The Galactic Council update (Version 0.9.4.0) has now gone live on Steam Early Access, and it’s a big one. The core feature of the patch was the addition of the Galactic Council discussed in the previous dev update and an overhaul of the Sociology and diplomacy technologies. Using feedback from people testing the game recently at Q-Con, we decided to dedicate some time to completely overhaul the 3D ship designer’s mechanics and user interface in preparation for adding the ship parts and designs for the remaining races. This patch also laid a little bit of the ground work for Spying, made improvements to Trade Routes and Commanders, and fixed various reported bugs and crashes.
The Galactic Council and Spying are two features that we had originally intended to hold back for a possible free update or expansion after the main V1.0 release, but after careful consideration we decided to spend the extra development time to make them part of the main game. Competition in the 4X genre has become more intense with the release of several new games with triple-A funding, so it’s even more important for small indie games like ours to focus on making the gameplay as good and complete as it possibly can be.
In this dev update, I’ll discuss the 3D Ship Designer overhaul, the implementation of the Galactic Council, and changes to the Sociology technologies in the recently released V0.9.4.0 patch. I’ll then delve into the details of our plans for the upcoming Art Patch (V0.9.5.0) and tentative plans for the spying gameplay.
The 3D ship designer is an extremely important feature for us not least of all because of all the support fans showed during the 3D Ship Designer kickstarter, but often it can be difficult for us to see how features like this are actually used by players and how they might be improved. In order to get some feedback on the ship designer and see how people actually used it, we ran a 3D ship designer competition recently at the annual Q-Con gaming event in Belfast. The feedback mirrored much of what we’ve been hearing from existing players but we got to see problems first hand, and this made it clear that some parts of the designer badly needed to be improved.
The old designer was clumsy, it had limited features, and creating a new design from scratch was confusing to many players. It was also too easy for players to accidentally pick up a part and ruin their whole design while attempting to turn the camera, and the Undo feature was frankly broken. The new overhauled designer solves these issues with more powerful CAD-inspired design tools, an advanced Undo feature, and a selection of pre-built designs and base hulls available. Key features include:
- Move Tool: A more intuitive move tool has been added to the toolbox, which makes three arrows appear around the selected ship part that allow you to drag it in on all three cardinal axes. The move tool aligns itself based on the ship part’s current rotation so that all movement is relative to the surface it’s placed on.
- Scale Tool: An intuitive new scale tool replaces the old scale slider bar in the toolbox. When toggled on, this makes three arrows appear around the selected ship part that allow you to stretch the part on all three cardinal axes. This is an improvement over the existing system as it allows you to scale the model on the X, Y, and Z axes separately to produce more varied shapes. A checkbox in the toolbox allows you to toggle on the option to rescale all three directions at once if you want to make an entire item bigger or smaller but keep its current proportions the same.
- Rotation Tool: A new CAD-inspired rotation tool replaces the old X, Y, and Z rotation dials in the toolbox. When toggled on, three rotation arrows will appear around the selected ship part that allow the player to rotate the part around the three cardinal axes. When rotating a ship part, a visual rotation disc will appear in 3D to indicate the plane around which you can rotate, which should be a lot more intuitive than the old 2D dials. This tool also aligns itself based on the ship part’s current rotation so all rotation is relative to the angle of the surface the part was initially placed on.
- New Design Window: When creating a new design, the player is now initially presented with the “New Design” window. Buttons along the top allow you to select the hull size you want, and a list of pre-made ship designs for the selected hull type is then shown to allow you to select a pre-made design as a starting point. A second list of Base Hulls allows players to create a blank design starting with just one Crew Quarter part mirrored.
- Advanced Undo feature: The previous “undo” feature was full of bugs and only stored the rotation and scale of one part at a time. We’ve now replaced this with a much better universal undo feature that saves the entire ship’s state using a deep data clone procedure every time a change is made, saving up to the last 50 changes. Changes that trigger a save state and can be undone include changing a ship part’s scale, changing a ship part’s rotation, moving a ship part, adding a new ship part, deleting a ship part, resetting a ship part, or mirroring a ship part. The new Undo feature can be triggered either by clicking a new Undo button at the bottom of the screen or by pressing Ctrl-Z.
