Jump to content

Dev Status Update (08-02-07 to 03-04-08)

Supreme Cmdr

Recommended Posts

Having completed and delivered Echo Squad (all four episodes) to Turner about two months ago, we've been hard at work on the follow up title, Talon Elite.

Its got some surprises which, when the first shots (and subsequent demo) are released, you guys will probably wet your diapers. Lets put it this way, its not what you folks are expecting it to be. In fact, its far - far - more advanced than Echo Squad and for good reason.

Apart from the graphics update as well as frontend sub-system, the terrain engine is a complete re-write.

Also, even though it still only features the Elite Force Pilot career, TE has new technologies and feature sets made only possible by the additional time we've had to work on it.

We're expecting it to wrap and be ready to roll in Q1/08 (March) and, like UCCE, will be both a boxed retail as well as online distribution release.

<small>[ 08-09-2007, 03:40 PM: Message edited by: Supreme Cmdr ]</small>

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, the old frontend interface (Logistix, Tactical etc) as you all know and love, is now 100% gone.

Thats pretty traumatic when you consider that I wrote the ol' gal back in the early nineties and was first used in the very first BC3K game (the Take 2 release).

Over the years Frontend has evolved in terms of interface and events processing, but you (the end-user) wouldn't know it because more importantly, the interface had to remain largely the same (remember the Bluish themed interface of BCM?) due to how the various screen elements (e.g. the ship decks in early versions of Logistix) needed to be laid out. You really couldn't just move stuff around; and naturally, through all the versions of the games (through to Echo Squad) though some aesthetics (aka GUI widgets) changed, the layouts remains the same. I've never been a proponent of change for the sake of change. If it ain't broke and it works, why mess with perfection?

The drastic interface change is something I had planned all along and were it not for time constraints (spawned by the GameTap exclusive and its associated deadline), would have been implemented in the first GALCOM game (Echo Squad). But we're talking close to four months worth of work and during which time everything related to the games' GUI infrastructure would either break or just not work at all.

So now, with most of the triggers, elements etc held together by XML glue, ALL - every single one - GUI widgets and elements from the legacy Frontend GUI interface, are all gone.

The benefits of throwing this all out - even though it does work as it should - are too numerous to mention, but with the new system, Frontend will no longer feel 'detached' from the rest of the game's graphics sub-system. We'll be able to have it operate like a regular window with the 3D game world. With the ability to handle 3D processing, we can have things like real-time rendering of things like weapon selections in Roster, support crafts in Logistix, personnel faces in Tactical etc. No more using static 2D bitmaps and a plethora of [hard to keep track of] GUI widgets.

Now I have to come up with a new layout design which will be handled by the new XML based GUI engine. It will be fun. Not.

Given the direction in which I have decided to take Talon Elite (if you thought it was just a clone of Echo Squad without the GameTap exclusive, new scenarios, new tech etc you're wrong on so many levels, its not even funny) now more than ever do we need a radical GUI interface for some of the unique features in place for Talon Elite and the rest of the GALCOM series (with Bravo Team being the next biggest leap forward).

Until next month....

[ 08-09-2007, 03:41 PM: Message edited by: Supreme Cmdr ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

Sorry, I'm late guys. Had to take care of a small emergency at home. I'll get setup and will be back at 10:00am.

In the meantime, feast your eyes. Due to emphasized HDR rendering, tone mapping (not to mention the normal map everything) you might need those shades.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

In the early dates, space sims were all the rage. I'm not sure why, though I think that Wing Commander had a major part to play in it due to its innovative ideas, presentation and story. From that point on, a lot of space sims (several from us) have come and gone. Despite the fact that they don't make as much money as they once did, there are a few companies - all indies - still making them.

Two of my personal all time favorite series', Freespace and Independence War, died quick and sudden deaths when the sequels (Freespace 2 and I-War2 respectively) failed to meet publisher sales expectations. Its not like they didn't make money. No, they just didn't make enough money when - foolishly - compared to other offerings in the marketplace.

The reason that publishers no longer invest development funding in this genre is because, well, they for the most part, are perceived to be focused primarily at the hard core crowd. And God forbid if you used the words X, Battlecruiser or Universal Combat in any sentence that has anything to do with games.

Space sims which actually do get published are already either fully developed and funded by the indies (e.g. 3000AD, Egosoft etc) doing them or they hit the shelves in pure distribution (e.g. our deal with Take 2 for the recently released Universal Combat CE edition) deal format. No strings attached. The good thing about [retail] distribution is that, well, if you go with a good company with the sales team to actually get your game out there and in the hands of the [largely fickle retail buyers] , the fate of your financial bottom line rests solely its merits. And the fan base. The same applies with digital distribution. No matter how or where a game is sold, if your target audience doesn't buy it, you're going to lose money.

We have done ten space games. When you look at them purely from the merits of advancements, technology and content, we could just say five [generation] games. Why? because most of the enhancements in derivative (e.g. BCM Gold, UC Gold, UCSE and the UCCE compilation) are not as involved as when, for example, you go from BC3K to BCM or from BCM to UC. Each generation represents a step forward either technology, content or features.

When you have a built-in audience, as long as you keep doing exactly what sells to that audience, there is nary a reason to deviate from the game plan. If your company/team is good a doing space games, don't go off an do a car racing game. To wit: Netdevil has a very good game in Jumpgate. Would they ever get a publisher to fork money in the region of what went into the now canceled and heavily panned Auto Assault? Not a chance. Does anyone know what Terminus and Independent War developers went on to do after their previous space sim offerings? No space games, thats for sure.

