly ready for release! All that’s left to do is to finish up a few pieces of the user interface, add some new research items and tutorial popups, do some internal testing to catch obvious bugs and crashes, and then roll it out to our beta backers for a while to catch any bugs that slip through the net. Since Steam is busy with its Christmas sales all December, we’re going to aim to get all that completed and get the alpha polished and ready for public release for the end of the month.

I want you all to know that we aren’t wasting any time here. We’ve already started moving forward with Steam to deploy the game as an Early Access release, and we’re now applying to Desura’s Alpha Funding programme for a hopefully simultaneous release. We’re also putting together some PR and advertising for the alpha’s release and we have a writer working on race histories and short stories in the Predestination universe to update our website with. In addition, we’re putting together a full development roadmap with version numbers and feature milestones to help manage expectations and keep everyone in the loop for the rest of development.

If you’re a beta backer, you’ll receieve an email when the alpha is ready with a link to download and test it, and we’d love it if you could report any crashes and bugs you experience promptly. For now, please check out this month’s development notes below to see some of the biggest tasks we completed this month, 25 new screenshots of the game as it is now, and a new video showing the AI in action.

 

progressupdateAfter we completed the Galaxy AI last month, we discovered that it could be a fantastic tool for working out progression, pacing and balance issues. We simply spawn two civilizations on opposite ends of the galaxy and put an AI in charge of each, then fast-forward through hundreds of turns and see what happens. It’s a good thing we did this, because it highlighted some big problems that needed to be addressed in galaxy generation, AI code efficiency and colony blueprints. Being able to put a civilization on fast-forward mode also highlighted a few problems with the planet and galaxy AI that we really needed to fix before the alpha release. Below is a summary of what we did this month, along with a video and some new screenshots!

 

aititleAfter we got the Galaxy AI to survey and colonise planets, it quickly became apparent that the Planet AI was a huge CPU hog. Once the AI had 2-3 planets to manage at the same time, each turn took at least a few seconds to process on a mid-end PC. That’s not really acceptable in a game with potentially hundreds of planets, so we spent a lot of time this month rewriting the Planet AI to be significantly more efficient. It can now manage an empire of dozens of planets and takes just a fraction of a second per planet, so we can now fast-forward through 600 turns in under a minute to test how the Galaxy AI expands and colonises. The work that goes into an AI system can be very difficult to show off in screenshots, so we’ve put together a quick video below showing both the planet and galaxy AI in action.

When testing the Planet AI on different planets, we found a few big problems with it, such as it consistently building more food than the planet needs and not looking for replacement power sources when coal deposits run out. We solved this by writing a Maintenance procedure into the Planet AI code that looks for problems that need fixed each turn and solves them. The AI is now smart enough to manage planets about as competently as a real player, opening some interesting future options:

  • We could add a new post-warp game creation option like in MOO2 that researches all the technologies in the pre-warp era and fast-forwards to when your first planet is fully explored and colonised.
  • We could also add an Advanced game creation option similar to MOO2 that would start in tech era 3 with several star systems colonised and free ships.
  • We could add a random event triggered by a temporal rift that literally fast-forwards a planet in time by a few dozen or hundred turns with an AI temporarily in control, which is just plain awesome.
  • We can definitely add a feature that lets players put an AI Governor in control of individual planets, as discussed in a previous devblog.

 

startingpositionMaking sure each race has a fair starting position is a problem that has plagued almost every space 4X game out there. If the map is randomly distributed, then one race could luck out and start next to a brilliant planet while another could be surrounded by empty stars and toxic planets. But if it’s not randomly distributed enough, then it kind of ruins the exploration factor, as a big part of a 4X game is the feeling that maybe the next star system you explore could reveal the perfect planet or something rare. We ran into this problem when we were testing the Galaxy AI, and our solution was to tweak the galaxy generation algorithm again to give everyone roughly the same immediate start but still have plenty of randomness. How it now works is:

generationsmallsharp

  • Step 1: Generate Home Systems - Home stars are evenly spaced around the galaxy so that every race should make first contact at about the same time. Each race’s home system is an Orange star with 4 planets, one of which is rebuilt with pre-set homeworld stats based on the race that owns it. It’s always the perfect environment for your race (Terran for Humanoids, Desert for Reptillians, Ocean for Aquatics, and Tundra for Robotics), Large sized and has the same set of resource deposits. This is where racial traits like Huge Homeworld or Rich Homeworld will be added in future updates.
  • Step 2: Nearby Systems - Three star systems are generated in a kind of triangle around each race’s home system. One is an orange star (very good chance of having organic planets, average minerals), one is a Yellow star (good chance of organic planets, average minerals) and one is a white star (poor chance of organic planets, good chance of lots of minerals). All three stars are placed around 25 ly from the homeworld so that they’re in range as soon as you get to the space colonisation stage. It’s completely up to you which you scout or colonise first, and the contents of the systems are still randomised.
  • Stage 3: Expansion Systems - As we discussed in October’s devblog, we need to make sure players don’t get trapped with no star systems in range to colonise during the early part of the game. About 22% of the galaxy’s stars sprawl out in a chain from each race’s three nearby systems, so once you research the technology to get 50ly scan range you’ll always have plenty of systems in range to colonise regardless of the size of the galaxy. All of these star systems will have a minimum of 1 planet. That will take you to the mid-game, when you’ll have picked up the technology to scan 75 or 100 lightyears, opening up practically the entire galaxy.
  • Stage 4: Random Systems - Stars are generated inside each of the galaxy’s nebulae, and the remaining 75-88% of the galaxy’s stars are placed randomly with a pattern that depends on galaxy type. For example, a Globular Cluster is very spherical with lots of stars in the centre and far from the galactic plane, while an Eliptical galaxy is flatter and disc-shaped.

 

crashedshipIn the Predestination storyline, each empire spawns from a single ship that was thrown back in time and crash-landed on a planet. We’ve thought a lot about how to implement this as an interesting game mechanic, and this month we finally implemented it. Each race’s starting capitol city now contains a unique building which is essentially your crashed ship. There are four different ships available, each with different stats that will affect your start in the game:

  • Damaged Science Vessel: +10 research points per turn. This gives you a nice starting boost to research but no other bonuses.
  • Damaged Mining Barge: +20 metal per turn and +2,000 metal storage. Metal and money are the limiting factors in growth, so this boosts your planet colonisation speed.
  • Damaged Colony Ship: +2,000 food per turn, +10,000 food storage, and +2,000 maximum population. More taxable population means more money, which will help your colonisation speed.
  • Damaged Warship: +100 energy per turn and +1,000 energy storage. This means one less power plant to build in the early game, so you can build another infrastructure in its place.

The exciting part is that the damaged ship can be repaired and sent up into orbit. At the end of each of the four research trees is a technology that repairs one major component of your damaged ship: Space Sensors for Physics, Frigate Hull for Construction, Fuel Cell for Bio/Chemistry, and Ship Training for Sociology. Repairing all four parts means the ship is space-worthy again and unlocks the space colonisation technology era. The damaged ship building disappears, you get the repaired ship to use for free, and you unlock one or two bonus technologies from the start of the second era tech trees:

  • The Science Vessel: Becomes a re-usable Survey Ship that can scan planets from orbit, and automatically grants you the Orbital Scanner technology, unlocking one-use survey probes.
  • The Mining Barge: Becomes a non-combat Asteroid Mining Barge that produces metal each turn in the system it’s in, and automatically grants you the Asteroid Miner technology.
  • The Colony Ship: Becomes a Colony Ship that can colonise another planet, and automatically grants you the Colony Ship technology.
  • The Warship: Becomes a Combat Scout with a Laser Cannon and Class I Shield, and automatically grants you the Laser Cannon and Class I Shield technologies. We might make this ship start with a legendary captain or elite crew members.

powerusageNow that we have automatically-updating default colony blueprints in the game, we ran into a small problem with building power usage. Since every planet is set up with different power infrastructure, we have to make sure every single blueprint uses the exact same amount of power as the old one. That turned out to be needlessly difficult to balance and the AI couldn’t do it consistently, so we made it easier with a few small changes:

  • Most buildings now have a base power usage of 1 energy per hex they fill, so it’s 1 energy/turn for small buildings and 7 for large ones.
  • Buildings with tiers (e.g. Factory (Tier 2) vs Factory (Tier 3)) use an additional 8 energy per increased tier, so 15 for tier 2 and 23 for tier 3. Some special large buildings also similarly use 15 or 23 energy/turn.
  • All small auxiliary power generator buildings now produce 4-8 energy/turn depending on circumstances. This lets you offset the 8 energy increases above by adding 1-2 small power buildings.
  • All infrastructure now uses 15 energy per turn, except power generators (which produce energy) and farms (which use no energy).