Implementing these designer upgrades took considerably longer than I had initially hoped, but we’re incredibly happy with the result. We had to convert our rotation system over to a quaternion-based model and then work out a lot of quaternion maths to get the Rotate and Move tools to work as expected. I’d like to thank Michaele “minorlogic” Norel for his informative online discussions on quaternion swing twist decomposition, a technique that proved essential to getting the Rotate tool working. The result is a much more versatile and easy to use ship designer that we hope you’ll enjoy using a lot more. We’re particularly eager for feedback on the new designer, so please let us know if you have any thoughts after giving it a try.
In the previous Dev Update, we discussed plans to add a UN-style Galactic Council to the game that meets to vote on issues of galactic importance. This has now been implemented and is live on the Steam Early Access build (V0.9.4.0). The Galactic Council technology has been moved to the end of the First Contact tech era so that it’s created a little earlier than before, and whoever discovers it first becomes the council’s first leader. Below you can see the user interface for the council and the meeting itself.
The final implementation of the Galactic Council is almost exactly as described in the previous dev update, except that several of the resolutions are now tied to technologies in the Galactic Domination tech era. We’ve also implemented the diplomatic victory conditions via the council as discussed in the previous devblog, with two different endings depending on whether or not the Revenants have been unleashed on the galaxy.
We’ve previously overhauled the First Contact and Galactic Domination tech eras in the Physics, Construction and Bio/Chemistry fields, and in this update we did the same for the Sociology technologies. We didn’t think it made sense to have each of the different treaties being its own technology as it felt like an artificial limitation on diplomacy, so now all treaties are automatically available. The new Improved Trade Pact and Improved Research Treaty technologies double the bonuses from their respective treaties, and new technologies are available for the Galactic Council. We’ve also added placeholders for Spying technologies and have added several completely new technologies:
- Exo-Systems Analysis: Alien computer systems often operate differently to our own, making it difficult to gain information directly from captured computer systems. Your experience with interrogating alien computer systems and defending against intruders allows you to solve this issue. When you capture a ship in Fleet Combat or conquer a planet, you have a 50% chance of learning any weapon, module, building, or infrastructure based technologies present.
- Subvertive Psychology: (Note: Threats and Coercions not yet implemented) Cultivating an adversarial relationship with the other empires can often yield better results in diplomatic negotiations. Applying your knowledge of how each race interacts with the psychology of threatening behaviour improves the effectiveness of your threats and coercions in diplomacy by 50%.
- Self-Destruct Device: All ships are automatically equipped with a self-destruct device triggered by a triple-redundant deadman switch. If all crew and marines aboard the ship are killed and the ship is captured during Fleet Combat, the engines will automatically overload and the ship will explode.
The next major patch will be the Art Update (V0.9.5.0), which adds a ton of art assets that we’ve been working on in the background. The United Colonies’ ship parts have been complete and textured for a month or so but have been disabled pending a shader improvement and the 3D ship designer overhaul, and the Z’loq and Sauros ship designs have been progressing nicely. With the ship designer overhaul now live and the recent optimisations we made to the game’s memory usage, now is the perfect time to pick that back up. This patch will include:
Ship shader improvements: It can’t have escaped your notice that the Renegades ship models can be a little dark and the back of the ship is dimly lit. We plan to modify the shader to improve the lighting setup, and give each race its own slightly modified shader so that we can subtly change how their materials react to the light.
