Lacuna Passage - Devlog #70 - Exterior Modules and Development Roadmap

First and foremost, let's go over some of the development progress since our last update. Lately it has been easier to share what we've been working on in video form, so check the video below to see our progress on the habitat exterior modules.

That's all well and good, but now we would like to share something with you that we probably should have done a while ago.

We are officially launching a publicly visible development roadmap.

Since we are such a small team, a lot of our development planning happens across lots of different mediums (Google docs, Trello, email, Skype, etc). I had been using that semi-disorganization as an excuse to keep our overall progress hidden, thinking that our devlog posts were enough to keep our backers and followers happy. Thanks to feedback from a few very honest backers I have finally decided to prioritize a more presentable public roadmap.

We have been using a progress tracker called Trello for quite some time now, but various aspects of the game have been split among several different private boards and we haven't done a good job of maintaining a consistent approach to documenting each feature or piece of art. So to rectify that I have recently been working to consolidate the major elements of the Survival Sandbox into a single Trello board where you can view tons of information.

Lacuna Passage Survival Sandbox Development Roadmap

The link above will take you to our public board where you can explore all the features we have planned for Survival Sandbox v1.0 and beyond. We are still planning for the Story Mode as well, but none of that will be covered in the Trello board in order to avoid future spoilers.

If you are not familiar with Trello you will see that we have organized the "Board" into several main "Lists". These cover the high-level categories of game development which are then broken down into "Cards" that detail specific features and art.

We have also leveraged the color coded card labels to help visualize our overall progress at a glance. Above you can see that the first label on each card shows the progress we have made on that specific feature. The second label on each card shows when that feature can be expected. SS1.0 means that it will be available in the first Survival Sandbox v1.0 release on Early Access. SS+ means that it will come in a later update as a feature addition. Of course, all of this is subject to change, but we want to be as transparent as possible with our current plans so that you can more easily follow along. This roadmap will always be visible directly from the navigation on the www.lacunapassagegame.com site (which is also linked in the navigation at the top of this site).

These cards should also be a great way to revisit older devlog posts that cover the more detailed development decisions that went into specific features. As you can see above, some cards have links directly to the relevant devlog posts. So instead of having to search by keyword on our blog, you can browse the entire feature list on Trello.

As of the time of this writing, there are still a few sections of incomplete cards with only titles and labels. I will be working through those remaining cards over the next week to add more descriptions, images, links, and progress checklists.

If there is anything you think I've forgotten to feature in the roadmap, please let me know! The most obvious omission is a visible release schedule or timeline. I understand that this may be frustrating considering how behind we are with the release already. I can tell you that we have a release window in mind, but we cannot discuss it at this time until more details are worked out with some third parties. Thanks for your patience.


Our attempts to feed Naga in a special chair for her megaesophagus condition...

Our attempts to feed Naga in a special chair for her megaesophagus condition...

And for those of you who remember our post back in April about our dog Naga... we have some sad news to share. We discovered that she had a skin condition called dermatomyositis in addition to a swallowing disorder called megaesophagus. Her megaesophagus became so severe that she developed aspiration pneumonia. After fighting with her pneumonia over nearly three months she began to lose strength and we made the incredibly difficult decision to let her go. Megaesophagus is not a curable condition, and while some dogs can be managed with strict dietary assistance, Naga's case was too much for her. We have been devastated by her loss. She was only six months old and we wanted to show her so much more of the world. For those of you with dogs, hold them tight ♥♥♥

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #68 - Maintenance Panels and Unity Assets

The exterior modules for Foundation Base are nearly complete.  We have spent the last few weeks touching up the maintenance panels you will find on each unit.  These panels are located on the sides of the main control unit, and open to reveal components that need to be monitored and repaired to keep the machines working properly.  Here’s a look at what a panel on the Oxygenator might look like as you approach it and when it is opened:

As you can see, there are three components inside this panel: a circuit board, pressure gauges, and fuses.  Each piece has the potential to short out or break, so you will need to craft backup pieces to replace them.  Here’s a closer look at the pieces in this panel:

Some units have more than one maintenance panel.  The heater unit, for instance, has another panel containing heating coils and carbon filters:

To repair these units, you may need to read run diagnostics or shutdown the power source beforehand.  Checking these units regularly could also prove useful if you can resolve potential issues before they become a threat.  After all, you won’t have long before you run out of oxygen, heat, or water if you leave these machines broken.