People [read: gamers] tend to forget that the business of game development is exactly that: a business. If your game doesn't sell, unless you have a pot of Gold stashed away somewhere or you're on a first name basis with the tooth fairy who has a direct line to your local leprechaun, you're not making another game - any game for that matter.

Why do I keep making space games?

Simple. I love the genre. My [gaming] career was born on the genre. And even when everyone else was falling all around me or flooding the market with rubbish developed in countries you couldn't find on a map even if you had the map stenciled to your palm, with my small [worldwide] team, I kept making them.

As to that other stuff, publishers love those games. They're cheap to acquire and unlike guys like me, they can choose not to pay the developers if they so decide. That and the other aforementioned issues, is the #1 cause of the one shot games that the genre is plagued with.

Sequels (whether the original was good or not is largely irrelevant), like the predecessors, take time, effort and resources to develop. Though, depending on how you plan and track the development, code and content re-use could ease the burden a bit. Who wants to spend upwards of $1m (in our case, due to our massive content database which is necessary due to the scope and scale of our games) just on from-scratch content creation? If an asset (e.g. a ship) is part of the game world, how many ways can you create the same thing from scratch? Look at all the Star Wars games. They all have X-Wings, Y-Wings etc. The only difference in their content creation is that they were made to look better due to emerging technologies. e.g. someone made a comment here (in another forum) about gun shot sounds in COD4; about them sounding the same as the previous title. My response is akin to what I said above. How many ways can can you change the sound that a gun makes? There is a reason why Hollywood has set, audio, video - and everything in between - libraries. You might hear a sound track in a TV show or movie, that was created while you were in high school. Thats what a content library is, does and is about.

In terms of content creation for emerging games, using normal maps in today's games means that you no longer have to worry about low - and ugly - poly models which are necessary in order to keep up your frame rates. Instead, you can generate normal maps from a high definition (read: high polygon count) model, while using a low-poly model and the normal map in the game. The result? A major boost in quality. But these emerging technologies take a LOT of time, effort and money. Especially in terms of content creation. e.g. A typical starstation in one my games, can cost upwards of $5K to build and texture. That does not take into account the time and resources involved in doing all the extra bits that make it work in the game. In our case, the model has to be spot checked, tagged (AI tags added), real-time light checks etc.

When I hung up my niche space sim hat back in 2005, I had no clue what I was going to do next. In fact, for a time, I really was planning on one more Battlecruiser outing. Only this time, I was going to add the one dimension I never got around to doing: In ship levels. The reason I never did it in the past was due to technological hurdles which would put my company at risk financially. Unlike other games (e.g. Precursors) which just throw stuff like that in, when I add tech to my game, it is (1) for a specific reason (2) it plays a crucial part in the overall premise of the game.

In the case of the [now canned] Battlecruiser Next Gen (working title), the ability to exist in your ship, milling about with your AI crew, talking to and giving them instructions, doing fp combat - alongside your marines - when your carrier gets boarded or when you board another cap ship or station, was my ultimate goal. The tech just wasn't there. And doing it meant upwards of two to three years of from-scratch development. And something close to a $3.2m budget. Since I always self-fund my games, then take as much of my upfront investment as possible during the signing stage, I had no intentions of floating that money. Why? Because given the current industry climate, not a single publisher would publisher a space sim, let alone a multi-million dollar one. Even if it was from me, since none of my games have ever lost money for anyone. But go to them with the next brain dead idea for an fps or rpg game and, at the very least, you'll get to the talking part.

So, it was with a heavy heart and common sense - not to mention the fact that, at 44 (I was just shy of 25 when I started doing this) I don't have much farther to go before I hang up my hat, buy an island somewhere (!) and disappear (like so many before me) - that I decided it was time to head upwind (literally) and directly into the eye of the storm: legacy style space games.

That was how the GALACTIC COMMAND brand was conceived. Though that organization [GALCOM] is an integral part of my games' mythos, I decided to stay with the world I created, but seen from a different perspective. Instead of a full blown in-your-face niche game (if you think commanding a carrier is child's play, just go ahead, try playing one of my games) which required a uniquely wired brain (frankly, if we all had the same degree of intellect, there would be no genre differentiation and nobody would be talking about "niche" or "casual" games to begin with) to get into, I decided to re-tell the story and game action from the perspective of the career which we all used to play in past games. A gung-ho combat pilot who doesn't care about the nitty gritty of the war, nor the diplomacy, nor the resource management, nor the why the bad guys are the bad guys. No, instead, a combat pilot does exactly as told. Go here. Blow shit up. Come up with that craft. Here, have a cigar. Oh? You don't smoke? OK, how about a medal then?

The GALCOM series was to retain the background mythos of my games, add new and improved technologies and surround everything with complete, mindless fun. Then again, fun is subjective.

So, we set about working on the first title in the series, GALCOM - Echo Squad. It is based on a subset of the Universal Combat SE engines which, as far as tech goes, was already at the peak of what could be achieved. With this title, we wanted to experiment and see if in fact we could take such a complex suite of engines, an overreaching gameplay mechanic, a niche gaming focus, and wrap it into a fact paced, no questions asked, combat action game.

We didn't mess with what worked and we didn't tinker with assets that were just fine and worked well with the technological improvements we were going to make. One thing I did have to do was reduce the scope of the game and the game world. When you have a game engine built around a high-end [commander] career, believe me, the more stuff you rip out, the more stuff you're going to break. And we - as a team - know all about breaking stuff. As I type this, I can tell you that no less than a dozen things which work fine in ES are flat out broken in TE. The same applied during the development of ES. When I reduced the size of the game world from four quadrants with thousands of space and planetary areas, to a a single [TERRAN] quadrant and a few planetary regions (specific to the storyline), I broke everything. Nav? Gone. AI path/route finding? Gone. Scripting pre-parsing and tokenization? Gone. Why? Because everything is related. You remove a quadrant, then all links to that quadrant, breaks. e.g. removing Credian means that the link from Sol, Gammulan and Syrion quads, are broken. Which in and of itself breaks all the aforementioned things. So, here comes more content creation and revision to make it all work again. You know, stuff like that.