United Colonies Ship Models: The United Colonies are technologically advanced and they want everyone else to know it. Their ships are covered in bright white metal panels and huge multi-deck blue windows. These models are complete and textured, and are almost ready to be added to the game. All we need to do now is tweak the shader so that the lighting looks better with these models, tweak the scale and orientation on each model to centre it correctly, select parts to represent each of the modules and weapons, and then design some default ships. Below is a sneak peek at some of the United Colonies ship parts:
Z’loq Ship Models: The Z’loq are an aggressive and tribalistic aquatic race who grow metal for their ships in vast underwater coral reefs. Their ships will have strong nautical themes and organic part designs, plated with the colourful shine of green-blue scales grown by metallic corals. The Z’loq ship models are complete and are currently being textured. After this, we’ll need to perform the same shader, scale and orientation tweaks as described above for each model, select parts to represent each functional module and weapon, and then design up the default ships. Below is a sneak peek at some of the Z’loq ship models being painted:
Sauros Ship Models: The Sauros are an ancient race who value appearances and tradition, and their ships are designed with the same aesthetic. Several Sauros ship models are built and textured, but many are still to be built. We’ll need to complete all of the Sauros models, perform shader and scale/orientation tweaks etc as described above, and design up the default ships. If this doesn’t get complete before the gameplay is complete then we can push the update live without the Sauros ship models and release them in a separate patch if required. Below is a sneak preview of some of the Sauros cosmetic ship parts being painted:
High-Res Planet Textures: The planet graphics in Predestination run on a custom piece of graphics tech that we invented years ago, and the base textures are still the same low-quality placeholders that we threw together back then. We’ve been working on replacing all of the existing terrain textures with new high quality ones and adding more textures of each type so there’s some variation, and improving the planet shader. We had originally intended for release these in 0.9.3.0 or 0.9.4.0, but the improved planet shader is seeing some visual bugs and performance issues and we need to resolve those before releasing the high-resolution textures. We’ll share screenshots of the HD planet graphics as soon as we are able.
Final Building Batch: Some of the building models in the game are still using placeholders, such as the food processor, research lab, factory, and some special buildings belonging to specific race archetypes. The Forge central city building for robotic races, Hatchery city building for Reptilian races, and Coral Spire city building for Aquatic races are a few examples. These have now all been modelled by our building modeller Craig Stafford, and will be textured by our Art Director Steven Pollock for release. Below is an example of some of the buildings:
End Sequences: When you win or lose the game, a slideshow sequence with text and music will tell you the story of what happened at the end of the game. The mechanics for this feature are already implemented using placeholders, so what we have to do now is put together a story and slideshow for each of the victory conditions. The first draft of the story for each victory condition is already complete.
Start Sequence: When you start the game, you are just shown the Brain and Nerd and NI Screen logos. We want to add a story-based start sequence here that will trigger the first time you launch the game, and can be re-visited by clicking the “Start Sequence” button on the main screen. We’ve actually already implemented part of this start sequence, so we need to finish that and then activate it.
Spying is one of the major features that we had planned to release as a free update or as part of an expansion after the main game was released, but we’ve now decided to bring it back into the main release. We’ve discussed several types of potential spy system in previous updates and various interviews throughout development, but have now settled on a game design for it. The design may still change during development and we are of course open to all feedback on it:
Installing Spies: Spies will be dropped onto planets from ships in orbit equipped with a Spy Pod in a similar manner that ships can currently drop troops onto a city. The difference is that you’ll be able to drop spies onto a planet even if there are enemy ships present, and installing a spy will cost you a lump sum of money from your treasury. When a spy is installed on a planet, you will always be able to see all ships in the system and can open the planet to view it even when you have no ships in the system. There will be a limit to the number of spies that can be dropped onto a planet (possibly 1 spy per city built), and only one spy mission can be active at a time.
Executing Missions: Once at least one spy is installed on a planet, you’ll get a list of missions that you can attempt, such as to steal something, sabotage something, or incite civil unrest. Each mission will have a certain percentage chance of success and a chance of getting caught, which will be modified by the planet’s security rating, the spy’s infiltration rating, and any anti-spy technologies employed. The spy is killed when caught, and there’s a chance that he’ll be identified and you’ll be hit with diplomatic consequences. Missions will take a certain number of turns to attempt so they’re essentially a limited resource.
