Newsletter January 2015

A New Direction

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Hello, and welcome to this month's Von Neumann Defense Force newsletter! I'm Hanno, VNDF's lead developer and chief newsletter engineer. This month, I'm going to talk about the following topics:

  • A New Direction: Last month I announced I was working on a secret project. This month I will tell you what it was and how it will change the direction of Von Neumann Defense Force.
  • Development Update: What happened since the last newsletter and what do I plan to work on next?
  • In Other News: Happenings from around the web that VNDF aficionados might take an interest in.

Have fun with this month's newsletter and please email any feedback to Do you have any questions about VNDF in general or the contents of this newsletter specifically? Let me know!

A New Direction

Von Neumann Defense Force has always been an ambitious project. I knew that from the start. This didn't matter much in the beginning, however. Back then I was going through a very stressful time and needed a side project that allowed me to wind down in the evenings. Something I could tinker on just for fun, without any expectation for results.

A lot has changed since then. Over time, the project grew on me and I became much more serious about it. Today I am committed to see it through, and this commitment has led me to take a critical look at my progress. It has become clear to me that something needs to change.

Since I finished rewriting the game in Rust, a lot has been done, but not nearly enough. At the current pace, I'll be done around 2050 and this isn't acceptable. I have to face the facts: Without serious adjustments to the project scope I will never be able to finish.

I've been thinking about this for a while, and I have figured out a way to make the project more manageable without compromising my overall vision. I need to cut as much work as I can from the area that has cost most most of the effort while mostly being optional at this point: 3D graphics and related areas like user interface and input processing.

To get to the point, I've decided to replace the current 3D interface with a text-based one, that uses as little graphics as possible.

What exactly will that look like?

As much in-game information as possible will be represented as text. For example, instead of displaying the positions of ships in the vicinity in 3D space, there will be a list of nearby ships, each with their position, direction and distance in text form. There will be (at least initially) no mouse input. The game will be controlled entirely with the keyboard.

What do you hope to gain from this?

This will save me a lot of work on something that is really not essential right now. Of course, graphics are nice to look at, but without actual game play, there's honestly not much point in having them. There is a lot of work to be done, and the more I can delay or even forgo completely, the better the chance I can create something fun and meaningful.

Does this mean graphics are gone from the game forever?

No. For one, there are a few concepts that I'm not sure I can represent in a purely text-based fashion (orbits and navigation in general come to mind). For these areas, I'll use graphics sparingly and in a way that causes as little work as possible.

Also, I'd like to add graphics back to the game later, as my resources allow. However, I won't spend any time on this until I have a game that is a fun and engaging, if something somewhat spartan, experience.

So much for the overall vision. In the Development Update I'll tell you all about my progress so far.

Development Update

In today's article, I outlined a new direction for Von Neumann Defense Force's development efforts. After having worked on this for almost two months, I had really hoped to be able to present some impressive advancements in the gameplay department. This was not to be, however, mainly for two reasons:

  1. Even though it is much less work than a 3D interface, a text-based interface still requires some groundwork to be laid. This was more work than I had hoped. Not because the code was complicated to write, but because finding the right approach for the user interface required a bit of experimentation.
  2. The second (and main) reason is that I decided that I'd take this chance to redo the networking infrastructure. I did this because I'm interested in the work and because I hope to use the resulting code and experience for another project I'm working on. From VNDF's perspective, it was definitely a dumb move, however, since it added a lot of work and provides, for the time being, no visible results.

No matter, I still made some progress, and here's a screenshot:

(click to enlarge)

As you can see, I added a new feature: Broadcasting messages that can be read by other players. This is a conveniently simple feature that I could use to test my approach to the user interface and the networking code. I also think it's very important for the game to have at least a very simple communication method from the beginning.

So what's next? A lot of work is still to do:

  • First and foremost, the work on the networking infrastructure needs to be finished, mostly because it doesn't work right at this point. Once this work is done, Von Neumann Defense Force will stand on a much more solid foundation than it did before.
  • After that, I still need to figure out some more details regarding the new interface. I don't expect this to take very long.
  • Once all of this is done, I need to deploy the new version to the production server. As you may know, the in-development version of the game is already running and accessible to newsletter subscribers. Not right now, however, since the server still runs the old version from before I started my little text-based experiment.
  • And finally, we've temporarily lost an important feature (besides graphics) with this transition: Navigating through space. Once the groundwork is laid, this needs to be added back as soon as possible.

All of this is quite a bit of work and I'm not sure how much of it I can get done until the next newsletter. I hope to at least finish redoing the network code and solving the remaining interface issues, however.

In Other News

As always, I'm going to close the newsletter with some space- and gaming-related news from around the Internet.

After NASA's successful Orion test flight (see December newsletter), ISRO has followed suit with the successful test of its own launcher and capsule. India is shaping up to be an interesting contender in space exploration and I'm excited to see what will happen over the next few years.

As part of the CRS-5 mission to resupply the International Space Station, SpaceX has tried to land the first stage of the rocket on its autonomous spaceport drone ship that serves as a landing platform in the ocean. Even though the media calls this landing attempt a failure, it was anything but: They managed to get a supersonic rocket back from the edge of space and hit a tiny target floating in the middle of the Atlantic. That the rocket blew up in the attempt is a detail that can be worked out. I'm really looking forward to the next flight. A successful landing and reuse of the rocket's first stage would reduce launch costs significantly and usher in a new age for space exploration.

Have you ever wondered how much asteroids are flying around in the inner solar system? Even if you haven't, I recommend you check out this awesome video about the discovery of asteroids in the last few decades.

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 next month for VNDF's February newsletter!