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Alpha Test Update - 20th March 2013
March 20 - Intravenous Software
As planned the first Neon alpha build was ready on schedule for the end of February.
The intention was to have all of the existing game systems bug free and balanced to allow for lengthy play sessions and to get a real feel for how the game was shaping up. This was achieved and the idea of this update is to let those that are following Neon know the results.
Current state of the game
The core procedurally generated game world, with approximately one thousand persistent enemy ships flying around doing their own thing is all working as intended (It's possible to have two thousand ships but the game feels cluttered with that many).
The player can kill and loot those enemies collecting the upgrades, ships and weapons that they are using and use them himself.
All of that tech is nicely balanced all the way up to tech level 80 with nearly one thousand upgrades and ship types varying in usability across those levels.
Upgrade shops, hull dealerships, garages, and armories are also working nicely with their pricing scaling to create a steady progression for the player.
In a nutshell, all of the existing gameplay and technology is now balanced and working with no major bugs, and the combat and enemy AI scaling feels great.
So can we play the game already?!
Hehe, not just yet.
The biggest issue that playing the alpha build highlighted was that there simply wasn't enough really exciting new fun stuff constantly unlocking to keep the player motivated. Unlocking better shields, faster engines, new weapons, and new hulls is fun for a while but that was always intended to be just the backbone of the game. The plan was always for Neon to be much more than that...
Since the start of development, the plan was always to add loads of cool toys and gadgets, with new ones unlocking constantly to keep the gameplay fresh and ever changing. The alpha build didn't have these although they are in development now.
The plan was always to get the core fundamentals of the game tech finalized for the alpha so that there was a solid and balanced foundation to build the rest of the game around. To that extent the alpha was a complete success.
It's now time for the really fun stuff
Now that all the hard work of getting the game systems fully functional is done, development energy can be spent making all the cool gadgets.
Work on this has already begun and they are already having a dramatic effect on the fun factor.
Just this week the Drone tech was finalized. Drones are little autonomous ships that any ship in the game can release if they have a drone upgrade installed. The player can loot these off enemies or buy them at upgrade shops just like any other upgrade. A ship can have multiple drone upgrades installed. If the player installs three drone upgrades he can release three drones at once, but of course installing drone upgrades will be taking the place of other potential system or weapon booster upgrades that they could have installed instead.
Another really cool gadget is also finished but I'm keeping the details of that one under wraps because the idea is too cool and would be stolen by other developers.
The idea is to have dozens of gadgets and cool toys that the player can install along with the hundreds of already finished weapon and system booster upgrades. Yet, each ship only has a maximum of eight miscellaneous upgrade slots, that these fit into, so the player will need to experiment and find which upgrade loadouts work best in all of the various hulls.
I'm sure you can imagine the possibilities.
Upgrading to Unity Pro
Currently Neon has been built in Unity Basic!
Unity Pro offers so many extra rendering options that are not available in Unity Basic. Realtime lighting and shadows, deferred rendering, and bloom/glow effects are some of the options that I'm most excited to experiment with. The good news is that I'm confident enough with the result of the Neon alpha that I expect to upgrade to Unity Pro this week.
There will obviously be teething problems with the transition. I'm not just moving from Basic to Pro but from version 3.5 to 4.0 which does many things differently. I expect that next week will be spent doing nothing more than getting the existing game transferred over and ironing out all the bugs that will arise from that.
Then I will be experimenting with all the cool new rendering options available and I expect they will make Neon look a whole lot better than it does right now. Hopefully in a couple of weeks I'll be able to do some screenshots to show the initial results.
The next 3 months
I plan Neon's development in 3 month chunks so here is what is planned over the next 3 months.
~ Upgrade to Unity Pro and improve the games rendering and graphic fidelity.
~ Build at least a dozen (hopefully more) completely new gadgets that will convert into about 100 new upgrades.
~ Experiment with a completely different ship design concept. More on this later but the idea is to experiment with a more modular design where I can plug ship parts together and have miscellaneous upgrades attaching to the outside of the ships so that the game could have literally thousands of different ship designs. I've never been really happy with the current ships.
~ Polish up the User Interface and convert much of the text into icons.
~ Improve explosions and particle effects to give combat a more dramatic look and feel.
~ Possibly add challenge arenas and more environement designs if there is time.
~ No doubt much more than this but these are the main goals.
That will bring us up to the end of May. The plan is to have another alpha build done by then that should have enough content to pack the first 15 tech levels full of content.
At that point I will review the state of the game again. If I'm happy with those first 15 tech levels I will consider making the game available for purchase with future development adding the content to fill out the remaining tech levels in similarly sized chunks.
Each station in the game spans 15 tech levels, so it makes sense to ensure the first station is full of content and motivation, to keep upgrading, before moving on to the next.
Neon is still on schedule, I've managed to meet every deadline I've set for myself so far, and the next 3 months are going to be the most exciting of all. It's finally time to start working on the really cool and fun stuff.
Please feel free to chime in again with your ideas for cool gadgets. I already have some great ones planned but the more people who throw their ideas into the hat, the better Neon will be.
Thanks for your continued support and interest and don't forget to let similarly minded gamers know about Neon.
Paul - Intravenous Software.