We are also working on putting up some of our assets from Lacuna Passage onto the Unity Asset Store.  Creating packages of related meshes and textures can take time, but we are hoping to pull in some additional revenue from doing so.  We only have a couple packages up right now, but we encourage you to check them out!

The next package we hope to release features a set of stairs and a raised platform used for the Habitat entryway.

Feel free to comment below!

 

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #67 - Inventory and Container Management

As you may know if you have followed us for a while, every month we have two development blog posts on the site. One from Spencer where he details new art that he has been working on, and one from me (Tyler) where I go over the programming/system development. This last month our progress has been a bit slower than usual. Partly due to the fact that both of us and our families all took a vacation to Nashville to unwind for a week. Unfortunately, soon after I returned we received news that our new puppy has some serious health concerns that may be lifelong.

Gratuitous sad puppy photo

Gratuitous sad puppy photo

Naga - a dachshund, basset hound, jack russell mix - will be having a skin biopsy soon to confirm if she has vasculitis, a condition that impacts her immune system and causes a lot of discomfort. Over the last couple months we have been dealing with the symptoms and trying to manage the side effects of various drugs we've used to try and treat her. Hopefully we will have more answers soon, but the many doctor's visits and close attention she requires has been stressful and has impacted my work. I wish I had more development progress to share with you today, but sometimes life just gets in the way.

All that being said, we have still managed to make some very important progress with our inventory management system. I thought it might be kind of fun to do a more informal development video covering these features where Spencer and I discuss some of our design process. As with everything else in these blogs, nothing is final, but the discussion featured in the video might give you some insight into the kinds of conversations we often have when trying to shape how the game will function. Sometimes we don't always agree on how something should work.

Progress has been made in a few other areas including terrain tile loading and game state saving, but unfortunately none of those aspects are very visual so they don't make for very interesting blog posts. Let us know what you think about the inventory UI in the comments.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #66 - Exterior Modules and Maintenance Panels

We have nearly finished all the exterior modules for Foundation Base.  Here’s a quick look at the final designs for the three main units - The heater, water reclaimer, and oxygenator:

Each of these units are color coded with reflective and vibrant paint colors that will help you distinguish them from a distance.  This was important that we use textures for this purpose, because creating unique silhouettes would be expensive not only in development time, but also in polygons.  Obviously the machines each have their own style, but mostly we are just swapping out the diffuse textures to change the colors since all three units are utilizing the same normal, specular, and gloss textures.

As you can see, we have added a control hub to the front of each module.  This is where you will normally approach the machines, and interact with the control panel.

From here you will be able to perform diagnostic checks from your datapad.  You will also be able to download documentation about possible repair procedures.  Sometimes you will be required to shut off the power to the machine prior to doing these repairs, so you may have to perform your work fast before the Habitat loses too much heat or oxygen.

Most repairs will direct you to a particular maintenance panel.  These panels vary depending on the machine, but they are always located to the side of the control hub, designated by letters.  For example, if you run a diagnostic that returns a particular electrical error code, your downloaded instructions may direct you to then shut off the power source and replace a fuse in maintenance panel A.  When you approach the maintenance panel, here’s a peek at what it might look like:

When you open the panel you will be presented with multiple components, each corresponding to different types of repairs.  You will need the correct pieces of equipment to perform the repairs.  For this example you would notice that one of the fuses is burnt out in the bottom left portion of the panel, so you would need to remove that fuse and replace it with one from your inventory.

Obviously the texturing for these internal components is not complete, but you get the idea.  There will be many different pieces and repairs required for these units, but after some practice you may start to learn the quickest ways to fix them.  Or better yet, you may be smart enough to run diagnostic checks regularly to repair possible issues before they ever occur.

Feel free to comment below!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #65 - WayStats, Habitats, and Survival Events

I'll have plenty for you to read about this month, but let's start out with a video instead. We've been working on our survival sandbox randomization features and that includes the random placement of 16 different Waypoint Stations around the map. Check out the video below for more info.

Having these early randomization features in feels great, but we have more than just WayStats being randomized. We recently completed an early test for full habitat randomization, including exterior/interior transitions which you can see in another video below.