This [scaling down] process went on for nigh on six months before we even had a playable game. And when we did have such a game, the technological improvements in terms of rendering technology, input (gamepads, yay!!), scripting, AI etc all had their own share of problems as a result of this scaling down process.

But we did it.

When I first started pitching the game to GameTap, heh, we had nothing to show really. The only lead we had was our other games already on the service and the fact that they were getting some pretty darn good metrics in terms of people playing a particular space game. I can't mention which one, since I don't want to potentially violate my NDA scope with Turner. But when we eventually had a build to show, the rest was easy. Even our main man at GameTap, was a bit skeptical (in the beginning) that we could actually put it off. How do you go from building rockets that go into space, to building go carts at the local flea market. Thats my analogy on how going to GALCOM from the likes of Battlecruiser/Universal Combat feels like. Until they got the first build.

The rest is history. The reasons that we went with GameTap for this first game in the series, has been written about in countless places, so I'm not going to belabor the point. Google is your friend.

Even before Echo Squad was a wrap, I already had ideas on where I was taking the franchise. Given the budget (and payment plan) for ES and it not being a retail game, for us it was more of an experiment more than anything else. A prototype so to speak. And one which would determine whether or not GALCOM became a one shot deal and we go back to our niche roots by hunkering down with Battlecruiser Next Gen or we ride the GALCOM wave until they throw us out. Literally.

We were hoping to use the feedback from the public ES demo (which we did several months back) to garner thoughts, comments etc and which would help us shape the future of the series. But given the deployment schedules at GameTap (we have no control over this), the public demo is still not out and neither is the game (which I understand has been pushed to the end of Nov once AOL has the multiplayer servers up). So I decided to just bite the bullet and take a chance on the series, regardless of what became of ES.

But, given how my brain works, I had bigger plans for the series. I mean, how many ways can you design and develop a pure shooter? I don't know, but ask those who crank out sequel after sequel and those actually buying them year on year.

My plan was to create a new interlocking technology which, like how my game world seamlessly blends space and planetary worlds, would blend more than one genre. Not in the game game - as I have done in my previous series - but in multiple games.

Thats how Talon Elite and Bravo Team were born.

The former would be purely space and planetary shooter, not unlike Echo Squad in terms of functionality and features. The latter would focus purely on planetside combat - vehicles, gunships, first person, weapons of mass destruction etc.

That meant two games being developed in tandem and with two specific content creation processes. While TE required the space (and in some mission specific cases, planetary assets) environment, BT would require serious advancements in the planetary environment. The development approaches for both are of course different in various ways. e.g. you don't need a full blow fps engine in TE and you don't need space dynamics handling in planetside gunships.

For the most part, the graphics engine was a re-write. We ripped out a ton of stuff. We implemented HDR, tone mapping, motion blur, normal maps support, advanced lighting (with multiple light source emitters e.g. from planets, explosions, other objects etc). We also completely re-wrote our special fx engine pipeline which handles explosions, contrails etc.

We toyed with licensing a third part engine, but decided that it was far too much work and hassles. And so we stuck with ours and just made it better. Plus, the port to XB360 (or XBLA) becomes more straightforward using our own engine and tools. No need to learn new stuff.

While the Space Traversal Engine (STE) was fairly straightforward, we simply couldn't revise the aging Planetary Traversal Engine (PTE). So, unlike the STE. We ripped it out and completely re-wrote it. If you have seen shots of games like Ace Combat 6 (XB360), Blazing Angels etc, thats the quality (in terms of technology and content) that we are currently working on. We even - for the first time - licensed middleware to handle the map creation. We licensed both GROME (used in some high-end games) and World Terrain specifically for this.

The idea behind BT is to have a technologically and gameplay compelling title which would stand on its own merit without its feature set being just another bullet point in a larger scoped game (e.g. the fp modes in our games are just that in some aspects).

In Talon Elite, fans of the genre will have a stand-alone game which features space and planetary combat in both single and multiplayer.

In Bravo Team, fans of the genre will have a stand-alone game which features high-end first person perspective with vehicles, gunships, fighter crafts and weapons of mass destruction.

And due to their interlocking technology (already working just fine; thanks for asking), owners of one game can play against or with owners of the other game. e.g. in a typical team deathmatch a space combat fan (say Team A) with TE can still play on the same server against fps fans (Team B with BT) running around on a planet with weapons of mass destruction (e.g. air-to-air guided missiles); while said fps guys are probably actively engaged against BT owning Team A guys also in fps mode, in gunships (e.g. this new - and unique to BT - Aggressor gunship) or vehicles.

Doing these two games meant completely revamping our assets database. This includes the 3D models (space and planetary), scenery, maps etc. We are revising and/or recreating from scratch, every single game asset. This ranges from simple assets like missiles and environment skyboxes to larger and more complex assets like crafts and stations. Everything. It is the first time since the original Universal Combat that we have made such an undertaking. Good thing its for two games, both of which will be released months apart. Otherwise we'd never release TE in March, let alone in 2008.

As you can see from comparing the ES and TE shots, the same content looks vastly different in the TE game due to these more advanced technologies and content e.g. all the ships now have normal maps, the stations were significantly revised, completely re-textured etc. The combination of the new rendering tech and the new/revised content is what makes them look so radically different. Remember that these are early pre-Beta shots where lots and lots of tweaking (e.g. the tone mapping has to be toned down, luminance variant is too high etc) has yet to be done.

