Another year of Early Access just passed. Let us look back on what happened with ΔV: Rings of Saturn in 2021.
Roadmaps of an uncharted land
I found that the roadmaps didn’t work out for me. Looking back at them, that should not be a surprise. While I know where I am, and I certainly know where I want to end up, the land between us is a mystery. You can’t map roads you don’t know, and to get to know them, you need to walk them.
I tried to write roadmaps in the past - detailing what I want to do next - but most of them failed to predict what happened. It’s not about bugs I found and fixed along the way - these are just slowing down the progress, but not turning the direction of development all that much - but it’s about the very nature of Early Access.
I have a tight feedback loop with you - my dear players - which is excellent for making the best possible game but not so great for meeting deadlines. I am no stranger to the dreaded feature creep, and I usually keep the guy in check, but some of your ideas were just too good to pass up, and often we took an unexpected detour.
And I needed to pay for each of these detours with extra development time.
I was delayed
Game development is not difficult but complex. There rarely is a single difficult challenge along the way. Still, you have thousands of small tasks, each of them requiring a couple of hours to complete, and tiny delays along the way will eventually add up to something significant. In 2021, I finished 1076 of the tasks planned, and there are just 21 to go until the 1.0 release. This number sounds far more optimistic because the same statistics that tell me I finish 3.3 tasks per day tells me there are, on average, 2.9 new tasks popping up.
Sometimes these will be bugs, which I unconditionally fix before moving to anything else, but sometimes these are features or tweaks that you suggest just make so much sense I just need to have them in the 1.0 version. And sometimes, they get backlogged for post-1.0 work.
The paradox here is that I get most of the feedback and ideas from players already having the Early Access version, so you don’t mind much when the 1.0 release gets delayed. But some players want a clear cut 1.0 version - this is why we have a clear goal when I can call the complete game experience - the point where I press the big “Launch” button.
But that won’t be the end of the road. I initially planned to expand ΔV for at least a year after the 1.0 release, and now looking at all the ideas you submitted that I backlogged as post-1.0, it seems like I have at least five years worth of ideas to work on. But that is a story for another tale.
The huge obstacles
Although most of the work done on ΔV was rather typical, with individual tasks taking no more than a few hours to finish, there were three that took way longer than anticipated, delaying our development by over three months in total.
Our first colossal task was implementing a new ship - the Elon Interstellar Model E. Between unique fusion drives and fusion power supply, new mechanics, unusual split-cargo-bay design. It took almost a month to add this bag of quirks into the game. Compare that to three days that took me to make Cothon-212.
A second significant obstacle was the introduction of the Articulated Recovery Manipulator. While the initial implementation was relatively swift, adding the option to pick up not just ships but also ore, ringroids and other objects complicated it a lot and introduced multiple bugs, which took almost six weeks to hunt out.
The third monstrosity along the way was the hardware glitches. It turns out that the support of OpenGL ES 3 that my engine uses is a bit underwhelming on some graphics cards, with problems ranging from poor performance, extravagant video RAM consumption to plain out graphics not displaying at all.
Since I can’t possibly have access to all the hardware configurations out there, fixing all of these relied on reports from you, my dear players. It would not be possible without some of you spending up to a couple of days testing with me subsequent patches I pushed out to you, for which I am most grateful.
Along the way, we had detours that were not bugs but rather things that I found just too good to pass on.
The crew faces overhaul was an unexpected side-effect of an Aprils Fools’ joke. It turned out that the AI that I used to generate a bunch of funny furry pilots is impressive in making a natural human face, and in a couple of days, we climbed off the uncanny valley of Enceladus.
Conlido RVM Cothon-212 was a Friday wildcard - a side project that I do on my day off, an attempt to design a more realistic spaceship, adhering to conservative radiator placements, exposed internals and a shadow shield. It turned out to be nice enough to push it into the main game. We were supposed to have three playable ships for the 1.0 release, and now, with Cothon, we have five.
Besides the indirect contributions, like bug reports and idea suggestions, most of the ΔV’s translations were made by players. With our development velocity, with new versions of the game coming out daily, this is the only way to ensure that most of the game is translated. Than you! Here is a list of our current language support status:
Trial by fire
ΔV is an independent, self-published title. When I started developing it, it was unclear if this was a viable career choice, and thus ΔV began as a side-project, something that I do in my spare time. A journey of an independent game developer is similar to the road a writer takes - we have our day jobs, we are creating something we dreamt about, and we have a team of people that helps us. The Early Access title is like the first book in a trilogy for a new author - some will buy it, others will wait until the trilogy completes, or there are enough positive reviews.
The risks are also the same - will this creation be able to support me, or will it be a one-time blip on my financial radar? There is no other way to know for sure than to publish something and see for yourself.
And ΔV is delivering. The Early Access sales now are enough to support the development, and all the feedback and contributions are honing it to be the best game it can be. In my eyes, it has already succeeded - it is stable, polished, and has all the features I have planned. I’m still adding more content, and some parts were not in the plan, but I now feel it should have them before being called complete. Due to the structure of event-based storytelling we have, I can expand on the game as you play along. New storylines, upgrades, ships and crew quests will integrate seamlessly with your experience, and I hope that due to my fix-bugs-first policy, you’ll get as polished experience now as you’ll get in a 1.0 release.
But don’t take my word for it. Check the demo. It has the same content as a complete game, I release updates at the same time, the saves are fully compatible, and you can see it for yourself with a single click.
TL;DR: Significant Changes in 2021
- Elon Interstellar Model E.
- Conlido RVM Cothon-212.
- THI cargo container.
- Nakamura-Titan Mining Companion.
- New propulsion systems.
- B8 Claim beacons.
- Articulated Recovery Manipulator.
- Articulated mass drivers and lasers.
- New Heads Up Displays.
- Gungnir particle accelerator.
- New crew quests.
- The Bounty hunter vs Anarchists main storyline significantly expanded.
- Your crew now can know people flying other ships.
- Firing solutions for NDCI autopilot.
- Expanded tutorial.
- Performance detail settings.
- Performance improvements.
- Improved textures, images and shaders.
- New crew portraits.
- Expanded demo.
- New ore density maps, including veins you can follow.
- Astrogator and Geologist have separate panels with their own settings.
- Steam Leaderboards support.
- Translations to various languages.