In our previous dev update, we showed off the complete overhaul of our 3D ship designer, the Galactic Council that meets to vote on matters of galactic importance, and improvements to the sociology tech tree. We also discussed plans for our ambitious Art Patch (V0.9.5.0), which was to introduce HD planet textures, ship models for several races, a start sequence animation, and victory sequences for the various victory conditions in the game.
The Art Patch took a few weeks longer than expected as we decided to add narration voiceover to all of the victory and start sequences, and adding new races of ship models to the 3D ship designer turned out to be a bigger technical challenge than we thought, but this update is now live on Steam! Since then we’ve implemented all of the core mechanics for spying and have begun writing the storyline for the singleplayer campaign. The next milestone for the Predestination Alpha (patch V0.9.6.0) will include the UI for Spying, add all of the spy technologies proposed in the previous dev update, and a War AI system that will analyse enemy empires for weakness, declare war, and send ships to attack.
Read on for a full breakdown and progress report on of all of this and more.
The new HD planet textures and shader are now live and they are huge improvements over the previous versions. Areas which show up as Terran, Desert or Ice on the environment map are now more easily discernible just by looking at the texture, and the detail and shadows now match the texture of the underlying terrain. In order to add some variation between planets of the same type, we have also added several different variations of grass, dirt, sand, and rock textures that the game now picks at random when it generates the planet.
We used a combination of Substance Painter and Bitmap2Material to generate the base textures or produce them from photos we took ourselves, so each texture has a matching heightmap that gives it additional detail, and we used Substance Designer to create new environment maps with more realistic variation for habitable worlds. For a few of the planet textures, we also used an impressive new smart texture platform called Artomatix Materialize that lets you remove gradients and specific features you don’t like from a photo and generate a new tiling texture from it. Check out the screenshots below to see some variations of the most common planet types:
Much of the work since the last update has gone into finishing and integrating new ship models for the Z’Loq and United Colonies, which are now live in the main game. We expected this to be a relatively simple matter of just copying the Renegades ship parts and then slotting in the new models and textures, but things rarely go that smoothly in game development. In the end, we had to develop a new 3D model loader to get the Z’loq and United Colonies ship models into the game and scale them correctly. We then built new default ships for everything from frigates, cruisers, fighter squadrons, and battleships to warp-capable missiles, space stations, and probes. Below are some examples of the new ships:
If you’re a modder, you may be interested to know that the new 3D model loader is very modder-friendly. It’s based on the SlimDX library so it can load your models straight from .X format files and doesn’t need to use the XNA content pipeline at all. We also programmed the new loader to automatically scale models during loading so that they’re the exact size needed for the 3D ship designer and so that they fit well into the UI, so all modders have to worry about is positioning and rotating their model correctly. More information on modding will of course be published after the main game release.
The victory conditions were activated in a previous update, but until now they’ve had placeholder ending sequences. As a tiny independent dev team with a very small budget, we decided to play to our strengths and develop animated story slideshows with shader effects rather than producing potentially expensive video cinematics. When the story sequences were complete, Project Manager Tina Lauro watched them all the way through and concluded that they would really benefit from voice narration.
Recording the voices and developing a system to use them in the story sequences with correct timing took a little extra time, but the result was definitely worth it and we needed to develop a narration system anyway for the upcoming fully voiced singleplayer storyline campaign. The victory conditions and intro sequence with full voice narration by Tina Lauro are now live on Steam, and below is a video of the intro sequence recorded directly from the game:
The core Spying gameplay we discussed in the previous dev update was actually fully implemented and tested for V0.9.5.0, but we didn’t have time to develop the user interface for it or to implement and test all of the associated Spying technologies so players can’t currently access it. We’ve designed mock interfaces for the Spying tab on the hostile planet interface and are in the process of implementing these now. The screenshots below should give you an idea of how the tab will function, though of course the icons and images will change.
One change we’re announcing to spying from the previous dev update is that the calculation for success chance of a mission now uses the planet’s security rating. The spy gets a score based on his infiltration rating from 0 to 100 and all of your spy technology and racial bonuses, while the defender’s score is based on the planet’s security rating from 0 to 100 and all of his spy bonuses. Certain missions will have increased difficulty factors and a random element is always thrown in just as with ground combat.
