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 #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 #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.

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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 #54 - Random Hab Modules

With our sandbox survival mode for Lacuna Passage in the works, we knew we needed to make some changes to the habitat modules.  There will be a few established habitats randomly placed for players to discover and utilize to survive as long as possible.  These habitats will all be unique and full of specialized modules that serve different purposes.  Bunks for sleeping and storage for food and supplies will be available in each hab, but things like research stations, 3D printers, and crafting areas will be randomized features in only some of the habitats you find.

In order to make the habitat capable of this level of randomization, we had to revise the way the hab is set up.  Now each component in the hab takes up an exact gridspace that can be randomly assigned in almost any part of the inner structure.  Here are a couple examples of how things may look with randomly swapped modules:

This is also the first time we have really shown off how the new Unity 5 standard shader makes our internal areas look.  We are very happy with how simple and consistent this shader performs with all of our materials even though we have not finalized the lighting yet.  Here are some more interior screenshots with placeholder lighting:

You may notice a new workstation in those last couple screenshots that we are currently working on.  This will have a few different functions, but in this example it serves as a station for testing soil and rock samples.

We also managed to give some of the panels that fill the extra space in the hab a rework.  They previously seemed a little too extruded and they interfered with the flow and interactive elements of the hab.  Now they seem a little more streamlined and less intrusive.

Progress is definitely coming along, and we hope to show you more next month regarding some of the new areas in the habitat where you will be crafting supplies to help you survive.