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.

TIMEframe - Featured in Multiplicidade Festival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Thanks to our friends at Gamesquare, TIMEframe was featured in a live music performance by Astromash for the Festival Multiplicidade audience in August of 2015. Unfortunately we were not able to make the trip down to Rio de Janeiro ourselves, but the pictures of the show look great! We also have a little video clip for you to check out.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #25 - GDC Mega Update

Regretfully, it has been almost two months since our last official update. Well today I am remedying that with a really exciting post about my upcoming trip to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco (actually I'm writing this from the airport on my way there). The team can’t wait to show our work to all the conference attendees, but I wanted to share with you first all the work we have done to prepare for this trip.

We have created a demo that we are calling Lacuna Passage Prologue which will serve as a sneak peek of what players will expect to see in the final game. It has story elements that tie into where the game will start, but the gameplay is more of a linear tutorial to introduce important concepts in a short time span for demonstration purposes. This Prologue content may or may not be incorporated into the final game. It depends a lot on the feedback we receive while at GDC and if we think it is valuable to the experience we want to create. Since a lot may change in the coming months we are not planning to distribute this content to backers prior to release, but we have created a video play through for you all to watch and added a bunch of new screenshots.

We would love to hear what you think of the direction we are taking. If anyone is interested we might do a more in-depth run down of how we built this demo in a future devlog. This is a great opportunity for us to get even more people excited about Lacuna Passage who may never have heard of us before. Feel free to share the video or screenshots with your friends and family.

If anyone will be attending GDC and would like to play a live demonstration of the Prologue content you can email me at <contact [at] randomseedgames.com>. I will also be wearing bright red Lacuna Passage tshirts all week, so if you see me just flag me down!

Wish us luck!
Tyler Owen
Project Lead

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #12 - Soundtrack Preview #2

We are very excited to share another sample of music from the Lacuna Passage soundtrack. All credit goes to our talented composer Clark Aboud.

You will probably notice the new flood lights in the video. This is just one of many new assets that we are beginning to import into the game. These flood lights are interesting visual markers that can help you find your way at night. Some cloth physics are also on display here which we hope to use on things like flags and tarps sparingly throughout the game. We think that bit of movement makes the world feel more alive and reactive.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #4 - Exaggeration vs Realism

Lacuna Passage is an open world game and that presents a specific set of design challenges. The largest of which is the problem of realism. The term "open world" is often linked with questions related to realism such as “How big is the world?”, “How fast does time pass?”, or “What things can I interact with?”. 

Reality has rules just like a game does, such as “what goes up must come down” or “there are 24 hours in a day”. You can’t break these rules no matter how hard you try, though you can introduce goals to turn reality into a game. For example, “get to work by 8AM every day or you’re fired”. The problem is that the goals set in reality often are not very fun. Lacuna Passage is predicated on a concept that could be simulated, but is slightly exaggerated to facilitate a story, increase player engagement, and decrease frustration.

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I’ve already talked about the terrain in the game and how we are using real Mars data to form our landscapes, but at the same time we are fudging that data to present something more palatable to the player. True Mars landscapes are overwhelmingly expansive. In an exploration game like this, realism in relation to scale and distance would result in hours of walking just to reach that cool looking mountain in the distance… not exactly riveting gameplay. To combat this we are selectively shrinking the Mars landscapes on the distance scales while trying to preserve as much of the height scales as possible. This results in a much more varied terrain and much improved player travel times. The goal for the final game is to have the player be no more than two minutes away from a new and exciting vista. In the end we have a level of realism that is acceptable to the player without being a straight simulation.

Another important exaggeration that we are making in Lacuna Passage is in relation to time. Isolation and mortality are very important themes in the game and increasing the speed at which time passes tends to highlight them nicely. As of right now, one minute in the game equates to one hour in the real world. The Martian day is roughly equivalent to an Earth day so every 24 minutes of play a day will pass. Since another key gameplay system is survival this adds a sense of urgency to your choices. You can only survive about three real days without water so in the game you will have less than 90 minutes after you start your game to find a source of water or you will die. Even more importantly, an oxygen tank typically allows for real space expeditions that last roughly 9 hours, so in the game you will have to carefully monitor your oxygen levels and be sure you know your way back to base to replenish your supply. You might also think twice about running that distance since you will consume your oxygen more than twice as fast as you would just walking. I think this compressed time scale is the right choice for a game that otherwise does not task you with sharpshooting bad guys or any other skill-based gameplay contrivances. Time is your enemy.

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Compressed scales of distance and time allow for a more engaging game world. One that reflects reality but is not bogged down with incessant accuracy. Lacuna Passage is not a space exploration simulator. It has a story to tell and wants the player to be rewarded for exploring.