Lacuna Passage - Devlog #78 - The Survival Sandbox Homestretch

Kickstarter Backers

We are getting very close to a backer release for the testing of the Survival Sandbox mode. I'm going to get into my development progress since last month, but first I wanted to give a little more detail about how the rollout will work for the backer release.

First off, the release will be managed through the Humble Store download pages that you claimed with your Kickstarter email address. This will not be done through Steam just yet. I haven't gotten to Steam integration yet, so to start with all backers will need to download updated builds through the Humble Store download pages similar to how you downloaded the old demo for Lacuna Passage Prologue.

This rollout will happen in waves according to your Kickstarter Backer reward level, with Beta level backers and above getting access first. I'm only one developer, so I can't handle large numbers of bug reports and requests all at once. We will gradually rollout access until all backers are included. Then we will work on bug fixing, planned feature additions, and requested feature additions until I think we are ready to launch on Steam Early Access. I will then transition to Steam integration and all backers able to access build updates automatically through Steam. If some of you don't want to worry about encountering excessive bugs or having to manually update your build then I would suggest that you wait until I am able to add Steam integration before you try the game.

My development roadmap labels can help you determine what is and is not planned for the Early Access release. The Early Access release will be considered Survival Sandbox 1.0. However, not everything that is planned for Survival Sandbox 1.0 will be included in the initial backer release. So, what won't be in the backer release? Some things are practically finished but will not be included in the backer release because I want to get feedback on specific features and game mechanics before adding more features. Other features are just not ready yet. Here are a few notable things that will be absent from the initial backer release but will come in build updates prior to the Early Access Survival Sandbox 1.0:

  • Dust Storms/Dust Devils
    • These are practically complete, but since they are inherently random, I want to filter out any bugs that may be difficult to track down if they are bugs that sometimes occurring during random storms for some players and not for others.
  • Saving and loading game progress
    • This might seem like an odd omission, but I would like to focus early bug reports to the first 1-2 hours of gameplay. Early build updates might break game saves anyway so I want to avoid that at first.
  • Deployable Emergency Pop Tents
    • Since these provide a temporary shelter during storms and a place to save your game while on an EVA, there is no need to include them if those other features are not in place.
  • Some audio and music
    • Early backer builds may be noticeably absent of most audio and music. This is partly to save filesize for early build updates, but I also have just not had the development resources to focus on these aspects yet. They will be improved before the Early Access release.

Development Progress

One of my contract artists and long-time contributors to Lacuna Passage, Jeremy Brown, is nearly complete with what I hope will become one of our most iconic assets - the EVA suit.

So far only the high poly and low poly models are complete and already I think it looks great. It should look even better soon when the textures are finished.

Jeremy has also completed a wonderful new flag asset that I have applied cloth physics to, allowing it to react to our wind direction and intensity.

I've also begun the final lightmapping process on the habitat interiors. I've completed Habitat Alpha which you can see below.

I have two more habitat arrangements to complete, but all that consists of is essentially just rearranging the modular interior wall segments and rendering new lightmaps. This will help to distinguish the three discoverable habitats from each other while exploring the interiors.

I can also report that all 92 randomized discoverable locations on the map have been placed and the container contents of each location are being randomized on each new playthrough.

On top of all that I have punched out dozens of tiny bugs and added many quality-of-life improvements. None of which would be super exciting to describe here, but I've personally been testing the game lately and it's honestly starting to feel like a very compelling gameplay loop.

All-in-all, things are going great. Development progress has continued at a steady pace despite my wife and I working hard to prepare for our first child, and hopefully I can get our backers access to build downloads without much more delay. Hang in there!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #77 - Progress towards Backer access

We are getting very close to giving Kickstarter Backers access to our pre-Early Access version of the Lacuna Passage Survival Sandbox. I was desperately trying to get it ready before the end of 2016, but alas, life got in the way. I don't think I've mentioned anything about it here before now, but my wife and I are expecting our first child this coming March. So between spending time with family over the holidays and dealing with all the newness of preparing to be first-time parents, I was unable to hit my goal.

But the good news is that it won't be delayed very long. I'm still hard at work and I've made some great progress that I can share this month.

We now have temporary inventory icons for every item in the game. This was very important for testing so that every item has some unique identifier in your inventory, but obviously we will still be adding color to these sketched versions before the full release on Steam. If you are a backer then you will probably see many of these still in their black & white placeholder versions, but they will be updated over time. You can see how the final versions will look in our previous devlog.

Another thing I've accomplished this month is a simple death animation. I didn't have a chance to capture an example before this post, but it's nothing special really. Just a necessary element for a survival game as the final feedback on your failed performance.

