The completion of From Orbit Phase 5 also marks the end of my sabbatical and return to the full time day job. It’s been a fantastic break and opportunity to make a lot of progress on From Orbit, as well as enjoy the beautiful summer here in Vancouver.
Being back at work means progress will slower, but From Orbit was rolling before I took a break, and it will continue to do so now. Even though there always seems to be an ever growing list of TODO’s, there are also major tasks that are getting checked off, and from this point I expect the bulk of the work will be content and tuning.
New Artist, New Art
One of the big accomplishments of this Phase was the acquisition of a new team member, Allan, who jumped right in with some new creature designs, and got a second desert creature modeled, rigged and animated, and is now in the game: the Beetler Hulk.
Allan has also set his professional modeling skills to polishing up the game environments, with new decor items and bigger environmental pieces on the way.
Polish and FX
The overworld screen also got a bit of love and improved planet models, indicating the different biomes per planet.
Various bars, gauges, and FX were added to highly when things are in progress, such as construction, resource gathering, and mode switching. Construction has specific placeholder effects, and various other effects were polished up a little, or had visualization bugs fixed.
Lots of new Sound FX went into the game, livening things up a lot. The launcher landing and take-off, new ambiances for each biome, footsteps, an evacuation alarm, lots of player unit and UI related sounds, and some creature sounds for the Beetler (Classic and Hulk).
The landing ship not only got a new attack laser sound but also a snazzy new particle beam effect to go with it.
Quite a bit of time went into refining gameplay and mechanics that will support more content later and generally just make playing a better experience.
A new action bar was added to the player HUD that dynamically displays whichever actions or abilities are relevant to the selected unit(s), such as different buildings in Engineer mode, or Hunker Down, a new active ability for Defender mode that increases defense at the cost of mobility. Getting this working should make adding new abilities easier down the road, but there’s still a lot of work to do on that front.
The HUD now also displays planet information (if you’ve forgotten since you landed), as well as a spawn timer (the Threat-o-meter) to help you keep track of enemy spawn waves. It’s rudimentary right now, but hopefully headed in the right direction.
Probably the most useful and noticeable mechanics change was manual targeting and following. Instead of just moving units into range and hoping they attack (or heal, or repair, …) the right thing, it is now possible to right click and set a target manually, which also includes following that target if it moves. Useful for chasing down enemies, or trailing around a pocket healer.
A relatively small but important item on my hitlist for a while has been reworking the Overworld screen (which is “in space”, between planets) in order to better frame the game, and provide a progression. Now instead of a random collection of planets you can visit in any order, there is a definite progression from start to finish, while still providing you the choice of the best path to take along the way.
This is somewhere where small changes can have a big impact on the overall feeling of the game, and is likely to see more revisions as development continues.
Unity. Ohhhhh, Unity. It provides so much, it really does, and From Orbit would likely not exist with as much progress that has been made on it without Unity. But it does have limits (many), and when you hit them, you’re often presented with a choice:
- Accept the limitation at face value and work with what you have
- Spend time investigating ways to hack around the limitation
- Scrap Unity’s implementation and do the work yourself (possibly including 3rd party solutions)
Unity Navigation Issues
Unity has reasonably robust pathfinding built in, but there’s a less discussed side to the path finding coin, and that is path following, or locomotion. Once you know what path to follow, it’s not always trivial to make a character or other game agent move along that path in a way that is both visually appealing, as well as robust and fault tolerant, avoiding snags, collisions, rubber banding… all kinds of fun problems.
Unity’s provided solution, the NavMeshAgent component does quite a bit if you’re using it within a fairly narrow kind of way, to navigate a particular kind of environment (say, the kind you might build in a demo to show off your NavMeshAgent component). But it’s not great for RTS-style movement.
And so I spent a fair bit of time investigating the various options above… accept, hack, replace. For the time being, I ended up settling on hack. Most of the issues I was mainly concerned with were resolved satisfactorily, but there’s more work to be done, and the spectre of replace is looming in the future.
In happier navigation news, player unit group movement has been improved, with multiple units no longer bunching up quite so awkwardly all the time.
Full Indie Summit Demo
The Vancouver indie developer’s group Full Indie held their annual Full Indie Summit recently and I had the chance to attend for the first time. Not only was it a day full of great talks from people in the indie development scene and beyond, but concluded with the chance to show off your own games.
So I packed up my laptop and showed off From Orbit in the demo area for a couple of hours after the show. A couple of dozen people got to play, and it was a great experience being able to get it in front of strangers to see what would happen!
Thankfully no particular issues or glitches turned up (barring a brief laptop battery incident, and scramble for extension cords). And more importantly most of the people who gave it a try were able to pick up From Orbit and get into the game without any trouble, and perhaps even have some fun doing so!
A few of the folks who tried it out really seemed to get hooked and played for quite a while, which was great to see.
On top of that, there were some useful takeaways as far as what was clear or not to new players, suggesting some changes that should help people get up to speed quickly with minimal confusion.
Thanks to everyone involved in running these great events!
Where will things go from here? Since From Orbit is back to evenings and weekends for now, it’s going to be much harder to come up with solid timelines for milestones, but things will keep chugging away with updates when there are some nice chunks of progress to report.
- Two new pieces of music are already under way, which will pretty much wrap everything up on the music front! Exciting, something actually being complete!
- We’re not that far from wrapping up the Desert environment, and then on to Ice and Forest
In addition to these assets, there’s a pretty long list of abilities, upgrades, enemy creatures, and gameplay mechanics that will all come together over time to flush out the whole experience into something really worth playing and exploring.
I think the work so far in 2017 really lay a solid foundation for that to happen, and hopefully that means launching the game some time in 2018.
When it’s done.