Oh yeah, there are also lots of new gameplay differences between ES and TE. e.g. while ES only features a single player controlled fighter, TE supports five (one from every class) - complete with cockpits, animated [pilot] character model etc.

So, why the space sim genre? Because, quite frankly, its a personal thing. Even though our efforts and talents are probably better spent branching out to areas where there is more money to be made, that is not my focus nor interest. At t the end of the day, given that our MMO is still very much in development, all these new technologies, assets etc and the simplicity of the scaled down brand will eventually be ported over because it is my goal to make Universal Combat Online (working title) as broad as possible because quite frankly, thats my retirement project. Its not like I can keep doing this forever.

In the meantime, wait for the TE demo. Given our schedules, TE is still on track for completion and release in Q1/08 (end of March is our target). If you can't control yourself, go look around and see whats passing for space combat these days. If you're hard core space combat gamer, you'll weep. My advice? Vote with your dollars. Thats the only thing that will keep them from releasing such pure and utter rubbish.

Until next time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All looking very nice, there, SC, looking forward to some post-tweaking shots, though there's a lot of potential in what's already there, some intriguing ideas and game concepts in there as well, a very good read in all, here's to hoping all goes to plan ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh man, I could do shots all day long, but they just won't do the game justice. In fact, thats why I didn't even bother with space combat shots which have to be seen to be believed. I decided to save those for the next batch of shots (or maybe movies) which I will do periodically and at specific pre- and post-Beta milestone builds, as well as Release Candidate builds. The next batch of shots, however, will be planet based.

And its not just 2D/3D rendering tech. We completely stripped the Frontend (read: GUI) system. That was like a gazilion years of legacy code that - well - broke pretty much everything during the ripping out process. Again, we tried to go with a third party solution (Crazy Eddie's GUI) but in the end - for the sake of our sanity- decided to stick with just doing our own from scratch. Again. Only this time, its console friendly; so porting should be a breeze.

Now I'm working on AI and scripting improvements while working with the content teams on asset creation, revisions and whatnot. An asset isn't a done asset until I can prep and stick it in the game engine for real-time results. Its a long, arduous and sometimes dull process.

The radical development process this time around is as inevitable as it is scary. But given the industry climate, it has to be done. You guys know my mindset already: Graphics are the necessary evil, but for me, they don't - and never did - make a game. Its nice to have and all, since thats the first impression. But the end of the day, all the high end features and non-graphics tech which made our previous games the leaders in our genre are still preserved and vastly improved. The advanced dogfighting AI is only going to get that much better. Ship dynamics? heh, just wait. Controllers? While we still support all joysticks, now we have gamepads (including the ubiquitous XB360 controller) in the mix. The interface is being even more streamlined in TE than in ES due to some new [console friendly] ideas that I've come up with. Bad acting by brain-dead cutscene actors? uhm, no. Bad voice acting with hernia inducing accents? uhm, no. Sorry, wrong game. We'll leave all that fluff - and rubbish - to those other guys who keep wondering why their games aren't selling or why they don't have a fan base to speak of.

GALCOM is neither Battlecruiser nor Universal Combat for that matter, but it was never conceived to be. For all intent and purposes, the recently released Universal Combat CE was the last of its kind. We're moving on and going back to the basics that made our longest running genre (yes, space games are in fact one of the longest running genre in the history of the game industry. Look it up) fun, while accessible. Maybe now David will stop threatening to do Elite IV, and just do it. ;)

To top it off, now that the XB360 exclusive, Ace Combat 6 has spawned a joystick+throttle combo (I picked mine up today!!!), all bets are off man. We're so there. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Its Friday, so it must be screen shots day!.

Anyway, still tweaking the lighting for visuals and performance. As you can see from today's shots, the tone mapping is not as pronounced and everything it is a bit more subdued and realistic.

The assets dB is coming along nicely. I try to check the out, tag and implement them in the game as they come in. Its a LOT of assets, so its a ton of working just keep track. Of course since most of the names have changed, textures are all new etc, replacing the old stuff (used as placeholders) needs to be done carefully in order to completely remove all references so that the new ones can be used. e.g. I integrated the new TYPE 06 station (new shots above) and had to remove a ton of older textures (we now use DDS files exclusively, so its not a matter of just overwriting older files), files etc. I also had to reparse the world, dynamic and AI scripts to take into account the new files etc.

We're also working on the new PTE terrain and some shots will be posted soon. Can't wait!!

Thats it until next Friday. As we move closer to the game's release (March '08), I'll try to do more frequent updates as I find time. Since this is a dramatic new direction in game development, I have to take extra care with the work thats being done. So, I'd rather be doing that, than writing about it. ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

New shots are up

Still messing around with the lighting and general rendering tweaks of the Space Traversal Engine (STE). The general HDR and tone mapping (which dynamically adjusts the HDR ranges) tweaks seems to be fine now. I think. Shots don't tell the whole story.

