Sunday, July 28, 2013

Major Starlight Inception update - still coming, still sounds awesome.


Just the other day I fired off an email to Escape Hatch Entertainment asking for what updates they could share on how Starlight Inception is coming along.  You remember Starlight Inception, right?  A lovely indie mashup of Wing Commander, X-Wing and Freespace 2?  Will it hit its August release window?  Are the PS3 and Vita versions looking good?

Well, today I got my answer in the form of an update on the game's Kickstarter page (it was funded last year).  It's a doozy and I'm dead tired, so I'm just gonna' copy-paste (almost) the whole thing and highlight the super-important parts.

The short version : No, it won't hit its August release window unless, miraculously, the developer has produced a game beta that is flawless and needs no tweaking.  They expect November at the latest.

Yes, the PS3 and Vita versions are still a go, and sound like they'll release alongside the PC version.

Ready for a wall of text?  Here we go.

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"Welcome to the "Inside the Ready Room - Starlight Inception Edition!" The Ready Room is the area on a carrier where pilots are given briefings and sent off onto missions; thus the name for this series of blogs.

Onto the July (or is it early August?) update…

TRAILER RELEASED 

The reaction to our official trailer (embedded below) has been overwhelming, to say the least.



21,858 views, 231 likes (and only 11 dislikes) is amazing, and the comments have been awesome. We definitely have been reading them, and assimilating the suggestions where possible.

Explosions and ship movement are already much better than that seen in the video, and is only getting better as we continue to hammer away at a beta version of the game.

If you haven't already, please go check out the trailer and give a thumbs up. We really appreciate it.

PRODUCTION (or WHEN ARE WE SHIPPING?) 

We are closing in on a Beta release in the next week or so. This is good news, since we are very close to wrapping work on the game and releasing it. However, with Beta being declared in the first week of August, unless we were 100% perfect in our execution, creating no bugs, no confusing objectives, no performance issues or other needs for critical and non-critical tweaks, our release date (originally estimated for August, 2013) will be affected. How much will it be affected? That will depend on feedback from the Beta, and the time necessary to fix the issues related to the feedback, the length of time it takes to go through the Steam [PC] and Sony [PS Vita, PS3] approval process, and the team’s signoff on a product that we are proud to deliver. 

When dealing with publishers, there are many artificial deadlines that get created, particularly the date when the game must go gold master. However, with self-published games like this one, we have the flexibility of holding the game a little longer to make sure that the product astounds, impresses, amazes rather than shipping with lots of distracting or in some cases, critical defects, and we intend to make sure that the quality is high with Starlight Inception.

There have been questions on the forums about what our new estimated date is, and for now, we’re going to work through the Beta and estimate from there. We don’t foresee the game releasing past November 1st, and we are relatively certain we can do even better than that. But again, after almost a year and a half of work (and a significant amount of planning before that), we would be foolish to release a product that feels rushed and not quite as polished as you’d expect from us. If it comes down to making the game work better, or fixing something that is just plain broken, that will always be the greater bias.

In the meantime, please participate in the Beta program (it is part of many of the premiums) and give us your feedback.


PROGRAMMING

Adam Larson, our lead programmer, has prepared an update for this month, and we wanted to share it with you all:

Since the last update we’ve made great progress on many fronts including Vita optimization, PC graphics, performance, and gameplay improvements. As you’ve probably seen by now we released our first trailer, and the feedback has been amazing. There has also been some really great suggestions and we are listening. Controls were brought up as still looking rigid by some of you. We would like to say controls have been improved greatly since the trailer, but we hope to do even more. Just from your feedback, we made changes that make it look and feel so much better. We want to thank each and every one of you for your kind feedback, it really motivates all of us to put out the best possible project.

As we’ve been building scenarios in each level as well as setting up cinematics and driving the flow of the story, we’ve found a lot of things we want to improve in the AI. That has been one of our current goals, and it’s going to be ongoing throughout the project. We’ve also really been pushing towards getting our multiplayer maps built and ready for full testing. We are working on different strategies and gameplay elements to really enhance the multiplayer experience.

