Blue Planet isn't FreeSpace 3. It's a fan production, and that has its own advantages. We can do things that Volition likely never would have - experiment with the gameplay and push the narrative envelope in surprising ways.
Custos patrol combatants support the UED Toutatis in a holding action during the events of Delenda Est.
War in Heaven's first half drew praise for its storytelling and immersion. But we worried that the player had only a limited role in the battle. While it's interesting to have to work as part of a team, fighting alongside elite wingmen and powerful warships, player agency is a key part of a fun game.
Our goal for Release 2 is to put the player in charge without losing our narrative or our rules. Warships will remain tough, smart opponents. Hostile fighters will use smart tactics rather than numerical advantage. But the player will have new tools.
One of those tools is our new HUD. Widescreen-compatible, high-resolution, and loaded with new gauges, the HUD allows us to deliver key story and gameplay information right to the player.
The above screenshot gives you an idea of the tricks we can pull. Right there you can see a stealth meter, a tactical monitor below the stealth meter that helps the player track a key signal, a visibility meter just above the radar to help players maintain their stealth, and a tactical uplink in the upper right that links the player to key mission assets. We've got a few more gauges not displayed here.
Better yet, these gauges can be customized per-mission. In another mission, the tactical gauge can be used to display an urgent priority objective. The tactical uplink could be used to control artillery spotting, or select items from a menu. The visibility meter could instead track the progress of a character's cerebral edema.
If you're worried about information overload, well, so are we. We're working with our beta testers to make sure all this information doesn't overwhelm the player. Right now our idea is to include a series of optional tutorials.
That brings us to the hub world. The name of this world is, itself, something of a spoiler, so I'll leave it be. Suffice to say that between each mission in Act 3 the player will return to a hub where they can speak to characters, hunt for easter eggs, discuss their last mission, plan for the next, and get to know their wingmen and commanders. This hub is a single mission, but it changes in response to the campaign's progress.
The hub is also, of course, totally skippable. Players who prefer action can simply exit it every time. We hope players will be able to choose the kind of experience they want to have with War in Heaven R2's narrative.
Another one of our big focuses is mission variety. Although Release 1 missions were quite diverse, a lot of the action focused on working closely with capital ships, flying intercept. Release 2 missions are a bit more adventurous - enough to please Spoon, creator of the brilliant Wings of Dawn.
Speaking of Spoon, Wings of Dawn and Blue Planet have been collaborating to build a system of mounted equipment for use on certain ships. You can choose to sacrifice weapons to carry extra ammo, enhanced reactive armor, a modular self-repair coagulant system, and more. We hope these equipment items will open up new options for players and provide interesting choices.
Speaking of interesting choices, you'll also be tangling with and flying alongside some new hardware.
The Federation's Custos patrol combatant can't stand on its own in line combat, but it's a useful torpedo attacker and it shines as a screening element and convoy raider. Of course, the GTVA has its own answer...
If you liked flying the Karuna frigate in The Blade Itself, you'll probably like the Custos too. It comes in two breeds: a mass produced torpedo attacker, and a more advanced special operations combatant. A nimble sub-cruiser gunboat, the advanced variant of the Custos mounts a spinal mass driver, select-fire torpedoes and heatseeking antifighter missiles, and adequate point defenses. Its real advantages lie in its electronic warfare and tactical systems.
One of the Custos' abilities plays into something beautiful we've implemented in R2: capship mounted countermeasures. Fighters have been able to deploy decoys ever since FreeSpace 2, but now warships will fire volleys of flares to decoy incoming torpedoes and bombs, in a manner inspired by (but not quite as cool as) this:
We'll keep you informed as we move forward. In the meantime, check out our amazing sister projects - Earth Defense, Inferno Release 1 Upgrade, Vassago's Dirge, Wings of Dawn, Luyten Civil War, and more.
There are a lot of other things I could get excited about, including numerous new mission editor features and bugfixes to the engine itself triggered by BP development. But I think it's time to sign off. I'll close with some hard numbers: we have eight missions done, tested, and polished to nearly release state. Progress continues.
Oh! I was just reminded of an amazing community project. As we developed War in Heaven we daydreamed of a multiplayer mode. The community came up with this idea itself, and a number of intrepid Hard Light Productions members have put together a Blue Planet multiplayer package! Games happen quite regularly, and the package is constantly updated with new missions and balance tweaks.
Perhaps the most impressive thing I've seen from this project is a true hybridization of space sim and RTS gameplay. Imagine that Left 4 Dead's AI director could be played by a person, and you have an idea of what the multiplayer crowd has achieved.
What you see here is a game's host playing dungeon master, ordering warships about and controlling the flow of the battle. The rest of the players are down in the thick of the fight.