What's up with Flagship?
Hello everyone. It's been a while! Over four years apparently.
As far as gameplay goes, Flagship is currently a game of two halves. The first half; the main core loop of tactical ship-to-ship combat is in pretty good shape. Battles can take place in a single engagement area, or multiple engagement areas spanning the current star system. You have broad control over allies -generally controlled by groups, and fairly fine control over your own ship's systems. There are still interface kinks to iron out, but this is the part of the game I'm most happy with.
I've created a (fairly) robust system for scripting briefings, missions and general conversations. Damage to the ship can be carried over from mission to mission. Voice commands are now built into the game, so you won't need Voice Attack. Between missions, NPCs will talk to each other and you can play poker in the officer's lounge. You can sit in your ready room and read emails. I've created an automated lip-syncing system, and characters' eyes will dilate or constrict depending on the light levels and in some cases, their mood. There's a lot of work here that I'm proud of.
So what's the problem?
The second half, the stuff you do outside of combat, needs work. Managing your ship and fleet between missions is something I've iterated on a lot but never really nailed down. Pre-mission planning is pretty shallow. Shallower still is the simulation of crew aboard ship, who can have scripted conversations but otherwise just sort of stand around or sit at their stations. Going deeper with that stuff requires a level of work I can't really justify on my budget.
In addition to this, designing interfaces that give the player full control without being overly complex, that work well in VR and on flat screens has proved a huge challenge. Even after all these years there's still a lot I need to figure out.
From a business standpoint, Urban Logic Games as a company hasn't earned a bean since we formed it about 7 years ago. Not taking any money from the general public has been a very deliberate choice, but it's left us covering the running costs out of our own pockets. Up until recently this had been fine, but without going into too much detail my situation has changed a bit over the last few years and it's getting harder to justify the cost in time and money. Suffice to say, if it weren't for my incredibly supportive and patient wife, this blog post would be a lot shorter.
Your wife sounds very cool.What's the plan moving forward?
We had three options, the first being to carry on as we were. When I looked at all the remaining tasks, we had around two years left of work ahead of us. This was assuming the remaining development went smoothly and that we committed to polishing the game and its core mechanics as they currently existed. The problem with this was that I wasn't completely happy with all the core mechanics, and sofware development never goes completely smoothly.
Option two was to stop development, cut our losses and do something else. I've got a lot of other ideas, and some are even sensibly scoped, so this was tempting. Despite the real risk of sunk cost fallacy, this still wasn't really on the table. There's a good game here, and it's a game I very much want to exist. It's just going to take a lot of work to chisel it out.
Option three was to use the Flagship framework (i.e. the systems that run the various simulations and AI) to build a smaller game, with the intention of circling back to Flagship later. I could use the opportunity to port the codebase to C#, strip out all the old and retrofitted code we were no longer using and generally clean everything up. We had often talked about making a starfighter-focused spinoff after Flagship, and starfighter combat was already technically implemented.
Introducing Alliance Peacefighter
In case it's not clear already, we went for option three; a smaller game where you'll be taking on the role of a starfighter pilot. It's not set in the Flagship universe, the tone will be lighter and we'll be using a much more stylised (and economical) art style, best described as a mix between Homeworld and Starfox. It'll feature a linear, mission-based campaign in the vein of the Wing Commander and X-Wing games, a niche that's weirdly underserved despite the resurgence of space sims (not to mention the fact that space sims and VR are a perfect match).
We're aiming to target both VR and flatscreens, with support for HOTAS joysticks, gamepads and mouse and keyboard. If all goes well, we'll release the mission editor so you can create custom campaigns of your own. We'll go into more detail at a later date, I don't want to derail this post too much.
If you were looking forward to Flagship this might seem like bad news, but things couldn't carry on as they were. The good news is that all the work I'm doing on this is still building towards completing Flagship, which will benefit from all the improvements made to the framework. Better performance, smarter AI, a more flexible level designer, lots of stuff.
Flagship is still the end goal, we're just taking a detour on the way. As always, thanks for sticking with us.