Vita optimization has been ongoing, but we feel like we are finally making good progress on it. Just today we got most of the levels loading and running on the Vita. We still have a few shaders that need to be optimized for the Vita as well as some meshes the artists are working on. Overall though the Vita is looking awesome, and is very close to being fully playable from beginning to end. Some of our maps are very large, and it has been quite a fun challenge to get everything working. The next phase here is to really start heavy profiling and ensuring we get a good frame rate during every scenario.

Another thing we’ve really been looking at is targeting. We have recently reworked our targeting system, and so far the feedback is that it’s a ton better. There are still some tweaks and adjustments we need to make over the next few weeks.

We’ve brought on another programmer to help finish up the game, and it has been a huge help. Our focuses are gameplay and AI, along with work on the necessary engine and optimizations.


ART - 3D MODELING AND ANIMATION 

We keep finding cool things for the artists to work on, even though the art list for the game has been completed. Beefing up our projectile, explosion, ambient, etc. effects, as well as optimizing models for the different platforms as well as supporting the single player campaign tweaking and enhancing efforts have been the chief activities.

Our character artist, Cody, continues to build the characters for the cinematic sequences, but even with this last of our modeling tasks, we see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The art looks better than we ever imagined – our art team is amazing and has put together some really cutting edge graphics – we can’t wait to show you what we’ve accomplished.

MULTIPLAYER 

As Adam mentioned, we are working hard on multiplayer, but it is probably our biggest risk currently because of the large amount of time that it takes to test properly. We are working hard to give a great experience within the levels that we produce for multiplayer. We have a couple arenas working now, and are currently tweaking and testing them both in splitscreen mode and peer-to-peer. As the arenas pass test, we will add more to the mix.

SINGLE PLAYER CAMPAIGN 

This is the part of the game that got the most attention, and probably held us up the most over the past month and a half. We had all the “LEGO” built – set pieces for the level, enemy targets, planets, etc., but it took longer than expected to wire them up and revise, revise, revise. The end result though is shaping up to be really cool.

The good news is that we just played through level 09 (Operation: Morning Star), which was the last level built (yes, we still have 10 levels, but somehow 09 drew the short straw), and it is a great deal of fun – challenging and really cool. You can now get a complete playthrough experience from beginning to end of single player campaign, which for us was a major milestone of Beta release.

FLY PATROL 

Fly Patrol, our more casual tower defense mode, works from beginning to end, but is still getting tweaks, which will make it significantly more fun. Things like in space refueling, additional tangos to shoot at for additional CPs and enhanced environments will greatly add to the Fly Patrol experience, and will be integrated within the next week.


SHIP CUSTOMIZATION 

We’ve been doing a lot of work on the weapons and equipment that can be added to your fighters in the game. This is proving to make the gameplay a lot deeper and the choices the player makes more significant, which is really awesome. 

USER INTERFACE

We are also finishing up a new pass of the main UI for the game. At this time we’re implementing three UI modes, selectable with a single keystroke or button press on the controller/joystick:

1) Main UI – 3rd person, behind the fighter, information of flight systems and status
2) Minimal UI – 3rd person, behind the fighter, extremely bare, just enough to play the game, but nothing extraneous
3) Cockpit View – as previously seen in screenshots, a first person view out of the cockpit of the ship

SCRIPT FOR THE GAME AND VOICE WORK 

All of the scratch track has been integrated into the game, and is helping reveal rewrites and additions necessary before we go into the studio with professional voice actors."

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A free-roaming, fully 3D space ship game with serious customization, on the Vita? 

Oh Lord, yes please.  This game is unlike anything else out there - it's the type of freshness we need more of, and promises to fire pleasure receptors that haven't lit up in over a decade - not since the gritty joys of TIE Fighter back in the day.

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