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Behind the Scenes

I imagine you've all seen the various new addons and things that have made their debut since the new dynamic-object-updating tools have gone into production use. This has been super cool for me, as I can create, prototype/test, and roll out new addons and ship variants without having to do any kind of visible update, server restart or client patch. It all gets pushed out invisibly. You can expect more "Stuff" to appear within the game as I fill in holes in license progressions (ie, the recent low-level Heavy Weapons additions) as well as add new content to the upper levels and major Accomplishments/Badges.

What you haven't seen, as of yet, is the much larger work going on to revise the universe. Our game universe was designed a number of years ago, based on then-common system configurations and some uncertainty about how many users might be in a given sector at once. As a result, it's a bit sparse, and a bit boring. Additionally, in more recent times we've added some cool new features to the game engine, like fogging and the related radar extenders and wireframe-radar-visualization.. but have yet to use these very much beyond our much-maligned Ion Storms. This will change.

Our game was designed, from the very beginning, to have an infinitely scalable universe. 99% of the universe was generated algorithmically, using hand-assembled clusters of asteroids and arranging them in various ways. Through these universe-generation tools, we were able to create our current galaxy, have them generated to fit our intended maps (and star spectra), and distribute our various ores and minerals throughout the systems.

Now, however, I want to change a few things. I want to add some new ores and minerals, rarer and more sporadic than before, reworking our build trees for upcoming Manufacturing (crafting). I want to increase the number of asteroids and the sheer.. graphical interest of sectors. I want combat that involves actually flying through densely packed asteroid fields, sometimes with the lowered visibility from fogging byproducts of Xithricite mining, but perhaps also leaving visual cues to recent ship passage in the foggy clouds. Tense combat of hunter and hunted in regions of limited sensor scope, or stealthy negotiation of enemy territory when surrounded by opponents.. only a stones throw away. I see these things as forums for pirates, espionage, even miners looking for a lucrative load of ore from a dangerous or illegal area of space.

All of this is part of the Plan, and it requires reworking a lot of the existing universe. I wouldn't blame people for being a little nervous at the sound of "reworking the universe", but I don't think there's much to be concerned about. For one, we'll test to be sure the sectors are still relatively fast, even with denser fields. Strictly speaking, I was hand-building denser and more interesting asteroid fields back in 2002 and people had no problem with them back then, so I don't expect to create a lot of performance issues six years later.

Also, we're going to be sticking with the current "footprint" of the universe. At the "system" level, everything will look the same, but the individual sectors will change. Some mineral and ore contents will be generally the same within given systems, others will be totally new. A few new asteroid types may be introduced, along with the additional ores and minerals. Specific information on ore/mineral content in specific asteroids will no longer be valid, but the overall "general" level of a system will probably not vary all that much.

The new minerals will appear in contentious locales, not safe places, and not in large quantities. I have no doubt that you'll all find them very quickly, but they will be rare enough to be very real sources of contest for different factions, nations, even individuals and guilds once Manufacturing becomes more prevalent. This kind of resource contention will eventually impact the price, even availability of specific items to specific factions/Nations. Imagine a more fluid and continuous CtC, where certain items are triggered literally by the number of crates delivered to that faction, but where large routine shipments can also be attacked to benefit one side or another. In this way, both mining/trading groups and combat groups could impact the welfare of their nation. Not to mention the continuous threat of the Hive, who will also desire such resources.

Aside from this, you can also expect border security to be beefed up, in advance of dropping the friendly fire restrictions and finally implementing the various Factional changes I've been promising for way too long. In other words, if you're hated or KoS with a given faction, don't expect a warm welcome at their border, or especially within a nation's Capitol systems. I'm not going to make life impossible for the pirate or soldier visiting enemy space.. just very, umm, exciting. And not for the faint of heart.

We will be taking this all one step at a time. I'm not going to suddenly just.. change the whole universe, one day. That would be altogether too scary. We'll be testing this out in development, and then alter a single system. I'm not going to reveal the system here, but it will become obvious from in-context Game News posts in the near future (posts within the game), and I'm sure it's a trivial deduction for anyone familiar with our gameplay testing over the last 6-8 months.

It is worth noting that yes, this does tie into our larger goals of vast, uncharted universe Exploration. This was something we wanted from the very start, and we even made some major server-side choices with this in mind. While expanding the universe is not an immediate goal, it is a part of what this whole "universe redux" process is all about. For instance, I do wish to add player and guild-owned stations, but I'm not terribly attracted to putting them in the current space. My original vision for our universe included the current systems only as a "central core" of a vast, uncharted galaxy, the beginning user provided only with maps to this well-known region. The backstory even makes references to this sort of thing. To reiterate, expanding the universe is a goal and a part of why we're doing this, but it's not planned for the immediate future.

Anyway, Ray has been hard at work going over our old universe-generation tools, and re-factoring some code to make it a bit more elegant and modern with the rest of our game. Hopefully he'll have it documented and ready for me to play with and prototype by the end of this week, so if all is well I might get to test it on Monday. I don't exactly know what timeframe all this will fall under, but I'm looking for As Soon As Possible, as so much of our other big stuff (Faction changes, Manufacturing/crafting, large-scale combat, economic changes) ties back into this. This isn't necessarily blocking development of other areas, you'll probably see more Faction changes and other things happen in parallel, but it is part of the process of everything coming together elegantly and according to a particular vision.

In the meantime, you'll also see some new missions (mostly focusing on the lower levels, along with whatever else the PCC comes up with), more new addons, some ship variants, and the like. I'm trying to further spruce up the newbie experience, as that's certainly an area where we're still lacking.

In the meantime, please keep those Suggestions forum posts coming, there's been a lot of good discussion on there about a number of areas of the game. Plenty of good ideas and hopefully a few intelligent responses from me.

Thanks all..