Welcome to the first edition of Tau Station: Status Report. We’ll be posting an update every month to share what we’ve recently accomplished and what we’ll be working on next. We appreciate everyone who supports our game and want to be transparent with you about how the development is going. Also, it can’t be denied that knowing we’ll be going public with our progress every few weeks is a great motivator! This is our first post of this kind and it’s going to be a long one, so grab a beverage of your choice, find someplace comfortable to sit, and come along for the ride.
September has been a month for taking stock of where we’re at with development and planning our next steps. We spent a fair amount of time reviewing every aspect of the game, assessing the developer tickets, and discussing what we plan to achieve before our closed alpha testing starts in a few months. Then we sorted everything by priority, made a roadmap of the work for everyone on the team for the next few months, and got right back down to it.
The team has gotten a lot done this month – here are some highlights:
User Interface & Art
We finished up the designs for several of the station areas:
This is where you’ll go to see a summary of all the most relevant information for your character in one place. The character page shows your stats, your current mission, your equipment, what skills you’ve trained, any education courses you’re enrolled in, where your most recent clone is located, your current reputation with each of the different game factions, and more. It’s kind of like mission control for your character.
Some actions are illegal in Tau Station and will get you tossed in the brig . . . if the guards catch you, that is. How long you’ll be confined depends on the Law rating of the station you’re on and how much reputation you have with the faction that runs it. The new brig design shows you everyone who’s currently confined, what they’re in for, and how long it will be until they’re released. You’ll also be able to bribe the guard to get yourself or someone else out of jail early. Or, if you’re feeling a little vindictive, you can bribe them to extend the sentence of someone who has ticked you off.
Training your Agility, Strength, and Stamina stats is important for your character’s advancement in the game. On the gym page you can choose which stat to work out and how much effort to invest in the training session. After your workout you’ll get an update on your stat gains. You can hire a personal trainer to help you improve faster, or you could go the performance-enhancing drugs route and use stims to give your character a little boost. Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone.
If your character loses a fight, or maybe just has a bit too much to drink in the station’s bar, they’ll be confined to the sick bay for some rest and recuperation. The confinement mechanics are similar to those for the brig, and you’ll be able to bribe the doctors to get priority care for yourself and your friends. See one of your foes in the sick bay? You can pay the doctors to bump them a bit further down on the patient list so they’ll have a longer stay.
Work continues on setting up all aspects of the UI in such a way that it’s accessible to players using assistive devices such as screen readers. Our front-end developers are also making sure that the game renders well on mobile devices of various sizes. Building this functionality into the design right now rather than trying to adapt the game for accessibility and mobile use later on will make for a much better user experience.
The narrative team is currently very focused on writing missions and jobs for all the stations. Taking on missions for NPCs will earn you credits and experience points, and through them you’ll learn the backstories of the different space stations and get clues about what caused the Catastrophe. Right now, each mission takes 8-11 hours to write and edit but that’s speeding up as we’ve gotten more practice with the mission builder. We currently have 56 missions either written or in process, with more on the way. We’ll be posting more about missions here in the blog later this month.
A big win for us this month was implementing the backend framework for the game’s closed economy. All the in-game resources (credits, bonds, time, and more) will run through this framework, allowing us to measure activity and manage the economy effectively.
We’re designing our own in-game mission building system for the narrative team to use – watch the blog later this month for a more in-depth post about that part of the game’s development. This month’s big updates to the builder gave the narrative designers more tools to use while writing missions, and prepared us for the next step which will be updating the player-facing side of the mission user interface.
We changed the stations in Sol System to orbit Mars, then updated the travel times between them to reflect the new distances and varying orbital speeds (which, as it turns out, involves a lot of math). Once we set the stations to orbit a planet in Sol we realized that we needed to do the same thing for the stations in the other systems, starting with Alpha Centauri because it will be available during alpha testing. But which planet to use? This led to a lively discussion about Jovian planets, Goldilocks zones, orbital periods, travel times, gamma ray bursts, and the dangers of having a space station too near a flare star. We don’t have our answer yet, but we do now have a spreadsheet that lists all the known planets within twenty light-years, along with each one’s mass, orbital periods, stars, star mass, and a whole slew of other data that the folks on the dev team seem to understand but left some of us on the narrative side scratching our heads a little.
What’s a MMORPG without some PvP combat? The backend work for the combat system is in place and the developers have been running thousands of tests to get the balancing right. Anecdotally, we can say that it can be a great stress relief to beat up on some of your teammates’ characters after a long day working on the game. Anecdotally, we can also confirm that the brig system works just fine, and that sometimes “stress relief” can turn into some in-game jail time. It’s a good thing those of us on the team have a get-out-of-jail-free button for testing purposes.
October is going to be a busy, busy month for Tau Station. In addition to the regular game development work, we’ve sketched out a plan for a game trailer and will start production on that. Our Fearless Leader, Leila, will also be attending Game Connection in Paris at the end of the month. It’s exciting to be putting our game out into the world more for everyone to see.
Other planned work:
– Clones – finalize functionality
– Careers – finalize game details
– Balancing – mission difficulty and XP gain
UI and Art
– Page designs for the University, the Ruins, and Archives
– Mission page and dialogue interface design
– Background art for the Market, Ruins, Embassy, and interior of the public shuttle
– Icons for medical items
– Implement inventory, Port, and University designs
– Mission builder updates – integrate combat, additional preconditions, add defeat event
– Perks and modifier coding for use with items, skills, and elsewhere
– Update game time to metric time
– API development
– Instanced NPC work
– 20 more missions
– University courses – descriptions for existing and create additional
– Website tour
– Player guide and helper text
– Item descriptions