This works out to about 96 energy/turn for each city and its full 6 infrastructure, so we’ve rebalanced all of the power infrastructures to produce around 100 energy/turn. Solar and wind power plants produce up to 112 energy/turn depending on where they’re built, Geothermal power plants produce 120 when built on a geothermal vent or molten planet, fossil fuel plants produce 100 until they run out of coal, biofuel reactors produce 100 indefinitely, and nuclear power plants produce 200 indefinitely.

 

Thanks for reading this month’s development update! Stay tuned for our upcoming alpha release and the announcement of our full final development roadmap for getting Predestination to version 1.0. As always, if anyone has any questions or concerns, you can email me directly at brendan@brainandnerd.com or leave a comment on our forum, Kickstarter, or Steam page.

Cheers,

— Brendan, Lead Developer

Development Update: October 2014 – Research overhaul, bombing, survey ships and more

october

Last month I estimated there to be around 180 hours of programming tasks remaining for the Early Access release. Although that estimation proved to be a bit optimistic and other unforseen tasks popped up throughout October, we’ve made a lot of progress toward the Early Access version and are confident that it will be ready for deployment by the end of November.

In October, we completed and began testing on the Planet and Galaxy AIs, implemented a system for bombing planets, added a new survey ship mechanic for pre-scanning planets before colonisation, a Command Points system, and transport freighters. We’ve also added right-click radial menus to cities, infrastructure and buildings, revamped the shipyard screen, added the graphics for each race to the Race Select screen, filled out some of the dropdown menus that were missing in previous test versions, and overhauled the boring old research pane with shiny new graphics that we think you’ll love!

researchtitleThose of you who tested our recent Galaxy Management release will have played with our old research screen, which was a rather boring looking screen filled with gray boxes. The feedback on that screen indicated that some people found the animating info pane confusing and the whole screen needed to look a lot better in the finished game, so we devoted part of this month to redesigning it. Now we have a much more intuitive and visually interesting system, with each of the four tech trees represented by a tree of shining stars.

The info pane now permanently occupies a portion of the bottom of the screen and displays info on technologies you’ve moved the mouse over or selected, and the tech tree extends from bottom to top instead of left to right so it should be a lot more intuitive to use. The stars are colour-coded based on what type of technology they represent: Red for ship weapons, Yellow for ship modules, Blue for buildings, and White for everything else. There’s enough space to include more complex networks than the current 5×5 grid if we need to, and since we’re not cramming four tech trees onto one screen at the same time any more, we can now potentially add entire new tech trees in expansions.

Below is a screenshot of the new research screen in action. All that’s left to do now is to jazz it up with new backgrounds of different colours for each field, create an image for each technology, and implement strategic choices that force you to pick between multiple mutually exclusive options.

NewResearchSystem

 

racetitleAfter picking your galaxy generation parameters when creating a new game, you’ll move on to the race selection screen. We’ve added all the race graphics to this screen, including the diplomacy backgrounds and the graphics for each race’s scientist, soldier, and diplomat. We still have to add the race description, lore and race stats to this screen, and the ability to customise other things like race colour, banner, your ruler name etc. Custom races will be added after the initial Early Access release.

race select

 

bombtitlePart of Predestination’s unique planetary gameplay is bombing enemy planets to hell from orbit. This month we implemented the bombing code that lets you fire weapons at the ground, damaging cities, infrastructure and roads. Any Beam, Projectile or Missile weapon on your ships in orbit can be fired as if it’s a bomb, but specialised bomb weapons exist that will be much more effective. We also linked bombs to our crater system and each weapon now leaves its own telltale scars and craters on the planet’s surface. The crater images can be customised to make some funky looking superweapons in the future, and they’re completely moddable.

By default you’ll only be able to see enemy cities on the planet, but you can research bombing scanner ship modules that show other targets like infrastructure and roads. When spies are eventually implemented, one of the missions you’ll be able to send them on will be to steal the planet’s maps so you can see where everything is before bombing it. Anti-Missile Pod buildings have a chance of shooting down missiles and bombs, and we’re planning to add a Cloaking Field building late in the tech tree that hides the city from scans.

Cities with City Shield buildings block a certain amount of damage from each shot fired at them and then absorb the rest of the damage by using up some of the planet’s energy reserves. If the planet’s energy reserves run out, the shield collapses and bombs that get through will deal damage to random buildings until they’re all gone, at which point the city explodes and leaves a crater. Below is an example of a city before and after it’s bombed into oblivion:

planetbomb

 

surveytitleExploration is an extremely important aspect of 4X games, and for Predestination that means scanning planets for surprises like crashed ships, ancient ruins, or rare resource deposits. Sending any ship to a star system will show you basic information on the planets such as size, climate type, mineral richness and whether it’s already colonised, but to find out more you’ll need to scan the planet itself. Until now, the only way to scan a planet was to colonise it and let your planet scouts slowly uncover each hex. Now you can use a ship with the Survey Module equipped to conduct those scans from orbit!

By right clicking a planet and selecting the Survey Planet option, you can direct the nearest idle survey ship to head to the planet and enter orbit. Once there, it will begin scanning the planet from top to bottom at a rate of 50 hexes per turn until the planet is 100% scanned, at which point it will pop up a notification to let you know what it’s found. Advanced versions of the Survey Scanner that scan 100 hexes and 200 hexes per turn can be researched further in the technology tree. Scanning a planet will help you pick a good one to colonise, and let you place your first city on the planet exactly where you like. Below shows a planet being scanned by the Survey Module:

surveyship

 

uititlesWith so much information to deliver to the player about dozens of star systems, space 4X games almost universally suffer from information overload. We’ve aimed to solve this in Predestination with things like tooltips, radial menus, and our notification taskbar, but there’s still more to come. To give you quick access to your fleets, planets, ship designs, and more from across your empire, we’ve started putting together small summary windows to put into our tabbed dropdown menus.

For example, the screenshot below shows the shipyard screen with  the build queue and ship design windows on the right, and I’ve opened the Ship Design dropdown menu to show that the same window is being drawn in both places. You’ll be able to use the dropdown menu to access this window from anywhere in the game. I plan to roll this system out to give quick at-a-glance access to your fleets, colonised planets, current exploration, ship captains, diplomatic contacts, city blueprints and more.

Shipyard

 

cptitlesEvery 4X game has its own system for balancing military sizes with empire growth, and for Predestination we’re taking inspiration from the command point system from Master of Orion II. Command points represent the logistical costs of organising a fleet of ships, so a larger empire will have more command points and can support a larger military. Your empire now starts with a base of 10 free command points and gains +1 point for each city built on your planets. Warlord races get an additional bonus +1 point per planet in their empire.

Ships in your empire use up command points based on their size, from 1 point for non-combat ships to 2 for Frigates, 4 for Cruisers, 8 for Battleships, 16 for Titans and 32 for Doom Stars. Your fleet’s size can exceed your allottment of command points, but it’ll cost you a money penalty each turn for logistical upkeep. MOO2’s penalty was -10BC/turn per point over the command point limit, which turned out to be a problem because some races could generate enough money to build truly massive fleets. To combat that, we’re making the penalty scale up exponentially so that it’s cheap to go 2-3 points over the line but extremely expensive to go as far as 10 or more points over.

While developing the code for this system, we’ve been throwing about some new ideas for technologies and features that can modify command points. You could get bonus points for each Battle Station built like in Master of Orion II, but not for research outposts or other non-combat orbital stations. Elite Ship Crew members and some Ship Captains could also decrease the command point cost of ships, allowing you to grow a larger fleet over time as long as you don’t get your valuable crew and captains killed.

