Dev Blog 13 – Early Alpha Wrap-Up

Josh Duffenais Dev Blog

Welcome back to our Bi-Weekly Dev Blog! This week our first round of Alpha testing comes to a close and we’ll be taking a look at what came out of it. We’ll also be talking about what’s coming up in the immediate future for backers and the development process.

Alpha Results

We want to start of by saying the first round of Alpha testing was a great success! And by that we don’t mean there were no issues (there were plenty), it was a success because of the amount of issues that were discovered, found and effectively diagnosed. It went far beyond just bug fixing, we used the experience to find issues in our planning, restructure our schedule (see The Roadmap), and refine the gameplay experience.

The experience just goes to reinforce the usefulness of effective playtesting, and we’d like to thank everyone who participated. We’re looking forward to hearing more from you in the next round of testing starting near the end of September. Now we’ll get a bit more in-depth with some of the bigger takeaways from the testing.

Gameplay and Programming

Gameplay was the focus of the final phase of this alpha. With the build being distributed tonight there isn’t as much to say about the final results (we’ll be sure to include them in the next update!) but the work that went into the release is based off of feedback from the earlier phases.

So what are the highlights? Well for one, the way weapons function has been given an overhaul. Precisely aiming while being shot at, avoiding asteroids, and trying to tame unfamiliar controls have been issues for a while, especially with players unfamiliar with flying games. To combat these issues we’ve created an optional system that allows your weapons to track your locked target and assist in aiming.  The system is limited, weapons have a small range of adjustment on their mounting points so they can only track when the target is very close to the reticle, but we’ve found it makes a huge difference in scoring multiple successful hits on targets.

AI Collision debugging in Level 1 (left), and Wwise audio profiling (right)

The next big change we implemented was an update to the way the AI ships move and attack.  In previous builds the AI could track movement very precisely, making it nearly impossible to shake them off your tail or even avoid their fire.  In the latest build the AI now have a natural delay to their responses, and rotate based on acceleration.  A number of smaller tweaks also went into their behavior, with more to come in the future.  It’s still a work-in-progress, but already it makes a huge difference in the combat experience.

Art Update

The alpha testing didn’t have as great of an effect on the Art team’s priorities, but we thought you would like a bit of recap as to what they’ve been up to. Several large tasks are being worked on, like detailing the interior of the TDF capital ship, finalizing the updated TDF frigate, and updating the Arckin capital ship for inclusion in an upcoming mission (which you can see a preview of below).

We’ve been working on developing our character creation pipeline and we’re pretty happy with what we’ve come up with. This is an important part of Project Orion, as the character presentation will have a huge effect on the why the player perceives the storytelling. Look forward to some character previews in a later update.

Sound Design

As is to be expected, throughout the alpha process we’ve been modifying a lot of the game’s code. We’ve made some great progress on different components of Project Orion’s gameplay, but when many changes occur in a short period of time there are usually consequences, and this time was no different.

When we started the alpha release the audio system was a pretty stable condition, but as of last week things were in a pretty dire state. However this week we’re happy to report that all of bugs reported by our Alpha testers should now be gone for good! No more missing sounds, no more sounds out of place, and no more crashes when exiting the game.

As of this release the audio system is in a better state than ever. We’ve created a more robust system for managing the state of sounds playing from game objects to allow us to better control when sounds play, when they should be playing, and how they are cleaned up when they’re no longer needed.

What’s Next

Something unrelated to the alpha (but equally important) that we’ve been working on is developing the storyline of Project Orion. Over the past few weeks we’ve made great progress fleshing out the plot details, creating unique and interesting mission mechanics, and scripting the story from start to finish. That leads into our next big task: implementing everything we need for our first story cutscene.

From first glance this seems like a normal-sized task, but there is a lot more to it than that. This will create the foundation for the art, sound, and gameplay in every cutscene and piece of story content to follow. The more we work on the storyline the more excited we get to see it in action, so we’re looking forward to getting this foundation in place.

Well, that’s all for this week’s update. Thanks to everyone who participated in Project Orion’s first Alpha testing phase we’ve received a lot of great feedback and we appreciate those who took the time to help us discover our bugs and suggest improvements. Now that our Alpha is coming to a close we’ve got lots of work to do, expect to see progress on the story side of Project Orion in the coming weeks as we’ll be getting started on voice acting, cut-scenes, and hopefully a few new missions. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you again soon!