Newsletter September 2015

Planets Align

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Welcome

Hello, and welcome to this month's Von Neumann Defense Force newsletter! I'm Hanno, VNDF's lead developer and chief newsletter engineer.

It's been a bit of a crazy month. Chris has gone on a rampage, implementing about a million different features, while I filled more of a supporting role: Giving guidance and feedback, documenting game design concepts, working on tools, and so on. It's been an interesting adjustment and is something that can't really be avoided when switching from working alone to working in a team. Still, I'm hopeful that I'll get to do a bit more development work in the near future.

But without further ado, let's take alook at what happened since the last newsletter:

  • Planets and a Grid: What's a space game without planets? Not a lot. Good thing Chris is on the case.
  • Camera Controls: It's now possible to control the camera in various ways.
  • Support for HiDPI Displays: Support for displays with high pixel density has been added.
  • Game Design: I've begun the somewhat painful process of transcribing ideas and concepts that so far only lived inside my head.
  • Smooth Ship Movement: No more jumping from place to place every 0.5 seconds, as the server sends new position data: Ships now move smoothly.
  • Easier Chatting: Talking to your fellow players, while still a bit rough, has become a lot easier.

Have fun with this month's newsletter and please email any feedback to mail@hannobraun.de. Do you have any questions about VNDF in general or the contents of this newsletter specifically? Please let me know!

Planets and a Grid

A few weeks back, when taking a look at the new changes, I could barely recognize the game anymore. Chris, awesome as he is, had added planets to the game, as well as a background grid to help with orientation.

A ship in front of a bunch of planets

(click to see full size)

Obviously this is only a first step (for one, we won't have multiple planets on top of each other in the final version), but it's a good start and a basis for further development.

Camera Controls

For a while now, the camera has been following the player ship, keeping it in the center of the screen. While this is slightly better than the player ship disappearing out of the screen as it keeps moving, it was still quite basic. Chris has followed up and implemented more advanced camera controls.

It is now possible to select any ship, or even groups of ships, using the mouse or the command-line interface. The camera will follow the selected ships. You can select ships by clicking on them, drag-selecting them (like you would do in a real-time strategy game) or by using the select-entity and clear-selection CLI commands.

In addition, you can zoom the camera, using the mouse wheel or by holding down Tab and pressing Page Up/Page Down.

Support for HiDPI Displays

I got a new monitor in my office a while ago, which was a big change from the tiny laptop display I had been using previously. After going nearly blind from staring at the tiny text (the new monitor's pixel density is much higher than my old one's), I decided it was time for a change and added an option to scale up the size of all the graphics.

If you too have a high DPI monitor (remember, newsletter subscribers get access to the game), just create a file called client-config.toml in the game directory and add the single line scaling_factor = 2.0 to it (you can adjust the actual value to suite your own display and taste).

Sorry for all the manual steps. I plan to ship a fully documented configuration file with the game, but haven't gotten to it yet.

Game Design

For most of my time working on the project, I didn't write down a lot of the design I had in mind for the game. This was fine previously, but with Chris on board, the lack of common vision had turned into a problem.

I've started the slow and tedious process of putting my vision into writing, which turns out to be hard work. After thinking about the game for so many years, it is quite challenging to write material that would be useful for a newcomer. Still, I'm off to a good start and I believe it has been helpful so far.

If you've found this project within the last few months, you might be interested in some of the material I've written for the first few newsletters: An article about the game's vision, as well as a series of articles about games that inspired Von Neumann Defense Force: EVE Online, Kerbal Space Program, DayZ, and FTL.

Smooth Ship Movement

While aiming to be a tense and sometimes action-packed experience, Von Neumann Defense Force is not really meant to require fast reactions. The intended slow-paced gameplay is very much reflected in the technical infrastructure, as the server only sends new information to the client every 500 milliseconds.

So far this meant that the graphics would also only update twice a second, which was, of course, quite ridiculous. Chris came to the rescue and taught the client to extrapolate the position of all ships based on the last available information, making for a smooth experience.

Easier Chatting

VNDF aims to be a multiplayer game, but the means to communicate with other players are limited so far. While we're busy working on other features, the current broadcast system will have to do for a while, but Chris has implemented an awesome stopgap: Received broadcasts are automatically printed to the console, providing a basic chat history. Until we have time to add a proper chat system, this will hopefully keep players from being too lonely.

See You Next Time

Do you have any questions about this newsletter or Von Neumann Defense Force in general? Send them to me! I'd love to do a Q & A in some future newsletter.

Thanks for reading, and see you again for next month's newsletter!