 

progressupdateWe want to release the Early Access version this month, and to do that there are a few features that I’ll need to finish first:

  • User Interfaces: I need to finish the tax adjustment user interface and create interfaces for the dropdown menus like the Planet and Fleet menus.
  • Bombing: With the bombing mechanics and craters complete, I need to make a bombing and spying window for interacting with enemy planets. We’re also going to need some explosion graphics for planetary bombardment to make it feel satisfying to turn enemy cities into smoking craters.
  • Fleet Combat: I still need to test that all of the ground-based weapons are working in Fleet combat, and that the enemy fleets are able to start a fleet combat by attacking planets.
  • Research Trees: With the new research system in place, I’ll need to rebuild the research trees and flesh them out with some new technologies.
  • Test AI: We’ll need to continue testing and tweaking the Galaxy AI, Diplomacy AI and Planet AI, because there’s not much point in playing against an opponent that doesn’t know how to play the game properly.

There are also a number of small changes that we’d love to get into the game before the Early Access release in order to make a better first impression. The star system window needs a little improvement to make it a better overview of everything in a solar system, for example, and some small improvements to notifications like the Research Complete popup would add a little polish.

 

Managing expectations:

With the Early Access version hopefully just weeks away, I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss what you can expect from this version of the game. As some of you mentioned after last month’s update, it’s extremely important for us to be clear with the general public about what state the game is in, what features are missing, and how much work is still left to finish before we can officially launch Predestination. So far we’ve released three test versions of sub-units of the game: Fleet Combat, Planetary Colonisation, and Galaxy Management. We called these betas, but they were more like modular tests and we have to be very careful with the words we choose to describe the current state of development.

With that in mind, we’re calling the Early Access version the official Predestination Alpha release. It’ll be the first version to allow players to play the game as it was intended rather than chopped up into little modular tests, but it’s not quite at the Beta stage as there are many unfinished features. The Predestination Alpha will start off with just the sandbox game mode and we’ll continue to add features and content while people playtest that part of the game.  Once all the major game features are implemented and most testers consider the sandbox mode to be sufficiently complete and playable, we’ll move onto a formal Beta stage to polish the game and then release.

 

hmspiffingMany of you have contacted us with messages of support for local indie game development in Northern Ireland, and some of you have said you’d like to know about other sci-fi games being developed. It just so happens that Belfast-based indie studio BillyGoat Entertainment is currently working on its own sci-fi game, a space-borne comedic twist on the classic story-driven adventure game.

Her Majesty’s Spiffing is a 3D sci-fi adventure game set aboard the space ship HMS Imperialise and dripping with british humour. BillyGoat has put together a free playable demo of the game so you can get a feel for the style of gameplay and dialogue and decide if you’d like to see more, and they’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the first story episode. The campaign has just passed the 50% mark with 18 days to go, and you can pre-order the game for as little as £10 (about $16 US) if you’re interested in it.

 

Thanks for reading this month’s development update!

Cheers,

— Brendan, Lead Developer

The road to Early Access

earlyaccess

Hey guys! Firstly, I’d like to apologise for the lack of a development update last month. We’ve been working hard on getting our upcoming Early Access version ready, but I realise it’s important to keep our backers in the loop with regular updates. The Early Access release will be a fully playable version of the game’s sandbox mode with most of the major features implemented. You’ll be able to colonise the galaxy, research new technologies, make diplomatic deals with alien empires, manage your planets with blueprints, engage in tactical combat with AI-controlled fleets, and bomb enemy planets into oblivion. We aim to release this version on Steam to expand the beta tester pool and get more feedback on the game.

We’ve compiled a list of the remaining features that need to be completed for this release, broken it down into a series of tasks and estimated how long each task will take. We’re fairly confident that the Early Access version will be ready by the end of October. In this update, I’ll look at what we’ve accomplished recently and the tasks still to complete before we can hit Early Access.

 

galaxygenerationAll of the betas so far have been working with the same galaxy generation parameters, but a big part of the fun of of a space 4X game is picking what size and type of galaxy you want. There are also gameplay considerations to take into account when generating a galaxy, such as making sure stars are appropriate distances from each other so that they’re all accessible depending on researched technologies, determining fair starting positions for the races in the game, and evenly distributing rare special planets. We’ve now built the galaxy options screen and updated the generation algorithm to takes all of those factors into account and use the following options:

  • Galaxy Size: Tiny (20 stars) up to Huge (300 stars). There’s no technical limit to how many stars we have, but 300 seems a sensible upper limit for gameplay reasons.
  • Galaxy Age: Primordial, Young, New, Average, Old, or Ancient. Younger galaxies have larger nebulae, more stellar gas, and fewer habitable planets and ancient ruins.
  • Type: Elliptical, Globular Cluster, Open Cluster, or Stellar Nursery. Spiral galaxies are a little trickier and will be added later.
  • Stellar Gas: Nitrogen (Blue), Oxygen (Green), Hydrogen (Red), Helium (Orange), Carbon Dioxide (Purple), Random, or Off.

Below are a few example galaxies generated with the new system, from a tiny galaxy in the top left to a huge one in the bottom right. The nebula code is now more efficient and we’ve added the ability to disable the stellar gas to help with the frame rate on older computers for now, and we plan to add further optimisations and low graphics options in the future.

galaxies2

The colour of the interstellar gas isn’t just cosmetic, it also affects the colour of the first nebula generated. If you pick Oxygen, for example, then you’ll always generate a map with at least one Oxygen nebula. Stars that generate inside nebulae now have special properties applied to them that affect their planet generation. Planets inside Nitrogen nebulae will be more likely to have an atmosphere (Terran, Swamp, Ocean, Tundra or Desert class), those inside an Oxygen nebula will be more likely to be Terran and will roll with more organics (fertile soil spots and more coal deposits), and planets inside a Hydrogen nebula will be more likely to be Molten and Barren but rich in ore. We’ll add effects to Helium and Carbon Dioxide nebulae at a later stage, perhaps making them attract more space monsters or temporal rifts. Naturally, each nebula will also have various effects on Fleet Combat in the system, ship movement etc.

 

tooltipOne of the big points of feedback we’ve taken on board from the beta versions is that the user interface could use some work. We want to keep the UI as simple and intuitive as possible, but that’s a big challenge in a 4X game as there’s a lot of information to convey to players. To avoid information overload, we’ve extracted a lot of information out of the main UI and put it into new information-dense mouseover tooltips. Only the most vital information is now drawn directly on the UI or game buttons, with detailed stats and other useful information now being moved to the tooltips.

These tooltips display key stats on everything from planets and cities to individual buildings, infrastructure, and deposits, and they should make the game much friendlier to new players. They also give us the opportunity to provide warnings or hints to the player, such as telling them that an infrastructure is currently offline due to a staff shortage, or highlighting all the infrastructures that can use a particular resource deposit.  Some examples of tooltips currently in the game are below:

tooltips

 

planetai

If we want to have AI enemies play the game effectively, we have to teach them how to explore and colonise planets effectively. A lot of my recent work has gone into that part of the game, and we now have a working AI in place that evaluates the needs of a planet and expands accordingly. It can build farms and power plants to cover each city’s needs, and also ore refineries and research excavations as appropriate. It also picks what type of specialisation a city should have based on the planet’s available resources, so it’ll build lots of Research cities on a planet with plenty of Ancient Ruins and Factory cities on planets with plenty of Ore deposits.

Developing the planetary AI has led to two very interesting new tools that we can now make available to players:

  • Blueprint Creator: This tool automatically generates default blueprints in useful categories like Research, Industry, Farm, Residential (Tax) and Defense, and will automatically update them if you get new technology. We imagine that many players will choose to use the default blueprints in order reduce planet micromanagement in exchange for that extra convenience.
  • AI Governor: We could let players optionally put an AI Governor in control of a planet and simply select a planetary specialisation (research, industry, residential, defense etc). The governor would explore and colonise the planet for you, eliminating 100% of planet micromanagement for those who want to play a more strategic game.