Last month we gave some details about how these habitat locations are randomized, but now we actually have them physically represented on the map along with loading transitions to randomized interiors. This is a big step towards being able to test our new "Survival Event" system.

Survival Events

"Events" will form the backbone of our survival sandbox game mode for Steam Early Access. We've shown how the physical components of the map can be randomized and remixed for each playthrough, but with our events we will be able to randomize the gameplay as well and keep the player on their toes.

Those of you who have read or watched The Martian will know where we are trying to go with this system. The intent is to surprise the player with many "mini-disasters", but to hopefully make the player feel like they have just the resources they need to solve the problem if they think quickly.

If you watched our previous devlog video about crafting items then you will have a better understanding of how these events will be "fixed". Similar to how you might craft items, the survival equipment in the game may have components that break and need to be replaced. Some materials might be useful for crafting and for equipment repairs, so you will need to ration your supplies carefully and choose which items might need to be broken down for their component parts.

Space is an unforgiving place, so you will have to face increasingly difficult challenges the longer you survive. If you haven't had a chance yet, you can check out our previous art devlog to see some of the equipment that you might be tasked with repairing.

Thanks again for following along with us on our blog. Come back in a few weeks for more progress!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #64 - Solar Panels and Exterior Modules

Last time we had a chance to show off the RTG, or Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, and we discussed how it could be used to power some of the life support systems at Foundation Base.  Here's a look at the completed RTG on the charging platform:

 We now have most of the other components complete as well, including power switches, solar panels, and the bulk of the heater, oxygenator, and water reclaimer.

The heater, oxygenator, and water reclaimer (above) are the three main life support systems at Foundation Base that will require monitoring and occasional maintenance in order to survive.  These exterior modules run heat, oxygen, and water through buried lines back to the Habitat.  The modules themselves are separated from the Habitat, each with individual power sources to prevent full power loss to the most vital survival components.  The separation of these units ensures that any explosions or overheating that may occur in these machines will not affect the safety of the Hab.

The machines themselves are unfinished, but we have been working hard to make each one seem unique while utilizing parts from other assets.  It's important for us to consider buying some assets from third parties for Lacuna Passage in order to quickly generate content.  In the case of these exterior modules, we purchased an asset known as the "Compressor" from Turbosquid.com, and primarily used it's pieces to create 3 unique machines.  Here’s the original compressor model for you to compared with the units above:

There are a few different ways to power these machines, and monitoring their power sources will become just as important as making sure the machines themselves are running properly.  Currently, we have three types of solar panels that are the most common source of power to the exterior modules.  The larger solar panels require more materials and time to craft, but offer greater power efficiency.

Solar panels can be easily covered in sand or damaged after a storm, so you will need to dust these panels often in order to produce adequate power.  Here you can see the different levels of sand covering a large solar panel:

Each bank of solar panels will be positioned near a switch that controls the flow of electricity generated from the panels to their corresponding machine.  Color coded flags mark the path to the machine being powered.

The power switch is needed to perform maintenance on the machine.  If something needs repair, you may be required to shut off the power source using this switch and then replace a part on the machine before turning the power back on.  We are excited about the many variations of repair work that will be necessary with these new modules in place.

Next we are working to create a hub attached to each module that can be opened like the hood of a car to perform part replacements for the fuses, pumps, and other inner workings of these machines.

Feel free to comment below!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #63 - Survival Sandbox and New Interior Lightmapping

Sorry for posting this a day late, but the wonderful and confusing tradition of the Iowa Caucuses put a wrench in my plans to post yesterday. This month we have been adding some crucial features to our Survival Sandbox mode, including the brand new unique map.

We wanted the Survival Sandbox mode to stand on its own with a different map built specifically to maximize replayability. Most importantly that meant creating a map that has entirely unique terrain formations. We are happy to say that this map is nearly complete. We still plan on adding more large rock formations that are not pulled from the NASA satellite data. Generally we like to lean more towards realism, but many of our sourced heightmaps are fairly sparse. Mars is incredibly geologically diverse on a macro scale, but on the micro scale it is mostly flat and empty. So while the following screenshots do have a decent amount of variation we will still add lots of cliffs and larger formations to fill in the gaps.