While we are talking about things I can't easily show you, I'll also mention that we have our first deployable item - the portable solar panel. Portable solar panels can be used to power exterior modules just like small and large standard panels, but portable solar panels can also be "deployed" while you are out and about exploring. This will allow you to supplement your battery during the day time.

Some things I can show however are a bunch of new container types that you can discover while searching the terrain for remote supply caches.

As you might be able to predict, the different colors will help you identify what kinds of contents you might expect to find inside.

Another deployable item that I'm working on is the emergency pop tent. The deployable mechanics are still being worked on, but the model and textures are mostly complete. Below you can see the inflatable temporary habitat as it will appear in the environment.

Alright, so... things are going great and I feel like I'm in the home stretch. Stay tuned and I will have details for backers about how to get access to the Early Access beta test in the near future. Thanks everyone and happy new year!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #76 - Menus and other boring stuff

This month is just a quick update to show signs of life. I'm hard at work on a release version of the Survival Sandbox for Kickstarter backers, which will help me to test it before our upcoming Early Access launch.

More so than almost any other month the stuff I've been working on lately has been "under the hood", so I don't have much to show. I have been adding more discoverable locations and rock formations, but I want most of those to be something you see for the first time yourself while playing. Mostly I've been working on tweaks and quality-of-life improvements for the management and operation of your habitats and inventory.

One thing I can show is the newly added main menu screen. 90% of the "menus" in the game take place within your datapad because they are in-game representations of player interactions (like eating or picking up items). But some things - like changing the graphics quality and resolution, or loading a saved game - should be accessible from a main menu. This main menu can't rely on the datapad since if you aren't even playing the game yet then you don't technically have a datapad to view, so this main menu is more traditional. It's still very much a work in progress (the boring brown background will hopefully be improved), but you can see below some of the simple options that will be available in our backer release.

Some options may be added or removed before release, but we definitely hope to add more customization options over the course of development.

The last image above is how the menu will appear when overlaid on the game while paused. This was actually a bit more complicated than I thought it would be, because I had not yet actually implemented a pause mode in the game. The next step will be to include the menu hooks for saving and loading and ensuring that our save file system is reliable.

There are still lots of other little things to worry about and finish (deciding what "dying" looks like, ensuring randomized supply variability and reliable distribution, audio additions, tutorial elements, etc, etc [check our development roadmap to see more]), but we are getting so close to something playable. I hope you can all bear with me a little while longer!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #75 - Inventory Icons, Habitat Status, and More

I don't really have a good intro for this month, so... Inventory icons! They're pretty cool.

I've been staring at placeholder numbers on the inventory screen for so long, so it's actually really exciting to finally have some finished art in the UI. The above images show the current 25 completed icons, but we should have roughly 100 total items in the first Survival Sandbox release.

I've also been working on several more integrated features between our habitats and their attached exterior modules. A simple addition of a new habitat status console in the airlock will allow you to quickly check all of your life support systems at a glance.

This will help you to make a game plan before you decide to exit the habitat for an EVA. Keeping tabs on your oxygen, water reserves, power and heat status will be very important.

As you can see above, this is a habitat that was just recently brought back online. Power is on and your reserse suit battery is being charged. The airlock is currently depressurized, but the interior temp is quite low still since the heater was just turned on, so it's probably best to let it get up to a comfortable temperature before entering. Most importantly, your water reclaimer seems to be offline. In this scenario all of the modules have been turned on, but it seems like there must be a component failure in the water reclaimer preventing it from collecting water. Which would be bad enough on its own, but unfortunately the reoxygenator also requires water to produce oxygen and with the water reserves empty it can't do its job. So you can see how this screen will be very helpful in evaluating any issues that might arise. The next step for our astronaut in this case would be to go on an EVA with some carbon filters, hoses, fuses, and maybe a circuit board in order to repair any component failures in the water reclaimer.

This kind of situation might be exactly what you face after finding your first habitat to take shelter in after starting a new Survival Sandbox playthrough. But before you get to your randomly selected starting habitat, you will spawn at a randomly selected landing site in an emergency landing pod. Eight of the 9 total habitats are possible starting habitats and each habitat currently has two possible landing sites which makes for a total of 16 possible starting positions for any one playthrough.

One of several possible emergency landing sites where you can start your playthrough...

A while back I showed some of our new rock and cliff models that I will be using to spruce up the landscape a bit and I've been slowly adding many unique formations to the terrain. Below are a collection of screenshots showing the new level of terrain detail with these added models.