In order to build the Planetary AI, we’ve also had to implement some of the feedback from the Galaxy Beta 2.0 early:

  • Population is now a global stat rather than each city having its own population. This makes the game a lot more sensible on the planetary level, as you don’t have to worry about each city having enough staff for its own infrastructure.
  • Depleted deposits don’t disappear completely. Ore deposits now produce 2 metal/turn or 1/turn when depleted, and Coal plants simply shut down when the deposit is depleted rather than self-destructing.
  • The Solar, Wind, Geothermal and Wave power plants have now been turned into infrastructures that are placed on the planet’s surface instead of inside cities. Miniature versions of each can also be built inside cities to let you tweak power generation.
  • When you find a deposit of something you haven’t researched the technology to use yet (e.g. crashed ships or uranium), it now shows up as a “?” on the map.
  • Once you have the Sealed Tube technology, roads can automatically go under water and tubes are automatically placed on top of any road type.

 

releasescheduleTo keep you in the loop regarding Predestination’s development, below is the list of major features that still need to be implemented before we can release the Early Access version. I’ve broken each of these down into a series of sub-tasks and estimate that this is around 180 hours of programming work, so it’s going to be tight but we’re on track to get the Early Access version complete by the end of October:

  • Galaxy AI: We’ve started work on the galaxy level AI, which will manage the AI empires, colonising new planets, selecting technologies to research and building fleets of ships. This needs to be finished and thoroughly tested before early access.
  • Adjustable Tax: We’ve built the tax system and made tax decrease morale across your empire, lowering metal/research output. Now we need to make a UI to let you adjust the tax rate and see the consequences to empire morale. We also need to add some special events that can be triggered by low morale, such as riots, bombings and thefts. If morale is low enough on a planet, the planet’s loyalty rating will start to drop and the planet may eventually defect from your empire.
  • Diplomacy AI: We’ve built a diplomacy AI that can evaluate your offers and decide whether to accept or reject them. Now we need the AI races need to be able to contact you with their own trade deals. The AI also needs to remember any past dealings their empire has had with you and use that in their decision-making.
  • Freighters: The ability to build freighters to shuttle metal, food and energy from one planet to another or to offer it in diplomatic deals. Recurring trade routes will be added at a later date.
  • Fleet Combat: Ground-based weapon buildings need to be added to combat in defense of a planet and need to be able to fire using the planet’s energy reserves.
  • Bombing Phase: After defeating any ships defending a planet, you’ll be able to open the planet and drop bombs in strategic locations. Take out the enemy’s farms and power plants, destroy roads, or bomb the cities themselves. Bombs will leave craters on the surface, cities will be able to have shields to defend against bombs, and we’ll need a bombing AI to let the AI bomb your planets or allow you to hit an Auto-Bomb button. Dropping troops to capture a city will not be part of this version but will be added at a later date.
  • Radial Menus: Adding right-click menus to buildings, infrastructure, planets and ships with options like Salvage/Demolish, Move, and Info. This will help clean up parts of the UI that currently aren’t very intuitive.
  • Planetary Sensor: Make this ship module actually scan planets from orbit slowly over time, exploring them just like a planetary scout would so you can find a nice planet before colonising one.
  • Command Points: Just like in MOO2, the number and size of ships you can build will be limited by a Command Point system, with harsh penalties for going over the limit. Larger empires will end up with larger navies.

The sandbox mode will be fully playable once these features are implemented, and we can then concentrate on rolling out other major features like spying, the finished 3D ship designer, and singleplayer story missions.

— Brendan, Lead Developer

Galaxy Beta V2.0: Planet Overhaul and Fleet Combat Iteration

galaxybetaheader

Galaxy Beta V 2.0 has now been through internal testing and all beta backers will be mailed shortly with installation instructions and a download link. This beta is a major milestone for Predestination and a big step forward toward release, containing both the latest version of the Fleet Combat gameplay and the final major gameplay iteration on Predestination’s planetary gameplay. We’ll try to put together a video soon showing how the game now plays for those who aren’t in the beta, and of course  the testers are free to make their own videos or streams of it since there’s no NDA on our betas.

In this post, I’ll look at what’s changed in this beta, and the next steps for Predestination. This beta stage consists of three main scenarios: Fleet Combat V 2.0, Planetary Colonisation V 2.0, and the latest version of the Galaxy map (which unlocks after you win the planet scenario). We’d appreciate any feedback you have on the beta scenarios, and we’re particularly interested in hearing how you like the revamped planetary gameplay. If you’re a tester and get a moment to check out the latest beta, please head over to the forum and let us know what you think because it really does help us a ton with development.

shipcombatupdate

If you happened to catch our stall at Q Con in Belfast recently, you’ve probably already played the latest version of our Fleet Combat demo scenario. The scenario Galaxy Beta V2.0 is the second major iteration on Predestination’s Fleet Combat gameplay and has a number of key improvements over the original beta version:

  • Attacking has been simplified. Now when you move the mouse over any enemy, you can see the firing arcs of all of your weapons. You can now just click on an enemy to automatically fire all available weapons at him. You can still individually target weapons by manually activating them, but are no longer forced to.
  • Shields are now displayed as actual models around the ships, and moving the mouse over an enemy highlights the shield you’re going to hit. The current demo has a Class I Shield that has a lot of gaps, and more advanced shields will have more solid-looking models.
  • Hitpoints and damage have been multiplied by ten and rounded to the nearest unit, so we’re no longer dealing fractions of damage. The damage numbers are also larger and more visible.
  • Ships no longer have “free turns” as this was confusing, and the default firing arc for weapons is now the Extended arc to make aiming at enemies significantly easier.
  • Your turn now automatically ends after firing. We’re going to make this an option as some tactics will require players to fire and then move.

We’ve still got some features to add, such as technologies that let you simulate ship movement before committing to a move, and a simple way to rotate your ship. The UI, animations and other graphics are also in need of some improvement before release. But before we go back and revisit the Fleet Combat, we’d like to get the rest of the core game finished and have fully released the custom 3D ship designer. Modular ships have been fully integrated into the Fleet Combat test scenario, so once we release the ship designer itself, the system is already fully compatible with the game.

colonisation

Predestination’s most unique feature is its deep planetary colonisation gameplay, and we’ve spent a lot of development time iterating on it to make sure we get it right. Most space 4X games have very basic planetary interaction, so we’re really in unfamiliar territory and your feedback has been essential in guiding development. We’ve previously discussed the major Planet and City overhauls that introduce features like Roads and Infrastructure, but there’s one final piece of the planetary colonisation puzzle that remained to be tackled: Resource Deposits.

It’s been pointed out to us in the past that our old planetary resource system could feel a bit lifeless as all deposits functioned the same way; they were just isolated little dots on the map that you could use to build ore refineries, research labs and farms. We knew we could do better than that, so as part of Galaxy Beta V2.0 we’re pleased to reveal that the resource deposits themselves have received some love too. A summary of the big changes is below:

oresplatOre Changes: Each planet used to have a few isolated hexes containing ore, each of which could support one ore refinery that automatically produced 10 metal/turn. That was a bit boring, so we’ve now made generate in seams of 3-8 deposits and refinery output is based on the number of deposits near it. The refinery extracts ore from all deposits within a range of 1 hex, so it can mine up to 7 deposits at once. Each refinery now generates 4 metal/turn plus 1 metal/turn for each deposit it’s mining, so it now produces between 5 and 11 metal/turn.

 

 

farmFarm Changes: There used to be only a few food deposits on each planet and you could only build farms on those spots, which didn’t really make sense. Now you can place a farm anywhere on the planet’s surface if it’s the correct environment for your race. Farms now grow food on each hex of the correct environment within a range of 1 hex. The base building generates 40 food/turn and all farmed hexes in its area generate 10 food/turn. Specific food deposits are still generated on the planets as before, but these now give an additional 10 food/turn bonus. In addition, food consumption has been changed so that 1 unit of food now supports 10 units of population.

oreleftResource Depletion: The biggest change with this overhaul is that Fossil Fuel and Ore deposits will now deplete as they’re used. They start out with 100-125 units of material and run out at a rate of 1 per turn while being used. Once an ore deposit disappears, the refinery it’s part of will lose the 1 metal/turn bonus that deposit granted. The base refinery building will continue to operate indefinitely though, producing its base of 4 metal/turn.