We are happy to say that this new map is exactly the same scale as the one we will eventually be using for the story mode. Nearly 25 square miles. This gives us a ton of room to work with for some randomization features that will be largely unique to the Survival Sandbox.

full.gif

Above you can see a top down view of the entire Survival Sandbox map. The frame labeled "All Map Points" shows you all of our possible points of interest that can be randomized during each play through. Without giving away too many surprises for when we launch on Early Access, here are some basics of how the randomization works:

  • The Pink labeled dots are potential habitat locations, nine in total. Every time you play you will start near a different habitat around the outer edge of the map. There will be three habitats spawned for each playthrough, but we use an algorithm to ensure that they always form a natural "path" across roughly one third of the total map area. In Survival Sandbox mode it is likely that you will need to make your way from one habitat to the next after you run out of supplies, so this placement algorithm should help keep the same map feeling fresh with a different path every play through.
  • The Red labeled dots are our Waypoint Stations, 16 in total for each playthrough. These are important navigational checkpoints that help you in many ways we will be detailing later, but as you can see in the sample randomizations above they don't always appear in the same locations.
  • The Dark Blue labeled dots are currently referred to as our "Primary Objectives". Each objective will be unique, but they all function as a sort of "oasis" in the vast Mars desert. They are carefully positioned hubs that can expand your overall search radius when found. One example might be a broken down rover that contains an oxygen refill tank and a battery for recharging your suit. As you can see above, we use another algorithm here to ensure varied placement of Primary Objectives.
  • The Light Blue labeled dots are what we call our more general "Points of Interest". These will be our most heavily randomized objectives on the map. They are smaller and less important than Primary Objectives, but the more you find the more likely you are to maintain your extended survival on the red planet. These might be emergency food storage caches, downed weather balloons, geological research plots, or any number of other mission-related sites.

In general, the quantity and frequency of the sandbox map objectives may be greater than what you might expect in a real Mars mission, but we feel very good about the variety this adds to the gameplay and the real sense of discovery you get when stumbling upon these locations.

As you can see, our Survival Sandbox mode is not entirely procedural, nor is it entirely static. We are using light randomization features to add variety for replayability. We are applying this method with our habitat interiors as well. There will be nine possible habitat interiors to match our nine possible habitat spawn locations. So, even if you happen to spawn at the same habitat location on the map, the interior of that habitat may not be the same as it was before. Since each of these nine interiors are still designed by hand it allows us to have a higher fidelity for the art and especially the lighting. We have reintroduced the use of lightmapping to have the most realistic rendering possible. Below you will see our first pass at using our new lightmapping and reflection probe setup. You might also notice a few shots where we have managed to swap the lightmaps to simulate a power outage which you may encounter on your mission simulation.

Next month I hope to be able to share some details about our "survival event" system which will effectively serve as your primary antagonist for the Survival Sandbox mode. We really want you to feel like Mark Watney dodging curve balls left and right that might drastically impact your chances of survival on Mars. Creative problem solving and resource management will be key to overcoming the odds.

If you have any questions let us know in the comments!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #62 - Inventory Storage and the RTG

The last major component of the interior Habitat, the Inventory Storage module, is complete.  The final third of this module holds the Consumables portion of your inventory.  Just like the other parts of the Storage unit, the items shown here are a visual representation of the amount of food you have stashed.

With the Habitat interior finalized, we only have a few other major art-related tasks for the survival mode left.  Our next highest priority assets are the external maintenance units at Foundation Base.  These include anything outside of the Habitat that you may have to repair such as the Water Reclaimer, Re-oxygenator, and Heater.  Most of these machines will be detached from the Habitat, with buried lines that connect them to structures.

From a game design perspective, this allows us to create some interesting maintenance and upkeep EVA’s where the player can choose to do routine inspections or risk waiting until something fails.  We want these units to have multiple problems that can arise randomly, and also force players to make choices of how to utilize the resources available to them.

For example, each of these units will require a power source.  Solar panels will serve as a common source of power in most cases, but they require dusting regularly and can be at risk during electrical storms.  Another power source that will be available is the RTG, or Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator.  Here’s a quick look at the work-in-progress model we will use for the RTG in-game.

The RTG is basically a vessel that contains a naturally decaying plutonium core.  Plutonium-238 creates heat as it decays, which the vessel uses to convert into electricity.  It can last for over a decade and is a very practical way to power something on Mars.  For Lacuna Passage, the RTG will serve as the sustainable and low-maintenance alternative to solar energy.  It will be a rare find that the player will have to decide carefully what to power with it.

