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 #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 #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 #59 - New Cliffs and Rocks for Terrain

Normally our devlog posts at the beginning of the month are reserved for general development progress and gameplay systems, but Spencer and I wear many hats here at Random Seed Games and I've actually been working on some art related stuff over the last few weeks in preparation for our first survival sandbox map design.

We want to make the survival mode a unique experience from the story mode that will come later. So that means a unique map on release, and hopefully multiple unique maps over time. I decided that this would be a perfect time to revisit one of the most criticised aspects of our terrain... the rocks and cliffs.

The NASA data that we use for our terrain generation is incredibly helpful for creating basic formations, but there are some definite limitations. The data resolution and the inability to create overhanging rock formations combine to make the terrain look like a continuous flowing surface without many rugged features. To combat this we need to create rock meshes that protrude from the surface and form more realistic cliffs, etc. In the past we have relied on the Unity Asset Store as much as possible for rock models, but for cliffs we had difficulty finding appropriate models. So I spent some time this month creating my own cliff models using real Mars cliff photos as reference.

During the creation process I realized that these models might be useful to other developers working on desert environments or planets, so I packed everything up and posted it on the Unity Asset Store for $25. Each variation began as a uniform model which was modified by extruding the vertices using a heightmap generated from a high quality texture. Then each unique model needed to be optimized and adjusted to hide the texture seams as much as possible. Ultimately this provides us with very similar "building blocks" that combine perfectly to create larger formations.

The end result looks great, especially at very large scales where the repetition is more easily hidden. So if you are a developer or know someone who needs some realistic cliff models/textures you should check out our Asset Store page.

Additionally, we are still relying on some other Asset Store packages to supplement our own terrain assets. We did manage to find one set of cliff models that will work for us, but we had to make some significant edits to make the meshes modular and lower poly. The package also contained some really high quality rocks that will look great strewn around our terrain.

Arid Environment Rocks - Unity Asset Store

After working to match these rocks and cliffs with our own we feel much better equipped to start building our survival sandbox terrain.

New Relief Terrain Pack Shader

More recently we have also started investigating a new terrain shader in order to further improve our terrain quality. Our old terrain shader is a heavily modified version of an Asset Store terrain shader and it is having issues now with the Unity 5 physical rendering changes. This new Relief Terrain Pack shader may be our best option, and after some early tests it may actually improve our workflow for terrain creation overall. We don't have any screenshots of it in action for Lacuna Passage yet, but to get an idea of what's possible with the RTP shader check out the video below.

November has been a busy month for art development. The rest of December will now be devoted to building up the survival sandbox map design version 1.0 and populating it with randomized elements that will make every survival mode playthrough a new challenge.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #44 - Designing the Hab Part 3

Check out how the Hab has progressed by viewing Part 1 and Part 2

This past month we have made great progress on the Hab with almost everything necessary to place the Hab in-game.  Most of our previous work focused on the interior components so we are excited to show you how the Hab should look on the surface of Mars.  Here are a few shots of the unfinished exterior:

When you open the hatch door and enter the Hab, you step into the airlock.  One of our artists has been hard at work on that as well, and we hope to see it integrated with the rest of the Hab by the end of the month.  Here are a few early work-in-progress shots from the airlock interior:

In case you missed it in past development updates, here are some interior shots of the living quarters in the Hab as well (take note of the newly textured and complete IRA model):

When we have a working version in the game we will begin adding more unique sections and variation to the interior.  Next up we will be working on connecting the Hab, Greenhouse, and Workshop with an exterior pressurized walkway known as the Bridge.  All the elements are finally coming together and we are really pleased with the result.  Let us know what you think!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #42 - IRA, Hab externals, and the EVA Suit

We have spent some time this month working on the updated version of TIMEframe, but we are still making progress with Lacuna Passage too. In December we gave everyone a look at the early designs of IRA, our Intelligent Remote Assistant computer system.  We now have the design and layout complete for IRA’s entire section of the Habitat.

Click to enlarge

Besides IRA’s multi-purpose robotic camera arm the unit is equipped with a docking station for the datapad, a 3D scanning platform, and multiple server and maintenance racks.

IRA is just a small portion of Foundation Hab, and we are really excited to show the finished product.  Just to give you an idea of the scale, here’s a work-in-progress shot of the exterior of Foundation Hab:

Click to enlarge

As you can tell, the Hab has been a large and complicated part of our art progress with multiple artists contributing to its design.  Once the Hab is complete we will begin work on the Lab and placing all the elements of Foundation Base.

And of course you won’t be able to leave Foundation Base and explore the planet’s surface without your trusty EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) suit!  We are working with our concept artist Luke Kremer right now to nail down a design we are happy with, and we are really pleased with some of the design iterations so far.

Some early concept sketches. Click to enlarge

These designs are closer to the final suit that will be featured in the game. Click to enlarge

We really want this suit to provide mobility and dexterity for anything Mars has to offer.  The player will need to repair equipment, traverse dangerous terrain, and even escape the occasional dust storm while on the planet’s surface, but we think this suit will be up to the task.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #36 - Designing the Greenhouse

The last few art devlogs have focused on the development of the Hab.  This week we would like to switch gears and turn your attention to another structure located within Foundation Base, the Greenhouse.

Work in progress for exterior modeling and texturing. Click to enlarge.

The Greenhouse will be connected to both the Habitat and the Laboratory with a pressurized walkway made out of a similar inflated plastic seen here.

Since Mars has less of an atmosphere than Earth, a structure pressurized to Earth’s atmosphere on Mars will attempt to expand outward.  The Greenhouse was designed to be smooth and spherical in shape in order to reduce the number of weak points caused by this expansion on the plastic.  The base of the structure will be buried in a mound of Martian dirt with buttresses along its length for reinforcement.

Inside the Greenhouse there will be plenty of room to walk about and observe the various plantlife used for experimentation.

Work in progress for interior modeling and texturing. Click to enlarge.

There will even be a few areas set up with computers and microscopes where you can learn more about the procedures and results documented by the Hermes crew.

Now that we have the exterior shape essentially complete, we will continue designing the interior with plants, lighting, ventilation, and watering systems.  We also plan on adding a few exterior components for temperature regulation and electrical lines that would be routed through the Greenhouse walls.  There’s still plenty to be done, but the Greenhouse is on its way to becoming a fully-functioning part of Foundation Base.  Check back for more updates on its progress next month.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #34 - Designing the Hab Part 2

Make sure to check part one of our continuing "Designing the Hab" art preview.

The Hab is designed to serve as the main living area for the Hermes and Heracles crew, so it will be a tightly knit and practical space full of dense detail. This week we want to highlight a couple new areas within the Hab and talk briefly about their design.

The laundry and bathroom unit combine into one compact space that utilizes more of the recessed wall space.  The shower, sink, and toilet are all located up a ladder-like set of stairs and behind the area that houses the washer, dryer, and cabinet space.  Combining these units would be a logical way to reserve less space for plumbing across the Hab.

Next we have the bunk sleeping quarters.  There are six bed spaces divided across the main walkway with a large table.  The table can be used for research, repairing equipment, or anything that requires a little counterspace.  Each bunk is equipped with personal locker space, a sliding isolation door, and even a digital screen with a built in radio.  Eventually there will be photos, letters, and other personal items that decorate each crew members’ bunk.

We are all very satisfied with the direction the Hab is going.  Improvements are being made everyday and we can’t wait to finish adding in all the details that make up this complex living space.  Our next big hurdle in the art for Lacuna Passage will be the Greenhouse - so be sure to check back to catch more on its development in the near future.  As always, feel free to comment below!