When a Fossil Fuel deposit runs out, it’s gone for good. You can extend the lifetime of all fossil fuel deposits by researching technologies like Natural Gas or Oil Drilling, but it’s just a stop-gap measure. Eventually you’ll need to switch to another form of power generation, like solar, geothermal, wind power, wave power, or nuclear (as uranium deposits don’t run out). Both this and the ore depletion are designed to allow players to use up the planet’s resources to expand more rapidly, and it stops players from just turtling up inside one or two solar systems.

artifactResearch Changes: We’ve changed things around a little with research. The research building that goes in cities is now called Research Lab and generates 5 RP/turn, while the infrastructure placed on Crashed Ships and Ancient Ruins is now called an Excavation and gives a 100% bonus to all research in the city it’s linked to. The big change is that after you’ve done enough research in a city connected to a Crashed Ship or Ancient Ruin, you’ll finish excavating the ship/ruins and could gain an advanced Artifact technology. These technologies are powerful and unique in each game session, so once you discover one, no other race can discover it in that game. They’re kind of like Wonders in Civilization but you don’t know what you’ll get until you excavate it. This system is in Galaxy Beta V 2.0, but most of the Artifact technologies haven’t been implemented yet.

 

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I know that you’re all very eager to get your hands on Predestination, and we’re just as eager to get it finished and in your hands, so I’d like to discuss our current development plans going forward. The good news is that Galaxy Beta V2.0 is the final major change to our planet gameplay as we’re very happy with how it’s turned out; all that needs done to it now is some balance tweaking, a few UI improvements, and the addition of some new technologies.

Putting that aside, our primary goal is now to get the sandbox game mode to a fully playable state and then release an Early Access version on Steam. In order to do that, we need to finish the following features:

  • Develop a Planetary Colonisation AI. This could also be used for people who want to automate their planets entirely rather than micromanage or use blueprints.
  • Develop a Galaxy Level AI that colonises the galaxy and builds fleets of ships.
  • Finish designing and implementing the start screen for the selection of galaxy size, type, race etc.
  • Overhaul the Research dropdown menu. The current plan is to have an icon for each technology and to move all the important information to a detailed tooltip.
  • Create a new Blueprint screen for the creation and editing of city blueprints, and ensure that updated blueprints are propagated throughout your empire.
  • Finish the second iteration of the Diplomacy Screen and implement the Diplomacy dropdown menu for opening diplomatic contact.
  • Implement a full diplomacy AI and favour/memory system for AI races.
  • Implement trade routes and a UI for setting them up between your own planets, and integrate trades into the Diplomacy system.
  • Integrate Fleet Combat with the Galaxy level gameplay so combats spawn when fleets of enemy/neutral races meet.
  • Add Ground Cannons and space stations to fleet combat in defense of a planet, and make it so they can use the planet’s energy to attack.
  • Create a bombing phase after combat where you can destroy cities, roads and infrastructure from orbit or land ground troops to take over cities.
  • Design and implement the Planets dropdown menu (At least the Manage Planets and Blueprints sections)
  • Finish Research Eras 2 and 3 and implement more of the Ancient Artifact technologies.
  • Implement the Command Point system that will limit how many ships you have, and display the number somewhere on the UI.
  • Implement a tax UI that will let you change your empire-wide tax rate. Link this feature to the Universal Currency technology.

As always, we’d love to hear what you have to say about the latest developments and you can head over to our forum to let us know!

Cheers,

– Brendan, Lead Developer

Development Update: June 2014 – City Revamp, Ship Designs, and Beta Plans

juneupdate

June was a jam-packed month for us; We showed off Predestination at Comic Con Belfast and Q Con XXI, performed an iteration on the Fleet Combat gameplay, worked on a lot of new building and ship models, and completely redesigned the city system. We’ve also switched to a new newsletter system to make sure that everyone is definitely receiving important development updates, and are now working hard on the next beta release: Galaxy Beta V2.0. This update is due for release within the next two weeks and will contain all of the planet and city changes discussed in the May and June dev updates, in addition to a newly overhauled version of the Fleet Combat gameplay.

Update (2nd August): The next beta stage will be out within the next few days along with a full breakdown of the new gameplay.

 

newsletter

We’ve been receiving emails recently saying that some people aren’t receiving their monthly updates or links to new beta stages. To solve this, we’ve started up a new mailing list system for dev updates and beta links, so those of you who have unsubscribed from Kickstarter emails or pledged on Paypal can still receive our monthly updates.

We’ll be sending this update out through email and if you want to opt out of that mailing list, just follow the instructions in the email. If you want to sign up for the development update newsletter or switch the email address you’re receiving them to, head over to the newsletter page and subscribe with your preferred email address. Also, if you feel like you should be on the beta list and haven’t received the Galaxy Beta, please send a mail to tina@brainandnerd.com to let us know and we’ll investigate.

 

shipodesignertitle

Back in March, we gave you a sneak peek at the default Renegade Battleship design. That ship has now been decomposed into individual parts and we’ve made a lot of new cosmetic and functional ship parts since then. The Renegade ship part set is now fully complete and we’re in the process of texturing each block and integrating them into the ship designer.

When that’s finished and has passed a quality inspection, we’ll be able to release the first beta of the 3D ship designer to all beta backers. I can’t put a date on that yet, but further ship model packs will be much quicker to develop and deploy after the beta goes live as we’ll then have the entire production process hammered down step by step. Below are the finished blockouts of the default Renegade Frigate, Cruiser, Battleship, and Space Station!

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cityrevamp

If you’ve been following the Predestination blog, you may have seen our Game Design Sneak Peek on the upcoming city revamp. For those who haven’t seen it, a summary of the most important parts is below. Following last month’s overhaul of the planetary gameplay to use our new road system, your feedback indicated that the cities and blueprints would also need to be revamped to be more engaging with the new setup. We agreed, so we went back to the drawing board and came up with some big changes.

In Master of Orion II, players were able to specialise their cities for industry, farming or research by moving population between the three jobs. We want that kind of tactical option to be part of Predestination, so we’re going to let players specialise their cities for Research, Food, Metal, Military or Tax by introducing a series of new buildings designed to synergise with infrastructure connected to the city. Once this revamp is implemented, this should complete the final major iteration of the Planetary Colonisation gameplay.

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Work-in-Progress Infrastructure models: Research Outpost (Left), Ore Refinery (Middle), Coal Power Plant (Right)

Research/Food/Production City:

Cities specialising in Research, Food, or Production can use new industrial buildings that give a small boost on their own but also multiply the bonuses of connected infrastructure. You can use a building in a city without the matching infrastructure and still get some benefit, but it won’t be as efficient:

  • Factory: Produces 5 metal/turn, +10% metal/turn produced by infrastructure. Also increases metal storage by 1000.
  • Food Processor: Produces 250 food/turn, +10% food/turn produced by infrastructure. Also increases food storage by 500.
  • University: Produces 2 research/turn, +5% research/turn produced by infrastructure.

Each of these buildings has two upgrades which can be researched and built, adding new components to the building and increasing its bonuses. Below is the work-in-progress version of the factory building showing the components that appear with each upgrade tier. The central hex will be filled with metal storage and transports.

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Other City types:

Military: To specialise a city for military or defense, the player will have to sacrifice the above industrial advantage and use his building space for Ground Cannons, City Shields and other military buildings. Details of all the planned military buildings are in our recent Design Sneak Peek post on the city revamp.

Residential (Trade and Tax): Tax will be a lot more important in the updated version of the game, as money is now used to build infrastructure and roads on a planet, and each building costs at least 1BC/turn maintenance. To specialise a city for residential purposes to generate tax income, you’ll need to sacrifice building space for housing and extra services to keep the planet’s population secure and keep morale high. More details of residential cities and trade-related buildings can be found in our recent Design Sneak peek post.