Security Rating Improvement:
As part of the Spying update, we’ll be trying out a few changes to how the Security rating system works. We’re going to make security act like a resource that can be built up or depleted, for example police stations will add +1 security per turn and each city without a police station will give -1 per turn. Events such as bombings and some spy actions will then be able to reduce security by a lump sum (e.g. -20), so it will take the planet several turns to recover from the hit and get back to 100% security.
If this works well in practice, we may do the same for the Health and Morale ratings as this would open up some interesting tactical options. We could then easily implement propaganda weapons that reduce morale, deployable computer viruses that reduce security, and biogenic weapons that not only kill troops but also reduce the planet’s health rating. It would also open the option of having more random events, and maybe making health ratings suffer on planets with hostile environments.
The Galaxy AI in Predestination is currently a purely defensive AI , so it builds ships and distributes them throughout its empire according to which systems are the most vulnerable to attack from neighbouring fleets. It can detect when you’re sending a fleet to attack and will move enough ships into the system to repel your attack (providing ships can get there in time), but it can’t declare war and doesn’t attack you of its own accord. The next major improvement to the game’s AI will be the implementation of a proper War AI that can analyse strategic weaknesses in an enemy’s empire and send fleets to attack.
The first step will be to implement a system to declare war on enemies and tie it into both the diplomacy and fleet combat gameplay. We then plan to give each race a particular style of War AI that will affect how they wage war, in a similar manner to the random government type each race gets at the start of a game that affects its choices in diplomacy and colonisation. Some races will be more territorial, some may prefer to exterminate cities rather than capture them, and some may use more strategic weapons such as warp-capable missiles than others. We hope to get the War AI implemented alongside spying in V0.9.6.0.
Remaining 3D models:
There are still a few 3D models left to implement for the planetary buildings and infrastructure, such as the large buildings and race-specific infrastructures. We announced in the previous dev update that these were all completed and were ready for texturing by our Art Director Steven Pollock for texturing, and I wanted to let everyone know that this is still to come. The time we had budgeted for this task was used to fix unexpected problems with the Z’loq and United Colonies ship parts. We’re aware that placeholder models can make the game feel unpolished and will attempt to find the art dev time to texture the remaining buildings as soon as possible.
On the subject of 3D ship parts, we have three races of ships now completed (Renegades, United Colonies, and Z’loq) and three remaining (Sauros, Starforged, and Kazzir) in addition to a limited number of ship designs for the Revenants that we’ll be designing under the direction of a Kickstarter backer. The Sauros ship parts are about 40% complete at this stage, and we’ll be beginning work on the Starforged and Kazzir as soon as possible, and reaching out to the Revenant Kickstarter designer backer to begin that process.
A fully voiced singleplayer story campaign is one of the goals we reached during our original Kickstarter campaign, and we intend to deliver on that promise. We’ve written outlines for the first two major storyline arcs, the first being the story of the events leading up to the Revenant war and the second being the canonical story of what happens to each of the empires after they are sent back in time. The pre-war story arc will function as an introduction to the lore and backstory of each of the races, all of Predestination’s core game mechanics, and how each race archetype plays differently.
We’ve broken down the pre-war story arc into 7 episodes, each of which has a particular map setup and branched story options with challenges/goals to be completed. Now we’re working on writing the dialogue for the story option sections, which will be recorded to produce a fully voiced storyline. We don’t currently have a release date for the first storyline episode, but wanted to let everyone know that writing and design work is thoroughly underway on this major feature and the programming and mechanics required will be implemented once we’re finished with the other major gameplay features above.
Thanks for reading this massive dev update and for your continued patience as we work hard toward the big Version 1.0 feature-complete release. As always, if you’re a Kickstarter backer or paypal pre-order customer and would like your key for the Early Access alpha of Predestination, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with the email address you used on Kickstarter or paypal and we’ll send over your keys immediately. If you’d prefer a DRM-free option, email earlyaccessrequest and specifically ask for it and we’ll provide you with the latest non-Steam release.
— Brendan, Lead Developer