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Special Holiday Play

As usual at this time of year, we're happy to welcome back previous premium subscribers between December 24th and January 1st, for a free period of subscription access (those who were last subscribed over 60 days ago). We've been doing this every year for many years, and it's always great to see who drops by to say "hi". Some of our veteran players have organized Game Events that will be happening over that period, including:

List of Upcoming Events:
  • December 26th, 7:30pm CST (12/27 @01:30 UTC) - Hive Ion Blaster War
  • December 28th, 8:00pm CST (12/29 @02:00 UTC) - Corporate Sector Run
  • December 29th, 5:00pm CST (12/29 @23:00 UTC) - Championship Race
  • December 29th, 7:00pm CST (12/29 @01:00 UTC) - Vet Week Bus Race
(See Facebook for more Event details)

Recent Developments

We've been very quiet lately, due to the nature of our latest projects, but it's time to start to fill people in on what we're doing.

Server Side Development is rarely a big crowd-pleaser, it tends to mean long periods of "few visible changes", but in this case it made for some really amazing dev-facing enhancements that are enabling a lot of great development of the next-generation game, and the way we can approach making it. For instance..

We've always had Analytics, but it became clear that we really needed to drastically increase the amount of information we were receiving from the game, to let us deliver (and manage) the experience we wanted, while tuning things like a newly evolving economy, and new features.

Our new system is drastically expanded, and includes an incredible amount of insight into the performance and functionality of the game and server. There's a lot of engineering that goes into building something like this, particularly for our custom requirements, but things have been coming together very well. For example..

Top TFrame Graph

This graph helps us see the performance of the Top 8 "worst", or slowest-running sectors in the game, over any time period. You can see Sedina F4 was the slowest at the time.

Top TBot Graph

This graph, from the same time-period, shows us that Sedina F4 had a fair amount of Bot activity (NPCs).

Top TColl Graph

While this graph lets us see the amount of time that Sedina F4 was spending doing Collisions, a computationally-intensive process of server-side physics.

Using information like that illustrated above, it's easy to imagine how these improved analytics help make us aware of problems, and track them down much more quickly. We've actually always had this data, for years, and some of it in graph-form; but it's now much more elegant and intuitive for us to access, use and expand upon.

The above examples are just with three metrics, but we monitor upwards of 1600 unique metrics per-sector. We've already started to use it for things like..

Analyzing the Economy, in far greater depth, is helping us work towards more interesting trade-influence mechanisms. We've started tweaking a few trade routes here and there, but the real point is to add more dynamic factors that impact the economy, driven by players, with more uncertainty of the outcome. This is scary territory for any MMO developer, but having deeper insight into the game, in real-time, puts us in a better situation to handle things when they go awry, and therefore be more willing to risk unusual experiments. Similarly..

Adding a lot of NPCs is a goal for the near future. We're trying to make them more "interesting", as individuals and groups; more reactive, better at handling different situations. The NPC pirates have been a fascinating experiment, but really just a simple test-bed. We're looking to change and add NPCs everywhere, throughout the game, with different kinds of new drops, new content, and new grouping behaviours to add challenges for solo and grouped players. This will likely be an early "step" of the long-promised Universe Redux. Speaking of which..

Our iOS, Android and Amazon versions all saw major engine updates this past year (Amazon just now, on the 24th). This has all been for a specific purpose: we needed to raise the performance bar on mobile, to be able to handle the added scenery (and NPCs, and other content) that will come with the updated galaxy. Similarly..

We've migrated the Game Server to a new location, with a lot of potential for added server-scale. We've also done some major performance enhancements, intended to support a far greater player count, and frankly, NPC count as well (NPCs require more server resources than players, as the server has to simulate their physics and behaviour). We've been testing sectors with thousands of NPCs battling in relatively dense areas. There's still work to be done, but we're excited about how things are going, and where we're headed. Lastly..

The Mac version has been updated to work around all that became broken with OS X 10.15 Catalina. This took quite a bit of effort, actually. Please let us know if you run into any new problems.

Plans for the Future

Observers of past newsletters will note that we haven't shipped the Major Expansion in late-2019 that was planned, and this was delayed intentionally. We've had some great opporunities and situations develop over this past Fall, and we've juggled-around our plans to help the game better take advantage of them. These will be announced in due course. In the meantime, it's been best that we stay quiet and focus very intently on our goals relating to the upcoming expansion, an associated major marketing push, and a substantial increase in the scale of the game.