Balancing Cities:

Each city currently has space for up to 6 large buildings and 12 small, which turned out to be far too much space for meaningful strategic tradeoffs. Players in the beta noted that they could build whatever they needed without running into any space problems. The numbers on paper also get out of hand with 5 or 6 factory buildings in the new system, so the solution to both problems was to reduce the city size.

Each city can now hold a maximum of 4 large buildings and 8 small ones, or 3 large buildings and 15 small. Fitting in four industrial buildings (like the Factory) means you’ll be unable to add any large buildings like the Space Port or City Shield at all, which is a strategic tradeoff that you’ll have to make when designing your cities

newcitylayout

 

Blueprints:

One of the primary goals of the city revamp is to make it so players can make good use of our Blueprint system. With multiple cities to manage on a large number of planets, players should rarely have to revisit a planet once it’s set up, instead just managing everything with blueprints. The only reason you should need go back to a planet would be to respond to a random event or attack, to change a city from one specialisation to another, or to build something special manually like a space station.

The city revamp described above should satisfy those requirements. Players can now design cities for particular specialisations or even hybrids like a heavily defended factory city or a tax-heavy research city, and can switch between specialisations easily by switching blueprints, providing a similar strategic function to moving population between jobs in MOO2.

Build Times: The final change that ties all of these building changes together is that we’re adding build times to buildings. This will hopefully discourage people from frequently switching cities from one blueprint to another as it’ll take several turns before all the construction is complete. We can then also add a technology or race pick that lets you spend money to complete buildings instantly, a big financial tradeoff that you might need to make if enemies are heading toward a planet with no defenses built.

 

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I’d like to give a big thanks to everyone who’s supported us so far in making Predestination; the backers who have funded us through Kickstarter and Paypal, those who voted for us on Steam Greenlight, the people we’ve met at conventions who offered words of encouragement, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland who support the emerging local games industry, the indie gaming websites that give tiny indie studios like us exposure, and everyone who has contributed suggestions and feedback to help make the game better.

It’s been a long journey and we wouldn’t have made it this far without your help, so we appreciate your patience as we’ve iterated on our unique planetary gameplay to be sure we get it right. Our plan for the immediate future is to finish implementing the city revamp above and then get all of the new planet gameplay into beta backers’ hands within the next week or two. This should be our final iteration on the planets, and we can then move on to finishing the core galaxy level gameplay and NPC AI, hopefully then leading on to an Early Access release.

As always, we welcome all feedback on this month’s dev update on Kickstarter or our forums. To close this month’s dev update, here’s a photo of me at Q Con apparently trying to destroy two Predestination fans with my viking eye lasers.

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Cheers,

— Brendan Drain, Lead Developer

Design sneak peek: City overhaul, new buildings, and blueprints

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Our next monthly dev update is due soon, but before that I’d like to take a more detailed look at the Predestination Beta’s upcoming city revamp, which forms the second part of what we hope will be the final major iteration on Predestination’s planetary gameplay. A short summary of the changes will be part of the next dev update or you can skip ahead to Step 4 to read them, but for those interested in the game design process, this post will go through the steps we took to arrive at the new version of the City and Blueprint systems.

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Development Update: May 2014 – Augmented planet gameplay, Beta feedback, and Diplomacy

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The first iteration of the Galaxy beta has now been in backers’ hands for just over a month, and we’ve been working hard on fixing bugs and addressing the gameplay issues it raised. Your bug reports have helped us track down and fix several major crashes and game-breaking bugs, and your feedback is helping to direct Predestination’s development. Feedback from the Galaxy beta indicates that the planetary gameplay needs more work, performance needs to be improved on low-end systems, and areas like the research system could use a little more work, so that’s exactly what we’re doing.

As we’re now well into June, there have been a few requests for an updated release schedule. We’re quickly learning that game development isn’t an exact science, that not everything goes to plan and that most games go through delays and feature cutbacks as they approach completion. Our number one commitment has always been to make Predestination the best 4X game we possibly can with the limited resources available to us, and to iterate on the core gameplay until it feels right. That means we’re never able to fully guarantee a release date or a schedule for future stages of testing, but the tradeoff is that we definitely won’t push the game out the door in an unfinished or unplayable state.

What we can promise is that we’ll continue releasing our monthly development updates to keep you up to date on how the game is progressing, and that we’ll listen to your feedback and ideas at every step of the way. In this month’s development update, I’ll run down all of the major changes being made in response to your feedback on the Galaxy Beta. These changes will be released later this month as part of Galaxy Beta V2.0, and we’re keen to hear your thoughts on the changes now. We’ve started a poll and discussion thread over on the Predestination forums and would love to hear your thoughts on the information below:

 

planetgameplay

For the Galaxy beta, we reduced the size of the planets and the number of resources on each to make it easier to manage multiple planets. Feedback suggests that this worked, but that players would like to see some more engaging and interesting gameplay on planets.

Right now, you build extractor on deposits to automatically link them to the nearest city, and they’re then globally accessible in colonies all over the planet. It was all too simple, with not much strategic planning in city placement and no real opportunity for conflict. Your planet’s stats when fully colonised also felt pre-determined by what deposits were present, and there were no real strategic tradeoffs to make. To fix those problems, we have four major changes/features:

roads#1 – A new road system:

The old boring system of linking to resource deposits is dead and gone! In Galaxy Beta V2.0, you’ll build roads on the planet grid out from your city to link up with deposits. Each section of road costs money and metal, and you can bomb enemy roads to disconnect key deposits from a city. We’ve also reduced the size of each city’s territory to just the six hexes surrounding the main city, so deposits inside the territory are close enough that they don’t require roads and so can’t be disrupted in this manner.

3depositlimit#2 – Six-deposit limit:

The big change that comes with roads is that resource deposits will no longer be globally accessible. Many of our testers actually didn’t realise deposits were global in the beta, so we think it’ll be much more intuitive to make them link to individual cities. Each city now has a territory of six hexes, each of which can contain either a deposit or a road leading out to a deposit, imposing a natural limit of 6 deposits connected to each city. I think this makes a lot more sense and should be more interesting to manage.

depositlimit#3 – Infrastructure:

To make blueprints more useful and deposits more intuitive, we’re moving buildings like the Research Lab and Ore Refinery out of the city and onto the deposit itself instead as a piece of “Infrastructure”. Each piece of infrastructure will cost metal and money to build, consumes energy, has an upkeep cost per turn, and needs a certain number of workers to operate. Energy and workers are sourced from the city that the road leads to. Cities are now mainly residential, so blueprints work nicely and we can make cities smaller.

deposits#4 – Additional deposits:

The 6-deposit-per-city limit also means that we can add more resource deposits to a planet through technologies or random events to increase the number of options available without disrupting game balance. Since each hex in a city’s territory is equivalent to a single deposit, we can even let players build some deposits. For example, a Hydroponic Farm Infrastructure could be built next to your city that would act like a Farm that doesn’t need a food deposit, allowing you to properly colonise barren planets.

 

diplomacytitle

We got a lot of work done on the Diplomacy system this month, including the first generation of the diplomatic AI and most of the diplomacy screen’s user interface. You can currently add spare resource deposits, money and technologies to your offer and demand the same from the opposing race, who will decide whether to accept or decline. You can also add mutual relationship offers to your deals, like non-aggression pacts and alliances.

For those who like to play the puppet master pulling the strings in the background, we’re adding the ability to demand that a race declares war on another or breaks its alliances. You’ll have to give up some seriously valuable tech and resources to make that deal appealing, or offer your own hand in friendship (backed with a powerful military) in return. Below is a screenshot of the current work-in-progress version of the Diplomacy Screen:

earlydiplomacy

 

Work still to be done on the diplomacy system before it can be released for testing includes:

  • Favour system: This will track of positive things you’ve done like good deals or gifts, and negative things such as greedy deals in your favour, wars or breaking peace treaties with other nations. AI races will remember your past actions and react accordingly.
  • Racial variations: Certain races prefer technology over resources, and will value their preferred choices more.
  • Counter-Offers: The AI needs to be able to make counter-offers and contact you with its own offers, so we need an algorithm to come up with those offers.
  • Exporting deposits: We need to add a piece of infrastructure for exporting deposits from planets for trade. This will be used to send deposits to another planet in your empire, or to offer them for trade in diplomacy. We also need a system for selecting where you want the deposits you gain from trade to go.