However, I am still a tad concerned about the environment lighting that is cast on the 3D cockpits from the surrounding skybox. In some space regions (e.g. Sol system, as in the first Reddish shots in this new set) it makes the cockpits look, well, odd. But thats usually only for a brief moment (as in these new shots) if you are changing position and orientation. I still don't like it. Each skybox color has six RGB values which are hand picked from the skybox and then used to cast the light. I'm gonna have to pick more subtle colors for some of these regions, though the Bluish ones (as in these new shots) look cool. Anyway, I can only go so far with this before it comes mind numbingly boring. Besides, in the heat of combat, you shouldn't be site seeing. B)

The new assets are coming in daily and I tend to check and integrate them at least once or twice a week. In the case of the stations, all but two (type 01 and 08) are done, ready and already in the game (though I disabled their low level acquisition AI temporarily so that they don't acquire targets or engage them). Even though the special FX sub-system is finished, I don't want to show any combat shots yet until some other elements are in place. Also all the cap ships, fighters etc are done and in. The normal maps do make a difference, though some tweaks are still necessary. The planetary scenes are already in production and unlike how the current scenes are put together, the end result of this new game is going to be...... well, wait for the shots. :rotfl:

On the Planetary Traversal Engine (PTE) front, the old PTE Spec 4 terrain engine system - and all its assets - are completely out and have been replaced with the new PTE5 terrain rendering engine. The GROME map integration is coming along quicker than I thought, though we're still using temporary maps which Sergio himself created for testing. I was tempted to show some early shots, but decided against it. I'm going to wait until its all finished. The nice thing about GROME is that most of what we did by hand - or couldn't do due to tech constraints - can be done easily and seamlessly. It supports procedural texturing, multiple layers (e.g. you can have roads, terrain relief etc) and whatnot. Quite cool that. It really makes a big different. Plus its one less tool that we have to develop in-house.

The only problem thats going to come about is that due to space and memory constraints we simply cannot have planets the size of what we've seen in our previous games. e.g. a single 4096x4096 map (@ 128m per pixel resolution, with 4m with dynamic smoothing) which represents a [small] 500x500km section on Earth, is north of 100MB in size. Even with procedural texturing which we're going to do outside of the height maps (where the mission zones are), its still going to be a stretch to fit an entire planet. Let alone an entire galaxy of 100+ fully populated planets as in our previous games.

Since this game is also targeted for the XB360 console, we have to think in terms of consoles. Heck, the XB360 only has 512MB of system memory; hence the reason for these issues. I'm just not going to partition the game into a PC and console version, with the former having different maps/tech etc and cause myself all manner of logistical problems in the process. So, the only place where a mission zone will be, is where there is a city or base. And this time, I'm not going to litter the planets with cities and bases just to have something there. Each one that is placed on the terrain, will have a specific purpose and not just there for site seeing. e.g. if there is a city or base there, then there is a good chance that you have missions (in one or more episodes) pertaining to that city or base.

Since these [GALCOM] games are mission specific and not about exploration (and thus there is no free-form roaming), the rules are different. So, during my design (and on-going revisions therein) process, I tend to take this into account. e.g. the first four episodes in Talon Elite are focused in space and on the planet Earth. So, Earth is where the asset creation is going to have the most focus. In fact, apart from a base on one or two other planets (e.g. Mars) and which are mission specific, there won't be any mission zones (aka areas of interest) on any other planet. So even if you disobeyed orders and managed to get to one of them before you are taken off active duty - and the game ends, there won't be anything to see. Of course, content will be created for future episodes in which missions pertain to those planets.

Having played and looked closely at games like Ace Combat 6 and Blazing Angels, both on the XB360, its clear to me that since I intend to allow gamers to fly close to the ground as possible, the quality has to be spectacular, instead of the grainy, blurry and general fuzziness that is evident in the aforementioned games at low altitudes.

The thing that I bear in mind is that in our games, you get to a planet from space. Then, in the case of Bravo Team, you start on the planet, have low flying gunships, first person combat, vehicles etc. So, the ground zero, low, medium and high (about 30K ft) altitudes mapping has to look excellent or the experience is ruined. We have some really powerful shaders doing all the rendering work in PTE5, so its going to look great when its all done.

Other areas of development in terms of frontend GUI, audio, AI etc are either completely finished or in the wrap up stage. Unless something goes horribly wrong, I can't see - at this point - why we aren't ready to shoot this one out the door at the end of March '08 and focus on wrapping up and testing Bravo Team (which I don't want to take more than 2-3 months to wrap up after Talon Elite). I'm pretty excited about the interlinking between these two games and waiting to see how its received. Of course, then there's the inevitable bundling of the two games at some point in their future when their shelf life is all but expired.

Ah yes, the joys of technology.

Anyway, we're fast approaching the final stages of Beta at which time a public demo for the game will be released. I'm shooting for sometime in Jan/Feb time frame.

Having scrapped the plan for an XBLA release due to size constraints, we're moving speedily toward a retail XBox 360 release and in negotiations with several publishers. Once a decision is made and a deal signed, well, you'll all know about it I guess. Unless things (read: publisher or Microsoft say no - or someone gives me a bag of money to do the XBox 360 version first, thereby sitting on a finished PC product) change, we're still on track to release the PC version first (around the end of March '08) and a slightly different XBox 360 version for holidays 2008.

Well, until next time, enjoy the shots (btw, I added one or two showing the full scene motion blur during a hyperspace transition).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The stations are a big improvement, they look awesome (much more lifelike and massive B) ), as does the motion blur and the pilot model. Always a pleasure to read these updates, looking forward to the demo (whenever it comes out, no rush :rotfl: )

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 weeks later...

Well, having made the decision to release a public version of original Echo Squad game, the work on porting it to use our latest graphics engine, assets etc is underway and making [surprisingly] fast progress.

Even though it is a major undertaking somewhat, since the game itself was already completed, most of the work is in the actual engine port, replacing 3D assets with newer versions, removing the old ones, testing it all to locate and fix anomalies (e.g. the PTE4 engine still needs various tweaks to use the newer graphics engine) etc.

The benefits of going this route, as opposed to just releasing the legacy GameTap version cannot be understated. The end result is that we get our very first non-niche title out into the wild Blue yonder, without burying it or leaving it on a closed [GameTap] system.