Infiltration Rating: Once a spy is installed on a planet, he will slowly begin to infiltrate the planet’s computer networks and make contacts with criminal and subversive individuals who can help with missions. Spies start out with 0% infiltration rating and gain 1% every turn up to a maximum of 100%, and this rating affects the chance of successfully completing missions. This prevents players from treating spies as disposable and encourages careful weighing up of the risks and rewards of each mission type.
Proposed Missions (work in progress):
- Steal Maps: Steal the enemy’s maps of the planet and the locations of all resources, pieces of infrastructure, and roads. This will allow you to mount unorthadox attack strategies such as cutting off the enemy’s power or food supply.
- Steal Research: Attempt to infiltrate a scientific organisation and steal their research. If successful, you will steal either a random technology belonging to the target race or a number of research points.
- Steal Finances: Attempt to steal money from the target race’s treasury.
- Steal Political Secrets: Hack into the planet’s computer systems and attempt to unearth political dirt that can be used in negotiations. Political Secrets will be used in the Threats and Coercions diplomacy system once that’s implemented.
- Sabotage Computer Systems: Introduce a virus into the planet’s computer systems, disrupting planetary activities. Random outcome: Destroys research points, shuts down infrastructure, reduces morale, reduces health, reduces security.
- Sabotage City: Plant a bomb inside a random city on the planet, destroying several random buildings and reducing morale and security rating of the planet.
- Sabotage Starbase: Attempt to smuggle an explosive device onto the planet’s Starbase. If successful, the explosion will damage or destroy the ship currently being built, or might destroy the Starbase entirely.
- Sabotage Ship In Orbit: Gain access to a ship in orbit and attempt to cause undetectable damage to its drive and power systems so that the engines will overload, destroying the ship. (Option available only if there are ships in orbit)
- Establish Contacts: Attempt to establish contacts with criminal and subversive elements in the target planet’s society. This will boost the spy’s infiltration rating by 50%, but carries the risk that he will be discovered and killed.
- Incite Civil Unrest: Attempt to incite civil unrest among the population, reducing the morale and security ratings of the planet temporarily.
- Incite Rebellion: Try to incite a full-scale planetary rebellion, overthrowing the local government. If successful, the planet’s ownership switches to your race. (Option available only if security and morale ratings are both below 50%).
- Assassinate Leader: If the planet has a leader (a commander) assigned to it, you can attempt to assassinate him.
Proposed Technologies (work in progress):
- (Sociology) Spy Pods: Orbital drop pods with built-in inertial dampening allow spies to be launched into enemy cities from orbit. The Spy Pod stores 1 spy who can be secretly deposited in an enemy city to conduct surveillance and sabotage.
- (Sociology) Spy Satellite: The Spy Satellite probe is an unmanned stealth probe fitted with an FTL drive and advanced camera equipment. It’s invisible to long-range sensors and can be installed in orbit of enemy planets in order to perform surveillance spy tasks and give your spies a +20 bonus to all spy actions.
- (Sociology) Computer Hacking: Spies can be trained in advanced computer hacking techniques, allowing them to retrieve more sensitive information. This unlocks the Steal Research, Steal Political Secrets, and Sabotage Computer Systems spy missions.
- (Biology) Atomiser Implant: Spies are equipped with an implant that completely atomises the body on death and leaves no trace. If your spies are caught during a mission, the enemy race will not be able to prove that the spy belonged to your race and there will be no negative diplomatic actions.
- (?????) Spying Bonuses: More technologies with spying bonuses may be added to various tech fields in the third and fourth tech eras, and spying bonuses could be added to some existing technologies (such as police stations).
The 3D Ship Designer Overhaul, Galactic Council, and Sociology technology overhauls are now live on the Steam Early Access version, and we hope to have the Art and Spying update out to you in the next few weeks! As always, we’re very interested in hearing any feedback you might have on this update or any ideas and comments you have. We’re particularly interested in focused feedback on the following things:
- Comments and ideas on the proposed Spying implementation.
- Feedback on the revamped 3D ship designer.
- Feedback on the Galactic Council from a real gameplay session.
— Brendan, Lead Developer