Other ideas we have in the pipeline that aren’t essential but would be nice to add include:

  • Threaten system: For those who like to play the warmongering races, you should be able to add threats to your diplomatic offers. Threaten to declare war if they don’t give you want you want, and they might take you a bit more seriously if your military is stronger than theirs.
  • Offering ships etc: We plan to let you offer your ships and solar systems in a trade.
  • Advisors: Some commanders you hire could also be diplomatic advisors, specialising in military, science, spying, or planetary management. They could give you hints during diplomatic negotiations, letting you know what the enemy thinks of your military strength, whether they’re in dire need of a particular resource, or if they really need a certain technology and will pay over the odds for it.

As always, we’d love to hear what you have to say about the latest developments and you can head over to our forum to let us know!

Cheers,

— Brendan, Lead Developer

 

The Galaxy Beta has arrived! Pre-warp gameplay overhauled, research expanded, shipyards implemented

galaxybeta

The first iteration of the galaxy beta is now complete, it’s been through internal testing, and we’ll be sending out links to all of our beta backers over the next few days. For those of you who aren’t in the beta, this post will summarise the new features and overhauled gameplay that has made it into this version.

Pre-warp stage: The galaxy beta starts with a focused test of the pre-warp stage of the game. Players start the game immediately after crash-landing on a planet and setting up a city near the crash site. To get back into space, you must research four key technologies to rediscover warp travel:

  • Stellar Cartography – After developing space telescopes or land-based observatories, this mapping technology unlocks the galaxy map necessary for plotting fleet movements.
  • Ship Fuel Cell – With your original ship’s fuel source depleted, you need to develop a new fuel cell capable of powering a warp drive. It uses either nuclear materials or sustainable biofuels, depending on which tech you’ve chosen.
  • Orbital Shipyard – A building necessary for the design and production of ships.
  • Space Programme – Launch a Satellite into orbit as part of a formal space programme. The satellite can expend 1000 stored energy to scan the entire planet’s surface and is exclusive to your capitol city on the homeworld.

Scenario 2: Picks up where the pre-warp scenario ends, literally. Your planet, technology and city blueprints from the pre-warp stage are saved, and the galaxy map opens up. You can now build ships (just pre-designed Scout and Colony ships for now) and explore a medium sized galaxy for habitable worlds. There are no secret things to find yet, and no enemies to fight in this version, just planets to colonise and explore.

planetfeedback

In this first stage of the Galaxy beta, we’re most interested in hearing your views on the following topics:

  • Performance – How high is your FPS on the planet and galaxy parts of the game? This will help us figure out where we need to optimise the draw code.
  • Is the pacing right for the pre-warp stage? We aimed to have the player break the warp barrier by about the same time as his first planet is fully explored and utilised.
  • Did you find Blueprints helpful? They are currently just build templates for colonies, but in the final game you’ll be able to edit them and update your cities across the galaxy with just a few clicks too.
  • How did you find the research system? Does it feel like each choice is meaningful? And do you have any ideas for technologies in future tech eras?
  • All other feedback is always appreciated.

Head over to the official feedback thread to let us know what you think.

 

progressupdate

Research overhaul:

When we posted the first version of the research system last month, your feedback highlighted that there may not have been enough scope in each technology era. We’d originally planned to have around ten eras with up to nine technologies in each, and arranged in a tree formation that means the player can pick three. It turned out that there wasn’t much room for making tactical tradeoffs in this system, and there was a very obvious optimum route through most eras.

To solve this, we’ve fleshed out the technology eras from a 3×3 grid to 5×5, increasing the number of technologies per era to a maximum of 25 in each field. This required us to create and implement a lot more technologies, but we think you’ll be pleased with the results. The graphics on the research screen still need some improvement before release, but you can see the new tech tree layout for the first era of technologies below:

 

screenshot

 

Planet UI overhaul:

The planetary colonisation user interface and gameplay has been overhauled significantly since the Planetary Colonisation beta. In version 2.0 of that beta, we added information on deposits, energy and metal to the interface when zoomed into a colony, but players still felt the need to zoom out to access the resource indicator hexes. Based on your feedback, we made the building list smaller and used the extra space to keep the resource indicator hexes on-screen when you zoom in.

Buildings no longer appear in the building list if you don’t have the required resource deposit for them, which should make the gameplay easier for new players to grasp. We plan to add an option in the options menu to override that restriction for advanced players who want to pre-build buildings to use deposits that haven’t been found yet. Blueprints are also now implemented, letting you save a city layout and apply it to a new or existing city. Our new building models aren’t ready yet, so we’re still using placeholders for now.

planetscreenshot

 

Planet gameplay simplified:

The overwhelming feeling about our planet gameplay was that it was great in theory but could be far too much work per planet, so we’ve made the decision to shrink the planets and limit the number of cities you can place. Now you’ll be able to place between 1 and 6 cities on a planet depending on its size class, meaning manual colonisation is a lot more feasible.

To compensate for the decreased building space, there are now fewer resource deposits to find on each planet. And of course planets are now much smaller and quicker to explore! You can test out this balance in the Galaxy beta, and we’re looking forward to your feedback on it!

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Shipyard Screen:

The Shipyard screen is nearly complete and the first iteration is included in this beta. When you build a shipyard building in Predestination, a space station is placed in geosynchronous orbit above the city. Clicking on the space station opens up the Shipyard screen in the screenshot below, which shows all of your ship designs and lets you add ships to the shipyard’s build queue. You can only build one shipyard per solar system and it can access all metal stores and production in the entire solar system, so if you find a system with several mineral rich planets then it’d make an ideal shipyard system.

Adding a ship to the production queue costs a certain amount of money up front, and the yards then use metal each turn from the planets in the solar system to build the ship. For example, adding a colony ship costing 900 metal to the queue may cost 90 credits up front and take 100 metal per turn for 9 turns. Cancelling the job will refund only 50% of the metal and credits used. The galaxy beta features pre-made colony ship and scout ship designs, but in the full game you’ll be able to edit your ship designs from this screen and create new designs. We hope to have the ship designer ready by the end of May along with the first batch of modular blocks for designing new ships. For now, the screenshot below uses a placeholder ship.

 

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Galaxy Map changes

While testing the galaxy beta, we discovered that sometimes maps would generate with no habitable worlds near your home system, so you would essentially become stuck until you got larger sensor ranges or the ability to colonise barren and molten worlds.

To solve this, we now generate the homeworlds first, then deliberately place a habitable world within 25-50 lightyears. Several systems spider out from the homeworld to ensure each race has a chain of systems within 50ly of each other, providing at least one path for empire expansion.

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A huge thank-you to everyone who has supported Predestination with pledges and donations, and a special thanks to everyone participating in the beta to help us refine the game step by step.

Cheers,
— Brendan, Lead Developer

A quick update: The Galaxy Beta is almost ready

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We’ve been hard at work trying to get the Galaxy Beta into your hands, and you’ll be glad to know that it’s now less than a week away from completion. We had hoped to get the first iteration of this beta into your hands by the end of March, but have had some unexpected delays that have put us behind our initial projections. A computer failure has slowed work on the Galaxy Beta, and additional development time was also eaten up by preparing tax documents, putting together the final financial paperwork for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland grant, and continuing the process for getting listed on Steam.

The good news is that now that all that is complete and the Galaxy Beta is almost ready to deploy, we’re able to focus on releasing updates more regularly leading up to launch!  For this quick art update, we’d love to show you two of the diplomacy screen backgrounds in Predestination (the Kazzir and the Sauros), and two of our new promotional posters.

We’ve also put together a design pack for the race and level design backers from our first Kickstarter, which will wing its way to those backers alongside the Galaxy Beta update within the next week.

UPDATE: The galaxy beta is now ready and is undergoing some final in-house testing on various setups before we release it to backers. Your patience is very much appreciated.

