Hello everyone! March was a busy month (as usual) and we’ve got great progress to report on all fronts. We’ve got some new and updated art assets in the game, finished a first pass on another mission bringing it to fully playable status, and conducted our first in-person large-scale playtest. Those are just the highlights, so read on to see what else we’ve been doing over the past weeks.
Last week we ran our first large-scale playtest session in almost a year, and were happy to report it went great!
It took place at Algonquin College (where Project Orion began) and involved almost 30 current Game Development students. We’d like to take a moment to thank all those students for playing and everyone who helped organize the playtest, it will definitely help make Project Orion a better game!
Having the testers and developers in the same room provides a great opportunity to see issues that might otherwise go unreported. The playtest involved two Missions with different environments and objectives, and our primary goal was to get as much gameplay feedback as possible. Our testers provided us with great detailed feedback on what they liked, what they didn’t, and most importantly why they held those opinions.
The immediate result is that we’ve prioritized several changes that will make the game drastically more fun and satisfying to play. We’ve also compiled a list of new features and issues to fix that are lower priority but will definitely help improve the experience.
For our Alpha testers reading this and wondering “When will we get to test the new build?!” we have good news: we plan on having a new release within a month! The work that went into the playtest was exactly what needed to be done for the next Alpha build, so we’re very close to having a new version ready to release. The only things remaining are those newly identified high priority issues and putting the final touches on the Project Orion launcher so we can release patches and new builds easily.
In the last Dev Blog we showed the work being done on a brand new cockpit for the Orion. In this month’s update we’re excited to show off the progress that’s been made in the past few weeks. The cockpit is now detailed and almost fully textured, and it really makes a difference in how it feels to be in the cockpit of the Orion.
However, work is not yet complete on the cockpit. We have a new chair on the way along with all the flight controls, as well as some more details and improvements to what’s already been done.
We’ve also got a new ship this month, or rather the return of an old one. We’ve reincarnated the old Orion and transformed it into the new TDF fighter: the Corsair short range fighter.
The Corsair is the workhorse of the TDF fleet, having been in service for well past its expected lifespan. It has a reputation of being fast, deadly, and easy to produce (a plus for wars lasting decades).
A lot of time this month was spent getting everything prepared for the playtest. As often happens when in development, you focus your efforts on a few tasks at once, leaving other parts of the game to develop bugs caused by progress elsewhere, or even stop working entirely. We did a full QA review of the game flow, from starting the game for the first time up to the end of both missions available in the test, to find all these problem areas and get them fully functional again.
Almost all the rest of our time was spent preparing Mission 3 for a proper playtest. When we first create missions we don’t spend time polishing, creating art assets, or implementing awesome visual effects. These first pass missions are “grey blocked” with placeholder assets to make sure the basic mechanics and objectives make sense. After that we start work on all the details like models, effects, sounds, and so forth. For the playtest we took Mission 3 beyond the grey block phase and put a first round of polish on it to get feedback on what the mission will actually be like in the final game.
Now that the playtest is concluded we’re directing our efforts at those high priority issues we mentioned earlier. Solving these problems are key to making the game more enjoyable for players.
Prior to the playtest session, Project Orion had never contained a fully voice acted mission. Not long ago we designed and implemented a system that would handle the synchronous play of voice acting audio with subtitle management, but we had never had the recordings to fully test it.
We thought it would be important to make sure the voice acted content was in game for at least the first mission as it helps solve an issue that Project Orion has had for awhile. The issue with a mission that does not have voice acting is that even with subtitles it’s difficult for a player to focus on surviving the environment and the enemies while still paying attention to their objectives and the story that explains why they have them. We knew that having the dialogue for mission one fully voiced would make it easier for players to understand exactly why they were fighting and what they should be doing at any given time, which allowed for more of the feedback from our testers to be about other important areas.
Implementing our first voice acted mission was a great success. Now that we know our system works and we’ve seen how much the voice acting brings to the Project Orion experience, we’re ready to move forward with recording and implementing dialogue for our future missions.
In addition to voice acting, we’ve also been working on audio feedback for the player. The more people we see play Project Orion the more we realize that it’s difficult to focus on a HUD while flying and shooting your enemies. That means we need to let the player know what the Orion is doing (hull integrity, shield strength, weapon cooldowns, etc.) as much as possible through clear audio cues. These updates should be making their way into the game as we roll out future builds.
And that’s all for March. It was a crazy few weeks preparing for the playtest but we’ve still got a lot of milestones to go. As always we’ll see you next month!