The graphics port is largely uneventful as it is basically a matter of compiling and linking against the newer graphics engine, then going in and fixing the hundreds of warnings, errors, bugs etc that VS2005 spits out. Good times. :) In fact, just porting the graphics engine alone, flat out broke the PTE4 terrain rendering due to HDR lighting, weather fx etc. But even though PTE4 won't look anywhere as awesome as the PTE5 version in Talon Elite, it still looks pretty good compared to previous versions of the PTE4 engine (used in UCSE and UCCE games).

The special fx engine in the newer graphics engine is far beyond what was in the original ES version. Most of you will be pleasantly surprised when you see the new versions of certain fx (e.g. contrails, clouds, shield, cloak, damage etc) and newer ones such as full motion blur, displacement variance, HDR lighting etc. Good stuff. Its weird when you think about the fact we did all this - for ES - last year. And for TE, we went back in and ripped it all out. Now ES benefits from that.

Then there's the issue of 3D assets. Now that was a major job. ALL the original 3D assets in ES had to be removed and replaced with the newer (and normal mapped) versions. This also includes all special FX assets and whatnot. Its so huge, that I currently have all of them removed from the assets dB and just adding them one set at a time and testing, then going back in and adding another etc. Thus far, since I added the stations, I haven't had time to even tag them. So they can't fire or launch fighters yet. heh. And on the planet, since most of the 3D assets used to build the bases and cities are not in yet, some parts look more barren than usual.

The action is fast and furious and even though I would have loved to use the newer PTE5 and Frontend GUI engines in ES, its just not possible due to the major architectural differences, assets (both use all new assets, tech etc). Then again, those aspects are not the central focus of the game. In fact, the first campaign release (Episode 1 aka E1) which we did for the original GT version, has no planetary missions. Planetside missions only appear in E2 and E4. However, time permitting, I will probably revise E1 a bit and add at least one or two [bonus] scenarios specifically for planetside ops. The demo however contains one space and one planetside scenario.

I released some new space and planetary shots today. The space terrain engine port is 100% complete and the planetary terrain engine port is 99% complete and just requiring some tweaks e.g. you can see terrain tile edges due to some blending/lighting issues.

....oh, and the best part? The game runs very VERY well with everything cranked up and on the minimum system requirements. In fact, on the minimum requirement, one of my test machines has everything cranked up high @ 1280x1024 and with 2X AA with a Radeon X800 card. Most of you who upgraded to run the recent spat of games, will probably go balls to the wall and run 720 or 1080 HD resolutions (1280x720, 1920x1080) resolutions. I can't begin to tell you how good games in general look on my 42" Westinghouse monitor running at its native 1080p resolution. Its the kind of stuff that pacemakers are made for.

As things stand, we're still on track to get ES done, tested and released around the end of January. If we decide to do a boxed release, that will probably come shortly after since the logistics involved with that needed more planning in terms of creating production assets, getting the distributor/publisher sales team some movies to help them get the retail buyers on board etc. Its an entirely involved process which can take several months of planning. Since we made this decision only recently to release ES, we didn't have the luxury of such pre-planning time. With digital distribution, its just a matter of encoding the DRM, uploading it and having the various partners (Direct2Drive, Digital River etc) create and publish their sales pages.

Oh yeah, there will be a demo within the next two to three weeks once we're done with everything. I don't want to release a demo based on a WIP build for obvious reasons.

Given the nature of the game, I know for a fact that most of you will feel like your IQ is ebbing when you play the GALCOM games compared to BC/UC series which you've mastered over the years. Believe me, I feel your pain. The problem is that the industry climate has changed and in this business, its evolve or die. It is highly HIGHLY unlikely that I would make another niche game in the vein of the BC/UC series. Given the industry direction and the length of time it takes to develop games, with the PC and XB360 version of Talon Elite and Bravo Team coming out in 2008-09, coupled with our MMO ambitions, I simply can't picture it. Then again, you never know. It may be something I attempt again in my spare time when I retire in a few years.

Nevertheless, the GALCOM games IMO are fun to pick up and play since they are pure combat shooters (no trading, talking to dense NPCs, exploring and all that jazz) with near zero learning curve. And breaking them up into episodes means that you get new content periodically without us having to start from scratch. In fact, Bravo Team, due to its use of middleware such as SpeedTree RT (which we licensed earlier this year) is the only game in the series to have a new engine not present in ES or TE. Its also the only game with newer and additional 3D assets due to its use of gunships, fps characters, fps weapons etc.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Those new shots look pretty slick, SC!

Nevertheless, the GALCOM games IMO are fun to pick up and play since they are pure combat shooters (no trading, talking to dense NPCs, exploring and all that jazz) with near zero learning curve.

I like this. Depending on the mood, sometimes I just want to fly around and blow things away! :)


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...


My first dev blog update of the year and so much has happened since the last dev update (RC5 build), that I have no idea where to even begin. So, lets start with the latest VCF which I'm sure some of you are camping religiously. :P

Here are some new shots. btw, for those of you who are not technically inclined, the distortion you see in some shots (e.g. the first one) is due to the warping of the display when a ship's shields are impacted. This, like the motion blur, is one of the new engine fx. Its quite cool when seen in real time because it is exactly as you've seen it in Star Trek when the Klingon Bird Of Prey de-cloaks.

When I embarked on this Echo Squad SE exercise, I knew what needed to be done within the time frame. However, the importance of the success of the first title in a new franchie IP cannot be stressed enough. It is with that thought that most of the work that you see going in, were commissioned. It just wasn't enough to release the original Echo Squad game, let alone a less than stellar public release.