The RTG is something we are very excited to implement because it expands our options for survival elements by drawing from real-world inspirations.  NASA actually uses a RTG on the Curiosity rover.

Feel free to comment below!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #61 - Terrain Updates, Inventory, and More

The holidays have been a busy time for us and our families, but we've still made a good deal of progress this last month. As we move closer and closer to an eventual Early Access release for our survival sandbox mode we have been evaluating every aspect of the game that we think is necessary to make a good first impression.

Terrain Updates

Even with Early Access we will really only get one chance to show the potential of the full game, so we decided that the terrain was such a large part of what we are trying to do that it needed to be at a higher level of quality. To do that we have officially transitioned to using the new terrain shader that we mentioned last month. And as an added bonus, the new terrain shader has allowed us to increase the fog distance so that there is even more visible terrain while exploring.

We still need to randomly place our new rock models and modular cliffs, but the setup of the textures and shaders was more than half the battle. We can now quickly iterate on the general topography of the map and all of our settings for texture coverage can be regenerated based on our complicated ruleset in World Machine which you can see below.

It's not a simple process, but it is streamlined and optimized to allow us the most flexibility when prototyping new terrain features. We will be shooting for a terrain equal in size to what will comprise the final game map for the story mode (roughly 20 square miles of explorable terrain), but this will be a distinct and separate map with the potential for multiple maps after release.

Inventory Additions

Over the holidays we also worked on expanding our internal inventory database that will dictate what kinds of items you can expect to collect, craft, and consume during the course of the game. That list is now well over 100 items long with many more additions yet to come. Some mechanical changes have also been prototyped, including nutritional differences between ingesting raw food packets versus prepared food packets. Here is a tease of our spreadsheet for managing these items and the impact they will have on your gameplay.

New Unity Asset Packs

Last month we posted about how we began selling our own cliff and rock models on the Unity Asset Store. This month we started posting some supplemental music content to the Asset Store that will eventually be promoted as part of our Song Seed music plugin for Unity. Our composer, Clark Aboud, has been working on some amazing music unrelated to Lacuna Passage and we thought we would try to sell some of that music to help support him and our continued development. We have now released two dynamic loop packs that can be used with any game, but will work particularly well with Song Seed when it is eventually released. As a demonstration of how these loop packs can be used, you can play the tracks below which are complete songs composed entirely of these perfectly looping clips.

If you are a game developer, or know someone who might be interested in these loop packs, you can visit our Unity Asset Store publisher page which has links to purchase either pack.

TIMEframe Holiday Sale

As the holiday season comes to a close we did want to remind you all that our other game TIMEframe is still currently on sale for our lowest price since launch. Of course, if you were a Lacuna Passage Kickstarter backer you should already have your free copy, but perhaps you would like to buy another copy for a friend or just to support us as we continue to work on Lacuna Passage. We are quite proud of our 86% positive review average on Steam. If you have already played the game we would love to hear what you think. Visit our store page and leave your own review. Every little thing you can do to spread the word about our projects helps immensely. And for those of you who have already left a review, thank you!

Game with the Devs - Play Heroes of the Storm with us!

Spencer and I are working very hard to bring you Lacuna Passage, but we still take time here and there to relax and unwind a little. Over the last few months we have been enjoying Blizzard's MOBA, Heroes of the Storm, during our lunch breaks. We are big fans of the game now and we thought it might be fun to bring fans of TIMEframe and Lacuna Passage into the mix. It doesn't matter if you are a DOTA2 or LoL grizzled veteran, or if you don't even know what a MOBA game is. We would love to have you join us for an occasional match and if you are new we can help show you the ropes. We are by no means professionals, but when you work from home with a very small dev team it helps to be reminded of the people you are making games for and interact with them on a more regular basis. I just recently upgraded my internet connection (I live in the middle of a nature preserve) so hopefully we can even stream the games and participate with Twitch chat too. Come play with us! You can use our referral links below to get started with the game and we will announce our play sessions over Twitter with info on how to join us.

Spencer's Heroes of the Storm Referral Link

Tyler's Heroes of the Storm Referral Link

That's it for this devlog. Thanks for reading. We've got lots to do!