« News


Debugging, Debugging, Debugging.

We've been a little derailed from my previous post. As some of you are aware, we've been trying to debug some Border Skirmish issues for several months. These are the sort of bugs that give any developer a headache: they only happen when you're not looking, not simulating, and not otherwise trying to debug the issue. Over the last few months we've added some significant monitoring and instrumentation to the server-side, to let us see what is happening in Border Skirmish, and try to correlate the sporadic issues with other evidence.

The problems became a bit worse, recently, which is actually good news. Common problems are much easier to track down than occasional, sporadic problems. It was my hope to be releasing new and updated BS gameplay this week, but instead we're firmly on the course of tracking down the issue. The entire company (other than me) has been allocated to locating and squashing this particular problem, so in the meantime I'll be providing whatever releasable content that I can. We hope to have this resolved this week, although it's difficult to say with problems of this kind. Our goal is to track it down and mitigate it as much as possible within this current week, before getting back to "improving the game" tasks. One way or the other, it's going to be critical to expand Border Skirmish into Dynamic Warfare, as well as any other battle-driven gameplay, so it's best that we resolve it sooner rather than later.

Our two big tasks, as of my last post, were the FF/Faction changes to the Radar, and expanding Border Skirmish. New PayPal support was in there as well. We have made some progress on these tasks, but clearly we aren't in the process of releasing them.

The plans for Radar are roughly outlined in the original RFC thread under the section "Friend / Foe Identification and HUD changes". It really isn't just about "Radar", so much as displaying more information (and more accurate information) about who a given player should fear, who they should not shoot, and why. Removing friendly fire restrictions opens up a whole new educational issue for newbies, as far as keeping them from shooting at the nearest flying object (potentially another player). We've already mitigated this to some extent with the Training weapons now found in the updated newbie sectors, but we're going to further improve this with HUD and Radar changes to make "friends" more obvious. Some kind of "don't shoot this person" type icon, or crosshair change, if the person is of a given alignment and the sector is monitored or guarded. We'll also be tracking "team killers" (people who shoot members of their own nation) and displaying warning information about them, as well as generally considering most other players to be "unknowns" rather than "friends" or "foes". The new three-color system will hopefully make for a more realistic display of who is out there. See the original thread for more information.

Border Skirmish is planned to be expanded and improved in a couple of major ways. For one, we're looking at having several skirmishes of various types, some at the same time, some during off-times. Different battle scales will allow people with slower machines to participate in the war, and also potentially create different gameplay. The lowest-scale battle, for instance, will probably be fighter combat that takes place in dense asteroid fields (where the caps cannot go). Add the possible combination of sector fogging (another thing in development) and you get some pretty wild close-quarters combat requiring good piloting skills. Each battle scale will still have the same general parameters as existing Border Skirmish: the first to lose a certain number of casualties will retreat. The casualty limits will be considerably smaller for the smaller skirmish types, but the battles themselves may still be lengthy (we may start to impose player limits on some sizes). The effects of multiple skirmishes will be added together, to have a more far-reaching impact over a larger arc of time. The plan is to have a greater and more visible purpose over a given week, and then perhaps over a month. The winners and losers potentially gaining and losing access to some interesting and significant resources. I don't want to go too far into the specifics there, because things are still a little fluid and I dislike over-promising in content (I have enough problems with deadlines, obviously), but you probably get the general idea. We intend to couple this with in-game notifications (game-news, etc) as well as some web-status page, to try and keep people aware of the status of the ongoing war.

Aside from this, we're also looking at things like sector "conquest", and installing the first generation military rank structure. I've actually had a military ranking system written out for some years, with that as part of the eventual goal of the Deneb-war skirmish system (leading, at the top level, to an RTS-esque control of a battle by two opposing Fleet Admirals). We're clearly not quite to the RTS bit yet, but it is feasible to start seeing NPC wingmen who take basic orders ("attack my target"), and military rank structure which may be climbed. Only the base ranks are likely to show up anytime soon, but it's possible they will appear with the next major BS update.

We've also been storing statistical data about Border Skirmishes for quite a long time, and we will be adding some Ribbon/Medal accomplishments based on that stored character data.

For the moment, this is all held up by debugging. I know, not the greatest thing to hear. But, if we're able to actually track this issue down this week, it's feasible that you may see some, or all, of the above BS content next week.

In the meantime, please let us know how the unrestricted-FF sector is working. Both from a FF standpoint, and otherwise. There have been some reports that the sector is unusually "slow" on certain computers, perhaps related to a particular onboard video chipset. I created a thread to ask for more information on this issue. So, if you have a modern, multi-core system that is unusually slow in Latos M7, please take a look at the above thread. So far we've mostly seen a bunch of people with over-optimistic configurations (ie, people who pushed the settings up too high for their respective machines, but didn't really notice until they flew into Latos M7). If there are other issues out there, though, I would like to hear them. As I've mentioned previously, we're going to be re-working the whole galaxy, with much denser asteroid fields of the sort you find in M7, and if there are issues I'd rather deal with them now.

We may expand on the unrestricted-FF area, after some more testing over this week. It's entirely feasible for us to drop FF restrictions from entire grayspace systems, well in advance of all the various other FF/Faction/Radar changes that are in the works. Starting with one sector seems like a good idea for now, we'll see how that goes. I welcome feedback on Suggestions and elsewhere, of course.

That's about all I have for now. I will be trying to gather some content for a drop on Friday, since the rest of the company is debugging the Border Skirmish issue and won't be producing anything visible. So, be on the lookout for some new missions, new trade routes to gray, perhaps some new ship variants or addons. If you're a PCC person with some nearly-completed missions, feel free to polish them up and have other PCC members help you test them, before Friday. I'll be reviewing the PCC-mission-release thread at that time.

Sorry it isn't the news I hoped for a week or so ago, but it is significant progress, and we'll be getting back to the new content as quickly as we can. Thanks everyone.