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Gameplay Updates.

We've been cooking along, these last few weeks, dropping various large patches to improve memory utilization and make the game both run better and look cooler. However, all the graphical updates in the world don't add up to interesting new gameplay, so I'm making a short post to let you all know where we're headed in that regard.

We've had some hiccups recently in other areas (the website, etc) that delayed our returning our attention to gameplay. Despite that, our focus has shifted and we've made some progress in a few cool areas. Keep in mind, these are short-term goals. This isn't big-picture stuff, but the way that these improvements will benefit the bigger picture should be self-evident.

The Station Bar

Our stations have had "Bars" for ages. Like many things in our game, they were intended to fulfill a specific purpose which was never fully realized (due to resources, or whatever). They've amounted to a private chat channel for the last several years, and beyond the occasional role-playing group, have not served much of a purpose.

This past week, Michael has been wiring up the Bar to work with Kourier-driven NPCs, so one can communicate with them via chat text. It has always been our intention to expand on the utilization of our NPCs, and broaden the level of activity in the galaxy. Persistent NPCs that move to and fro, less-persistent captains of convoys who might be befriended and relay interesting information they have seen (such as keeping an eye out for a particular character, or a special deal). Passengers and refugees in need of transport (some of which who may wish to "avoid governmental entanglements", or who are being hunted by another group or individual). Dark and seedy individuals with offers of under-the-table dealings and espionage. Rumors of treasure and ghost-ship derelicts, special time-dependent NPCs, and when and where they're rumored to appear.

The above cases can really be seen as another mechanism for mission interfaces, in this case being different missions that can be received from NPCs. The Bar will not be the only method by which this can occur (some will recall our Marshal interface for bounty hunters), but it will be one method.

Aside from this, bars may eventually offer other things, like gambling, virtual alcohol, and perhaps the occasional shootout (depending on the region). In any case, it's a long-planned area of the game that has lain fallow since release, and as finally receiving a little attention. We've made a lot of progress with the power of the Kourier system to which it will be attached, so hopefully this relatively small amount of development time will open up another window of gameplay opportunities.

Dynamic Warfare

There are a lot of things we need to add to Dynamic Warfare. A more definitive impact for the winning and losing sides, for one. Badges, the ranking system, and the ability to direct various NPCs (and PCs) as one rises in rank. For right now, however, I want to add more options to allow the player community to trigger conflict, without the need for scheduling. Scheduled battles are all well and good, they're a solid solution to certain technical and game-balance caveats, and they provide a means for people to organize around a particular place and time. For areas of less strategic importance, however (read: fighter battles) we'll be implementing a sort of "satellite" system for conquered territory. These satellites will allow the given side to monitor the system and provide automated defenses. However, if the satellite is knocked out, a "Small" class of Warfare (fighter vs fighter) will be initiated, with both sides arriving to engage over the respective sector. In this way, Players may potentially trigger Warfare whenever they like, and in particular locations. The satellite defenses, however, will not be trivial, and will require some experience and effort to destroy.

There will be some concern that if people are able to trigger battles at any time, there may be a tendency to influence the overall fortunes of a particular side by organizing conflicts at off-peak times, when the opposing forces are not prepared. This is mitigated, however, by the fact that only "Small" class battles may be started in this manner, and those are weighted to count for considerably less than the scheduled capital-ship battles.

In the longer run, this ability to "flip" the particular alignment of a given sector, and engage in running conquest on a schedule entirely devised by the playerbase, has applications for Guild-vs-Guild warfare in upcoming "expanded grayspace", as well as more generalized Corporate Wars, or even pirates-vs-Nations (don't like monitored space? perhaps a satellite can be knocked out).

There have been a lot of requests, lately, for this kind of larger-scale PvP mechanic, which lets the playerbase build whatever wars they want. This has always been my goal, even going back into the late 90s. However, I must be certain that these sorts of conflicts will not spill over or derail gameplay in other areas, which is why I have been planning this for largely "expanded grayspace" for some years. Still, some aspects can be tested in existing grayspace, and some parts of the game mechanics might be applicable to things like Station Conquest and other areas that are also much-desired. We'll see what we can do, but for now, I just wanted to relate that this is something we're working towards.

The Economy

A lot of work still needs to be done on the economy. I've done some tweaking to mining missions, this past week, to hopefully add a few more options for Miners, and more will be done in that area. The recent graphical changes are actually in advance of the great "universe redux" that I've been promising for.. a.. year or two? The re-working of the universe, which seems like more of a graphical-content thing, will have a major impact on:

* Distribution of Basic Resources (Ores, Minerals, etc).
* What content may then be Manufactured from said resources.
* Where said facilities exist.

..all of which leads to a lot of changes for the average Trader (and Miner). Not to mention laying the groundwork for full player Manufacturing in player-owned stations.

This will also lead to a greater demand for resources that happen to exist in more "outlying" (read: dangerous/lawless) regions of space. Think of it as "New World" vs "Old World" kind of concept. The great Nations and the various Corporations have their remote mining facilities out in grayspace, where the very best resources are to be found. They contend over them periodically in both hot wars and cold. Back in their "home" territory (Nation Space) the resources are more played out. Lots of stuff is still available, but not the crazy, valuable ores. The Gold Rush and Opportunity will be mostly out in Grayspace, but not everyone wants to go prospecting on the dangerous Frontier. A non-combative player will still be able to make a reasonable income without leaving the safety of Nation Space, they just may not be able to achieve quite the same sort of "endgame" stratosphere that will become possible for those who take the risk.

I've said this much at various points over the last year or so, and this is still what we're trying to do. We occasionally get derailed by scheduling issues or unexpected problems (website, billing crap, drama). Still, this is our goal, and this topic in particular is my Next Big Thing once I roll out some design to get people working on the other two topics (the Economy is mostly a design issue and requires a lot of work on my part, compared to the Bar/Warfare stuff).

And More..

We will be continuing to drop periodic graphical updates. Sorry for the big patches, but this is all For The Best. I made the Heavy Assault Cruiser look a bit better tonight, while still using quite a lot less video memory. I expect many people will notice the bots look different as well (hopefully for the better). These sorts of little "drop-ins" here and there will continue whenever I have time.

Additionally, our intern has made some cool icons for within the game, so you can expect those to appear in certain areas (Station classes, Mission classes, etc).

I hope this is informative, please keep posting constructive feedback on the Suggestions Forum. I've been so busy lately that I haven't been responding as often as I used to, but I'm still reading them.

Thanks for your support and patience, as always.