Quite a lot of what we’re doing has been pinched straight from Shallow Space 1.0 and 2.0, so if you’ve played either of the other prototypes nothing should surprise you here.

Things are now working more or less as we foresee them, so we can firm up on some of the details. 👍

It’s important to note that the game obviously won’t look like this in the end; it’s just better to dress things up once we are mechanically functional.

We’re using a basic Red vs. Blue abstraction just to make things easier for us while we test. In the end everything will have textures and effects as before, and this time we’ll be enlisting a professional UI designer.

So a typical sector will look a lot like this:

Your typical 30x30 core Faction sector, one of roughly 15 for this faction (TCN) on our dev planet. The number and size will vary depending on how many real Players there are.

They are procedurally generated, so they will vary, but generally they contain:

  1. Jumpsafe Zones (JSZ) - this is where ships will ingress into the sector. Ships in Shallow Space use a ‘warp’ system known as Near To Light (or NTL).

    We explain this in-game in that NTL has a number of limitations; it’s energy hungry so ships are only able to jump in a radius of a couple of sectors (unless their power is augmented somehow), so they tend to stay in the gravity well of planetary bodies in an area of so-called 'Shallow Space'.

    We can also only roughly predict where a ship will be able to exit NTL, so each sector has at least 4 JSZs which act as safe exit points to avoid collisions.

    Reality check: We just need an excuse as to why fleets can't jump wherever  they like, else it'll be a very boring game. ✌️

    Ships can enter NTL at any part of the system.

    So if you’re in combat and you want to jump away, after the jump-prep timer ticks down you can do that. If you want to rage quit and hit Alt-F4, your ships will do jump-prep and leave the sector and be parked in null space. When you rejoin, your fleets will appear in a random JSZ in the same sectors that you left them.
  2. Stations - there will be a few types of station, some of the larger ones will provide hulls and parts for you to build ships for your fleets, or hasten the repair of your fleets (for a price).

    The smaller ones will provide refinery and power services which we’ll cover in a different post. The white lines around the stations are the area of influence. To use the stations' facilities or complete a mission you’ll have to move a fleet within this area.

    Most stations will also double up as the target of missions. For example, in order to reduce a factions' standing in a sector, you could fit marine modules to one of your capitals and offload your marines onto a station.

    Traffic will tend to swarm around them, they might house fighter drones in the end but the stations themselves are 'neutral facilities' and won't have any weapons.
  3. Terrain - the grey blocks will get replaced for interesting features such as asteroid clusters, junk fields, and gas clouds. They will be the target of abilities allowing you to harvest resources from them and eventually hide your fleets inside of them.

    You can only move around them, you can’t fly through them; this means that unlike combat in say Shallow Space 2.0 (which was frankly, uncontrollable) you’ll often have to consider the position of your forces.

So there’s a breakdown of the various sector features. But how will we populate the sectors with NPC fleets and make them feel alive? What will give the Player something to protect and shoot at?

I'm in an enemy sector skirmishing with 'Background traffic' - it's fun because they don't have any guns right now and can't shoot back. 😆

So generally speaking there are two types of NPC mechanism in-game:

  1. Background traffic - these will make up localised patrols, mining, and trading units. They will fly around the sector moving from station to station acting as if they have stuff to do.

    They are cannon fodder.

    Players will generally use these units to gain rank.

    They will always be controlled by AI and will periodically regenerate (so they might jump out of the sector, or get destroyed and after a while replacements will jump in)
  2. Taskforce - these will be formed by an armada of fleets, typically 2-8 fleets and they are normally in a sector to perform a certain task. Patrol, board a station etc.

    They may be allied with the sector they are in - in which case they will fight alongside background traffic. They may also be an opposing force, tasked to capture a station or something, in which case you might jump in and find them skirmishing with the background traffic.

    You might even find many opposing Taskforces slogging it out in the same sector.

    The reality is that they are dangerous and situation changers. You might find a friendly one you can shadow and pick up the same missions. That might be good for noobs.

    Or you might find a 'big nasty' commanded by a high ranking officer that is going to ruin your day. They might jump in mid-mission and force you to re-evaluate your priorities.

    Probes should be launched and caution advised. ⚠️

Then there’s the talk of the MMORTS stuff, so where does that fit into the game?

Groups of Player's fleets will also be considered a Taskforce.

Now whether you spread your units far and wide and give yourself the hassle of bouncing between sectors to control them, or keep them together, that’s your prerogative.

But the important thing to note is that Player Taskforces will be indistinguishable from AI ones.

It's easier to write an MMO than it is to write good AI.

Picture this scene in your mind:

You encounter a Taskforce in a sector, you're feeling a little cocky having just aced some opponents in another sector. Let’s say that you’ve just fitted flak cannons and learned how to use your new area of effect weapons to stunning effect, and you have XL turrets that you’ve realised can fire from some distance.
You see an equally sized Taskforce, you think you can take them. You begin your assault, front and centre; this is going to be easy.
But no, it’s not some dim witted AI, it’s another Player and he’s got half his forces hiding in the asteroid clusters behind you.

Oh dear.

And that is why we are making this multiplayer.

This could be what a busy sector looks like. Use your mind; picture the action.

The AI will be crap or at least just as crap as the average RTS.

That’s because a complex AI is a buggy AI; it’s better to keep it simple.

Shallow Space’s AI might be interesting sometimes because it might not always choose the most direct route to attack you and the background traffic will act differently to a Taskforce. But generally speaking, you’ll figure out how to game it because you’re an intelligent mammal.

Other Players will catch you off-guard. They won’t be marked out, they won’t have a spinning purple badge above their heads, they’ll just be floating around in the simulation like the other fleets.

I don’t know about you, but I find that kinda scary…