In fact, as I suspected, the lines between Echo Squad SE and Talon Elite, are even blurrier now than when it was just the original Echo Squad vs Talon Elite. The biggest differences now between Echo Squad SE (hereinafter ES2) and Talon Elite (TE) is that the latter has the all-new PTE5 planetary terrain engine, more user controlled fighters (five vs two) with 3D cockpits, a host of new (top supa sekret!!!) features and of course different scenarios. All the stuff that sequels are made of I think.

Nevertheless, going all the way (a.k.a going overboard) on the now 99% completed ES2 means that we can put more focus on the XB360 version of Talon Elite, rather than focusing - yet again - on the PC version first, due to that all important revenue stream (since we're a 100% self-funded indie studio) which the ES2 release this March will take care of.

Quite a bit has happened since the last RC5 update. Most of them are performance or graphics engine related, are self-explanatory and in the vein of a standard push to finish line. However, the most significant additions are in the gamepad control scheme and GUI.

Lets just get this out of the way: Using a gamepad controller to play a flying or racing game, is the silliest and unfulfilling thing a gamer can do. There is a reason why, even for console games, there are racing wheels, joysticks and gun controllers. A gamepad just does not convey the full experience. With that in mind however, I still wanted to have stellar support for gamepads (especially the XB360 Controller for Windows) given that casual gamers are the target of the GALCOM games and those gamers aren't the hardcore folks who would buy a joystick or racing wheel to play a game. To this end, the gamepad scheme has had some rather drastic revisions in which 99% of the [stripped down] game commands can now be executed using multiple button combos. Its geriatrics all the way. They'll never see this coming. :D

The cockpit GUI interface has some graphical improvements which I'll explain:

  1. The fighter's stats, like in all our games, was a non-graphical represention which was mouse enabled. With the GALCOM series, given its input methods, this made it largely obsolete. So all this data has been compressed into a more casual (a.k.a idiot proof) format for an at-a-glance look. Apart from the aesthetics involved, the functionality is simpler to convey.

  2. In our game engine, the Priority List Viewer (PLV) is auto-populated with all ships escorting the player. This means that you can call it up and from there use the Tactical Orders Menu to issue a command to the target without having to cycle (a.k.a screwing around) in the TRS radar looking for the target in a list which can, at any one time, contain upwards of 1000+ targets. In the GALCOM games, this list is auto-populated with your [three] Echo Squad team mates (a.k.a. wingmen). Once again, you either have to use the PLV or the TRS to view their condition or send orders.

    Now, the stats of the wingmen (ECHO 02, 03, 04) are displayed as an overlay on the 3D cockpit. This way, you can see their ship's integrity condition, their orders, target, range to you etc. Without pressing a key (to activate the PLV or TRS), you can immediately tell what they are doing, if they are badly damaged (at which point you can either wait for their AI to instruct them to RTB, or you can force them to do it immediately).

    This comes in handy in instances where, e.g. ECHO 03 (the gung-hu one of the three), decides to take on a fully operational hostile cap ship (cruiser or carrier) or station, on his own. A move that will get him killed almost immediately. So if you see that wingman's target as being a carrier and his current orders as "attack" or "strike", you know he's currently doing something utterly foolish (a lot to do with his AI level which goes up/down depending on combat experience, just like in all our games) and you can have him return to formation by using the Tactical Orders Menu to issue a "Escort/Defend Me" or similar order (there are ten in total) to have him form on your wing.

  3. The instant orders display which shows exactly what the current scenario - and thus your orders - is about, now also contains the data stats visible in the VDD/ACM mode. So now, you can use one display to view orders and the current situation, without, again, having to cycle through MFD modes in the heat of a battle.

The original Echo Squad only had its main title theme since there were no plans to do a new musical track. Last week, I decided to bite the bullet in what is yet another attempt to make SE2 the best that it can be. I hired award winning music composer, Daniel Sadowksi of Soundrama to score the eight tracks for ES2. I recently received the first track, a five minute title track that will, well, blow your mind. Yeah, its that good. I'll add it to the upcoming official game trailler due out later this month.

Our audio/voice fx assets library is also showing its age, so we're going to be recording some new voices, as well as some new guns, explosions and whatnot for ES2. Make no mistake, audio assets are very expensive which is why the fortune I spent on the assets library as far back as Universal Combat (and some as far back as BC3K!!!) are still in use today, albeit with some revisions here and there. Assets resuse is tantamount to any series' development strategy and this is something that has helped with the finances of my games in which those costs are amortized across titles.


In other dev related news, there will be an official HD (720p) game trailer before the end of the month. This will feature space and planetary combat running on the near final game code.

Also, we're going to be working with IGN's (our favorite and #1 digital distribution portal) File Planet to conduct a closed and limited tech preview (similar to their closed Beta preview programs) of the game. This will feature both the single and multiplayer game running special game scripts designed for that stress test. The idea is to garner feedback on various aspects of this new direction for us in terms of GUI, controls, tech, gameplay etc and then use that feedback to, hopefully, fashion the final result and make the game all that it can be. I love working with the IGN folks in general, so I expect good things from this. This preview test will last a period of three weeks and there will be a limited number of cd-keys being issued in order to reduce the signal to noise ratio. I will post the sign-up info when everything is in order and finalized.

A full single-player public demo of the game will be released within a week of the game's final release. This is on track to happen around the end of March.

...oh, uhm, yeah, er, I forgot to mention that though nothing is final yet, Direct2Drive will probably have a thirty day exclusive on the digital distribution rights to the game. Which means that other portals won't be selling it during that period. As I said, I like working with IGN, so this is really a no-brainer if everything (a.k.a. negotiations) pans out.