We have a number of different goals for 2020, but we'll touch on some of the priorities:

  • Guild System enhancements, intended to help Guilds better acquire new members, and interact with their current rosters.
  • Updated Menu Interface, intended to enhance the functionality of the game across all device types, along with modernizing the "look" of the game.
  • Streamlined New User Experience, to make the on-boarding process more fun, and less of a painful wall-of-text.
  • Economy and Gameplay Changes. New drops, new enemies, new trade routes, tweaks to existing ones (already on-going), etc.
  • New Player Administration Functionality, intended to reduce "public toxicity", as discussed earlier this year. We've just recently started to roll this out.
  • Much More.. I don't want to get into over-promising too much, but hopefully we see "all of the above" represented in Q1 of 2020, along with some new "surprise" content that we'll leave quiet for the moment.

We will seek player feedback on much of the above, as early as we reasonably can. It is likely that the next newsletter (hopefully in January?) will link to several new Suggestions threads about some of the above content, particularly things like Guild System enhancements and the new Menu Interface.

Update History

Here's a recap of other updates, since the last Newsletter. As usual, this doesn't really represent "everything we've been doing", but it shows some of the player-visible changes that have been made:

  • Station turrets now properly shoot at mines if there is nothing else to target.
  • NPCs in fighter ships are better at avoiding mines.
  • All NPCs are aware of more objects when trying to avoid them.
  • Conquerable Station turrets now clear out mines, in addition to the station defense fighters.
  • Only two Pirates will pursue when target goes further than 1500m from defended point.
  • When a player in a capship turret attacks conquerable station defenses, they and the capship they are in are now flagged as Temp KOS for 15 minutes.
  • Fixed problem with NPC capship turrets, causing them to not take damage.
  • Fixed issue with not being able to change the command for the Start button on gamepads on PC platforms.
  • iOS version now requires iOS 12 or newer. iPhone 5S is now the minimum spec.
  • iOS version now fully supports Xbox One and Sony DualShock 4 controllers with App Store update (some differences in support between iOS 12 and 13).
  • iOS now offers recurring Subscriptions via In-App Purchase, after the App Store Update, including the requested 12-month option.
  • iOS version now defaults to rendering shadows for new installs.
  • iOS version now supports OpenGL ES 3.0, with instanced rendering.
  • iOS now has multi-threaded rendering enabled by default.
  • iOS version now defaults to 4x anisotropic filtering, with two dynamic lights.
  • iOS textures and effects have been improved in quality, particularly normal maps.
  • Fixed issue with iOS version not saving changed gamepad commands.
  • Fixed upside-down Trident material on iOS.
  • Escort mission NPCs now jump properly from non-running sectors.
  • Android version should properly support camera cutouts on the non-HD version.
  • Certain economic trade routes have been tweaked.
  • Fixed issue with the client incorrectly displaying the cost of repairing ships that are in the cargo hold of capships when docked to a station.
  • NPC capships and Queens should no longer drift away when battling each other.
  • Attacking and defense distance of Unaligned Pirate defenders now varies more randomly.
  • Unaligned pirate trident now comes back between 4 and 12 hours after being defeated.
  • Access Key names can only contain letters, numbers, and spaces. Leading and trailing spaces are removed.
  • List of items desired by a station are now determined by maximum profit.
  • Framerate limiter is not used when VSync is enabled on Windows.
  • Fixed issue with Updater crashing due to invalid code signature on MacOS 10.15.
  • Fixed issue with file permissions on Mac Store version in Mac OS 10.15.
  • Fixed Updater crash on Mac OS 10.15 Catalina.
  • New experimental unaligned pirates show up in Latos on Saturdays around Noon Central (5-6pm in Europe), with more common rare drops.
  • Fixed issue where swapping Aim and Throttle input regions on mobile didn't get applied immediately.
  • Owners of User Access Keys no longer see other owners of the key unless you also own the Owner Key.
  • The Keychain.list command is rate limited to one query at a time. Subsequent querys are queued up until the current query finishes.
  • Added blinking arrows to the offline strafe tutorials on mobile versions.
  • Reduced the lengths of some of the offline training tutorials on mobile.
  • Improved precision of camera calculations on Android version when far away from the center of the sector.
  • Fixed issue with very low resolution screens truncating menus on Android.

Download the Game

You can install the game client for Android, iPhone and iPad, Samsung GearVR and Oculus Go, Google Daydream VR, as well as find the game on the Mac Store. Or, you can directly download the game installation for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

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