Content Update #2 is Out!

I’m very excited to announce that Content Update #2 is out! To celebrate, I’m running a 60% discount. Until March 31st, you can get Hypergate for less than $4 USD from the Steam Store page.

This latest update includes:

  • 2 new ships
  • 3rd-person view
  • Removal of online DRM
  • Attachments (new upgradeable components that are separate from equipment)
  • Additional graphical effects
  • Improvements to both mouse piloting and controls customization
  • Several bug fixes

Most of these features come from player requests. (In reality, my to-do list was quite long, because it included a lot of nitty-gritty details like “test ending cinematic again”, “increase maximum particle count”, etc.) Players like to be heard, and I’m happy to implement features that improve their game play experience.

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So, what’s next in terms of Hypergate updates? Some feedback has already revealed a couple of minor, non-critical issues that should be corrected, so I’ll be releasing tweaks to those features in the very near future. I’m also still working on voice recording for another 10 campaign missions, scheduled for Content Update #3. My hope is that Content Update #3 will be released at the end of 2020.

But what about after Content Update #3? I’ve been giving this a bit of thought.

Developing a Hypergate sequel would be a great deal of fun. While I’d still aim for the intense, action/arcade-based game play, I think a couple of elements like being able to actually fly through a gate or navigate a specific route through the gate network would be a neat addition. At this point, I’m just fiddling around with ideas in my head to see what sticks. A sequel is still a long ways away, and in the meantime, there’s more Hypergate content to develop!

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Thanks for your support, everyone. I hope you enjoy this latest update!

One final note. Most of my posts lately have been about my technical progress on Hypergate. But if you would like to read about other aspects of my game development journey (creative design, sound effects, working with my voice actors, marketing, or even how to get started), please leave a comment below and I’d be happy to share my experiences and what I’ve learned on the subject. Otherwise I’ll just pick whatever topic I want and yammer on about that instead.

GN

Feb. 17 – Where I’m At

Content Update #2 is coming along nicely! Here is my to-do list:

  • ability to buy new ships
  • develop boost/engine sounds for new ships
  • ability to buy and use attachments
  • integrate attachments and new ships into LAN play
  • third-person fighter view
  • add third-person EMP effect
  • remove online DRM and allow offline mode
  • add short engine thruster contrails for extra cool appearance
  • add volcanic planet from new upcoming missions
  • validor first-person cockpit
  • nausica first-person cockpit
  • cruisers should explode into chunks when dead
  • graphical effect: film grain
  • graphical effect: chromatic aberration
  • player request: add mouse pilot sensitivity option
  • bug: fix an issue with mission warp-in sequence in 3rd-person view
  • bug: fix an issue that occurs with empty mission stats
  • bug: fix warp zoom when colliding with objects
  • bug: fix issue that occurs with laserbolt depth testing
  • bug: target leading in 3rd-person view needs tweaking
  • bug: fighters can get stuck in cruiser debris

Third-person view and the ability to buy new ships are the features I’m most excited about. I’ve also added some quality-of-life things, such as short engine trails and improved post-processing effects. Cruisers will now also explode into chunks. I should’ve implemented this a long time ago! It makes destroying them so satisfying you’ll need a cigarette afterwards.

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The player blows an enemy cruiser into several different pieces.

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The player will be able to choose between 3 different ships to fly.

Another major feature is actually a removal: I’m removing online DRM! Ultimately, I care more about providing a good experience for legitimate players than foaming at the mouth to viciously defend my creation like a rabid hyena. I don’t want anyone to suffer because they don’t have a good Internet connection! After Content Update #2, Hypergate players won’t need an Internet connection to play. Of course, the leaderboard and other online features won’t work in offline mode until a connection is restored, but this won’t inhibit gameplay at all.

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A new Hypergate location, Autumn Reach, will be an important location in Content Update #3’s continued story.

A new interesting feature I’m working on is attachments. These are micro-upgrades that you choose from to enhance specific ship abilities. Each one is upgradeable a total of 4 times, and you can equip only one attachment at a time from the Upgrade Hangar. By choosing the appropriate attachment, you can gain a slight advantage over your unwitting opponents. Here they are:

  • Emitter coil: Increase shield strength by a few percent
  • Hex wave package: Increase EMP time by a couple of seconds
  • Energetics projector: Infuse cannons with some extra damage
  • Heat sink: Increase heat dissipation by a few percent
  • Afterburner chamber: Increase boost speed by a few percent
  • High-energy sensor package: Increase gun and missile locking ranges

I’m optimistically hoping to release Content Update #2 at the end of March. Stay tuned and don’t change that channel!