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Square Enix meeting: We had the unexpected honour of meeting with Square Enix President and Representative Director Yosuke Matsuda to show him a demo of Predestination. The meeting was organised by Invest NI and Digital Circle and gave select local game developers in Northern Ireland the opportunity to make business contacts within Square Enix that could lead to future partnerships and deals.

Comic Con Belfast: Brain and Nerd has secured a stall at Comic Con Belfast on June 7th-8th to show off Predestination to potentially thousands more local gamers. This is the first time that Comic Con is coming to Northern Ireland, and we’re very excited to be a part of the event’s debut year.

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A full development update will be coming out within the next week alongside the release of the Galaxy Beta to all beta backers. We hope you enjoy the artwork in this update, and are looking forward to more frequent updates leading up to release!

February Dev Update: Schedule update, and lots of progress to show!

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We’d like to apologise for the delay in getting this month’s development update together, there’s been a lot of development progress made this month and we’ve also been buried under a mountain of paperwork! We’ve now implemented the research system, temporal rifts, nebula effects on the galaxy map, shipyards, ship crews, colony blueprints, the renewable energy scanner, and over 40 functional technologies! We’ve also got concept art blockouts completed for the ships that will be in the game, which are broken down into blocks for the 3D Ship Designer, and our 3D modelers are still working away on getting new buildings complete.

Some of this month’s work has taken a lot longer than anticipated to complete, unfortunately, and we’ve had quite a bit of bureaucracy to deal with this month on the business side of Brain and Nerd that has detracted from development time. As a result, our original release schedule aiming for release at the end of March or start of April has had to be revised. We want to put this game in your hands as much as you want to play it, but we need to do this right and can’t release the game until it’s ready.

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To keep everyone in the loop and manage expectations properly, we’d like to show you the revised timeline that we’re currently aiming for. Please keep in mind that these are estimates and shouldn’t be treated as solid release dates. Brain and Nerd is a tiny indie studio working with a small budget and only two programmers, so unexpected delays may occur. If everything goes to plan and there are no unexpected problems, the new projected schedule is as follows:

  • March – Galaxy Beta V1:- A focused test of the early game progression, with galaxy-level exploration, empire growth using colony blueprints, the research system (with two eras of research), shipyards (with a few pre-designed ships), and hopefully the early game tutorial. We’re working very hard to get this complete and in beta testers’ hands as soon as is physically possible.
  • Early April – Galaxy Beta V2:- A second iteration on the galaxy beta, incorporating beta tester feedback from V1. This iteration will also feature Fleet Combat integrated into the galaxy-level gameplay, temporal rifts (which spawn random events and enemies to fight), and the 3D ship designer will be functional and integrated. We’ll also be implementing the research queue, research synergies, most of the main menu interfaces, and the Start Game screen for sandbox mode with various galaxy options.
  • April – Ship Designer Beta V1:- A standalone version of the 3D ship designer will be released to beta backers along with all of the cosmetic parts for at least one race.
  • April – Final Beta:- Feedback from Galaxy Beta V2 will be integrated into the game for our final beta test stage. If we don’t manage to implement diplomacy and the galaxy-level AI in Galaxy Beta V2, it will be added in this stage. We’ll begin heavily optimising the game’s performance and include low-graphics settings for as much of the game as we can. At this point, we’ll aim to make sure the game can run smoothly on old desktop PCs and laptops with integrated graphics chipsets.
  • April / May – Early Access / Soft-Release:- Feedback from the Final Beta stage will be integrated into the game to produce an Early Access version on Steam and Desura (DRM-free) for all pre-order customers. This could come as early as April if the feedback on the final beta is promising.
  • May – Iteration:- In May and beyond, we will continue to gather your feedback via our forums and iterate on the Early Access version until it’s ready for full release. Any promised features that we can’t get in before this point will be added later as free updates.

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We have a lot of new stuff to show you this month, and we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on it. Check out the information below and then head over to the February Dev Update feedback thread on the forum to let us know what you think.

 

Galaxy Nebulae:

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There are now five different types of nebula in the galaxy: Red, Blue, Green, Purple, and Orange. Each nebula has a name and contains several star systems close together, and stars inside nebulae roll additional random effects such as increased ore deposits, higher chance of rolling Terran planets, ancient ruins etc. Our goal is to make nebulae strategically valuable positions to hold,  but also make them more difficult to defend. Space monsters may periodically attack ships and planets inside nebulae, temporal rifts might open more frequently in their vicinity, and certain technologies like shields or beam weapons may not function at all. The stars inside Nebulae are also obscured by the gas and dust until you either research Nebula Sensors or send an exploration ship to scan it.

 

Temporal Rifts:

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We’ve now completed the first iteration of our temporal rift mechanic. Throughout the game, these rifts will open and deposit ships and materials into the galaxy or cause random effects to happen. You can send ships to investigate a rift, and something will happen when it opens. They can release enemy ships that will attack, friendly ships that will join your empire, or even deadly Revenant ships that will travel to the nearest habitable world and attack. Alternatively, you could get lucky and find wreckage that you can salvage for materials and technology, or rare commanders that will offer to work for whoever rescues them.

Since rifts are disruptions in spacetime, they can also have some pretty crazy effects on the ships you send there or nearby star systems; Ship crews could be trapped in a time loop and emerge with bonus experience, star systems could be temporarily frozen, or planets could be accelerated in time by several turns. If you have any ideas for other effects and events you’d like to see tied to Temporal Rifts, please head over to the feedback thread and let us know!

 

Geothermal Vents and Solar Hotspots:

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Every race starts the game with one ore deposit, one coal deposit, and one food resource in range of its first colony. Terran planets will have some more coal that you can find, and some planets have a deposit of uranium to run a nuclear power plant with. If you decide to go down the fossil fuel route, there are technologies you can research to increase coal power plant efficiency and the Deep Core Mining technology will unlock additional hidden deposits of coal and uranium on every habitable planet.

If you go down the renewable energy route, you’ll unlock solar and geothermal power plants that require no resources to function but output significantly less power. To even the odds, several Geothermal Vents are now distributed randomly throughout each planet, and colonies built on these vents will enjoy a bonus to power generation from geothermal power plants. You can also research the Energy Scanner technology, which shows areas of high solar activity near the equator that do the same for solar power plants.

It’s our hope that players will strategically place their cities in these locations when colonising the planet. Based on feedback from the Planetary Exploration beta and to make strategic decisions like this more meaningful, we’ve decided to impose a limit on the number of cities a planet can have based on its size. The smallest planet type will hold only two cities, while the largest can support up to 12. These changes will be part of the upcoming Galaxy Beta and we’re looking forward to getting some feedback on how it works out.

 

The Research System:

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The Research system has now been completed (larger image), and over 40 technologies have been designed. Technologies are separated into the four fields Physics, Construction, Bio/Chemistry, and Sociology. Each field contains branching choices that force the player to make strategic tradeoffs, as most races have to take a single path through each tech tree. Creative races will be able to go back and research alternate paths. Every technology contains one or more buildings, weapons, ship modules, or global effects (such as unlocking deep core coal and uranium deposits or the renewable energy map).

Research is divided into several self-contained technology eras themed around the various stages of the game, starting with rebuilding your civilization after crash-landing on your first planet, and moving on to space exploration, colonisation, territorial conflict, and so on. Our aim is to make it so that your race’s research progression roughly matches up with your empire’s expansion, so you’ll typically reach things like weapons around the same time you meet another race. We’re also thinking of making it so that each tech era must be unlocked with an empire achievement, so the second era might be locked until you successfully send a scout ship to another star system, the third unlocked when you make first contact with another race, etc.

 

Ship Design Progress:

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Work is progressing on the designs for each race in our modular ship designer. The image above is a blockout of the standard Renegade battleship design. This design breaks apart into a series of hull blocks, cosmetic parts, engines, and ship modules for use with the 3D ship designer, and the smaller Renegade Cruiser and Frigate designs are both built out of the same parts. We’ll have an artwork post on the way soon with hi-res versions of the Renegade ship concepts, and the diplomacy backgrounds for each of the races revealed.