Bumper update for you this time folks as we skipped last week, we are moving into some of the trickier areas of the game to develop!
One of the things we’re not going to compromise on in Shallow Space is scale.
In fact, it’s fair to say that we’re going to go even bigger than what we had planned before!
The intention was always to paint a picture of a corner of the galaxy in turmoil, in the absence of aliens and with limited scope for travel, humans are doing what we do best; squabbling and fighting amongst ourselves.
Orbiting our test planet of 172 sectors, we have 755 fleets comprised of 1,914 individual ships (and that's with just two factions.) That figure will balloon when we include other Players and AI Taskforces; so how will we present all that data to the Player in a cogent and meaningful way?
First, true to the spirit of the Shallow Space 3.0 revamp, let’s take a look at our previous attempts and look at what we can salvage and where we went wrong. Here is a composite of the fleet interface components from the various versions of Shallow Space.
Let's look at each in turn, and weigh up the pros and cons.
Note that you can play both of the previous prototypes if you own the game on Steam! (you need to switch builds in the game properties to play 1.0)
1.0 - OG Shallow Space
It’s amazing how much of the original concept we have decided to plunder when making 3.0. Sure the formations have different names; a ‘Wing’ is now called a ‘Fleet’ and a ‘Flotilla’ is called a ‘Taskforce’ but in essence we’re going back to the original formations.
- Clear and readable, pretty easy to see the type of ships in a particular formation
- Minimal scrolling, there is no vertical scrolling because we’re grouping the ships by so-called Flotillas
- Faction livery, easy to see who these ships belong to
- Separate section for Facilities (Stations), so they are clearly separated from the ship/fleet lists. (The varying colour accents on the UI for different factions are something we'll pinch for sure 👍)
- Rigid and inflexible - those unused sections could be collapsed
- Lots of wasted space, big borders - unnecessary use of text
- Where are the enemy ships? I guess you have to look for them in 3D
2.0 - The Openworld Overhaul
We’re taking a lot from 2.0 too, namely the free-roaming nature of the game but we have to admit, this user interface was created in a rush and we didn’t really have time to think about what we were doing in detail (trying to focus on too much at once I guess), so as a result it is largely form over function.
But lets see what we can learn from it anyways.
- Very pretty, those ship icons are gorgeous
- We can see some advanced concepts leaking through, like the ability to judge opposing forces by their total AP (Acquistion Points)
- Faction livery looks cool, easy to see who these ships belong to. Notion of colours designating Player, Allied and Enemy ships, maybe too colourful
- Very feature-rich, perhaps too much information
- Too much clicking required to get information from this. At a crunch it became useless, right at the time you needed it most
- Scrolling required, that’s a major fail for a panel designed to give information at a glance
- Icons take up too much room
- It’s rigid and inflexible, some ships have a taller vertical profile (like the Enif) and thus broke the abstraction
- Too much information? putting health bars on all the ships was almost like we expected the Player to keep track of them all, which is obviously impossible; good way to make the Player feel inadequate though
3.0 - Shallow Space
This interface is different in that, it won’t be shown during combat, it’s more for assessing other forces before you commit yourself to a particular Sector.
As with everything you see it’s not finished, we want to add indications of Sector ownership and we also need to add Drones, asteroid coverage and Stations.
- Crystal clear, can very quickly see if you’ll be outgunned
- Grey bar with AP totals lets you measure up your fleets next to the enemies in greater detail
- Rank is clearly displayed. Senior units will get bonuses to damage and HP so it’s important
- Faction logos, clearly visible - Player units will always be on the top row in that currently unsuitable pastel Blue colour, Allied units are Grey and Enemy are Red (for this faction anyway.)
- Doesn’t take up much space. There’s over 50 ships displayed there, imagine that with the 1.0 or 2.0 user interfaces ...
- No health bars, but really it’s TMI at this level
- Potential to look a bit cluttered, that’s just part of the joy of being a Fleet Commander
- Not much detail, but then there is just as much as there needs to be
So hopefully you can see that we’ve taken the best from both 1.0 and 2.0, learnt from it and iterated upon it. It’s important to note that ‘best’ is not the same as ‘prettiest’, of all the interfaces listed 2.0’s was the best looking, but it was also the least practical.
But what is all this actually for? And where are we going with it?
Previously we spoke about this part of the game being a little boring to work on and not really inspiring.
Those days are over.
This now excites us in a very big way and when we stepped back to think about why that is the answer is quite interesting: It has become representative of the action.
To break that down a bit more, this is no longer a boring old map of empty Sectors. This is fast becoming a tactical display allowing you to take a condor moment and plan your activities.
If this Planets game servers are busy, you’ll see dozens of stacked Fleet icons here changing the surface of the sector board before your very eyes and you’ll be able to dive into any of the Sectors inhabited by allies to watch that action happen in realtime (and decide whether or not to intervene.)
Let’s breakdown the ‘Grand Strategy’ viewport and talk about where we’re going with it in the midterm.
- Taskforce list this is basically so you can see what is going on in a sector before you thrust you and your fleets into the thick of it.
- The Sector board these areas are called Sectors and they are in orbit of a planetary body. We’ll likely increased the angle so the board is a bit flatter and use 3D icons hovering above the sectors to denote areas of interest in terms of missions.
On this board you’ll be able to see the location of other Taskforces (both Player and AI) and it’ll offer a rich summary view of the action happening in all the sectors orbiting this planet. So all those potentially hundreds of fleet battles will be summarised right here! Exciting!
- This is where the Mission User Interface will go, it’ll serve to break down your surroundings into tangible objectives and give meaning to your existence in Shallow Space.
The reason why we’re diving into so much detail is that we are very excited by Taskforces, this is the linchpin of Shallow Space 3.0 and if we get it right, it’ll mean that we’ll create a massively multiplayer realtime fleet warfare game and as far as we can see, that’s a first?
Looking at an entirely different type of Grand Strategy now (weak), here’s a peek at how we’re organising stuff in the background.
Gone are the slips of papers, the project has grown too complex for that now. We need to plan subsequent additions with purpose ensuring we consider the consequences of adding stuff in to the host of microservices that makeup Shallow Space.
In other words: We're not going to let 3.0 become a cluster-frak
Shallow Space is shaping up to be quite different from most RTS games on the market. We realise that this market is driven entirely by comparisions 'it reminds me of this' etc. So coming soon is a Captain's Log on our inspirations and the types of games we like to play.
Did you see the last log btw? The Fleet Manager got a lick of paint, and we can fit out ships - check it out ‘The More Things Change’
As aways, thanks for giving us your attention! 🙏