GN

Jan. 11 – Where I’m At

Here’s a brief update on things! As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ll be releasing several updates to Hypergate of various sizes. Like all updates I provide for Hypergate, they are free and require no separate DLC-type downloads. They’re just straight-up updates, for your gaming pleasure.

Content Update #1 is already released. It included 5 new Instant Action locations, Steam Cloud Saves, 8 new pieces of equipment, and several other minor things.

Content Update #2 is what I’m currently working on. It will include a third-person view, two new ships to fly, and possibly some more graphical improvements or new equipment mechanics. I’ve also been toying with the idea of allowing the player to customize the colours on their fighter. Here are a couple of recent development screenshots.

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Content Update #2 will add third-person view.

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The Nausica fighter, coming in Content Update #2.

Content Update #3 is also underway, but requires a lot more work and time to complete! This is because it will include 10 new Campaign missions, and possibly the option of playing Instant Action as either the ISC or the Marauders. Voice recording for the new campaign missions—which will complete the story of the NIA—has started but several of the parts don’t have actors lined up yet.

GN

Doing Ludum Dare

I participated in Ludum Dare 45 this year.

Ludum Dare is a semi-annual competition where you attempt to make a game over a single weekend. There are two flavours. The first is the “Compo”, where you have 48 hours to make everything as a single individual (no teams). You must release your source code and all art must be your own (or, properly derived from existing assets that you have rights to use). The second is the “Jam”, where you have 72 hours, can work in a team, and enjoy slightly more relaxed rules.

I chose the Compo because it’s meant to be the ultimate test of your game development skills: 48 hours to develop everything yourself. The result of my work was Robo-Fort, shown here:

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The theme for the competition was “start with nothing”. My application of this theme was that you started with nothing by having to push boxes and build a fort to defend precious cargo. You started with no fort, so you had to build one.

(Some folks, however, took this entirely to the next level: some entries had no graphics, resources, or even levels, and you had to find/build/buy them yourself in order to make the game playable. Now that’s creative! You should check them out.)

Before I started, I set a few ground rules for myself. I would still eat, shower, and sleep. I would also allocate a lot of time at the beginning to sort through my ideas and decide what I wanted to do. It turned out, this wasn’t a problem. When the event started, I was already an hour’s drive away from home and out with friends for a social obligation. That gave me plenty of time to let ideas marinate in my head after the theme was released. When I finally arrived at home, the event was already 3 hours underway and I had a fully formed idea of the mechanics and game play.

A rough timeline of my progress looks something like this:

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Here are some personal tips I embraced that contributed to my success in being able to finish Robo-Fort on time.

  1. I intentionally gave myself a ton of time at the beginning to sort through ideas. The 3-hour delay before I got home didn’t concern me in the slightest. That time to think before coding is required.
  2. My morning routine (breakfast, shower, coffee, etc.) helps me focus, so I made sure to still do that.
  3. Test continuously. I would periodically stop at natural breakpoints and just play the game.
  4. Slept 8 hours each night to keep me from writing bad code or (worse) making bad decisions.
  5. My goal was to have a minimum playable version done by Saturday evening (after about 32 hours).
  6. If I got stuck on a non-technical idea, I immediately set the project aside and did something different (like washing the dishes) to let me think. The worst thing I could do was waste valuable time coding when I didn’t have anything to code.
  7. Lastly, I allocated the final hours on Sunday for music, since I knew that this was my weakest “skill”.

Ultimately, the Compo is not just a test of game development skills. It is also a test of self-knowledge, because in order to complete your game, you must force yourself to be the best version of yourself you can be. Even if it’s only for 48 hours. Plus, the skills you apply for the Compo (e.g., think and plan before you code, know what you have time for and what you don’t, etc.) apply to regular game development, too.