I just wanted to add that even though I had set my sights on doing Freespace 3 as my first forary into the casual (i.e. non-niche) gaming scene, I think the GALCOM games pretty much surpass anything that I could possibly have been able to do with someone else's [closed] IP. This, of course, is usually the case when working with licensed properties as there are only so many things you can/cannot do and usually to the point of frustration. Just ask those who have had to endure that whole dev process to hear the horror stories. If nothing else, those anti-social bastards disguised as Freespace fans (and who give the real fans and gamers a bad name) who were up in arms when I first announced my intent, can continue to wallow in the shallowness of mods made on an otherwise aged engine. My guess is they'll never - ever - see another Freespace title again. Ever. Unless of course the IP holder, Herve Caen (Interplay CEO) wakes up one morning with a sack of Gold at the foot of his bed and decides to spend it wisely. Of course, wisely would mean putting it into the Fallout MMO, not Freespace. And since publishers - quite smartly since they simply do not understand the genre and how to cater to and market it - aren't going anywhere near the space genre again, my guess is that the Freespace IP, like so many, is dead. Oh well.


In case you hadn't heard, NCsoft just canned Blackstar (much touted by Lord British himself no less!), the MMO that was being developed by some space game refugees from companies you already heard of. Why a team of experienced game developers decides to dive back into space gaming - with an MMO - is just simply amazing to me. What happened to starting small? Someone probably looked at Eve's numbers and decided that its where they needed to be. Forgetting that Eve is not even a fun (as it pertains to what a space combat action game is and shuold be able) game let alone a space game. Its purely a trading sim, set in space, and with some meaningless stats combat thrown in. If anything, my money is on Jumpgate being more of an MMO for those who want that sort of thing; and I expect that their upcoming Jumpgate Evolution will be even better and hopefully shed its niche roots and be able to expand the genre some more.

Everyone seems to think that MMOs are cash cows. Given the recent and looming failures, my guess is that 90% of the MMOs in development will never -ever- see the light of day. You can peruse my MMO deathwatch over here and see that I've been 100% correct in all my predictions to date since I started that list.

And you probably already know that Perpetual* is dead and no matter who gets to screw around with Star Trek Online, my guess is that its dead since they simply do not have the pedigree to pull off a space game, let alone something of that scope. Why investors keep giving people like this money, never ceases to amaze me. When I first heard about them getting the Star Trek license, after I had calmed down, I actually contacted them back in Sept. 2004 and spoke to Joe Keene. I offered to license to them my one-of-a-kind seamless space and planetary technology (incl. tools) to them, upon which they could build on. I also offered to render my assistance and seasoned experience on a part-time basis. That went nowhere of course because I suppose they figured they could pull it off. Yeah. Right. Now that the Star Wars MMO is bonafide rubbish that only a Wookie on acid could love, Star Trek MMO is likely to follow suit, given the recent reports that they are now targeting the casual market. How they expect to do that in a genre that is traditionally hard to break into, is anyone's guess. Lets hope that it never sees the light of day because the last thing that our beloved genre needs right now, is yet another mainstream targeted disaster.

* At 4:55pm, I learned that the new company formed from this failed one, is no longer working on STO either. Yay?

Damnit, we need good space combat action games...and no, I don't mean the me-too rubbish coming from Europe these days. No wonder the financial state of game development in Europe is as good as obliterated. These games are cheap to develop, the publishers sign them on for just as cheap - and with near zero testing - throw them into the market and hope for the best. The developers, not expecting much in terms of money, don't get any regardless, due to poor sales.

And everyone wonders why the [space game] genre is in shambles. A genre that, back in the day, was much heralded and exciting. I, for one, blame the likes of big budget names such as Freespace2, I-War2, Starlancer, Freelancer (!), ST Bridge Commander, Tachyon et al for the steady decline. When you pour that kind of money into a game, then it flops and the devs subsequently go out of business, those numbers are what the publishers then use as their risk benchmark. When you pour upwards of $10m (Freelancer supposedly cost more than this!!!) into a title, it flops, you don't make any money, let alone recoup costs, why would you want to do that again? Ever? So the end result is that the big name publishers - with the deep pockets - won't touch the genre with the longest barge pole; leaving the lower tiered publishers to take all the risks...and continue to release sub-par rubbish in the process.

And since all the smaller risk taking devs and publishers are being bought out and swallowed up by the big names, my guess is that the genre is on its last rites. But me? I'm not bailing. Ever. I'm going to cruise along for the next two to three years (based on my projections) with few games in the GALCOM series; then wham!!! come up with an all new niche space sim. Only by that time (circa 2012), machines would be that much faster and be powerful enough to drive the crazy ideas I already had tucked away and which I would have embarked on post-Battlecruiser/Universal Combat had I not taken the wrong turn at the water cooler and ended up in the casual gaming scene.


In other news, the recently released Universal Combat freeware release continues to churn up the downloads chart. In fact, over at File Planet where our original game has in excess of 125K* downloads and where all our games are constantly in the top ten of their space genre downloads, it past the $5K download mark within a few days of its release. New exposees are already coming to our forum and posting. Which is exactly how my install base grew over the years. Only, naysayers haven't actually figured that out yet. Instead, they keep saving me marketing dollars. Thanks guys!! No, seriously thanks. Keep up the good work because I know I can't do it all by myself and without your input. :looksaround:

My guess is that given that the game is quite good for what it is and does, those naysayers who - I might add - have never played any of my games, let alone a space sim, but are ready to trash them, are looking a lot like the idiots that they are, right about now. Its OK guys, crow tastes good with a healthy dose of pepper sauce.

* Fact: According to NPD, most big budget commercial space games don't even sell anywhere near that number; at least in North America. X3 was close (it was much more successful in Europe) though; if you don't take the reconciled returns into account.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This topic is now closed to further replies.

  • Create New...