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As most of you know, the NPC trading convoys are now in production, and seem to be working pretty well. They vary in size, depending on the size of the cargo that needs to be carried (something currently random, but soon to be tied into the economy). They also vary in defensive capabilities, starting with a baseline fighter escort, and increasing in the number/lethality of escorts if the level of "danger" for a route is increased. This number is increased depending on the success rate of the convoys.. should a particular route be pirated more often, future convoys will have more fighter support on that route. And so on and so forth.

We intend to expand on the convoys a great deal. Altering the escort based on the "value" of the cargo, with certain special convoys which impact the storyline, etc. We also intend to use larger ships in the convoys, both as cargo vessels (freighters) and escorts (cap ships). Convoys are really just a starting point, a testbed for a wide variety of behaviours.. NPC pirates, NPC wars (!), and so on. The sky's the limit.

Anyway, getting back to present day, the convoys are functioning pretty well. We've toned down the number of them, for the moment, but we will probably increase it as time goes on. Right now there's a couple of problems with the convoy implementation, they use more bandwidth than necessary and can cause laggy play for nearby modem users. We pride ourselves on our efficient use of bandwidth, so we're working to remedy this. There's also some trouble with the sheer number of warp in/out animations happening at once. We're shooting to offer less-intensive animation options for those on slower computers.

For the moment, our efforts are mainly focused in a few areas. One is improving the basic docking/undocking/collision avoidance AI used by the convoys and other bots. In larger numbers they've proven to be rather chaotic when trying to dock at a station, and we want to improve on that before we try to do a lot more with the convoys.

Secondly, we're working on making NPCs more analogous to users in how the game sees them. In other words, making NPCs and users interchangable in a lot of circumstances, so a convoy of half users half NPCs could take a mission if desired. In general, we're aiming to create a universe populated with a variety of "characters", both player and non-player, who all take the same missions, do the same trade runs, are pirates and peaceful miners. This will add a great deal of flexibility from a gameplay standpoint, and let us maintain a self-balancing economy, and other related game mechanics. Building this functionality is also a factor in bringing back the Escort Missions (for those who played them in the short time before lisa exploded). There's some troublesome factors with bringing them back immediately, like a countdown timer that never counts down.. and other problems, which we're working to fix before we reinstate those missions. They should be a lot of fun once we get them working, so we're excited about that.

Thirdly, Ray is still working hard on the UI. The basic look and feel are in place, but a lot of the actual functionality of the station menu is still in flux. I wouldn't expect the new UI in the immediate term, but it's coming along well. I'll post screenshots in the next couple of weeks to show off how things work now. Among other new features, we have resizable windows now, which are presently limited to sizing the chat panel vs the station panel in the station menu. Some parts look good, other parts are still pretty rough and need work. By the time it's finished though, it should be very cool. I know it's taken forever, but it's a pretty massive redux that Ray is doing, and it's starting to shape up pretty nicely.

Fourthly, I'm doing some graphics updates when I have time. So far I've added specularity and normal maps to the Centaur and the Ragnarok. These use the Pixel Shader 2.0 (DirectX 9) render path created for the Leviathan, so users of GeForce FX and Radeon 9500+ cards should be able to take advantage of them on Mac and Windows (not sure on the state of the Linux shaders). I'll post some before-and-after screenshots of these this week, so you can get an idea of what I'm talking about. My graphics updates will go into the next client update, whenever that happens.

I'm also in the process of cleaning up and testing the new TPG cap ship, which was announced long ago and has had no follow-up. I'll get a screenshot of that out this week as well. The larger ships will begin to show up in the game firstly as NPC convoy vessels, as I mentioned above. I'm pretty optimistic of that happening Soon(tm), but we want to get some of the navigational AI situated first (can't have fancy new ships bumping into things like idiots). Once they're proven in the convoys, and we have the new UI in place, we'll move towards the user-pilotable versions.

Other known tasks, such as the faction system redux, economic re-pricing, addition of station cargo limits, CtC/BP, and so on.. are also still in process. But for this week, my priorities are helping ray with the UI design, and other immediate needs. Once he has everything he needs from me, I'll be turning to the faction system and economy again. Those problems haven't been forgotten, there's just a lot to juggle to keep everyone productive.

Lastly, I'd like to note that today is the one-year anniversary of our retail release :). Thank you to all the people who wished us a "happy birthday" today. I had hoped to have a lot of the above features done by today, but that's game development. Thank you all so much for sticking with us and supporting us over the past year. You all are the reason we do this, in much more than a monetary sense.. I can't wait for people to play with some of the stuff we're planning.. and it's getting close enough that I can actually *see* some of it starting to coalesce. Such an exciting time. So, on that note, I'm off to sleep and dream of amazing gameplay (oddly, several of us do).

I believe ctishman may have an Event planned for today, but I'm not sure what the latest is on that.. so I direct you to the messageboard for further information. Take care, thanks again.