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Games are judged on the Ludum Dare website by the other participants over the following several weeks after submission according to a “karma” scheme: in order to get your game judged by other players, you also have to judge others’ games. This was a ton of fun and I played about 60 over the course of the next several days. It was really something to immerse yourself in so many different fun worlds, and in each game, the developers’ passion shone through. I played one of the games that ended up winning, and the winning title was well-deserved.

Robo-Fort ended up scoring 360th overall, out of 2613 submissions. That’s within the top 14%, so not bad. (And top 6% in the “Graphics” category!) Some folks had difficulty seeing my (rather broad, in hindsight) interpretation of the theme (“start with nothing”), so that’s something to keep in mind for next time. Overall, Ludum Dare 45 was a fun experience that I’d recommend to any reasonably experienced programmer or developer looking to challenge themselves and test their skills.

GN

Nov. 21 – Where I’m At

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Several months ago, I released Content Update #1 for Hypergate. This included the following features:

  • 5 new Instant Action maps
  • 8 new equipment upgrades
  • Steam Cloud saves
  • Improved look-and-feel for the main menu system
  • Several other minor enhancements

The update was well-received by existing fans, and also brought in some new ones.

I’m currently planning at least one more major Content Update, scheduled for mid-to-late 2020. This update will include 10 additional missions and will complete the story of the Novan Interplanetary Alliance. These missions will contain additional story elements, but the focus of the gameplay will be the same: warp in and blow up anything that moves. The script is complete and voice recording has started.

At least 2 minor updates are planned as well. These will include additional ships to fly, as well as the ability to play as the ISC or Marauders in Instant Action mode. I’ve also been playing around with the idea of adding a third-person flight mode, squad commands, and “attachments”: small additional enhancements that provide unique abilities to upgrades you’ve already earned.

Updates to Hypergate will always be free. Updates will always be integrated into the main game, not just as separately-acquired DLC. I’m a big fan of “game ownership”. Once you’ve bought the game, you get everything else that comes with it.

In my mind, a video game is more than just gameplay. The complete video game experience should include occasional updates and developer support, bug fixes when required, and a listening ear for players.

So, Hypergate players have bought the game experience, not just the game itself. Extra content is part of that experience. It’s also a thank-you to existing players for taking part in the world I’ve created. (And also for trusting me with their hard-earned $10 USD!)

Check out Hypergate’s main website, or the Steam Page itself. 

GN

Nov. 26 – Where I’m At

Okay!

After some Asteroids Millennium-related stuff got taken care of (a bug here, an extra feature there), I experienced a day or so of mental peace where I felt absolutely no desire to work on any projects at all. I was peaceful and content, and it was horrible and boring.

Eventually, though, the desire to build something – anything – resurfaced with a fiery vengeance like last night’s curry and once again I knew no peace. Fortunately, because this is my normal mental state, I knew precisely how to deal with it: I started drawing up plans, prototypes, and mock-ups for a few different game designs, wondering what to work on next. While I won’t deny that I came up with some ideas that I would love to explore later in the far future, none of them really grabbed hold of me as much as the idea of working on Gateway again.

By now, I had learned a lot from Asteroids Millennium, which I considered to be very well organized. This was mainly just architectural stuff, the types of logs to keep, asset munging, etc., and it made me painfully aware that Gateway was lagging far behind what I now considered to be a sound structure, in terms of both code and project organization, at least for myself. So, for my first task, I dug my hands up to the elbows into Gateway‘s deepest, lowest dungeons of satanic code and vowed to cleanse the demons even if it was the last thing I did.

After a few part-time weeks of refactoring and some excessive use of the backspace key, I brought Gateway up to my Asteroids Millennium standards, or at least pretty close. And it felt good.

“Now,” I said to myself, rolling my sleeves up even further, “enough of this screenshot nonsense. Let’s post a full demo video and get this sucker to official alpha status.”

I’m not going to get into the development details, but it suffices to say that I once again exorcised my code into something fully playable. This included adding a few new minor features (such as the ability to destroy entire cruisers, which I always thought the game badly needed), improving existing features, and some performance optimizations. I also found an idiotic bug in my level editor that I’m amazed didn’t snap me in the ass until now.

Gateway is officially alpha, and here’s a game play video of a special demo mission that doesn’t appear in the single-player campaign. Oh, and it’s not called Gateway anymore, either. Apparently that’s the name of an interactive fiction video game from 1992. So I’ve tentatively renamed the entire project Hypergate, which sounds way cooler and probably won’t buy me a lawsuit. Surprise!