Alright, that's it for the devlog this month. There's more that has been completed, but not much that would be fascinating to share right now. So back to work!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #74 - Gameplay Randomization and Release Window

This past month has been a lot of coding and very little asset creation. Which means that this month's update will not be that visually interesting, but it also means that we are getting to a very good spot with the development of the Survival Sandbox. And when I say we, what I really mean is I. I am the only full-time developer on the project right now and I handle a few other small contracted contributors. My brother Spencer who was working as our full-time art director has moved on to other employment since we have reached a point in development where a majority of the remaining work is not art related. He is still assisting with a few art tasks, but for the most part we are moving forward and looking ahead towards our release on Steam Early Access.

We have made mistakes in our development and hit unseen roadblocks that have set us back multiple times. We apologize to our followers and to our backers. Thankfully we are reaching the release horizon. A few months ago we put out a Development Roadmap that you can view to check our progress. But today we want to take that a step further by sharing our current release goals. Our hope is to have the Survival Sandbox released to our backers by the end of the year and available on Steam Early Access by April of 2017.

Since we are such a small team there is certainly a chance that something could come up that would prevent us from hitting our release goals, but I am doing everything in my power to deliver. No one wants you all to play the game more than I do. So, that being said, let's talk about what I've been working on to make that happen.

A huge part of the Survival Sandbox mode will be providing randomized gameplay so that players will have a highly replayable experience. In the past we have discussed some of these randomization details and this month I've finalized some of the time consuming aspects of the habitat randomization. I have just completed placing every solar panel mount, every habitat exterior module, every cabling flag, and every habitat support wheel. The status of every equipment component is now being randomized. Each of our nine habitat locations is now integrated fully into our randomization system. Only three of those nine will be spawned for any specific playthrough. Below is a collection of screenshots that highlight the variety of terrain that surrounds each of the nine possible spawn points.

I am also working on the randomization of all the elements you will discover on your journey. Like I mentioned last month, I won't be sharing a lot of details about these discoveries since we want there to be an element of surprise for players, but I will show just a simple look at the tools we are using to fill these locations with interesting items for you to manage in your inventory.

I won't get into the technical details, but you can see how we are working within randomization constraints to provide a compelling replayable experience. In the coming weeks we will be randomizing the interior of the habitats and filling in all the various discovery locations with interesting things to find.

Ultimately our goal is to provide a game that let's you experience a view of Mars that comes as close as it might feel for our first planetary explorers. And we really can't wait until you all get a chance to play it. Thanks for hanging with us.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #73 - WayStat Navigation and Weather Monitoring

Waypoint Stations (WayStats for short) are crucial science installations that will assist you with your navigation and weather monitoring. In the survival sandbox mode you will need to discover these WayStats and activate them before they're data can be accessed.

If there are no active WayStats within a certain radius of your location your suit's navigation functions will be offline. As you can see in the images above we have discovered a WayStat, but the HUD at the top shows our navigation is offline. To fix this we must first turn it on.

With navigation features back online we can now see our custom objective marker heading on our HUD compass and our own location in the navigation app on the datapad.

The weather monitoring functions however will require a small upgrade to the WayStat's components. If we try to access the new weather app on our datapad right now we will get a "NA" label at the location of the WayStat.

So you must access the component panel of the WayStat and install a new fuse.

Now when we access the weather app we will get a percent value that represents the visibility at the location of the WayStat. A 100% value means that there is no sign of a dust storm near the WayStat.

A single active weather monitoring WayStat will allow you to check your weather app to see if visibility is reduced, but you will need three active weather monitoring WayStats in order to get advanced warnings for incoming dust storms.

Related to navigation, we have also added a new gameplay purpose for photography. Some game discoveries like WayStats and habitats will have permanent map markers, but others like small supply caches will not. In order to catalogue your discoveries you will need to take photos of them (and perhaps save them to your favorite photos folder). Then you can access them in the photo app and use the "Set Custom Objective" feature to find your way back to their location.

And as you can see in the above gif, we are starting to fill in our landscape with these discoverable locations. 92 semi-randomized locations to be exact. We've only just really gotten started, but here's a closer look at one of the smaller supply cache locations.

As we work towards filling in our survival sandbox with interesting locations to explore we will probably keep most of them a secret so that finding them for the first time will feel like a genuine discovery.


And finally we want to show you how the terrain will improve as we continue to place more unique rock structures. The comparison below shows you the bare terrain from our NASA satellite data and what it looks like after we have manually placed more detailed rock formations.

That covers everything from this last month of development. Thanks for reading and make sure to let us know what you think in the comments.