GN

August 28 – Where I’m At

Several months ago, I had a conversation with a colleague about game development. I was expressing to him some concerns about my ability to finish Gateway in a reasonable amount of time, and whether or not the game would actually be fun. He pointed out that many games ship uncompleted, and that companies release content and patches later on. Insightfully, he also suggested that I develop a vertical prototype of my game to get some feedback before releasing it.

A vertical prototype is a narrow slice of a game that is fully playable. An example in my case would be a single mission. Although the main game mechanics (as well as several missions and other features) were already implemented, some of them needed to be upgraded or more thoroughly tested. A vertical prototype would be a great way to focus my efforts, so I made up my mind to develop one for Gateway and have some coworkers play-test it for me.

After that conversation, I spent the next several months fixing bugs and sharpening up some game mechanics. I designed a five minute mission specifically for testing purposes. It included a mix of my favourite dialogue and visuals from the actual campaign. A lot of effort went into improving or redoing some existing art assets, too, that I felt weren’t up to snuff. (My friends who develop game art professionally were an immense help here—they provided me with a ton of useful advice as I reworked my models and textures. Thanks folks!)

I scheduled play-testing for August 26th. Listed below are the tasks I aimed to complete before then. Each task was assigned a difficulty level. Not all of them were completed, but the essentials were done.

  • correct a major bug in the particle system (4)
  • rework the turret animation system to something more realistic (2)
  • model and texture new NIA and ISC cruisers and turrets (18)
  • correct the appearance of the first-person shield effect (1)
  • make the game engine fully adhere to an OpenGL 3.2 core profile (2)
  • rework the GUI system to look nicer and be bug-free (3)
  • add zoom blur effect when boost is activated (2)
  • correct a problem with missile collisions not being detected (1)
  • improve handling of in-game camera (1)
  • add debris assets (space junk, asteroids, cruiser chunks, etc.) (3)
  • correct obstacle avoidance AI (unknown, maybe 2)
  • create NIA/ISC cruiser collision geometry (1)
  • fix an issue with the turret shields not rendering properly (1)
  • optimize laser bolt light generation (2)
  • fix an issue with the targeting arrow (2)
  • discard non-colliding candidates faster during collision checks (1)
  • change laser bolts to use batch rendering (2)
  • texture the new cockpit model (17)

Last week, I demoed Gateway and my coworkers were thrilled to finally try the game I had been talking about for so long. It was very well received, and most of my colleagues had helpful suggestions to make it even better. Here are some of the most notable issues that were identified:

  • targeting arrow is sometimes misleading and still needs a bit of work
  • “target destroyed” and “mission complete” feedback indicators would be useful
  • star fly-bys need to be brighter to indicate player speed
  • HUD speed indicator would be good, too
  • adding a “reverse-flip-over” maneuver to reverse direction would be very useful

During testing, something interesting happened several times: my colleagues became upset that the player didn’t take any damage when colliding against large objects like gates, cruisers, or asteroids. What’s funny about this is that I disabled large-object-collision damage on purpose to make things easier, but everyone seemed disappointed by this. That surprised me, and I have two guesses for why everyone reacted this way: (1) players expected realistic mechanics, i.e., collisions should cause damage, and (2) players might have felt that their careful maneuvers were meaningless if there was no penalty for failing to execute them properly. (This was an eye-opening moment for me. I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about these kinds of implicit rewards.)

There were some positive points as well:

  • players found destroying things (turrets, gate coils, fighters, etc.) very satisfying, especially when destroying several of these in quick succession
  • the sleek look and feel of the game made it very pleasant to play in general
  • in-game audio was immersive and well-received

Overall, everyone had a positive experience, which was a bit of a relief for me. Until that day, I really had no idea if my game was fun or not. Also, it was incredibly helpful to get so much detailed feedback. Thanks, everyone!

Of course, I can’t just talk the talk after all that. Here are some screenshots from the vertical prototype mission.

My next task is to tackle the improvements that my coworkers suggested. It’s a real confidence booster to get this kind of feedback. Not that I ever really doubted it, but this experience has reinforced my belief that Gateway is a game not only worth developing, but worth playing, too.

GN